Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.
There have been few persons whose patience and temper have been so severely tried as Paul's (2 Corinthians 11:26, 27), and as he writes he is a prisoner. Do not think, however, that he was not subject to the same infirmities as other men. So far was a contented disposition from being natural to him he tells us that he had acquired it. Where had he ]earned this lesson? At the feet of Gamaliel or from the heathen philosophers? These might have commended the virtue of contentment, and shown its reasonableness, and its necessity to happiness, but to put their followers in possession of it was not in their power. Paul learned it at the feet of Jesus, in the school of Christian experience, where we may learn it too.
I. CHRISTIANITY TAKES AWAY THE NATURAL CASES OF DISCONTENT.
1. Pride. Men are naturally proud. They think nothing too good for them, and if anything be withheld it is not according to their deserts; hence discontent. Christianity removes this. Humility is its first lesson. The Christian has been convinced that he is a sinner, and his high thoughts, therefore, are overthrown. So far from having been treated worse than he deserves, he feels that he has been treated better. Pride therefore yields to humble gratitude.
2. Self-preference. We naturally love ourselves with excessive fondness. In comparison with our own affairs all others are of no value. While others possess advantages which we do not, or are free from troubles which we experience, envy naturally arises. Christianity regulates this self-love by commanding us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Those who do this are free from envy and repining and so are content.
3. Covetousness. Men have naturally a strong desire for the things of this world, and the more they have, the more they crave. Ahab was only like many others. Here Christianity brings a cure (Luke 12:15). It reveals far more valuable riches than earth can give, which are sure and abiding, and knowing this he is content.
II. IT FURNISHES VERY POWERFUL MOTIVES FOR THE EXERCISE OF A CONTENTED MIND.
1. The disciples of Christ are under the strongest obligations to walk in the footsteps of their Master. In His life contentedness was very conspicuous. No one ever had such provocations to discontent as He. Shall we, then, murmur at our light afflictions when Christ bore so much for us.
2. True Christians are convinced that their lot, whatever it may be, has been chosen for them by their Lord. Can they, then, be dissatisfied with the appointments of their Sovereign, whom they are bound to obey and serve?
3. Their lot has been chosen in infinite love to their souls. Christ knows what is best for His people, and will order all things for their good. With this conviction how can the real Christian be otherwise than contented.
III. PRACTICAL USES.
1. For correcting the error that religion destroys cheerfulness. We see that its natural tendency is the very reverse. Look at the proud, selfish, or covetous man, and see what a miserable being he is. Compare him with the tranquil apostle. Surely, then, that which promotes contentment cannot be destructive of happiness.
2. To stir up Christians to their duty. There are many who, on the whole, live under the influence of religion, who nevertheless when disappointed or afflicted betray impatience. The fact is pride, self-preference, etc., are not completely broken. Then call forth your principles into more lively exercise. What grace could do for Paul lit can do for you.
(E. Cooper, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.