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Favor, prosperity, promotion, health, abundance, destiny, vision, wholeness – in short, what some would term the Blessing – appear to be the stock and trade of Word-Faith messaging. And why not? Is there anything intrinsically undesirable about any of these things? Would we prefer disgrace, poverty, humiliation, sickness, lack, pointlessness, blindness, and brokenness – what some call the Curse – instead? I think few are the folks indeed that earnestly pray for discomfort of this sort. And yet many, Christians and unbelievers alike, react negatively to Word-Faith preachers whom they derisively accuse of peddling a name-it-and-claim-it gospel.[1]

Usually, when the Church joins the world in an opinion, it doesn’t signal good things to come. But sometimes their congruence of criticism can serve as a warning of a real problem. And with regard to their reservations about the prosperity gospel, I think they are on to something. Any fruit eaten as a singular diet will eventually cause problems for the body. Oranges are good, but eat enough of them and one could break out in hives. And don’t even get me started on what happens with kiwis! Similar things can occur if we eat verses like the following with no balancing words beside:

Mark 9:23
Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.[2]

Ephesians 3:20
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

“All things are possible to him who believes” are the words of Jesus; but are they without constraint? God can do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, but does he do so unconditionally? If I wrap Philippians 4:13 around my mind like a mantra, what will I do with the continual confrontation of things I cannot do that life will surely show me? Might there not be a deeper principle to discover?

Philippians 4:10-13
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.
11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

When we read “I can do all things through Christ,” it is good to remember that Paul wrote those words while he was “in chains for Christ”[3] and years after he had penned the following testimony to the church in Corinth:

2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NIV
23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.
24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,
26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

Paul’s obedient submission to Christ meant a life of suffering and glory,[4] not one of personal comfort and financial prosperity. Whenever we succumb to the temptation of expecting – or worse yet, demanding – a trouble-free life, the realities of the battle we are in will derail our false faith. Why me, God? How could you, God? I thought you promised me the more abundant life? The problem isn’t with his promise;[5] it’s with our material definitions of abundance. Paul’s understanding of sufficiency and richness in life went well beyond a unidimensional name-it-and-claim-it motivational mantra.

In the figure below, I’ve attempted illustrate the dynamic tension of the text of Philippians 4:11-13. Each phrase and condition can be seen as pulling in opposite directions with coordinated cooperation, all of it upheld by the strength of Christ.

Philippians 4

Jesus said that man speaks from the abundance of his heart.[6] When we fill our hearts with the emptiness of lacking, even the legitimate lacking of basic daily needs we have no means to fulfill – a condition generally known as poverty – all that springs forth from our lips will be tainted with grasping need. On the heels of giving thanks to the Philippians for their financial gift (vs. 10), Paul makes it clear that his gratitude is untainted by need. He wasn’t speaking out of lack. Why? Because he had learned to be content in every context. How? Through the Lord’s instruction. Jesus led him through abasement and abundance, fullness and hunger, prosperity and poverty. And through it all, He continually disciplined him to the truth that “my grace is sufficient for thee.”

What does it mean to be content? Merriam-Webster defines it as “pleased and satisfied, not needing more.”[7] The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “desiring no more than one has; satisfied” and traces its etymology to the Latin contentus, to restrain.[8] In using “content” for the Greek autarkes in Philippians 4:11, the Translators chose well. Autarkes is a compound term composed of autos, himself, and arkeo, to suffice.[9] “Self-sufficient” is the straightforward translation, but that doesn’t capture the full sentiment of the text. Arkeo carries the sense of raising a barrier and means “to ward off.”[10] It is related to the term airo, which means to lift up, to take up or away. As a Hebraism, it signifies the expiation of sin.[11]

Through both word histories we are taken from a state of satisfaction – contentedness – to its disciplined root of restraint and removal. True contentment comes from restraining need and removing sin. When we recognize that our sins have been washed away and our deepest need has been met, all of life’s circumstances can be faced with faith in the One who holds us. Without that recognition, whether we are abased or abounding we will still be needy.

Paul warned Timothy about proud men with corrupt minds who used perverse arguments to claim that godliness was a money-making venture, a means to material wealth.[12] Paul strongly refutes those claims and points out the pitfalls to where they lead.

1Timothy 6:6
But godliness with contentment is great gain. [Emphasis added.]

Paul says that godliness, which E. W. Bullinger defines as a “real, true, vital, and spiritual relation with God,”[13] is mega-profitable (thus the Greek) when it is combined with contentment. I would go so far as to argue that if we are discontent, we need to examine the depth of our relationship with God.

Paul continues with a very real and practical observation.

1Timothy 6:7-8
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

When viewed from the ultimate destination of our journey, any lack in this life loses its hold on our happiness. Though Paul proclaimed his contentment to the Philippians in the face of hunger and nakedness, the contentment he speaks of here to Timothy regards restraining ourselves against greed and covetousness with practical thankfulness. If we are clothed and fed, we should be satisfied. Simple and practical as this admonition is, it has deep roots in the history of the covenant community.

When Jacob left Beersheba lest he be killed by Esau, God met him in his dreams at Bethel. The Lord promised to him the land in which he rested and that his family would as numerous as the dust of the earth and conferred upon him the blessing of Abraham, namely that Messiah would come through his descendants.[14] Furthermore, He comforted him in his flight with the promise of His presence.

Genesis 28:15
And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.

We will see this promise again in the context of contentment. But for now, I want to draw your attention to Jacob’s response to the marvelous promises that God made to him in the dream.

Genesis 28:20-21
20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,
21 So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God:

“If God will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear” is the root stock of “having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.” When Jacob’s children were near the end of their wilderness wanderings, Moses reminded them of how God had led them.

Deuteronomy 8:2-5
2 And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.
4 Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.
5 Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.

Before He supplied the manna, God allowed their hunger. He sustained their physical needs with the same menu for forty years in order for them to understand that their true vitality depended on their absorption, assimilation, and implementation of God’s heart expression to them. The very word of God was not only to give them life, but guide it as well. And in that journey, with the Lord’s presence  continually before them in the column of cloud and fire, He fed them with manna and kept their clothes from wearing out. Having food and raiment let us therewith be content indeed!

Hebrews 13:5-6
5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
6 So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

We can be content with what we have and comport ourselves without covetousness because He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” If the Lord is with us in every situation, how can we not be content to encounter any circumstance? Knowing that God is with us should imbue us with the steady, happy, and stable satisfaction of being assured that all is well and that in all, we can give thanks.

Paul’s walk with Jesus was filled with suffering and persecution. Would it surprise you to find that the troubles he faced were the result of the Lord’s permissive design? Instead of railing against God or wringing his hands in worry and doubt, Paul came to see every trouble as a gift from God that kept him humble and Christ glorified.

2 Cor 12:7-10 The Message[15]
7 Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty!
8 At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that,
9 and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.
10 Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size — abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

His grace and presence makes any pressure, be it poverty or prosperity, bearable with contentment; for living in Him, and He through us, is life’s truest treasure.

[1] For another angle on this topic, see “The Idol of Faith” on my larumland blog.
[2] All Scriptures are from the King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
[3] Phil 1:13 NIV
[4] See Acts 9:10-16 and Acts 26:13-19
[5] See John 10:10 and 16:33
[6] Matt 12:34-37
[7] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/content, accessed 1/31/2015.
[8] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
[9] from The Complete Word Study Bible and The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1994, 2002 AMG International, Inc.
[10] Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.
[11] Ibid. and 1 John 3:5, among others. The term is used 101 times in the New Testament. The Greek New Testament is the documentation of Hebraic thought in Greek terms.
[12] 1 Tim 6:3-5
[13] Ethelbert W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament (Grand Rapid: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), 335. The Greek word used is eusebeia, which literally means to reverence or worship well.
[14] Gen 28:10-14 with Gen 12:1-3 and Gal 3:8
[15] from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.