READ: “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. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:10–13 NIV)
REFLECT: I’ve heard many people list Philippians 4:13 as one of their favorite verses. I’m not surprised, because it appeals to our desire to be invincible—to be able to do anything. However, I believe that if you simply read that single verse out of context, you miss much of what Paul is trying to share with us.
Paul penned these words to his beloved church in Philippi—a church he helped plant—while he sat in a Roman prison, waiting for the death sentence he faced to be carried out. I doubt that Paul was, at any point during his imprisonment, physically comfortable. I wouldn’t be surprised if he, at times, felt anxious and afraid. But he talks about how he has learned to be content in all circumstances. Later, he refers to the secret that enables him to not only endure but also find joy. How is this possible?
My family spent three years working as church planters on the island of Sumatra. We moved there after the massive earthquake and tsunami of 2004 that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, the majority of which were from the province we moved to. At that time the electricity was spotty, the heat and humidity were oppressive, and some places in town still smelled of death. In addition, we were surrounded by a culture that was violently opposed to the gospel that could save them. It was, by modern American standards of comfort, unpleasant.
Those years were both the most amazing, joyous, and thrilling years of our family’s lives as well as the most difficult, painful, and terrifying ones. But we wouldn’t trade a moment of those years, because during that time we learned the same secret that Paul refers to. Stripped of the comforts that we had become so dependent on, we placed our joy in the hands of the one who had endured unspeakable suffering in order to show us unfathomable love, grace, and mercy.
That secret compelled us—and continues to compel us—to live lives poured out for those around us who had never heard the gospel and to seek to model the likeness of the one we follow. It also provided us contentment in the midst of circumstances that would have previously devastated us.
I turned to Philippians 2 many times during our life in Sumatra. I pray that your time on mission will help you learn the secret of that same contentment that Paul wrote about thousands of years ago.
RESPOND: Ask God to help you rely on him today in times of discomfort and even suffering that you may face. Thank God that he is always with you, and ask him to help you, like Paul, surrender completely to him so that in every situation you are able to rejoice because of the hope of the gospel.