As a minister of the Gospel, the apostle Paul had suffered much in the school of adversity. Though he faced hardships, opposition and perils of every kind, he did not lament at the dealings of Providence. Instead, he willingly accepted his lot as ordained by the Lord Who had called him to be a an apostle to the Gentiles and to suffer for the Gospel’s sake: “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9: 15-16).
In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul testified of his contentment – despite his many afflictions – and his ability to joyfully adapt to his changing circumstances.: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philp 4: 11-12).
In verse 13, the apostle shared the secret of his contentment: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” He was able to “do all things” – bear hardships and labour joyfully – not because of his own abilities but because of “Christ which strengtheneth me”.
In our article last week, we considered the contentment of Paul as God’s faithful servant – and how he had learnt “to be content” even in life’s changing circumstances. The apostle had also learnt “to be abased” in times of need and “to abound” in times of plenty. Through it all, he did not fret in his afflictions nor did he forsake God in his prosperity.
What other lessons can we glean from the apostle Paul concerning contentment?
o He rested in God’s sovereignty
The apostle was not stumbled by his enemies who had laid him in prison. Instead of being dejected, he saw the “blessings” that resulted from his confinement. It was clear to him that God had ordained his imprisonment for His own good purposes such as:
• Opportunities to preach the Gospel
While Paul was “in bonds”, the Philippians were concerned that his imprisonment might curtail his Gospel ministry. Consider the apostle’s noble response: “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel” (Philp 1: 12). Instead of wallowing in self-pity and condemning his opponents, Paul viewed his imprisonment as a “furtherance of the Gospel” – “so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places” (Philp 1: 13).
“Paul’s sufferings made him known at court, where perhaps he would never have otherwise been known; and this might lead some of them to enquire after the gospel for which he suffered, which they might otherwise have never heard of” (Matthew Henry).
Interestingly, the palace guards were his captive audience when Paul preached the Gospel message. “… and in all other places”. It is likely that the prison courtyard became the apostle’s preaching station.
• The courage of the brethren to “speak the word without fear”
Paul’s imprisonment had emboldened the Philippian Christians to preach the Gospel: “And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (v 14). Their courage in serving the Lord in spite of Paul’s absence gladdened the heart of the apostle. Though he was in prison, he rejoiced that God had enabled the brethren to “speak the word without fear”.
“They were more fully satisfied and persuaded by what they saw. Observe the power of divine grace; that which was intended by the enemy to discourage the preachers of the gospel was overruled for their encouragement” (ibid).
• The proclamation of Christ’s name
Though some had tried to hurt him by preaching Christ out of impure motives – “even of envy and strife” and “of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds” (Philp 1: 15-16) – the apostle was unmoved. Far from reproving those who had liberty to preach the Gospel, Paul rejoiced that “Christ is preached”: “What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Philp 1: 18).
Paul was able to see the good that came out of his imprisonment. God’s kingdom was being extended even through these envious brethren who were actively working against the imprisoned apostle. “The more important matter was secured, and Christ was made known; and if this were secured, he was willing that his own name should be eased into the shade” (Albert Barnes).
We conclude with the words of Albert Barnes: “A contented mind is an invaluable blessing, and is one of the fruits of religion in the soul. It arises from the belief that God is right in all His ways. Why should we be impatient, restless, discontented? What evil will be remedied by it? What want supplied? What calamity removed? ‘He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast’ (Prov 15: 15) … One of the secrets of happiness is to have a mind satisfied with all the allotments of Providence.”
This truth brings to mind the lyrics of Fanny Crosby’s famous hymn:
All the way my Saviour leads me, What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who thru’ life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort, Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.
May the song echo our heart’s confidence that “whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well”. As we trust in God’s providential care, let us learn to accept His purposes for our lives. May we also learn to rest content in all that the Lord has ordained for us. Whether in prosperity or adversity, let our lives bring glory to the Lord. Amen.