Autarkies – Being Content

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content…” ~Phil. 4v.11

In Philippians 4, Paul talks about being content – no matter the situation he is in. Whether well fed or hungry, whether abased or abounding, and so on. What is interesting in all this is the word, Paul used for the word “content”. It is the Greek work autarkies (αὐτάρκης). The word is used only once in the Bible – and that is right here in verse 11.

~ Whats so special about this ?Good Old Spock

Well. It turns out that the word autarkeis is also found elsewhere in ancient literature. Where ? It is found quite commonly in ancient Stoic literature. What is Stoicism? Think about Spock on Star Trek, and you will have one. Stoicism perhaps in its more extreme forms is the philosophy where one denies oneself, all of life’s pleasures, happiness, emotions, feelings, enjoyments, etc.

~ Whats so special about this?

Many Stoics preached that the goal in life was to live an ascetic style of a life. It was the life of self-denial. You had to say Nien ! Nyet! Not ! – Neti Neti Neti ! to everything in life. And … this included even desire. (Interestingly enough, you can find this kind of thinking even in other Eastern Religions.)

~ Soeee? Whats so special about this?

Well. Here is the special.

So, Paul is saying something that is quite a contrast to the Stoics. Paul is saying that you can still have desires and still be content. The Stoics et alia would most likely say, that you must not only not desire anything, but that you must also not desire desire itself. This is similar, I believe to Buddhism, where desire is deemed to be the source of all unhappiness and suffering (= dukkha, try dukkha-itis).  So desire was viewed as something bad and we were to extinguish it.desire

The Stoics et alia say that desire and contentedness ought not and cannot co-exist. In contrast, the Bible says that desire and contentedness can in fact coexist and there is a reason for this.

What is that?

The reason is that when Paul uses/re-uses the word autarkies, he adds a twist to it.  He redefines it to mean, “God-sufficiency.” So you can have life a life where you find yourself with unfulfilled desires and still be content. Why? Because “Christ in you” gives you the strength to be contented in spite of the lack of fulfillment.  Because the Father is sufficient, you find yourself not consumed by your desires. Because Holy Spirit dwells in the you, you do not collapse in on yourself.

“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).