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But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.
This verse introduces a new paragraph running from verse 10 to verse 20. The paragraph deals with Paul's thanks for the Philippians gift of money while he is in jail. The Roman jail did not provide money, clothes or blankets. Paul was in a desperate situation.
Epaphroditus carried a money gift from Philippi to Rome (about 1,100 miles) where Paul was in jail (4:18). Now Paul expresses his gratitude for the generous gift from the Philippians. This is a "thank you" note from a missionary to a supporting church.
BUT I REJOICED IN THE LORD GREATLY
Paul rejoiced in this monetary gift but he recognized that the gift ultimately came from God. This is the last strike of the keynote word "joy" in the epistle. He adds "greatly." His joy in the Lord was great.
His joy, as ever, was "in the Lord." This is the ninth time the phrase "in the Lord" occurs in this epistle (1:14; 2:19,24,29; 3:1; 4:1,2,4). He saw that it was their love for the Lord that motivated them to give. They sent the gift but he thanked God as the ultimate source of the gift.
THAT NOW AT LAST
"At last" is not a rebuke for their neglect of supporting him. He merely indicates a period of time elapsed since his last thank you note for their support. It was probably over two years since they gave to his ministry. Epaphroditus' willingness to deliver the gift, occasioned the opportunity for them to give.
PRINCIPLE: Every thing we possess is ultimately from God.
APPLICATION: The way to free ourselves from enslavement to materialism is by recognition that everything is from the hand of God. God provides our employment. If God is the focus of our joy, inner animation of our soul will be constant. If we rest our joy on circumstance, our joy is vulnerable to circumstance.
Paul now describes his attitude toward the Philippian gift toward his ministry.
YOUR CARE FOR ME HAS FLOURISHED AGAIN
Paul alluded to the gift brought by Epaphroditus earlier in Philippians (1:5,7; 2:30). Now he formally thanks them for their generosity.
Whenever the Philippians saw that Paul needed financial support they came through like a verdant garden lush with flowering blossoms. Paul received their gift like a wife who gets a bouquet of flowers from her husband. The word "flourished" means revive, sprout, blossom. Their appreciation for the gospel motivated them to give sacrificially. They knew Paul's sacrifice in bringing the gospel to them. They gladly, frequently and generously contributed to the ministry of the apostle. Whenever possible, they blossomed in their financial support of Paul.
The local church has a definite responsibility for the support of missionaries. Some churches leave their missionaries without support on foreign fields because of a split. What a tragedy!
THOUGH YOU SURELY DID CARE
The Philippians continually supported Paul, "Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God [grace is the motivation for giving] bestowed on the churches of Macedonia [Philippi was in Macedonia]: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality [out of abject poverty they give abundantly to the cause of Christ]. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing [no pressure was put upon them to give], imploring us with much urgency [they were passionate about their giving] that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints" (II Cor. 8:1-4).
BUT YOU LACKED OPPORTUNITY
They could not find Paul to gift him with an offering. He did not want to leave the impression that they forgot him. They did not know where he was or could find a way to deliver the money to him. The Philippian church always supported Paul so long as they knew where he was. They considered him their agent for the cause of Christ throughout the world.
PRINCIPLE: Behind great missionary projects is a frame of mind.
APPLICATION: Thought precedes action. All spiritual action is based on an attitude. The attitude of love is the basis of the dissemination of the gospel. It is a concern for people in other parts of the world. God wants us to love the agents who bring the gospel ("how beautiful are the feet of them who preach the gospel"). God wants us to have a personal interest in missionaries of our local church sent to uttermost part of the world.
Do you seek opportunities to support agents of the gospel? Do you reluctantly give to the cause of Christ? Do you have an attitude of supporting missionaries whenever you can?
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.
Having expressed his appreciation for the Philippians' financial support, Paul now introduces a caveat. He is afraid that they will think that his appreciation for their gift of money (v. 10) is a left-handed dun for more money.
NOT THAT I SPEAK IN REGARD TO NEED
He does not want the Philippians to think that their gift was the source of his satisfaction. Although Paul is destitute in jail, money is not his primary concern .
The word "need" means to come short, hence, being in want. He has learned to be content no matter what his circumstances may be. Paul wants to dispel any thought that the Philippian delayed gift imposed any disruption of his soul.
Paul is not parlaying a subtle insinuation that they should send another gift. Paul was no panhandler, "Not that I seek for the gift" (v.17). He does not want them to construe that he was asking for more money. He is trying to establish the principle that he is independent from external circumstance.
FOR I HAVE LEARNED
Contentment is not something that comes naturally. In his early years he grew up in the lap of luxury. At that time he had not learned contentment. At this point in his life he is needy; yet he is content. Paul had to "learn" this virtue. He decidedly came to grips with this lesson (aorist tense). At the point of learning this, he entered into a new condition of his soul: "I have come to learn contentment." He did not always know contentment, even in his days of affluence.
"Contentment" is not automatic. Paul "learned" contentment in the School of Hard Knocks. Courses in that school are difficult. We think university is tough. It is not nearly as difficult as God's Graduate School. Can we say with the Psalmist, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted" (119:71)?
IN WHATEVER STATE I AM
Paul is going through a mighty thin time. No matter what circumstance Paul faces, under any contingency, he is content. In this case, Paul stood in need of food, clothing and blankets. Even in this dire situation, he is independent of these things to fill his sense of satisfaction.
If we fill a bottle with coffee we cannot fill it with milk at the same time. One displaces the other. If we fill our lives with material things we have no room for Jesus Christ. If we make riches our central goal, we cannot find satisfaction that comes from Jesus Christ.
PRINCIPLE: Circumstances do not need to determine our state of mind. Our state of mind can be content if we learn that our source of satisfaction is Jesus Christ.
APPLICATION: Have you "learned" contentment. Do you expect contentment to come automatically? This is a hard lesson to learn in life. It will not come if we flunk God's school of financial set back. As long as we seek security in money, we will fail. God wants us to learn the lesson that security in found in Jesus Christ. We cannot go to school to learn this lesson. There is no textbook that will teach us how to be content. We learn the lesson in the hard knocks of life.
The prevailing philosophy of our day is that the more things we have the more life we have. Life is not made up of gadgets. Some of the most unhappy people in the world are wealthy celebrities who do not have a life. They are fabulously rich but miserable. Fame and fortune do not equate contentment. If we put these things as the core of our contentment we will never reach a sense of satisfaction.
TO BE CONTENT
The word "content" is a Stoic term. Stoic thought was a philosophy of self-sufficiency, very different from Christianity which finds its sufficiency in the Lord. To the Stoic, every resource for coping with life is found within the human being himself. The word means "sufficient in oneself." The Stoic was competent above all else. A Stoic person's state of mind was independent of all people and all things. He needed nothing and no one. The Stoic sought to eliminate all emotion and all desire. This is done by a doctrine of divine determination. He must steel himself into acceptance of the inevitable, unrelenting circumstances of life. Emotions such as love and compassion get in the way of contentment. They eliminate the person and call it peace. This philosophy was inhuman. Elements of this philosophy still remain today.
Paul uses "content" in a different way. "Content" comes from two Greeks words "self" and "sufficient." A content person is a self-sufficient person! Does this mean that Paul was self-sufficient? His sufficiency was not self-sufficiency but Christ-sufficiency, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (v.13). He was independent of circumstance because he was dependent upon Christ. The Stoic was self-sufficient but Paul was Christ-sufficient.
The word "content" may by a country that does not need to import. Canada is a nation of great natural resources. She could exist without any help from another country. She is self-contained. She has any agricultural or mineral product she needs to sustain herself.
Paul found greater contentment in hunger in the ministry of Christ than he did in the abundant banquet table of a wealthy man. He was a satisfied man as he sat destitute in jail.
Biblical contentment is not fatalism. He was not content "with" his circumstance but "in" his circumstance. However, this is not an acquiescence that blunts any ambition. No, it is freedom from anxiety. It puts in proportion the things that are important. It can put priority on the things of greatest value, "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (II Cor 4:17-18).
The noun of the word "content" occurs in II Cor 9:8 "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work" and I Tim 6:6, "Now godliness with contentment is great gain."
PRINCIPLE: Contentment does not derive from fatalism, indifference, hopelessness or resignation. Circumstances need not enslave us. We break the bondage of enslavement to circumstance by contentment.
APPLICATION: Contentment is the opposite of covetous or greed. Money never satisfies us because we never get enough to gratify our desires. Life becomes perpetual resetting of monetary goals higher and higher. This is covetousness, "Covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5).
The day a Christian comes to believe that contentment comes from god, that is the day of liberty from the circumstances of life, "Let you conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. Fore He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you'" (Heb. 13:5).
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
Paul turns to how he coped with the extremities of his life. He knew how to be "abased" and he knew how to "abound." He was prepared for any circumstance that may come his way.
I KNOW HOW TO BE ABASED
There are two "I know" phrases. Paul learned how to live in extremities. He adjusted to either with equal composure. This composure came through knowledge -- "know." He knew God's mind on how to handle adversity. He knew how to cope with set back.
The word "abased" means to run low as a falling river in a draught. Paul knew what it was like to be without food or clothing. He knew what it was like to go bankrupt. He knew plenty of adversity. This is abasement caused by want. He understood what it was like to be financially disgraced.
"Abased" is in the present tense which means he knew what it was like to be in a state of degradation.
AND I KNOW HOW TO ABOUND
The word "abound" means "overflow." At times it conveyed the idea of extreme wealth or abundance. It means to be highly successful. It requires as much spiritual maturity to handle abundance as it does poverty. It takes a steady hand to carry a full cup. When we are rich we do not need anything. We do not pray about very little.
Paul learned maturity in prosperity. He knew what it was like to be extremely successful. Yet he handled it well. When others express their admiration about you, does your ego pick this up? When others recognize your accomplishments, can you put yourself in balance? Can you keep your mind focused on the Lord?
David was an example of a person who did not handle prosperity very well. At the zenith of his success he came crashing down to defeat. At the pinnacle of his military victories he fell into adultery (II Sam. 11-13).
PRINCIPLE: Knowledge is a prerequisite to properly handle both adversity and prosperity.
APPLICATION: Very few of us know how to "abound." When we have a success, do we parade it? Do we laud a promotion to a person who has just lost his job?
EVERYWHERE AND IN ALL THINGS I HAVE LEARNED
"Everywhere" and "all things" show that Paul is prepared for every contingency. "Everywhere" is every particular case. Wherever Paul may be geographically located, he has learned this. A person's station or situation in life does not affect the poise of a mature person. A mature person does not have to live in Vancouver British Columbia (the most beautiful city in the world, by the way!!) or Phoenix Arizona to be happy. He can be content anywhere as long as he finds his composure in Christ (vv.11,13). We do not have to live in the best neighborhood in town to be happy.
"All things" means in all circumstances, in all cases. If we have all the money in the world, all the prestige we could possibly achieve, it still will not make us content. No amount of power will give us what contentment in Christ gives. No association in life will satisfy us. Our possessions will not satisfy. Status symbols will not satisfy. Economical status symbols are not the basis of happiness. People who live for status symbols are miserable.
PRINCIPLE: A mature believer prepares for any contingency he may face by contentment in Christ.
APPLICATION: Have the circumstances of life gotten you down? Are you enslaved to the details of life? As long as we make an idol out of our desires we will remain in slavery. True liberty comes by a life centered in Christ.
I HAVE LEARNED
"I have learned" means to learn in the past with the result that he has established the principle of having learned this (perfect tense). This is no abstruse, nebulous or esoteric knowledge. This information comes from Scripture.
The word "learned" means initiation into an organization where certain information is well known. It is like initiation into a fraternity. This is the fraternity of those mature in Christ. Paul learned this lesson from God and from no other source. God revealed this secret to Paul apart from which he would have been unable to enter into contentment.
BOTH TO BE FULL AND TO BE HUNGRY
Paul introduces another pair of two extremes: very full and very hungry. "Full" and "hungry" are the second of three pairs for which Paul prepares himself.
"Full" means prosperity. It takes a mature Christian to live a dynamic spiritual life when he is extremely wealthy. The word "full" was used for a cow who loads up on grass after finding a good pasture. The cow sates and stuffs himself with grass. This is a figure for extreme prosperity. Paul knew how to carry wealth. Some of the most outstanding Christians I know are very wealthy. Their wealth is not the core of their life. Their money is a detail by which they serve Jesus Christ. This is Paul's point here.
Matthew 5:6 uses the word "full" for spiritual fullness,
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled." We also need to know how to carry our spiritual prosperity!
Paul often faced hunger in his life. This was true in his present circumstance in jail. The Roman jail did not provide food. The prisoner depended on people from the outside to give them food.
PRINCIPLE: Contentment does not come automatically. It must be learned by being initiated into the fraternity of mature believers. In that fraternity God reveals himself through the Word of God.
APPLICATION: In the fraternity of the born again God shows believers how they can cope with both prosperity and adversity. Neither extreme wealth nor starvation upsets the equilibrium of the mature Christian because of his composure in Christ (vv.11,13).
BOTH TO ABOUND AND TO SUFFER NEED
This is the third pair of contingencies with which Paul learned to deal in his life.
The word "abundance" means over supply or over flow. This is a term for extreme prosperity. This is the second word for prosperity used in this verse. The first word "full" and the second word "abound" convey different meanings in the Greek. "Full" means abundance we receive (passive voice). "Abound" here means abundance for which we work (active voice). There are two kinds of prosperity: those who inherit it and those who work for it.
"Hunger" and "suffer need" are both terms of extreme adversity. "Suffer need" means to lack. When we fall behind in meeting our bills, how do we cope with that?
"Hunger" is something we get ourselves into (active voice). We bring it on ourselves. We do not manage our budget well enough. We go on spending sprees. "Suffer need" is something we receive (passive voice). This is the hunger that was of no fault of our own. An unanticipated change in the market brought our business into bankruptcy.
This means that there are 4 different circumstances of life with which we need to cope.
There is no experience in life that does not fall into one of these four categories. This makes the statement about composure in Christ even stronger. There is no experience in life that can keep us from inner composure. We can have stability and orientation to any situation in life. Our lives do not have to depend on the circumstances of life.
Detachment from things is a great strength. Paul would not chain his spirit to circumstances. He refused to allow his contentment to rest upon material possessions or physical comfort.
PRINCIPLE: The mature Christian can adjust to any contingency with equal contentment. Our circumstances will vary but our God does not vary. Circumstances change but inner composure never changes if Christ is the center of our lives.
APPLICATION: Paul was content under any contingency. He was content under every condition he faced. He had to learn this. He is able to be calm and confident in the midst of the most disturbing circumstance. He also refused to allow his peace and joy to be dependent upon material possessions and physical comforts. He did not chain his spirit to the satisfactions of the body.
There are depths in the ocean that the storms that lash the surface never reach. People who learn composure in Christ do not live on the surface but in the depth with Christ (v.13).
Most Christians are slaves to their circumstances. If circumstances are positive, they are happy; if circumstances are adverse, they are miserable. Maturity in Christ breaks the bonds of circumstance.
We cannot have contentment and at the same time sing the woes of financial difficulty. We cannot be content and at the same time carry arrogant pride
Paul avoids the two dangers of discontentment or self-satisfied pride. Some people can take a great deal of adversity but do not know how to handle prosperity. They do not know how to handle life without restraint. Others are happy with plenty and become bitter when adversity hits. We need to learn how to endure both the lean years and the fat. The pendulum swings back and forth. Poise of character in Christ keeps us steady.
Copyright © 1995, Dr. Grant Richison. All rights reserved.
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