It has been a great joy to me that after all this time you have shown such interest in my welfare. I don’t mean that you had forgotten me, but up till now you had no opportunity of expressing your concern. Nor do I mean that I have been in actual need, for I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous. In general and in particular I have learned the secret of facing either poverty or plenty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me. (PHILLIPS)
There is a time for contentment and a time for discontent. We are urged here to be content because we are given Jesus’ strength to face each and every circumstance. But we must be careful not to drift into apathetic complacency.
Confronted with evils in society, those like Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, or Martin Luther King were not content to leave things just as they were. They were not content in regards to social injustice. Nor will we be content with our own commitment to Jesus or our own daily holiness. We will want to do better in these areas.
Paul is addressing his material circumstances when he speaks of contentment. He would want ideally to be free of prison, but for the moment he accepted captivity. Nothing wrong with our own desire to improve our circumstances, nothing wrong with ambition.
Proper contentment is marked by thankfulness to God that he is with us in our present situation even as we might pray for a change in situation. Proper contentment means an absence of egocentric greed which always has to have more. A content person can pray for a pay rise and at the same time trust Jesus to help them at their present pay level.
Our desire for a better future does not lead to grumbling and apathy in the present. Contentment means boldly seeking the treasures of Jesus, but also aware that those treasures may be right beneath your feet.