“Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.”
We have learned that the biblical concept of peace does not focus on the absence of trouble. Biblical peace is unrelated to circumstances; it is a goodness/fullness of life that is not touched by what happens on the outside. You can be in the midst of great trials and still have peace.
In the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul said he learned to be at peace in any circumstance: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4.11-13)
The word that is translated content — “I have learned in whatever situation to be content” — is autarkes in the Greek, and it means literally “self-sufficient, self-supporting, independent.” It is a powerful word. Obviously, and the context makes this clear, it is not referring to self-sufficiency apart from Christ; rather, it is referring to inner strength and sufficiency that has been learned and developed through the indwelling power of Christ.
It does not refer to independence from Christ; it refers to independence from external circumstances. Paul is saying that his contentment and inner peace have nothing to do with the circumstances of his life.
Note that Paul tells us that he learned to be content in all circumstances. It didn’t come naturally to him, nor was it automatically given to him by the Lord. It is a process, something that must be learned from walking with God each day through the challenges and situations of life in a broken world.
Key to the process is allowing God to use all of our circumstances to teach us about himself and train us in the mental and spiritual skills of the Christian faith. This is part of what Paul means in 1 Timothy 4 when he says “train yourself in godliness.”
The notion that the Lord somehow magically gives us peace and contentment whenever we ask for it is contrary to the process of spiritual transformation laid out in scripture. There are times when the Lord infuses his people with peace, but those are unique, special situations. They are the exception, not the rule.
Paul provides further insight into peace and contentment. Here is what he told Timothy: “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6.6-10)
What Paul is saying is that the desire to possess and acquire things is a source of discontent. The passage refers to “the desire to be rich” as the central problem, further emphasized by the famous verse “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” The truth of the matter is that it’s not just the desire for money that is the issue; the problem is when we love and desire anything more than God. It is the “craving” for something other than God that causes discontent and anxiety.
This is what Jesus warned about in the Sermon on the Mount when he told us to be careful what treasures we seek, because “where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” In other words, we should treat earthly treasures as just that … earthly treasures.
There is nothing wrong with having things; or seeking to succeed and achieve; or competing to win. It is imperative, however, that we subordinate all of our pursuits and possessions to the Lordship of Christ. Jesus and his kingdom must be the why and the how of our efforts. Our most fundamental desire must be to obey him, and we must obey him in why we acquire and achieve, and in the way we go about it.
Trust God, learn to walk in peace, and be content.