Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.…
I. ITS SPHERE. It is exercised in different circumstances.
1. In the midst of competence, in which case it suppresses the strivings of ambition and envious murmurings on account of the successes of others.
2. Under hope deferred, in which case it teaches a patient waiting for God's time as the best.
3. Under pressure of adversity, from which there is no hope of escape in this world, in which case it represses fretfulness and a charging of God foolishly.
II. ITS QUALIFICATIONS AND ILLUSTRATIONS.
1. It was his portion of worldly goods with which the apostle was content — not with his spiritual condition. This would have been sin. With this we should be discontented. Nor is this inconsistent with gratitude for grace received. The contentment of an unrenewed man is a great aggravation of his sinfulness. But while discontented on account of the evil of your own heart, be not discontented with the slow operations of God's sanctifying grace, so as to fret and fume that you are not already perfect.
2. Contentment with our worldly condition is not inconsistent with endeavour to have it improved.
(1) To the poorest man Christianity says, "Be thou content," but also, "be diligent in business" (1 Corinthians 7:21). The contentment enjoined is for the time being. The man is poor today, and for this day faith enjoins him to be satisfied. But deliverance from poverty may be best for tomorrow, and he therefore works for his extrication. He may not succeed, but he says it appears to be best that poverty should be continued another day, and thus he proceeds till relief comes.
(2) Some persons of a tender but mistaken conscience feel as if it were a sin to attempt to rise. This is foolish. It is our commanded duty to endeavour to improve our circumstances, only we must not murmur if we do not succeed.
(3) There are those who presume to denounce people when they agitate for the repeal of bad laws — preaching the Christian duty of content. That contentment is a part of duty is granted. Iniquitous legislation is as much a permitted judgment of God as famine, and during the time of its infliction we must humble ourselves. But in both cases a man is a criminal who does not use all means for the removal of the curse. What would have been our condition but for a noble Christian patriotism.
3. This contentment is relative to our present state, and not absolute in respect to the entire demands of our nature. The Christian is content with his supplies as a pilgrim. To be satisfied with the world as a home is sinful. It is well enough as a land to travel in, but I expect something better.
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH IT IS TO BE CHERISHED.
1. Let us reflect that whatever our circumstances they are the arrangement of the providence of God, who has a sovereign right to dispose of us. "Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of earth, but woe to him that contendeth with his Maker."
2. It is requisite that we should acquire a habit of looking at the favourable as well as the adverse side. If you are poor, God has given you your health; if He has taken two of your children He has spared a third; some of your neighbours are worse off; at the worst you have your Bible and your Saviour.
3. Supposing our lives were affliction throughout, still we would deserve worse.
4. God designs our advantage in every calamity. Christian hope is the secret of Christian contentment.
(W. Anderson, LL. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.