“I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content — whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:12-13 (CSB)
Often times these verses are read in light of finding contentment in the hard times. That’s certainly part of what Paul says. But he also talks about being content in times of abundance. I’d argue that it’s as difficult – perhaps more difficult – to be content in times of abundance. The more you have, the more you realize what else you could have. Instead of enjoying the good gifts God has given, you tell yourself you need just a bit more to be satisfied. Ultimately, contentment is not about what you have. It’s about what you value. And the only way to value the giver above the gifts is through the enabling work of the one who strengthens you.
A single word can make a big difference. After recounting the humility displayed by Christ in the incarnation, Paul exhorts the Philippians to “work out” their salvation with appropriate awe and reverence for what God has done (Php 2:12). Unfortunately, many of us read this verse as if it says “work for” our salvation. We confuse which aspect of our salvation Paul is talking about.
The New Testament reveals three realities about our salvation. We have been saved (justification). We are being saved (sanctification). We will be saved (glorification). Paul is talking about the “are being” phase. That’s why he says “work out” not “work for.” Sanctification is a natural response to and evidence of justification. It’s the progressive work of the Spirit in our lives and the assurance that we will one day experience glorification. When we confuse the three aspects of salvation, we get sideways in our faith. We either assume we are the means of salvation and pursue works based righteousness or we assume that justification negates the need to pursue a life of holiness. What we need instead is to work out our salvation in humility recognizing that God alone enables and empowers us.