Philippians 4:11 “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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.”
Contentment is not like an issued uniform you are handed as you enter a new season—it is a rare jewel to be learned. We’re not going to look at Paul, the author of this passage from Philippians, but rather Jesus—the greatest example of contentment in whatever situation and circumstance. If we look at Christ and consider how he had times of rejoicing and times he had to deny his own will to submit to the Father fully, we will be encouraged to do the same. We are going to look at three brief snapshots of Jesus’ joy and three of his suffering.
Jesus had seasons of joy.
All of these can easily seem like one big daily interruption after the next, but Jesus handles them all with grace, patience, and love. Think of how you would handle each of these. Likewise, each instance ultimately looks like joy from a distance. It’s easy to think of Jesus as a man of many sorrows, but he was entirely man and experienced joy, too.
My favorite time of Jesus showing joy was in Mark 10:16 when He took the children into His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them. I highly doubt Jesus had daily agendas the way we might today, but it wasn’t like He was on the schedule to work in the children’s ministry that day. He was teaching the crowds, being tested by the Pharisees, per usual. All these children are being brought to Him, and the disciples attempt to thwart them. Maybe it was a welcomed distraction from the Pharisees—but we do know that Jesus requested for the children to come. They brought Him joy!
And then again in Luke 9:10–11, Jesus withdraws with His disciples, but a great crowd follows. And they leave for good reason—they have just come back from Jesus sending them out to preach the gospel and heal the people. They recount their travels, and Jesus likely retreats with them to provide rest for his disciples. But they are soon discovered, followed, and pressed by the people. I can only imagine Peter rolling his eyes—James giving way to a heavy sigh. Maybe, maybe not. But we do know that Jesus welcomes them. And then he feeds five thousand of them. Certainly, no one would fault Jesus or the disciples for choosing to flee from that crowd, but He drew near to them because they were seeking the Shepherd, the Teacher. And this brought joy to Jesus.
Last one—in Luke 15:5, Jesus tells three parables about the sheep that went astray, the lost coin, and the prodigal son—when all three are recovered, He rejoices! Not only does Jesus rejoice in something wrong being put right again, but He recounts this to others: “he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me’” (Luke 15:6).
In all of these instances laid out here, Jesus shows joy and then draws others into that same state of being. Jesus had many joyful aspects to his years of ministry. He saw the faces of those who had just gained sight and sound for the first time. He saw skin healed and felt life restored into people. I think we could say these are all examples of joyful times. He was fully present in all these circumstances. He seized these opportunities placed before Him. Jesus knew that his death and suffering on the cross were coming, yet he was able to be joyful, to abound.
Jesus had seasons of suffering, too:
I would venture to say that the sufferings of Jesus are more pronounced and studied—we are only looking at three instances here, though.
In Luke 2:41-52, Jesus’ parents left Jerusalem after the Passover. Unknowingly, they left Him in the previous city while they were a whole day ahead. After realizing it, they returned to Jerusalem only to find Jesus in the temple, asking questions, answering questions, and listening to the teachers. Verses 49-51 says, “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them (Mary and Joseph)…” It wasn’t Jesus’ time to minister yet. It was his time to be a 12-year-old boy. Talk about self-denial and being content with where God had him! Jesus submitted to God by submitting to His parents. They were in authority over Him, and He denied Himself and left the temple.
This is good fuel for us to share with our children and counsel ourselves in when we are ready for the next phase of life. When our kids want to bypass a challenging math class or mean basketball coach; when we want to skip ahead to when our kids are sleeping through the whole night; when we want to retire and stop working altogether—Jesus submitted to his age and life stage of a preteen with utmost perfection, and we are called to the same.
A similar setup is true in Matthew 4:1-11. Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. He had fasted for 40 days and nights, and “he was hungry.” Jesus turns Satan down three times, and the devil leaves him. We can have a hard time placing what the incarnation means (fully God and fully man) because we don’t experience this in any other way. We believe it because God’s Word says so. Jesus was fully man and was fully tempted. Christian, you know what total agony it is to deny your flesh and choose righteousness when face to face with your propensity. Imagine the agony when dealing with food after 40 days of nothing—something that isn’t even sinful of itself. Yet Jesus used God’s Word to fight against it. And He won.
“…and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” I once heard a sermon on this—the elder said he wondered if the angels were telling Jesus, “it’s not yet your time! Be strong! Be courageous! Endure! Your time to sit at the right hand of the Father is coming, but it’s just not today!” Jesus was content with God’s will for Him to be hungry and tempted. Once again, we see that it was not yet His time to sit with the Father. It was his time to suffer, fulfill the prophecies, and live out being the “sympathetic high priest” we read of in Hebrews 4.
And the most profound suffering of all—His death on the cross. And this great suffering that He endured, nobody else will ever be able to compare. The loneliness, the anguish, the physical pain, seems insurmountable. The betrayal and total humiliation were realities for Him. To have every ability to stop it all and serve up justice to His false accusers, yet to choose silence—weighty suffering, indeed. This isn’t even to mention the people from His hometown who didn’t believe who He was. Or the people who were praising Him then trying to stone Him in the next moment. Or the sorrow He felt when people defiled the temple. Or the relentless crowds. Or the hunger, thirst, sadness, and weariness he felt. Or the betrayal by one of his closest. Or the fact that The future cornerstone of the Church denied him.
We must remember that His suffering and the way He conducted Himself gives us hope and energy, and strength to do the same. Suddenly our personal sense of justice seems so petty and pointless.
Jesus is our ultimate example of contentment because he denied the self.
Philippians 2:5–8 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 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” (ESV).
Verse 5 says “which”—this is a pronoun pointing back to “mind.” Our mind needs to remember that life is to be lived for God. We can use those words and bounce along to the next thing but stop and consider this truly. This is talking about self-denial. Jesus calls us to come and die to our sinful nature and obey the Father. Galatians 6 even says to “crucify the flesh.” This means we know upfront that it will be painful to flip over our sinful nature and choose a righteous act instead. Anger may be your propensity—when someone offends you or interrupts you or is against your very well-thought-out path of living, you are likely to raise your voice and use many words. However, living for God would be to choose quiet more than speech (Ecclesiastes 5:2). That’s hard! But we know we can lay that down because Christ did.
And in verse 6, we see that Jesus did not grasp too tightly or exploit the fact that he was “The visible expression of God’s invisible glory” (Colossians 1:15). Furthermore, this was not to gain worldly advantages or comforts.
I once had a VIP library card because I checked out so many books—and I flexed hard on that. If ever a book was returned late, I could simply show the librarian on duty that day. Talk about a ridiculously lame power trip. But Jesus did not hold tightly to privileges he possessed since before the foundation of the world. Instead, he emptied Himself, knowing that his suffering would lead to our holiness. He put on the form of a servant even up to the moments before he was betrayed. He served His disciples, Judas included, the Lord’s Supper. He washed feet, visited people in their homes and on their terms, healed and prayed for people, and gave all the glory to God the Father.
We learn in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” He didn’t empty any of his deity, but rather by becoming human, he took a weaker position—the King of kings was likewise the King of the upside-down. We can only be rich in character when we place ourselves under others. We can only be first in the kingdom when we make ourselves last in this one. When we serve, we will, in turn, be served and blessed.
It defies all human logic and is a severe form of suffering. Some people make this look easy—but regardless, we are all called to lay down our flesh and desires to live out God’s will and desires for our lives. And it doesn’t matter what our callings are—we are all called to this same sort of self-denial.
To say that Jesus lived a life of contentment could be laughable. Maybe that is just because we know He lived a sinless life. However, if we consider Jesus’s moments of joy and moments of suffering, then we can see that He was truly content with interruptions, stubborn people, ignorant men, a faithless hometown, needy people, compassionate friends, homes that welcomed him, the praise of man, the sting of death, and the resurrection into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we can be content with joy and suffering as well.
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Kate Stevens is a worshiper, wife, and mom, and with the help of the Lord, that is her hierarchy of work. Beyond this, she works with the youth and children at her church and edits as a freelancer. She enjoys reading, writing, running, cooking, and practicing thinking pure and lovely things.
After being unsure if they ever wanted children, the Lord eventually blessed Kate and her husband Clint after nearly three years of waiting. They welcomed their first daughter in 2011, another daughter in 2013, and yet another daughter in 2016. Kate considers this her most time-consuming, emotion-full, sanctifying, not always pretty but trusting in the Lord’s plan, and blessed work. Stuck in a house with four females, her husband Clint consistently reminds Kate of her identity and union in Christ.
You can read more of Kate's work here.