Stoicism was one of the major philosophical systems that confronted Christians in the ancient world. Followers of Stoic principles believed that there was little they could do about the circumstances they faced but that they could control their response to events in a way that ensured their contentment. This virtue was something that the ancient Stoics pursued in an individualistic manner, and they worked to create in themselves a disposition that would allow them never to experience distress on account of their circumstances.
Certainly we can see some insights in Stoic philosophy, not the least of which is the importance of our responses to the events and people around us. Moreover, contentment was a virtue not only for ancient Stoicism but also for the church. For example, Paul does mention his ability to find contentment in all circumstances in Philippians 4:11. Nevertheless, the source and power of Paul’s contentment was far different than the source and “power” of Stoic contentment. That is because Christians rely not on themselves but on Christ in order to face life’s greatest joys and deepest sorrows (Phil. 4:11–13).
“I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) is not an expression of confidence in oneself. Instead, it is an expression of sufficiency in Christ. No matter what happens to us, we are in Christ, and that is enough. If we are wealthy and prospering, we are in Christ. If we are poor and suffering, we are still in Christ. Ultimately, both economic statuses are of little consequence. What matters is that we are in Jesus, for Jesus alone can strengthen us to resist the temptations that uniquely attend wealth as well as those that uniquely attend poverty. To live is Christ and to die is gain (1:21); everything we do must be done in and through our Lord and Savior.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “Because believers are in Christ (Gal. 2:20), he infuses them with His strength to sustain them” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1726). Our peace amid joy and tribulation is not based on our ability to calmly face life but on the facts that we belong to Christ, that He never lets us go, and that He is faithful to give us the grace to live for Him no matter our circumstances.
If we depend on our own power and character in the midst of storms, we will by no means find lasting peace. But when we trust in Christ and seek to do everything in Him, we can serve Him faithfully. This does not mean that our concerns do — or even should — go away; rather, it means that our concerns no longer define our lives and bind us with worry. On the contrary, we rest satisfied in the Lord no matter what happens around us.