10 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.
11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
12 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.
13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Do we truly know how to live humbly? Here in America, where the average wage per month is what many people in developing countries make in a year, we are spoiled rotten. Worse yet, whatever we don’t have, we lobby for as our “right,” and we bicker over who ought to provide it for us. Even as we seek to make sure that the poorest in America are provided for, we live in waste and luxury ourselves. I find it sad that American churches say they are seeking to get back to what the first-century church was “really” like–free of liturgies and overly-complicated theologies–and yet they don’t act like it.
44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,
45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
We Americans are too self-indulgent to ever truly return to that kind of church. That is what makes Paul’s letter to the Philippians all the more striking. The apostle was locked in a jail in Rome, his only luxuries apparently coming from the freewill offerings of the churches–some as far away as Macedonia–and yet he still had occasion to speak of joy and rejoicing.
In today’s verses, Paul shows his appreciation for all that the Philippian church has done for him. Even as he graciously accepts what the church has sent through Epaphroditus, Paul tells them that he would have been happy with just about anything. As the NIV Bible puts it, Paul says he has “learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (v.11) Paul’s real joy is that the Philippian church has had the opportunity to share with him at all, and so Paul tells them that their gift was “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” (v.18)
The most enduring verse is, of course, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That is the centerpiece of this section on plenty and want. Because, even when he lacks physical sustenance, Paul knows he can rely on the Lord for all his needs. Indeed, Paul later tells the Philippians that they, too, can so rely on God for their needs. (Philippians 4:19)
But how many of us truly know “how to be abased” and “how to abound”? Paul isn’t just talking about material provision. You see, even in his most humble circumstances, even when he was shipwrecked or imprisoned and had nothing of his own, Paul yet knew “how to abound,” how to live in prosperity. How? Paul lived in the abundance of the Spirit, receiving such measureless grace from God that it truly was sufficient for him. (2 Corinthians 12:9) Paul had learned not to count his material comfort as anything special, but in all things he sought only the Lord. Paul essentially says that even when he is hungry for food he is full of the Spirit, and even when his stomach is full he is always in need of God.
Do we so hunger and thirst for God? Are we willing to face physical need and yet seek the Lord as our sustenance? Like Paul says, even when we are full, we should still be hungry, and even when we abound, we should still suffer need for the Lord. For that matter, even when we THINK we have enough of His Holy Spirit, we should STILL want more. This craving for the Spirit is perhaps the one time in our lives when we cannot get too much of a good thing!
Sadly, it’s pretty evident that in our society today, we are “poor-weather Christians”: always happy to come to church and seek healing and prayer when we are in need, and yet once we have our needs met, we abandon God. Paul is reminding us to be hungry for God and full of His joy in ALL circumstances, through storm AND sun.
Are we ready to humble ourselves before the Lord and seek only His will and His way? Are we starving for more of what we often do not know we need–the Holy Spirit? We should understand that Paul isn’t just talking about the times we are PUT in dire physical circumstances, he is also talking about when we CHOOSE to abase ourselves through fasting and prayer. When we come before the Lord so humbly, we will find that even as our bodies clamor for food, our souls are content, filled to the brim and still wanting more of God’s holy Presence.
I think I live as well-off as most other folks in America, and I certainly don’t suffer. But I know that I am a spiritual pauper, that I need more of God to bring me to repentance and greater faith. Join me as I seek the Lord daily, relying not just on His gracious providence but mostly on His mercy and forgiveness. Let us all come to God humbly, ready to give up all that we have for something that is worth far more. Let us truly give to any such as have need, and help all people learn “how to abound” in the love and grace of our Lord God.
Gracious heavenly Father, I praise You for such as You have provided in my life–my family, my job, my home, my church. But more that that, Father, I thank You for the Spirit You have provided, the Helper promised by Your Son. Your Holy Spirit fills me, Lord God, and yet I seek You more. Make me less full of myself and more full of You, Lord. Teach me hunger and want, Father God, so that I will truly rely on You. Amen.