Paul wrote in Phil. 4:10-13 about his philosophy of the Christian life. In verse 11 he said he had learnt to be ‘autarkes’ i.e. self-sufficiency or contentment. This term is used by the Stoics to express a person’s independence and detachment from external circumstances, and equanimity in the face of life’s difficulties. In fact the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca puts it this way: ‘The happy man is content with his present lot, no matter what it is, and is reconciled to his circumstances.’ On the surface, he sounded very much like Paul. However there is one fundamental difference between Paul and the Stoics of his day. For Paul, the truly free and independent person is the one who is dependent on the Lord for everything. He champions a sufficiency not of or from ourselves but a sufficiency that has its source in God, the Creator and Saviour of mankind. Today we often hear echoes of man’s declaration of independence and self-sufficiency. In the words of Paul, humanity has “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Rom. 1:25). This frightening reality is epitomized in William Ernest Henry’s 19th Century poem, ‘Invictus’:
“Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be. For my unconquerable soul. It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishment the scroll. I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
The last line of this poem underscores how far man has sunk in their depravity and self-centeredness!
We are reminded by Paul that as followers of Christ we have gladly surrendered ourselves to Him. Jesus Christ is indeed the Captain of our soul and Master of our life. Because of this, we can have the same confidence as Paul: “I can do all things through Christ who enables me” (Phil.4:13). We can cope with all kinds of hardships and deprivations not by our own strength or resources but through Christ who empowers us. For that we can heartily say, ‘to our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’ (Phil. 4: 20).
How can we have contentment? Here are three biblical principles from Dwight Hill, author of the book, ‘Facts of the Matter’. Contentment is achieved in the following ways:
1. When seeking God and His kingdom are our first priority (Matt. 6:25, 33). 2. By graciously accepting what God allows into our lives (Phil. 4:12b, 13). 3. Through a life of simplicity over greed (1 Tim. 6:6,8; Eccl. 5:10, 13).
Are you contented in Christ? Have you found your sufficiency in Him? Is Jesus Christ your Master and Captain of your life?
Rev. Mark Tay