11 [...] for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.This verse is frequently quoted in lessons on being content, and rightfully so. Paul, the great missionary of the early church, faced many trials and tribulations. Stoned, shipwrecked, chased out of town, Paul had plenty of opportunities to learn about sufficiency and contentment.
The study notes in my bible add some interesting context to this verse. First, the word Greek term translated as "content" in verse 11 refers to self-sufficiency or satisfaction. It is the same word translated as "sufficiency" in 2 Corinthians 9:8: "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work." Paul has learned that what he has is what he needs, that God can and will provide just what we need to meet our needs, if we but learn to trust in Him.
Second, verse 12 indicates that Paul faced both needs and prosperity. The phrase "facing plenty" referred to the feeding and fattening of animals. They were given such an abundance of food that they grew fat for the slaughter. Throughout all this, Paul learned to keep an even keel, to live in the moment and not worry or plan for tomorrow.
Finally, in verse 13 when Paul talks about the ability to do all things, he is literally talking about being strong and having strength from the Lord. And again, we see him refer to "all things", both the times when he has need and the times when he has plenty.
I have found that having this level of contentment is difficult. It's easy to say "I have a big enough house, and I have enough food", but I still struggle with materialistic longings. I want a bigger TV, a newer car, a faster computer. I even try to add a spiritual element to it. I want to make more money so that I can give more, so that I can donate to ministry, so that I can do things for God.
Instead, I need to learn to be content with what I have. I can donate time, and knowledge, and expertise. I can change my financial priorities and spending. Above all, I need to learn to trust more in God, and have faith that He will provide for my needs.
Yeah, it's hard.