COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“10But 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. 11Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12I 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.” (Philippians 4:10-12 NKJV)
Those who have been born again obtain a genuine concern for other members of the body of Christ. This is because we are actually “members of one another” (Rom 12:5). This is not something that is taught by the precept of men, but is evidence of the Divine nature within. This text finds Paul commending the Philippians for their concern for him. It reveals the tenderness of this marvelous Epistle. It is profoundly instructive, and yet unusually personal. If you have ever been involved in teaching the things of God, you know how difficult it is to join these two things. It is only possible when both parties are seated in heavenly places. There, new and life-giving insights can be communicated, while coupled with very personal words.
YOUR CARE HAS FLOURISHED AGAIN
“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”(NKJV). The church at Philippi was close to Paul, yet they had not built their lives around him. As great as the Apostle was, he was not allowed to take the place of Christ. However, when a need arose for Paul, this church also rose to the occasion. That is the picture we have here. When he says “now at last,”he does not mean they have been negligent. They had not forgotten about him. He will mention later that these brethren had sent gifts to him through Epaphroditus (4:18). This is the occasion to which he is referring now.
The consideration of the Philippians caused Paul to “rejoice in the Lord”–something he had also admonished them to do (3:1; 4:4). That is, He associated their deed with the grace of God. He knew the Head was working through them, bringing to him what he needed. Their love for him was personal, but it was more than that. It was spiritual–it was a mutual concern resulting from their union with Christ. O, the blessedness of correlating temporal provisions with the hand of the Lord! It is something that brings great glory to God and refreshment to the soul. As is taught elsewhere, generosity “causes thanksgiving through us to God” (2 Cor 4:15; 9:11).
Even though the Philippians themselves had been undergoing trial (1:28-29), yet in the midst of it all, their concern for Paul had revived, or“flourished again.” They rose above their circumstances, exhibiting the unusual measure of grace they had received. This means they had not sent a meager gift to Paul–a sort of token of their concern. Their “care,” or high regard for him, had abounded. It was like a large flower blooming in the springtime. Here we see a trait of spiritual life. At the appropriate time, it rises to meet the need. You have no doubt experienced a seeming lack of concern from professed believers when you felt you sorely needed it. Paul also had this experience (2 Tim 4:16). David had the same experience (Psa 31:11-12), as well as our blessed Lord the night He was betrayed (Mk 14:50). But it was not so with the Philippians. In the time of Paul’s need, when they themselves were being sorely oppressed, their concern for him awoke and flourished again. The expression “at last” indicates this was not the case with others. This church distinguished itself in their response to Paul’s need.
Lest the Tempter cause Paul’s words to be taken wrongly, he quickly adds, “indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.” It was not that they had ceased to think about the Apostle, or stopped being thankful God had sent him to them. There simply had not been an opportunity for them to express their hearts toward him as they desired. Thus we see it is possible for our love for one another to remain strong, even though the circumstances do not afford an opportunity to express it as we would like.
From a higher point of view, the lack of opportunity is like a test, to see how deeply our concern for one another is rooted. If we “love in the Spirit”(Col 1:8), that love will awaken in thoughtful expressions as soon as an opportunity arises to do so. However, if we do not “walk in the Spirit,” the lack of opportunity will cause the love to wane. Then, when a genuine need arises, the person will be unable to respond appropriately.
CONTENT IN EVERY CONDITION
“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (NKJV). Paul has not been languishing in prison, wondering why everyone has forgotten him. His faith does not rise and fall in proportion to the way his peers respond to his need. He is not the center of his thinking. In Christ, God has set his feet “in a large room” (Psa 31:8), where more is at stake than his present condition. Therefore, he provides a spiritual perspective of being in need, or suffering want. The Israelites “murmured” when they were in need (Ex 15:24; 16:2; 17:3; Num 14:2). When they were cut off from resources, and their own strength could not provide their needs, it brought out the corruption that was in their hearts. They “murmured against Moses.”How differently grace teaches us to respond to need!
When Paul says their care for him had again awakened, he was not saying he had been deprived of Divine consideration in the past–when the Philippians had no opportunity. He was not writing about himself, but about their liberality. When it came to “need,” or being without the amenities and conveniences of life, he had found a higher experience–something that made the “need” appear small and inconsequential.
There is a constant “learning” associated with life in Christ Jesus. Because this learning process is so broad, the Apostle speaks of a particular facet of it. The “learning” in reference is the result of Divine tutelage–when men are “taught by God” (Isa 54:13; John 6:45). Every circumstance of life is converted into a spiritual classroom. Take the matter of suffering need–of being deprived of the necessities of life. Some, as Job’s friends, view this as a curse. Others, like Job’s wife, see such occasions as utterly intolerable. Paul saw them as an opportunity to learn from God–and learn, he did! This should not surprise us, for Paul has already said he had counted everything but“dung” in order to “win Christ” (Phil 3:8). Now he will elaborate.
Paul had “learned” how to be “content with whatever” he had NRSV. His circumstances were not his master. He did not bow to them, but to the Lord. We learn from this what a rare jewel contentment is. It is not built into the new creation, but must be “learned.” Those who are born again are not automatically content, they must LEARN to be content. We are admonished,“be content with what you have” (Heb 13:5NIV). Yet, only the Lord can teach contentment to you. Further, He WILL do so if we have an ear to hear.
Christ is quite willing to teach us to be content, if we will allow Him to do so. However, He does not do it in a quiet classroom when everything is going well, and we have no needs or challenges to our faith. When “need”arises, the Lord will teach us that what we HAVE in Him is infinitely better than what we do NOT have in the world. Under all circumstances, contentment can say, “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance. I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel”(Psa 16:6-7NKJV). Circumstance cannot take what God has given us. That is why we can be “content” in every episode of life. I suggest this is an excellent objective–to learn to be content IN every condition. It is possible to “be still and know” God is God while tumult is all around us (Psa 46:10).
LEARNING IN EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE
“ 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.” (NKJV) The versatility of the human spirit is staggering. In Christ Jesus we can become superior to circumstance, a fact that is little known or experienced among professed believers. If one has ears to hear, there is a phenomenal amount of complaining that goes on among those who bear the name of Jesus. It is a most serious condition.
Here the Apostle speaks not only for himself, as though setting himself over others, but for all who, like Mary, sit at the feet of Jesus. It is taken for granted that God’s people WILL be abased. To be “abased,” in this case, means to be openly deprived of life’s needs. Normally, this word is used to describe what God will do to those who exalt themselves (Dan 4:37; Lk 14:11; 18:14). Here, however, it refers to a circumstance of life when God’s people are “made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations” (Heb 10:33). Paul could be content even with a “thorn in the flesh.” In such times, the outward particulars of the believer’s life seem to contradict the profession of sufficiency in Christ. Thus Job’s friends concluded that his adversity was Divine retribution for some secret sin. It is a marvelous work of grace when we are taught to be content IN those times. There are also times of spiritualpoverty, when we are “poor in spirit,” and the things of God do not shine with the glory we desire. It is also possible to be “content” in times like this, believing the Shepherd will carry us through.
But there are also times when God’s people “abound”–when there is no lack, and all is well. Some have found that it is even more difficult to be content during those times. It is then that a quest for riches, and a lust for other things, invade the soul, seeking to drag us from the sanctuary. Those who yield to such impulses “fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim 6:9). To learn contentment when we “abound” is no small thing. There are also times when the glory of truth is bright, heaven is near, and the promises shine with glory. Were it not for contentment in such times, the desire to be with the Lord would overwhelm us.
The extensiveness of Divine tutelage is staggering: “every where and in all things I am instructed.” There is a kingdom way to be “full”–to have everything you need and more. There is also a way to be “hungry,” not having your daily needs. The Lord can teach us HOW to “abound and to suffer need”–and how sorely we need to learn what He teaches!
Solomon once prayed, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, And say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God” (Prov 30:8). Now that “a greater than Solomon is here,” there is grace to respond to both of those extremities of life that will glorify God and satisfy the heart as well. Neither of these conditions are to be sought, but both of them will come to us in measure. It is good to know that we can “learn” to be content in them both, as well as in the normal circumstances of life. May the Lord give us grace and sensitivity to “learn to be content” in everything.