Humility Leads to Contentment
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
I’ve lived in different countries and whenever I moved, one of my goals was to learn my way around the capital city closest to where I lived. Accra, Ghana, West Africa was my greatest challenge. My problem was thinking that I knew where I was and being completely wrong. Every turn off one road led me in another part of the city where I was lost. Fortunately, a friend was riding with me one day and told me that the road I thought I was on was not the road we were traveling. But I had been so sure; I was so conceited!
In Philippians 1:3, Paul explicitly states that we are to be humble, not selfishly ambitious or conceited. I was humbled when I realized how self-assured I was about something completely erroneous. My conceit prevented me from realizing my mistake earlier, causing me to be lost in the same way repeatedly, which was very aggravating. But being selfishly determined and smug isn’t just a problem when we’re wrong. When we are prideful and self-centered, we miss what is happening all around us, like I missed all the landmarks in Accra.
In Philippians, Paul composed a glorious hymn of Christ’s humility: “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) Paul meditated on our Savior’s meekness to the point of being utterly concerned with God’s glory and the church’s dedication to God. Paul was humbled and therefore content to be in whatever circumstance would be most useful to Jesus.
Paul’s contentment was not stoic, self-sufficiency that cuts off emotion and the influence of the world, as if to steel oneself by withdrawal. “Paul’s contentment was utterly reliant not on himself and his ability to suppress emotions, but on Christ, who held Paul fast and sustained him in all circumstances.” * Paul’s sufficiency was based on God’s all-sufficiency, rather than on his knowledge, feelings, or experience. When Paul wrote, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” he was referring to the work he was called to do in the church (See Philippians 1:9-11). We should not take this verse (or any other) out of context to mean that we can do anything we desire through Jesus Christ as if he serves us. This would truly be conceited and selfishly ambitious. Our greatest contentment is based on God’s sovereignty and goodness. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Are you content in your circumstances? If not, how might you surrender more to Christ with humility? What is your contentment based on—your ideas of what is good or on God’s sovereignty over your circumstances and life? Perhaps more time meditating on Christ’s humility will help.
* The Reformation Study Bible, Note on Philippians 4:11, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.