“THE APOSTLE Paul was a very learned man, but not the least among his manifold acquisitions in science was this — he had learned to be content. Such learning is far better than much that is acquired in the schools.” – C.H. Spurgeon
There are many things to learn from a great man. I myself learned a great deal from others that I looked up to as great men and women from the past. That’s why I dedicated a series of tribute paintings in honor of such individuals. I considered these people who influenced me in music, arts, philosophy and theology, as the ones who greatly excel in their craft. But, only next to Jesus, the person I’m really interested in emulating and so give honor to is the Apostle Paul. Hands down he’s the best when it comes to philosophy, exegesis and theology. He’s a master wordsmith. But that’s not the ultimate reason why I wanted to imitate him. I want to imitate him in his glorifying the Lord by rejoicing in Him.
Paul said in Philippians 4:9 that we are to imitate him as well as those who do the same. And the overarching theme of this letter is rejoicing in the Lord in the midst of suffering. But did he really lived up to his own motto? Or he was just a crook who took advantage of others for their support? Short answer, No! But we need to let Paul defend himself and hopefully convince you to join me in imitating Paul as he imitate Christ.
Paul never gave a command that he himself was exempted to obey. When he said in Philippians 4:4 that we are to rejoice in the Lord always, he did just that. That’s why he said in verse 10 that he too rejoiced in the Lord.
because now at last you have again expressed your concern for me.
But you will say; “the only reason he’s rejoicing is because they finally supported him. That’s what he told them isn’t it?”
That seems to be the case. Paul was after all just like any other prosperity preacher out there who’s just in it for the money. That is if you stop your reading in verse 10. Paul qualifies for us what he’s rejoicing about in verses 11-20. But before we deal with Paul’s ultimate reason for rejoicing, he gave some clarifying remarks in verse 10.
This is not a rebuke for their delayed support, which might be implied in the clause “now at last you have again”. To the contrary, he acknowledged their concern and that they just lack the opportunity to do anything to help Paul. He even commended them for their support in the gospel ministry from the very beginning in verse 14-16.
So what did Paul meant when he said “I rejoice in the Lord because now at last you have again expressed your concern for me.”? To answer this question, Paul gave us what he didn’t say.
Paul said in verse 11a that he’s not saying this because he is in need. Far from it, because he learned something. Namely to be content in every and any circumstance.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Ti. 6:6-10). “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (He. 13:5).
God’s servant can be content through Christ in all circumstances no matter how severe they are, but he cannot be content in any circumstance apart from Christ.
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me, Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Co. 12:9-10). “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Ro. 8:37). “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2 Co. 9:8). “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man” (Ep. 3:16). “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Ph. 4:13). “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (He. 13:6). “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him” (Ps. 28:7). “But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God” (Ps. 40:17). “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Is. 41:10).
Paul’s suffering for the cause of the gospel was far too great that to accuse him of being a charlatan is simply irrational. Contentment is something you can never learn by studying at school or developing for yourself skills in arts and sciences. You’ll learn this by experience. You can’t honestly say that you are content with what you have if you’ve never experience extreme hunger or poverty just as you can’t say that wealth doesn’t have a hold on you when you’ve never been filled or satisfied by extreme wealth. Contentment is an issue for both the needy and the wealthy. So don’t be quick in judging the intents of others solely by their wealth or lack thereof. Instead ask yourself “have you learned the secret of contentment?”
Lehman Strauss says: In those early days of my Christian experience I could not see how some Christians I knew could be content with so little of this world’s goods. I sincerely trust that I am learning the secret. From what I see about me I do not hesitate to say that it is a secret many Christians have yet to learn. Paul needed to learn it. He said, ‘I have learned….’ The lesson of contentment was one he learned by degrees in varying circumstances. As a young unbelieving Jew, he had no want insofar as this world’s possessions are concerned. He did not always know the divine provision of satisfaction, but after he was saved he came to learn it, not in the academic classroom, but as the result of a lengthy experience of trials and discipline, ‘I have learned’ is the language of a good student. Have you learned to be satisfied with your place and position and possessions in this life? (Devotional Studies in Philippians, p. 321.)
We greatly oppose the prosperity gospel and its proponents. But we must be sure to oppose it for the right reasons. Not just because we were once victimized by the system, but because it is not the all satisfying gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. For some have opposed the prosperity gospel and yet still find their ultimate satisfaction in other stuff that equally replace God as their chief treasure. It could be your family, friends, work, sex, scoring points in a debate and many more that doesn’t have anything to do with money, and still if you don’t deny them in exchange for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, you can’t be his disciple. Don’t just hate the false gospels for their failed promises, hate them because they replace what can really satisfy, namely God.
Paul learned contentment as he experienced both wealth and poverty, hunger and to be well fed. There’s nothing inherently wrong in being wealthy or poor or just well-off. The real issue is who do you rely on for strength to be content in whatever situations you are in.
In verse 10 Paul told us the ultimate source of his strength for contentment. He said “I am able to do all things”, or literally “all things I am able to do”. “All” (Παντα) is in the emphatic position that highlights the seeming impossibility of being content in all situations but because of the One who strengthens him, he is able to do it. This has nothing to do with climbing mountains, winning the basketball chapionship or even passing the exams. At best what it teaches us is not to look for our greatest satisfaction in climbing the highest mountain, nor in winning the greatest basketball league, with the greatest team, as the most valuable player, nor in passing the exams, but in Christ. So Paul rejoices in the Lord in all things because of Christ.
Accroding to Warren Wiersbe, “Paul was never the victim of circumstances; he had learned by experience the secret of peace: “I can do all things through Christ who energizes me!” The J. B. Phillips translation says, “I am ready for anything through the strength of the One who lives in me” ( (v. 13), ph). Turn back to (Phil. 2:12-13) and you will see that God cannot work through us until first He works in us; He works in us through His Word (1 Thes. 2:13), through prayer by the Spirit (Eph. 2:14ff), and sometimes through suffering (1 Peter 5:10). If we depend on our own power, we will fail; but if we depend on His strength, we can do all things through Him. This explains why Paul could rejoice even in prison: he had learned the secret of the secure mind through the power of God.”
Second, he’s not saying this things because of the Philippians’ gifts. He said in verse 17 “I do not say this because I am seeking a gift”. This is almost the same as the first one except that it deals not only with his private, personal satisfaction, namely finding satisfaction in God, but horizontally finding interest in the future satisfaction of others that results in more glory to God. He said “I am not seeking a gift. Rather, I seek the credit that abounds to your account.” He already said it from the previous chapters that they are his crown and joy. His joy was their progress and joy of faith.
But in what sense is it an abounding credit for their account?
Paul explained in verses 18-19. Their sacrifices to support Paul and the gospel ministry won’t go unnoticed. It will be a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, and pleasing to God, and so his God, Paul said, will supply their every need according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Yes the same God who sustained Paul’s strength in times of need.
“I have showed you all things how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Ac. 20:35). “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Ga. 6:9-10). “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Mt. 6:20). “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Mt. 19:21). “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth” (Lu. 12:33). “Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting” (Lu. 18:30). “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2 Co. 9:8). “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Lu. 6:38). “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Ep. 3:20). “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Ph. 4:19). “And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Ti. 1:14). “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Ti. 4:8). “For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pe. 1:11). “Fear thou not; For I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Is. 41:10).
How then God gets more glory?
Now remember that the Philippian church was not that rich, and in sacrificing they rely more and more on God, and when more and more people rely on God, he gets even more glory. Verse 20 is the result of verse 19 “and so may glory be given to God our Father forever and ever, Amen.”
Paul rejoices in the fact that as many recognize their insufficiency and rely on God’s sufficiency, God gets the glory and we get the joy.
Therefore elders, deacons and those who aspire to be part of the gospel ministry through teaching, learn to be content in all circumstance. And for others, support them and share in their suffering joyfully because it will be credited to your account abundantly. By all of these, God will be glorified.