I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last, you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Philippians 4:10-14
Rejoicing In All Circumstances
In verse 10, Paul expresses his appreciation to the Philippians for the financial support they sent to him through Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25). Paul wants the Philippians to know he is aware that their concern for and support of him had not diminished. Unfortunately, they did not have the opportunity to show it. This may be because they were no possible way to get financial support to Paul. It took several days or weeks, depending on the mode of transportation. Paul was assured of the Philippians’ concern for his wellbeing. Whereas he was under house arrest, the financial support he received from the Philippian church helped meet his basic needs. Moreover, that support also boosted Paul’s morale and reminded him that his labor was not in vain.
Indeed, that is the point Paul is making in verse 11. He confirms that he had accepted his circumstance and was not depending on anyone to care for him. Instead, he had learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. He wants the Philippians to know that his gratitude for their financial gift was not suggesting that he was needy, but because it was good for them to be givers. In other words, their financial gift was but an expression of their inner conviction as members of the body of Christ. Notwithstanding the generosity of the Philippians, Paul was content in his current circumstance because he had offered up his life as a living sacrifice to the Lord. “Paul uses one of the great words of pagan ethics (autarkes), which means entirely self-sufficient. Autarkeia, self-sufficiency, was the highest aim of Stoic ethics; by it the Stoics meant a state of mind in which a man was absolutely independent of all things and of all people.”
Paul rejoiced greatly in the Lord because he was convinced that God was directing the trajectory of his life, and all things were working for his good because he was called to be a messenger to the Gentiles by Christ himself. Therefore, he remained content throughout his ordeal for such was the will of God for his life. His contentment was not theoretical, as the Stoics. He is a man that that been financially well-off as a leading Pharisaic scholar. He has also been financially in need during his missionary journeys. That is the point he is making in verse 12. Almighty God had so navigated Paul’s life that his faithfulness to his apostolic call was never lessened despite his situation. He knew he knew how to be in want because he trusted God to supply all of his needs according to his riches in glory. He also knew how to abound because he was storing treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Paul was able to be content in every situation because God gave him the strength. Therefore, he was convinced that he could do all things, including paying the ultimate price for Christ's cause. “Paul did not want to give the impression that the Philippians had somehow done something wrong in supporting Paul. But, there was a real sense in which the giving of the Philippians was better for them than it was for Paul. Godly giving actually does more good for the giver than for the one who receives.”
We live in a culture of affluence where greed is celebrated, and contentment is often equated with laziness. Nevertheless, it takes much strength to cultivate a spirit of contentment. In this passage, Paul teaches us that we need strength from Jesus Christ to cultivate a spirit of contentment. It is the Lord who instills in us the strength to give thanks in all circumstances. Indeed, it is only by the power of Almighty God that we can find the strength to worship in worry, or praise in our pain, or bless the Lord amid our burdens.
Paul also teaches us that sharing our gifts is more beneficial for the giver than the one who receives them. When the seeds of benevolence and charity are sown, a bountiful harvest of divine favor is forthcoming. Indeed, God looks favorably upon those who give cheerfully and practice charitable love despite their circumstance. The perception that the receiver benefits more than the giver has been steadfastly refuted in the Bible (see Acts 20:35; Luke 6:38; Malachi 3:10). Paul strikingly affirms that he has learned to be abased and to abound. That type of knowledge is only taught in the school of hard knocks. One has to go through some stuff before learning the principle of abasing oneself. Those who do not know how to abound while abased are more susceptible to pride and arrogance when they abound. People who do better in managing their prosperity are those who learned to be content in their abasement.
For many people in the West, poverty is a dirty word. In Western culture, the poor are not valued. They are often pitied as if they have a fatal disease. Nevertheless, it remains that economic poverty does not necessarily mean existential or spiritual poverty. Many brothers and sisters around the world are rich with heavenly treasures, though they struggle daily to find something to eat. Some may even be homeless, yet they assured a heavenly mansion, according to John 14:2.
Toward the latter part of his life, Paul struggled much in every way. However, he never ceased to rejoice in the Lord and to encourage others to do the same because he was totally surrendered to Almighty God. It was that spirit of surrender that enabled him to be content while in a Roman prison. The only way for believers to truly experience the contentment that Paul articulates is by surrendering their hopes, or dreams, or desires, or will to Almighty God so they can be used as instruments of righteousness to the glory of God.
Blessed Lord, Please help to be content in every circumstance as we trust you to supply all of our needs.