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BRIEF INTRO: In our previous study, Paul was rejoicing in the Philippians revived ministry to him. For various reasons, they could not support him financially or even send anyone physically to “share in the cause of the gospel” with him. But now Epaphroditus had arrived, and Paul is greatly encouraged by their great benevolence towards him for the sake of the gospel.

In this study, we will be focused on some essential lessons that Paul had learned during this time in his apostolic ministry.

11 Not that I speak [a]from need, for I have learned to be [b]content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with little, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things [c]through Him who strengthens me.

 FOCUS ONE: The value of learning (4:11-13)

At first glance, it is self-evident in our reading of this part of the letter that Paul “wasn’t all that and a bag of chips,” as an apostle. He was a man, redeemed by grace, like all repentant sinners, and in his Christian walk and ministry experiences, he had to be taught some things. Contentment in life’s circumstances is not innate within us; it is a character trait that has to be learned and honed in the day-to-day experiences we face.

Paul shared with the Corinthians precisely what the life of an apostle looked like daily. He wrote to them of the ever-changing circumstances that he faced in his effort to proclaim Christ crucified and risen (2 Corinthians 11:23-33)! 

23 Are they servants of Christ?—I am speaking as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, [a]beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent adrift at sea.26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and [b]exposure.28 Apart from such [c]external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my being weak? Who is [d]led into sin [e]without my intense concern?

30 If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, 33 and I was let down in a basket through a window [f]in the wall, and so escaped his hands.

Through such things as these, Paul matured in his faith and learned what it means to be content in “any and all circumstances.” We do not like adversity; we would rather not experience danger and hardships in our lives. To truly be hungry is an experience that we have not had to endure in our western culture. Honestly, how many if any of these terrible things have we had to endure in our lifetimes?

I believe that our western Christianity in general suffers, and our personal growth in Christ is impeded because we are so blessed in America. Currently, we are not being hunted down and stoned or experiencing starvation. We have warm homes and comfortable beds to sleep in, and the vast majority of us are not experiencing sleepless nights because of our constant journeys around the globe.

But even so, we all experience troubling circumstances in our lives that are “God’ ordained,” things that are “granted” (1:29) for Christ’s sake in our lives to grow us and conform us more and more into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ!

It is through these experiences that Paul learned contentment (autarkes). The philosophical sense of the word among the Stoics was that of self-sufficiency. “Man up,” we say these days, but in the NT, we find this word is given a new dimension as part of godliness (1 Timothy 6:6). Paul finds its ultimate defining quality NOT in himself but in “the One who strengthens me” (4:13).


Paul progressed in His Christian walk by moving 

A. From wondering to knowing

We begin our walk of faith with a sense of optimism and excitement. We may even believe, at first, that blessing upon blessing is coming our way now that we are in Christ and that no evil thing will hurt us. God is love, right? And a loving Father will certainly not allow hardship and persecution to befall us.

Saul, now Paul, went from persecutor to persecuted (Acts 9). From social and religious privilege to understanding all of that was “rubbish” and not helpful in “gaining Christ” (Phil3:8). He “grew up” in his knowledge and application of faith in Christ, no matter what circumstances he found himself in. 

B. From concern to contentment

God in His kindness, allowed Paul to experience such things. He learned that no matter what trial and tribulations he faced, no matter what hardships he had to endure, no matter what benefits he had to forgo, and no matter who would betray him, he could be content. Paul could still move forward serving His God, strong in his faith, and accomplish things independent of perceived necessities because his satisfaction was not found in men but in God! Paul’s satisfaction and sufficiency were in Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:13).

C. Anxiety over circumstances to confidence in Christ

“Paul has such strength as long as Christ keeps pouring the power into him. A living Christ on the inside is more than sufficient to endure the circumstances on the outside. What Christ wants Paul to do, Christ enables Paul to do. Where the finger of God points, the hand of God provides the way.”

This is the” secret” to contentment. It has to be learned in the school of life, not in any self-help books or talk shows.

D. The value of giving goes beyond the gift and extends to profit or fruit, evidenced growing in a believer’s life (v.17).

Based on Paul’s previous statements (4:11-13), his interest in the Philippians was not merely what he could gain from them, rather the profit (fruit) which would grow in their account. 

Paul has been using the language of financing throughout this section, and that language continues. In other words, Paul speaks of their faithful generosity as something that will provide interest growing in their “spiritual” account. Their spiritual growth was Paul’s constant concern, and he knew that God keeps good records! The “heavenly” deposits, if you will, that God “the good bookkeeper” will add to their account.

So, he concludes this epistle with much rejoicing in his heart and encouragement to these believers to continue trusting their Heavenly Father (v. 19,20).

FOCUS THREE: Benediction: (4:20-23)

From verse 10 forward, Paul wrote in the indicative (Explication verbi dei), simply stating facts and explaining what was going on in his life and mind—reminding them of past events. In verse 20, he moves into the exclamation mood because he is expressing an element of emotion. It is like he Pauses in his thinking for a moment and praises God!

But in verse 21, interestingly, he uses the imperative mood when he tells them to “greet every saint in Christ Jesus.” It is a command. It is in the aorist middle, which relates to their action only, not timing. 

The apostle wanted all the saints at Philippi to receive his greeting without partiality. Timothy and Epaphroditus, who were with him and others serving in the cause of the gospel in Rome, would be included in the “brethren who are with me.”

Those in Caesar’s household most likely refers to a significant amount of people, not just Caesars’ immediate family (cooks, food tasters, princes, soldiers, etc.).

Paul concludes this epistle as he begins, desiring the grace of God be upon them!

I hope you enjoyed this study as much as I did. I am thinking about doing a study through the gospel of Mark, and so I am in need of some time for study and preparation. I will post some random studies for a brief time and then go through Mark with you. God bless.

One thought on “THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT (pt.2)

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