Those who complain most are most to be complained of. –Matthew Henry, pastor and author
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. . . . Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10 (NASB)
A favorite Bible verse for many is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Not too often, however, do I hear this passage quoted in its original context of finding contentment regardless of the circumstances.
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 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. Philippians 4:11-13 (NASB)
I’m not so sure that we actually understand the nature of Paul’s secret, or that we even grasp what contentment is all about. Contentment is not a passive, fatalistic attitude that resigns itself to thinking whatever is going to happen is going to happen. Paul was not content with errant Christianity, or with people not knowing Christ—as evidenced by his aggressive witness and sacrificial lifestyle. Paul, however, was saying that He had learned the secret of being at rest regardless of whether his personal circumstances were favorable or adverse.
Paul’s Secret to Contentment
What was Paul’s secret? He recognized that every circumstance, whether good or bad, pleasant or painful, just or unjust, provided him with an opportunity to identify with Christ. Through His earthly life and subsequent death on the cross, Jesus experienced it all—every form of human suffering. And to be identified with Christ, well, there is no greater honor—no matter what form that identification takes.
How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11 (Phillips)
Of course, we all want to share in the fullness of God’s blessings, but do we aim to know Him to the degree that we consider it an honor to share in His sufferings? It seems to me that we either aim to know Him and all that entails, or we complain about a world that is becoming increasingly unlike what we want.
Ours is a crucial time in history for the church as God uses adverse circumstances to separate the “wheat” from the “chaff” (see Matthew 3:12). Few things do as much to distinguish the true people of God from those mired in a worldly mindset than how we respond to circumstances that are not according to our liking.
What Do We Want?
The wilderness generation of Israelites never learned this secret, failing to comprehend the amazing opportunity they had been given to be identified as the people of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their negative example is one we dare not follow.
At some point, we must ask ourselves if we truly desire to know Him, or if we just want the benefits that come with having God in our lives. If we aim to know Him and to be identified with Him in each and every way, our tendencies to complain will mysteriously begin to vanish.
To know Him—there is no higher call; to make Him known—no greater privilege; to identify with His name—no greater honor!
This post is drawn from Chapter Forty-Eight of Bob’s devotional: Champions in the Wilderness—Fifty-Two Devotions to Guide and Strengthen Emerging Overcomers