The Secret of Contentment
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
- Philippians 4:12
Do you see that word: “secret”? That’s an important word in this week’s passage.
The ancient world was full of what were called “mystery religions.” Gnosticism might be the one you’ve heard of or stumbled across if you’ve wandered through some of those old, dusty books or if you read The DaVinci Code.
Gnostic religions structured themselves as a “pay to pray” model. A religious sage or guru would teach a small and select community of disciple-subscribers. The teacher would share their secret and initiate others into the club of people in the know.
The Gnostic movement arose out of the first century stew of Greek Neo-Platonism, Second Temple Judaism, and paleo-Christianity. Paul would have seen its birth. And he played with its themes through his writing. Many of his major works hinge on mysteries and secrets, but Paul taught publicly and worked hard to make sure as many as possible knew as much as possible about these secrets.
Many of us have moments when we feel locked out of the house of paradise. We peek into the windows longingly while the wind howls around us and chills our bones. We hunt under the doormat and the potted plants around the door looking for a key: the secret of contentment. And that’s why we chase religious gurus. They show up and jingle the keys.
Learning the secret of contentment requires relationship. Paul is teaching it to us in this week’s passage (albeit obliquely). And, as we’ll see tomorrow, he learned it in the context of relationship as well. In this way, Paul hijacked the Gnostic model. He jingled the secret keys and then passed them out freely and broadly.
Why do you think Paul would forego a lucrative religious model – subjecting himself to the vagaries of hunger and want – in order spread the secret of contentment so broadly and so freely? What does this mean for our search for contentment?