The Apostle Paul had a special relationship with the church in Philippi. He built that church up and many people came to the faith. In this portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, he is acknowledging a gift that was given to him by the church, probably a gift of money. This gift brought him a special joy. Not in its monetary value, but in the care, love and concern behind it.
He reminded them that he is not relying on gifts to provide for his physical comfort because he had learned how to be content. He has known what it is like to be prosperous and what it is like to be in need. Since contentment can be so elusive to man, Paul calls it a “secret”.
“I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been 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 everything through him who gives me strength.”(Philippians 4:10-13)
Paul found the secret for contentment in life was in the source of strength found in Christ. He proclaims, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Whatever the Lord brought to in his life, the good and the bad, Paul was confident he can do it because by faith he was in Christ.
Jesus says, “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4) When Paul pleaded for strength and help to overcome painful trials, Jesus responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”(2 Cor. 12:9) Whatever happened to Paul, he was content because he knew that Christ was supplying his every need.
We can have this same assurance because we are also in Christ. He gives us strength to stand firm in this difficult world and to live out our lives for His glory.
The secret is in our weakness. When we are weak, than we are strong.
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”(2 Cor. 12:9-10)
How can we learn this secret?
Paul says that he has learned the secret to be content. The Greek word for “learn” could also mean “to acquire the habit” or “to understand.” As Paul put into practice what he had learned or received, he acquired the habit of being content. The Israelites were to hear God’s Word so they might “learn by practice” or “acquire the habit” of obeying God (Deut. 4:10, 5:1, 14:23).
A coach can devise plays in the locker room, give lectures on techniques, and plot out strategies, but the bottom line is that athletes need to go out and do it. Through practice, we can learn or acquire the habit of being able to do what the coach wants us to do.
When we examine the world “secret” we are given some more clues. The Greek word used by Paul could also mean “I have been initiated.” This word was used by Greek philosophers to describe that they are self-sufficient for all things or independent of external circumstances. This word was also used for the feeding of animals, so a fattened or satisfied animal was described this way.
Through Christ, Paul was initiated and learned the secret of contentment as a result of faith. Those outside of the faith are not initiated and do not know, nor understand the secrets behind this truth. As a result of this secret, Paul has the possession of the strength made possible to do all things that God wanted him to do as a result of his weakness.
Finally, we are reminded that we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength. The Greek word for “can do” means to be strong, able, forceful, or to prevail. It can also mean to use physical strength and strength to overcome. The word was used to describe an army who has the strength and ability to overcome another in battle. The Lord equips us to give us strength (Eph. 6:10-18) and it is the same strength that made the Old Testament heroes strong (Hebrews 11:34).
The secret to be content in life is found only be being in Christ. He provides all of our physical needs, but also provides the strength to overcome any obstacle. Our power is found in our weaknesses. We are granted the opportunity in our weaknesses that we cannot on our own obtain the life that we desire. When we finally realize that God can be fully trusted, fully accepting the promises of God, our life is transformed and we receive true peace and contentment.
The commissioner of the National Football League strides up to the podium with a card in his hand. With great anticipation from the packed ballroom, the commissioner announces, “With the 10th overall selection of the first round, the New Orleans Saints pick….. you.” Surrounded by family and friends in the waiting room, you smile with great delight and relief. You have been selected to play in the NFL. Your greatest dream has been realized.
Now imagine standing in the center of a cavernous stadium. Thousands – perhaps millions – fill the seats that reach endlessly to the skies. A trumpet sounds and a loud voice echoes across the heavens declaring, “I have chosen you as my beloved child. Welcome to my team!” The grateful and loyal throngs of the heavenly hosts shout their approval. You are on God’s team — the “Saints” in Christ Jesus. Even though you may stink at soccer, fail in football — or barely catch a ball or carry a tune — God has selected you to be on his team. You have been set apart, made holy and righteous in his eyes by faith in Christ. Your teammates? Paul, Timothy and all the saints like those living in the city of Philippi.
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:1-2)
All Christians are considered “saints” in the New Testament. Saints is a word that can cause discomfort in describing ourselves. We think of a saint as being someone else. They stand out in a crowd, always doing amazing good works, and their life seems all put together. You may be surprised at how the Bible defines a saint. In the original New Testament language of Greek, the word for saint means “separated ones.” A Christian believer is separated or set apart from the rest of the world. They have been chosen by God to be on his team. Why? Not because of how good or upright they are, but the fact that they are “in Christ Jesus.”
We are made separate, holy, totally cleansed from sin by what Christ has already done for us on the cross. By faith, Christ is in us and we are in him. God, who has chosen us even before the creation of the world, has made us saints, holy and righteous in His sight (Eph. 1:4). By faith, we belong to the greatest team in the history of the world.
Paul and Timothy, appointed coaches of the Saints in Christ Jesus, have also adopted another name for God’s team here on earth. They belong to the “Servants.” Not exactly a fearsome name, is it? I have not heard of a team called the Chicago Servants or the North High Butlers. Yet, this is what Paul and Timothy consider their identities to be — saints and servants of Christ Jesus.
In some translations of the New Testament (NASB), we see the term, “bond-servant.” This is an important word with great meaning. In the time of Jesus, a bond-servant was a former slave, or perhaps a loyal servant, who has decided to forego their freedom and become a servant for life of a good and kind master. Paul and Timothy are declaring themselves and their identities as bond-servants of Christ. They know that by surrendering their freedom, their will, their very life to Christ. They have gained everything and have lost nothing. They are no longer slaves to sin, but life-long servants to a heavenly King who has saved their life and will provide for all their needs. With this understanding, Paul and Timothy live out their lives in pure thankfulness, appreciation, and sincere commitment to serve the Master who has made their new identity in Christ Jesus possible.
The city of Phillipi was located on the far northeast corner of present day Greece. Founded by Philip, father of Alexander the Great in 358 B.C., the city became a very prominent and strategic location due to its road system and nearby coast. Around 30-35 B.C. the expanding Roman empire conquered the city led by the future Augustus Caesar. Veteran Roman soldiers and their families slowly flooded into the area. Phillipi was not only an important and strategic location politically, but a perfect location to expand God’s kingdom into Europe.
Twenty five years have passed since the Apostle Paul encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. The Lord has used him to plant churches throughout Macedonia and Asia. Thousands came to faith by his preaching of the gospel. But now he was in Rome under house arrest for a crime he did not commit. A riot in Jerusalem incited by Jewish leaders caused the Roman authorities to arrest Paul for his own protection and the preservation of order. Exercising his Roman citizenship, Paul appeals his case to the emperor. It is widely believed that Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church under house arrest while awaiting his trial in Rome.
While the Apostle Paul sat in chains, the images of events and people precious to him in Philippi must have captured his attention while dictating his letter. A brief record of Paul’s time in Philippi is recorded for us in Acts 16:11-40. We are introduced to Lydia, the prominent businesswoman of purple cloth, who was one of the first to be baptized and played a key role in establishing the church. We see Paul and Silas thrown into prison and the miraculous event of his release. He pictures the baptism of the jailer and his entire household who were led to faith in the risen Christ. Now, Epaphroditus from Phillipi sits across from him bringing gifts from the church. With a heart overflowing with love and concern for his people, the Holy Spirit ignites a desire to share words of thanksgiving and encouragement.
Paul could have complained in his letter about his circumstances. He could of bemoaned the unlikelihood of a fair trial. Instead, the tone of Paul’s letter is one of joy and peace. We see confidence and contentment that his circumstances were all part of God’s plan. Suffering is a part of being God’s servant and he was being blessed as a result. Paul was convinced that nothing, not even the discouragement of being held captive, would be able to rob him of the faith and hope he had in Christ. Ever the missionary, he stresses the congregation to stand firm together and be wary of any person who attempts to convince them to follow rules in order to be right with God. The same words that uplifted and inspired the early Christian church to be courageous and rejoice in our circumstances still finds new meaning and significance for our own lives today.
We live in the age of instant messages. Little bites of information and glib remarks are texted to friends and family. Thirty seconds is the par to capture the attention of consumers. Soundbites on the evening news is all the free attention a political candidate receives to convince us of our vote. It’s difficult to bring depth into a message so short. A lengthy hand-written letter is a rare find in our mailbox these days. Once received, we grasp a hold of the warm embrace of encouraging words from a loved one who offers updates and occasional wisdom. A hand-written or typed letter is a rare treasure to be saved and read over and over again.
In the New Testament of the Bible, the book of Philippians is that kind of letter written by the Apostle Paul. But it is not just any letter. Touched by the hand of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit, its words of love and encouragement rattle the souls of expectant believers. The challenging words of “working out,” “pressing on,” and “I can do all things” bellows the embers of a zealous faith. These are fiery action words of mountain-moving hopes and dreams. While trickling through the letter like a cool mountain stream, we find soothing words of grace that reminds us that only through Christ who gives us strength can we do anything worthwhile.
Towards the end of the movie, “Chronicles of Narnia,” four children unexpectantly stumble out of the wardrobe closet concluding their stay in the land of Narnia. Standing next to the closet was the old professor. The bewildered Peter looks up to him and says, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to us, even if I told you.” With a bemused and knowing glint in his eye, the old professor replies, “Try me!”
Seasons have come and gone and I find myself looking in the mirror at a middle-aged man. Wiser, perhaps. A remnant of days gone by like holding on to an old favored shirt. Comfortable. Stained and a bit faded. Yet, I can still recognize the young man with the unbridled enthusiasm and adventurous spirit. The hopes and dreams. The confidence of believing I had all the answers and wanted to test the world with them. The same young man who eagerly grasped onto the words of Philippians to begin his faith journey in Christ.
It’s funny how the seasons of life can weather a man. The reflection I see peering back at myself is a story in itself. Disappointment can fold dreams and neatly tuck them into a breast pocket called reality. Under the guise of protection from future disappointment, the words of weathered men like myself can seem stifling to those in the throngs of youth. With that said, may I invite you to “try me.” Let’s spend some time walking through God’s letter written especially for you and for me. Through the lens of God’s Word, we can safely embark together on this “greatest adventure” we call life on earth.