Judge Not Part 4 – The Necessity of Contentment

by Mike Ratliff

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived thinking about me; indeed, you were thinking about me before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in abundance; in any and all things I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:10-13 (LSB)

As I write this it is Labor Day, 2022. I turned 70 years old in October 2021 and officially retired December 24, 2021. Man has everything changed from a year ago. A year ago this week I was working on my book Complete in Christ which is a commentary of Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. My good friend Stuart helped publish it on Amazon and it is available there. However, since I retired things have changed in our lives drastically. My son, who is a physician, had my wife and I up to visit him over the Thanksgiving holiday in November. He had been concerned for quite some time that I had had a stroke that inhibited my ability to speak clearly when under pressure. I suspected something was wrong because this happened to me at the worst possible times such as when teaching a Bile Study. In any case, Thanksgiving Day, one of his physician friends sat next to me at his dining room table while we waited for the turkey to finish cooking and she kept asking me some very strange diagnostic questions. Later, my son told me she was just seeing what my response was to “pressure.” He told me that he still suspected that I had had a small stroke at some time. Well, in March of this year I was sitting here at my desk doing research and suddenly felt my brain go numb. How do you describe something like that? I just sat in my chair and waited for normalcy to come back. Eventually, I felt better, but when I tried to stand up it was like my arms and legs were rubber bands. Eventually, I made it to bed. The next day my wife and I worked on our flower bed retaining wall. I drove over to Home Depot with her to get the blocks and sand. I missed several turns both going there and coming home. The next day, I collapsed in the hallway, running into the wall. My wife and daughter called 911 and I ended up in the hospital. They said I had had a stroke.

Since then I have been in therapy. I have to work on brain skills like word searches, problem solving, etc. I am wearing an implanted heart monitor and now sleep with a C-PAP machine. Yes things have changed, but I am now driving again and some of my therapists want to discharge me. God is taking me through a different route in my prayer life and much of what He is teaching me revolves around remaining humble and content.

Contentment is a word that most of us see as short-lived “happiness” or “satisfaction” feelings because of favorable circumstances. If we get a new car, pickup, or computer then we are excited and proud. We want everyone to see us with our new possession. Of course, this type of behavior is clearly pride-based. These feelings of satisfaction from possessing something or someone are exactly what our wicked pride controlled hearts are after. If we deny our fleshly desires to focus on God and our relationship with Him our “OLD MAN” sin nature does not like it one bit. It never wants our hearts to move away from fleshly pursuits. However, walking in the spirit, walking by faith, running the race God has set before us, and abiding in Christ all require this. The Spirit-led believer walks through each day practicing the presence of God rather than seeking self-gratification from fleshly focus. The Spirit-led believer who has matured into the late Adult Christian stage of development or into the Mature Christian stage has learned that attempts at fulfillment from any source other than God is complete waste of time. Nothing temporal fulfills. However, when God blesses believers with “stuff,” but they focus on the blessor rather than the blessing, God will give them a wonderful sense of contentment. Look at the passage I placed at the beginning of this chapter. It is an excerpt from the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. It is a wonderful book on remaining joyful, content, and Christlike no matter what our circumstances are like.

Paul wrote Philippians when he was in his first imprisonment in Rome. During his first imprisonment, Paul was not in a dungeon. He was in chains, but lived with his guards in rented quarters. (Acts 28) Paul planted the church at Philippi during his second missionary journey. It was the first European church. During that period, Paul and Silas were imprisoned in the local jail for casting a demon out of a slave girl who was used by her owners for profit through her fortune telling. (Acts 16) Let’s dig into this wonderful book. Perhaps we will learn Paul’s secret of contentment.

The first passage we will look at is Philippians 1:12-30. Here is the entire passage. Read it through.

12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my chains in Christ have become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord because of my chains, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me affliction in my chains. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that THIS WILL TURN OUT FOR MY SALVATION through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know what I will choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better, 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 And convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that your reason for boasting may abound in Christ Jesus in me, through my coming to you again.
27 Only live your lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear about your circumstances, that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind contending together for the faith of the gospel, 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents–which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same struggle which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. Philippians 1:12-30 (LSB) 

Compare that message with what we normally hear from the mouths of those proclaiming their Health, Wealth, and Prosperity gospels to masses of deceived listeners. According to them, God wants us to be healthy, rich and have lives free of trouble. I really am sorry, but I cannot find any teachings in the Bible that say that unless they are taken out of context and misused and misapplied. In fact, the more I study the Bible and the more life I experience, the more I am convinced that the true believer will drink of the cup of bitterness and suffering consistent to the level they live for God’s glory. The Church consists of God’s “called-out ones.” These believers are called out of the world to walk before their Lord as the suffering Church. (Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:6; Philippians 1:29; 1 Thessalonians 3:4; 2 Timothy 1:12; 1 Peter 2:20; 1 Peter 3:14; 1 Peter 3:17; 1 Peter 4:19; Revelation 2:10) What each of these reference passages have in common is God’s sovereign control over all things. Nothing happens in our lives that first do not come through His hands. God not only allows suffering in believer’s lives, but He ordains it. How could God be a loving God if He did things like this? We have to look first at the properties of the love God has for His children and then the purpose(s) for the suffering or chastisement (Hebrews 13) He brings into their lives.

The Greek word that represents God’s “love” for His children is transliterated into our word “agape.” It means that the one loving does things in the life of the one loved that is best for them rather than what the loved one desires. That sounds like the love good parents haves for their children, doesn’t it? What has to happen in a believer’s heart in order for him or her to come to have God’s view of suffering? What would be the result? In order for a believer to have God’s view of suffering, he or she will have to mature unto Christlikeness. That means their focus; their perspective and their outlook become eternal rather than temporal. They see suffering as the vehicle to walk closer with God. Why? Suffering humbles us. The humble believer walks close with his or her Lord. God shuns the proud. (James 4:6) Suffering often removes things we love and hang onto, but are barriers to a closer walk with the Lord. God will cause us to suffer so we will drop them or let them go as we turn to Him. What things do this? In my case, God continually puts me in positions where I cannot be self-reliant. I have a pride issue. I tend to take pride in my abilities and my learning. I like others to see that I am the man who can get the job done. None of that sound bad, does it? However, all of that builds up self-reliance. Self-reliance is a barrier between a closer walk with the Lord because I am not humble when I am self-sufficient.

God’s desire for us is that we see that we are spiritual beings and we need to have eternal spiritual perspective and focus. We cannot do that unless we humble ourselves; turn to Him for all of our sufficiency. This puts us in a spiritual position where we must rely on Him to hold our hands and guide us into righteousness. When we do this, God grants us repentance. That means He opens up our hearts more and more so we can hear Him. We can sense His presence. In fact, when we mature to this point separation from His presence is unbearable. When we walk this way, we become useful to God in the Kingdom. In our own abilities, we are useless to Him.

Our attitude must match Paul’s statement, “To live is Christ, to die is gain!” Think of the implication of that. The Christlike believer who can say and mean that is focused on the eternal not the temporal. They are content in their circumstances because all of it, no matter how bitter, is God ordained to accomplish His eternal purpose in him or her. The intriguing thing, to me in suffering this way, is how joy grows and endures if the believer does not lose focus. If their circumstances overwhelm them and they lose focus then they do lose their joy. Why? Only when our joy is in the Lord is it invulnerable to circumstances. When we lose our joy it is because we become self-focused instead of God-focused. This type of walk is impossible outside of the grace of God. In fact, God says that His grace is sufficient in the midst of our fiery trials.

7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions and hardships, for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (LSB) 

I am constantly amazed when I hear believers complain about their problems as they insinuate that God is letting them down. Our focus must be God’s glory. Our heart’s desire must be that God be glorified in us. How can He be glorified in a bunch of self-serving, self-focused, self-sufficient pew sitters? However, those who find themselves in the fires of sanctification then fall upon His mercy and grace will find that God’s grace is sufficient. Not only will God sustain them in the midst of the fire, but also their spiritual maturity will grow as their Christlikeness deepens. Contentment in the midst of the trial becomes a reality for them because of their eternal focus. The temporal reality fades and becomes simply the backdrop for their sustenance in their Valley of Humiliation. Self is denied. God is glorified.

The heart that is content in God’s grace does not judge. The believer who walks in the light of God’s grace is not about comparing others to self. Nor does he or she become enamored with their image and other’s perception of them. The only notice they want is for people to give God glory because of His work in them. How can this be? How can we mature to this level of spirituality? God must do His work in our hearts and we must cooperate with Him in it instead of fighting Him over it. We must pray for a clear conscience then heed it when He answers that prayer. If we do that then the next time we judge someone hypocritically, our conscience will let us have it. Then we must turn away from that ugliness in repentance. If we ignore our consciences then we harden our hearts. That is the path away from godly contentment. However, if we do heed our consciences, turn away from the sin and back to God and His glory, our hearts soften more and more. As we become more and more tenderhearted we become more and more humble and, therefore, content. The tender heart’s conscience is a wonderful godly treasure. God’s values reside there and the tenderer our hearts become the more apparent His values become to our Souls (our minds, our wills, and our emotions.) This results in godly behavior. This godly contentment is a vital component of the Christlike believer.

What happens if we do not cooperate in our sanctification? We become hardhearted. We are not content. We do not walk in the light of God’s grace. We are not fulfilled. We become self-focused and fleshly. We are full of unbelief. We judge others in a desperate grab for some sort of fulfillment. This sort of behavior causes us to spiral down into fleshly discontentment. I contend that this description matches the majority of believers. I know that is sad because the believers in this trap are constantly stumbling into sin and seem to have no ability to get out while their discontent is their self-justifying reason for their fleshly pursuits.

The next passage we will dig into in Philippians is from chapter 4. I placed it at the beginning of this chapter. Here is again.

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived thinking about me; indeed, you were thinking about me before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in abundance; in any and all things I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:10-13 (LSB)

The contented heart is a humble heart. How is it constantly content? The attitudes that both build and are the attributes of a contented heart are developed in our godly character as we cooperate with God in our sanctification. It is by His grace that we can learn to be content in both low and high situations. Notice also that the contented heart is also humble. Paul’s concern is for those who were seeking to help him. He wanted them to be edified and for God to be glorified in them. That was His focus rather on their supply of his needs. We must carefully read and reread this passage as we mediate on the truths in it that God places on our hearts. Why? If we become content, we won’t judge others will we? If we do not judge others, we will not have to give an account of our unforgiveness to the Lord when we stand before Him.

I praise the Lord that you are reading this. That act alone is an indication that He is drawing you into the proper self-denying walk of faith. You know your contentment level needs work. You have a deep desire for God to be glorified in you. You desperately want victory over those “besetting sins” which so easily ensnare you. (Hebrews 12:1-2) You have become aware of that you judge others hypocritically. Yes, I include myself in this group. So, let us all agree to quit denying we are discontent and self-focused.

Dear heavenly father, we come before you now in broken humility. We understand that our salvation is completely your work. You saved us for Your glory and not because of any attribute we have. However, Lord we deeply desire to become the content, Christlike believers who live for your glory. We desperately seek victory over those besetting sins Lord. Keep us in the fires of sanctification Lord, but also sustain us by your grace. Teach us to be content Lord. We ask all this in Jesus name—Amen!