During the month of May, I challenged myself to read the book of Philippians once a day. While I missed a few days, I consider this Bible study exercise a success.
Instead of just reading Philippians and forgetting about it, I was able to remember what I studied.
But this article isn’t about how to study the Bible. Instead, I wanted to share a lesson I’ve learned from the Apostle Paul that I think is very relevant for our times today.
First, I want to challenge you to go read Philippians straight through. It probably will take ten to fifteen minutes of your time. Then come back to this article.
A couple weekends ago, my family was in a very grouchy mood. We were all irritated with each other. Being stuck at home because of the pandemic was really getting on our nerves.
While everyone else went outside to work in the yard, I stayed inside. As usually happens when I’m in a bad mood, I started to gripe about my circumstances.
If only I was able to go hang out with my friends, I wouldn’t be so grouchy.
If only I could go to that conference, I’d be in a better mood.
If only I was able to go to church, I’d be happy.
I’m sure the pandemic has given you plenty of opportunities to have these kinds of thoughts.
Here’s the problem: We think that if we just had that one thing, we would be perfectly content and happy.
Remember the first chapter of Philippians? Paul is in prison. But notice how he writes. The words overflow with love towards the Philippians. He even expresses joy over people slandering him because in the process, they are sharing the gospel (Phil. 1:12-18). Pretty incredible right?
What’s his secret?
Unlike most people who try to sell their “secret for having a perfect life,” Paul shares his secret in chapter four:
I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (4:12-13)
That last sentence is pasted everywhere as an inspirational quote. Uncertain if you’ll be able to pass that college class? You can do all things in Christ. Unsure you’ll pass your driver’s test? You can do anything through Christ’s power.
But that’s not what this verse means.
Paul is talking about contentment. That ever elusive state of mind we think we can achieve if we just have one more thing.
Where did he find it?
In Jesus Christ alone.
Check out what Paul says earlier in Philippians:
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ (1:21, 2:7-8).
Paul’s life was consumed with serving Christ. Even in adverse circumstances, he was able to say “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!” (4:4)
During this pandemic, we keep trying to find peace and happiness in all the wrong things. We think that Zoom calls, social distancing walks, learning a new hobby, or finishing up the school year well will give us fulfillment. Sure, after watching a movie, you might feel good for a bit, but that’s not true happiness.
We could call this “cotton-candy happiness.” It’s good for a moment, then vanishes as quickly as sugar can melt on your tongue.
True happiness and joy can only be found in Christ, not in circumstances.
If Paul was writing Philippians today from his apartment, separated from his church family because of the pandemic or riots, he would write the same words. This is a truth that transcends time and culture.
We can never find true joy, peace, or contentment except in the person of Christ.
I want to call you, dear reader, to stop searching. Stop looking for contentment in new clothes, new books, new video games. Stop looking for fulfillment in Zoom meetings, Facebook Messenger, and phone calls. Stop.
You can’t find happiness there.
If you know Christ, you have access to the fountain of peace, joy, and contentment.
Why do we keep seeking for water inside raisins when the entire ocean is in front of us?