Monday, March 18, 2013

Paul’s Secret

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. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 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. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. (Philippians 4:10-14)
Paul is in their hearts and on their minds. But he is also under house arrest in Rome, over 800 miles to the west and not an easy journey, so they have not had much opportunity to express their love for him in tangible ways. Finally though, they were able to send Epaphroditus to him, along with some supply for him and his ministry. Paul was overjoyed to hear from them again and grateful to receive their gifts of love.

Not that Paul is overly concerned about his needs. He’s been in itinerant ministry for years now and has endured numerous persecutions, imprisonments, lashings, beatings, stonings and other perils for the sake of the gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-33). But regardless of whatever situation he may find himself in, he has “learned to be content.”

There are two different Greek words that are translated as “learned” in this passage. The first one is manthano, which in this case means he has learned something through experience or practice. We will look at other word for “learned” in a moment.

Now, God did not ordain or meticulously plan all those experiences Paul endured but He certainly used them in Paul’s life to teach him. And so Paul learned to be content. The Greek word for “content” is autarkes. It is a compound of autos, a reflexive pronoun that can be translated as “self,” and arkeo, which means to be sufficient or satisfied. Literally, it means “self-sufficient,” which was considered a virtue by ancient Greek philosophers.

However, Paul uses it differently here. The contentment he has learned is not because of any self-sufficiency that comes from his own ability or strength but one that comes from someplace else, which we will see in a moment. The Amplified Bible, in its usual expansive way, translates autarkes as, “satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted.” Paul’s peace and well-being are not dependent upon his circumstances but on something that is within him, though it does not originate from him.

So Paul knows how to respond when he is humbled — humiliated — by his persecutors and has everything taken from him. Had not the Lord Jesus willingly subjected Himself to that for Paul’s sake? The Greek word for “abase” is the same word Paul used when he spoke earlier about Messiah, who “humbled Himself” to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). So Paul is quite willing to be humbled now for Jesus’ sake.

Paul also knows how to view his abundance when he has more than enough (the Greek word for “abound” literally means to superabound). He welcomes those times but does not trust in them for his well-being. Both circumstances, being humbled and having abundance, are always subject to change.

How did Paul come to this understanding? He learned “the secret.” Behind the second “I have learned” in this passage is the Greek verb mueo, which speaks of being initiated into a mystery. There is something Paul discovered going on inside him that changed everything for him. So whether he is hungry or full, experiencing lack or having more than enough — it is all the same to him.

So what is this secret, this mystery into which he has found himself initiated? Simply this: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul’s “self-sufficiency” does not come from himself but is the ability and strength that comes from the Lord Jesus. In his letter to the Jesus believers at Colosse, Paul speaks of the “mystery,” which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). This ability Paul experiences is the ability of Jesus the Messiah in him, strengthening him for everything that comes his way. Surely that is part of the glory of which he speaks.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul gives an example of this strengthening and the sufficiency of Jesus in his life. Paul was being harassed by a “messenger of satan,” and cried out to God for relief. But the Lord spoke to him and said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). The Greek word for “sufficient” is arkeo, which is part of the compound word Paul uses here in Philippians, autarkes.

Paul’s “self-sufficiency,” then, is not one that originates with him, it is the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus at work in him. So Paul’s weakness, lack and humiliation becomes an occasion for the strength of the Lord Jesus to come forth in him in all its glory. Paul concluded, “Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). For it is God who is at work in him “both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

All the same, Paul commends the believers at Philippi for this fresh expression of their continuing love for him. They have done well to “share” with him in his current difficulty. The Greek word for “share” is sygkoinoneo, a compound of syn, which means “together,” and koinoneo, which means to take part with. They have truly “partnered together” with Paul in his ministry, his life and his present circumstances. And that is cause for rejoicing on Paul’s part.

Focus Questions
  1. Who are the ones who would be glad of your assistance, and what are the opportunities that lay before you?
  2. Who are the ones who partner with you and make you glad for their help?
  3. How have you experienced the sufficiency of Jesus’ strength in your life?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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