I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).
Radio personality Steve Brown tells the story of a king who was discontented. He was so anxious he couldn’t sleep, rest or think. He called his wise men and asked them what he could do. One very old wise man said, “Find a man in your kingdom who is content. Then wear his shirt for a day and night and you will be content.” That sounded like a good idea, so the king ordered some of his servants to search for such a person. Days blended into weeks before his servants returned. “Where is his shirt?” asked the king. “Your majesty, he did not have one.” (from Pipeline, February 2013)
As it is for most of us today, it was uncomfortable in Paul’s day to speak of one’s personal financial situation, especially when things were not going well. But when the Philippians shared sacrificially with him, he opened his heart and shared a lesson with them as well. Concerning the gift they sent, he said, “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that you have renewed your concern for me” (vs. 10). Once again using an agricultural term, what the NIV translates “renewed” was the word used for the seasonal blossoming of a plant, much as trees that have lost their leaves bloom in the spring.
He wants them to know that he does not speak from his need. He tells them “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (vs. 11). Note that he speaks of having learned to be content. It is not natural to be content but something acquired. Even as infants we come forth grabbing and wanting because our survival depends on it. However, over time the grabbing and wanting goes from survival needs to being generalized to all aspects of life. To learn contentment requires experience and Paul’s experience had brought him this valuable lesson.
He says that he has learned to be in need and have plenty. His early Jewish upbringing and the all-embracing knowledge that came later with his conversion to Christ taught him the full meaning of David’s statement – “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion” (Psalm 73:26). It may be true that Paul watched his possessions swept away as in a flood, friends treated him as a leper, had a nagging malady that felt like a thorn in his flesh but the Lord was his portion. Perhaps he awoke under a pile of stones thrown in anger by his enemies or at another time alone, all alone, in a tiny cell with bars blocking the windows. Yet the Lord remained his portion. As sure as the Israelites found their daily ration of manna, Paul knew that for this day the Lord would be the portion he needed. And so an old man’s voice lifted in song over the complaints and curses of the prison where he was. Even a prison is a cathedral in the presence of Christ.
It is most interesting that he went to the other extreme in talking to the Philippians. “To have plenty . . .” That may have been the more difficult duty. When everything is stripped away, when all in hand is a moldy piece of bread it is not hard to look away to fix eyes on Christ. But when the banquet table is full, the Guest of Honor can be forgotten as we gorge on the food in front of us.
In a land of plenty, the challenge to the Christian is how to handle abundance. When surrounded by gems is it not our nature to want to put some of those in our pockets? When I have a comfortable chair to sit in, is it not normal to hate the idea of getting out of it? When my stereo system reproduces the full sound of the symphony, shouldn’t I want to hear it? God put us in a world of sensations and because of that certain things will appeal to our senses. But knowing how to properly handle them takes heavenly knowledge. Paul discovered that he had to know how to handle having plenty. He learned not to feast his eyes on the things in front of him but to fix his eyes on the Lord, his portion.
How could he do this?
“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (vs. 13).
Paul spoke this famous line in relation to the extremes of being in want and having plenty. Wherever he was on the economic ladder, whether he was in prison or walking free, no matter if his preaching brought a revival or a riot, Paul knew confidently that in these situations he was there because of God’s leading. Unfortunately in our age this verse is grossly misused to support the notion that God will help an individual to do anything from lifting weights to losing weight. While these and many other things are good ends in themselves, the verse is not to be taken as a carte blanche promise to be applied anywhere and everywhere apart from the condition of a person’s heart and his/her obedience to God. Paul could claim Christ’s strength because he had yielded utterly to Christ’s lordship.
If we are thrown in a situation too large for us, but it is by God’s bidding, we can claim the verse. If we are serving Him and are led into the valley of the shadow of death, we can claim the verse. If we find in following the Lord we are abandoned, abused and scorned, we can claim the verse. When we are in those or any other situations at the Lord’s leading, what a great verse to call out with confidence! “I can do everything through Him who give me strength.” Hallelujah!
From - "Joy Revealed" by Allen Satterlee