In Philippians 4, Paul says that he has learned to be content in any and all situations. Whether he has been in good or bad situations, Paul has learned to have contentment. I believe that we often hear this passage and thinks that Paul means that he will be happy in all situations regardless of what he is facing. He did, after all, just tell the Philippians to always rejoice. Yet, neither contentment, nor joy, is happiness. I would argue that contentment is have the peace of God in your life, rather than happiness.
Paul, known as Saul earlier in life, was a man who had the world at his fingertips. Trained under the leading Pharisaic teacher of his day, Paul was as smart as anyone in the empire. While being a Jew, Paul was also a Roman citizen and received much of the benefits that accompany citizenship. Saul was on a mission for God to stamp out the heretics causing a small sect inside Judaism known as Christians when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.
From this point on, Saul began to go by Paul, which many believe he adopted as the Roman equivalent of his Jewish name Saul. No, he was not given a new name by God like Abram–>Abraham or Jacob–>Israel. Paul left his life of prominence and status and became a “slave of Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:1) and a slave to others for the sake of Christ (2 Cor 4:5). Paul renounced his identity as a leader with power and status to the position as a servant.
Following this, Paul travels around much of the Roman empire spreading the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles. The Paul who used to persecute others now faced incomparable persecution (2 Cor 11:16ff). From being imprisoned, flogged, stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, left for dead, and many more hardships, Paul still says he is content in Christ.
This contentment is not happiness.
Instead, in all things Paul has learned to be content. The letter of Philippians now consists of 4 chapters, numerous verses, and section headings. However, it was originally one letter which was read through in one sitting. This is important to remember because Paul was not breaking thought and moving from one section to another. I believe that Paul’s contentment is directly tied to Phil 4:6-7 where he says “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NRSV).
We are to be in prayer about everything by praying without stopping (1 Thess 5:17). This constant prayer that will continue to renew our minds through the Spirit in Christ brings us a peace which is beyond anything we can understand.
This peace is the secret of being content.
So to receive this peace and contentment we are promised. We must be rooted in Christ and continually abiding in him (John 15). Root yourself in Christ and abide in him. Pray continuously and submit to the Holy Spirit as you are sanctified into the image of Christ. This transformation brings us the contentment and peace which allows Paul to write this in spite of everything he has faced.