The Perfect Prisoner
You can have nothing physically and still be content.

One lovely princess. Two prisoners—willing to fight to the death to win her love. Just one problem: The princess doesn’t even know that these two captured soldiers exist.

They saw her outside their prison window one day, became madly infatuated with her, and were willing to sever their lifelong bond of friendship to court her. Men fighting over the same woman—a tale as old as time. And it’s part of the knight’s tale from The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer.

As silly as this quarrel over an unavailable woman is, even sillier is the irrepressible ingratitude of both prisoners.

Eventually, one of them was set free and banished from the kingdom. The other remained in prison. Each man wanted to switch places with the other. Though the prisoner could see the princess out the window each day, he wished he could be his former friend—banished yet still able to raise an army, return to the kingdom, conquer it, and win the princess as his bride.

Meanwhile, the free man returned to a life of nobility and gentility in his home kingdom. He could have pursued a relationship with any woman he pleased, yet he lay in bed all day, every day, wailing and unable to eat or sleep because he could no longer gaze upon the princess through the prison window.

The story continues, but I shall not spoil it for any poetry enthusiasts reading this.

Clearly, this is an absurd situation. Why would someone with liberty ever yearn to return to shackles? While we may not go to this extreme, it is still extremely easy to be discontent with our lot in life, dwelling on the negative even when we are richly blessed.

How can the robust single population of God’s Church develop uncompromising contentment? One simple way is by learning from the example of the “perfect” prisoner: the Apostle Paul.

The Simplest Life

Prison life consists of the bare essentials and practically nothing else. Paul was fine with this. “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8). Just enough food? Check. Just enough clothing? Check. Then be content!

Here in 1 Timothy 6, the Greek word for contentment means “a perfection condition of life, in which no aid or support is needed; a sufficiency of the necessities of life.”

Contentment is a perfect condition of life! We can think of contentment as the ideal mix of happiness, gratitude, relaxed faith, peace of mind, and hope for the future. It is possible to be content even in prison, when our lives are stripped of all luxuries and conveniences, because contentment is a mindset focused on spiritual blessings.

Paul rebuked those who suppose that contentment comes from materialism (verses 9-10). “We want the best job, the fancy car, the nice home, the passionate romance,” wrote Stephen Flurry. “But unbridled desire only spirals into endless frustration and failure. Discontentment with your savings account, your location, your education, your health, your singlehood or anything else actually dishonors God and betrays a lack of faith. It also leads to impatience and frustration that cause you to make terrible life decisions” (“A Secret to Happiness,” Philadelphia Trumpet, March 2015).

So many people binge on sensual gratification for a lifetime before realizing that it doesn’t produce contentment. They choose to learn contentment the hard way, if they learn it at all. King Solomon is a prime example of this, and he recorded his miserable experience for our benefit in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Paul wrote: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). He had to learn contentment. It didn’t come naturally, and it didn’t appear overnight.

The context of this verse reveals Paul’s simple secret to contentment in chains. He had two things that all singles in God’s Church also have, and that was enough for him.

1) Paul Had God

“I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:12-13).

From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, Paul always had God on his side and Jesus Christ working in him by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Notice the impressive quality of Paul’s interactions with God: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. … Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (verses 4, 6).

Paul was relentlessly positive, regularly singing praises to God! He had a merry spirit. He prayed to God about absolutely everything—thanking God profusely for blessings already received before asking for more.

Paul diligently policed his thoughts, refusing to allow discontent to set in. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (verse 8).

Picture Paul writing out a detailed list of his spiritual blessings and praying and meditating over it daily. Certainly, his list would have included the brethren.

2) Paul Had the Brethren

“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again …” (Philippians 4:10). God’s people—in particular, the Philippian brethren—caused Paul to rejoice. They gave generously to support God’s Work, comforted him, submitted to his authority as God’s apostle, consistently grew spiritually, and prayed hard for him. Paul called them “my joy and crown” (verse 1).

Likewise, singles have each other and should be committed to building strong friendships within the singles community. And who knows, something more than a friendship could develop. Seize opportunities to date. Pray for each other. Serve.

Read through Philippians 4. Every single verse is about God or the brethren! Even when Paul had nothing else, he still felt like he had everything. What a lesson for God’s singles. If we can follow Paul’s example of contentment in chains, we too can experience a perfect condition of life.