As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that there are certain situations I can’t change. More importantly, I can’t change other people. This is the hardest truth to accept, especially because I want to get along with everyone. That’s a natural tendency for most people. These verses hit home:
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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13, ESV
When it comes to people, I’ve come to understand that I can provide opportunities and facts which may lead to change. “May” is the key word. Just because the opportunity is there, just because the facts as I know them are laid out clearly, that doesn’t mean a person will change. I’m a living example of that truth. There have been plenty of people who have tried to change me over the years, some for good and some for not. The reality is that ultimately they don’t change me for I change myself or God through His Spirit changes me.
Because we have so little control over situations and other people, we can become frustrated, upset, angry, or even sad. We can lament how life is completely unfair (it is due to sin, and that’s another truth), but that doesn’t change the circumstances.
I know Paul experienced these exact feelings. We can see his words in Romans 9-10 and feel the longing he had for the rest of Israel to come to know Jesus Christ and be saved. Paul was even willing to give up his own salvation so that his brethren would have theirs. Yet, it wasn’t his choice. He was a preacher and demonstrator of the Gospel. That was what he was called to do. And in that he learned to be content.
The same applies to us. Life is going to throw us major blows. We are going to see unfairness. We are going to experience disappointment, sorrow, even anger, at what happens around us and to us. But Paul, through everything, found contentment. Contentment isn’t weakness. It isn’t letting things be and doing nothing. Rather, it’s an acceptance that the way things are right now is how they are right now. We know Paul actively worked to spread the Gospel to those who didn’t believe. So contentment isn’t just passively accepting what comes and doing nothing about it.
Paul found contentment in Christ. He could accept the way things were because of Christ. But He also found his purpose and his direction from Christ. Maybe he didn’t like the way things were right then. But he had a Savior that had outlined for him how he should live his life. So do we. In following through, we will see change. We can work for the good of the Kingdom. Over time, some situations and some people will change. Not all, but some. However, if we’re railing away at the unfairness of it all, we aren’t able to make a positive step towards change. We’re stuck where we are. That’s why it’s important to be content in all things. We can only reach that state through Christ. Then, through Christ, we can move forward. That’s what Paul was trying to teach the believers in Philippi. That’s what the Holy Spirit has preserved us to understand today.