Whatever Happens, Learn the Secret to Contentment

A study of Philippians 4:10-13


One of the best reasons for going to Washington, D.C., is to visit the museums, especially the various Smithsonian museums and the National Gallery. And, of course, my favorite—the Museum of the Bible. There’s one museum I want to see more than any of the others, but I can’t get into it. It’s arguably the most fascinating museum in Washington, but it’s off limits to you and me. It’s the Secret Museum of the Central Intelligence Agency, located at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It occupies 11,000 square feet of space, and contains all kinds of spy gadgets and espionage memorabilia and unusual weapons. 

The only thing is—the only people who can visit it are employees of the CIA.

Washington is a city of top secrets and classified information. There is so much we, as average citizens, do not know. I hope the government will declassify all the files related to the assassination of President Kennedy—which I remember—so that I’ll finally know who shot the man.

Well, the Lord has secrets too, and sometimes He declassifies some of them for us. That that brings us to our passage today in Philippians 4:10-13:

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

1. God Has Secrets

He had learned one of God’s secrets. It’s very interesting to think in these terms. Look, for example, at Deuteronomy 29. In this chapter, Moses is very old and nearing the time of his death. He gathers the nation of Israel and leads them to renew their commitment to God. He explains what the Lord will do for them if they remain true to Him, and what the Lord will do if they forsake Him, and Moses implores them to obey the law they had been given. 

Now look at the final verse—Deuteronomy 29:29: The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of His law. 

God has revealed to us a great deal of information. He has given us all sixty-six books of the Bible, plus all of the physical universe as a classroom. But there are some things He has not told us. After all, He is omniscient. 

Isaiah 55 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts…. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are…my thoughts (higher) that your thoughts” (verses 8-9). 

But God is a God who reveals His secrets. Look at Isaiah 45:2-3: I will go before you and will level mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the hidden treasures, riches stored up in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. 

This was originally addressed to King Cyrus as a prophetic statement by Isaiah, but there’s application here for us. God gives us the hidden treasures of His secrets.

When Jesus came, He revealed more secrets, helping us to formulate a clearer picture of the Gospel. He told His disciples, “…the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given to you” (Matthew 13:11).

But when it came to God’s secrets, there’s one thing that even Jesus in His humanity did not know—the exact time of His Second Coming. He said, “But about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).

Well, God had one secret that the apostle Paul learned over time. Look at this passage again. Verse 10 begins, “ I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.” Remember that the Philippian church had always been Paul’s best supporting church, sending him funds again and again. This time they had sent him money by the hand of Epaphroditus, and Paul was thanking them.

But he went on to say in verse 11: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”

Notice the simple statement: “I have learned to be content.” And in verse 12, he explains what he means: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.”

Some days Paul is staying in the wealthy villas of his friends and being cared for by wealthy Christians, and other times he’s exposed to the weather or having to scramble for food. But he is as content in one situation as he is in the other.

Now, in verse 12, Paul repeats himself but he goes further in his comments: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

The Greek word that Paul used was amazing. It’s a Greek technical term. If you read this phrase in English, it is made up of five words: “I have learned the secret.” But in Greek, that entire phrase is given in one  short word: memyemai, (pronounced me-MA-o-mi). This is the only time this word occurs in the Bible.  It means to be initiated into mysteries. In secular Greek usage it had to do with the mysteries of the magical cults. To become a candidate for some mystery religion, you had to go through some kind of initiation or ritual. After you learn the mysteries, you must make a vow of silence. 

In the Second Temple period, it was sometimes used to describe the top secret information that a king had issued involving a war or involving a matter of national security. 

Paul said, “I have learned something that is top secret, that was classified information.” He had uncovered one of God’s best secrets.

2. One of His Secrets Has to Do With Contentment

He said, “I have learned to be content…. I have learned the secret to contentment.”

This is a very, very hard thing to learn. At some level, were we truly content we would be just as satisfied in our heart… 

  • In a hospital bed as in our bed at home.
  • In a one-room apartment as in a three-story house.
  • In being single as well as in being married.
  • In failure and in defeat as in success and victory.
  • In losing the game as well as in winning it.

But I am not always content when things aren’t as I want them to be! Or at least, I have to really work on it. In order to get there, we have to know exactly what contentment is. I have worked and worked on a definition of contentment—and my best suggestion is Quiet Joy.

Contentment isn’t loud joy. It’s not shouting in exuberance; it’s not like the finale of a fireworks show. It is quiet joy, like the sound of a gentle rain or the purring of a cat. It’s the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23. It’s the glow of a campfire or the sound of leaves crunching under our feet in the fall. It’s a hot cup of tea, sweetened with honey and good to the last drop. It’s lighting a candle on an overcast day, or an extra blanket on a cold night. It’s the quiet joy of knowing the eternal God is our refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms. We may not have everything we want or even everything we need, but we have HIM—and that gives us an inward quiet joy that we call contentment. 

Few people have written about this, except for a couple of great Puritan writers long ago. But one man did. Pastor Erik Raymond wrote a book called Chasing Contentment, and this was his definition: “Contentment is the inward, gracious, quiet spirit that joyfully rests in God’s providence.”

The Bible devotes several verses to this:

  • Psalm 131:2: But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.
  • 1 Timothy 6:6-7: But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, will we be content with that?
  • Hebrews 13:5: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

But notice Paul didn’t say he had learned contentment. He said he had learned the secret to contentment. Contentment is one of the Lord’s secrets. It’s one that Paul somehow uncovered. God has a secret code that unlocks contentment, and Paul discovered it over time. What was it? I know what it is, and I’m not going to sell it to you. I’m going to give it to you for free, absolutely without charge. God’s secret code to discovering and learning to be content are the numbers 413—Philippians 4:13!

3. And the Secret to Contentment Is…

Philippians 4:13: I can do all this through the one Him who gives me strength.

I want to read this verse from several different translations so we can get the force of it.

  • I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me (Good News Translation).
  • I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me (J.B. Phillips).
  • I can be content in any and every situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength (The Voice)
  • I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency] (Amplified Bible, Classic)

This verse is not an absolute promise you can do anything you want to. God is not promising you’ll run a four-minute mile, or make a million dollars, or hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine in one season. Perhaps He will help you do one or all of those things, but this verse has the exact opposite meaning. It means that whether you reach your goals or ambitions or not, He will give you the strength to have His quiet joy. 

Many Christian athletes write Philippians 4:13 on their arms or on their sneakers, which is a very good thing. But it doesn’t mean God will give you the strength to win every event, but that He will give you the strength to do your best and then handle the outcome with a sense of inner peace and satisfaction, whatever happens. 

In other words, when we are in Christ we have everything we need, and He infuses us with the strength we need to live with contentment, whatever the circumstances, knowing He is with us, He is working, and He has a wonderful everlasting eternity ahead of us.

The secret, in other words, is Jesus Himself, and the strength He brings to our hearts when He enters any situation with us. Being content depends on your content. It depends on having Jesus Christ within you by His Holy Spirit.

Recently I’ve circled back to an old Gospel song about guidance. I’ve walked through difficult times recently and had to rely on the Lord’s guidance when I was unsure what my next steps should be. But the Lord directed my attention back to the great song, “He Leadeth Me.” One of the verses sums all this up with these words:

Lord, I would place my hand in Thine,

Nor ever mummer nor repine;

Content whatever lot I see;

Since ‘tis My God that leadeth me.

He leadeth me, He leadeth me,

By His own hand, He leadeth me.

His faithful follower I would be, 

For by His hand He leadeth me.

Let’s be content whatever lot we see! And let’s learn the secret of the great apostle who said: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all things through Christ who infuses me with His own strength in any and every circumstance.”