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Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. (Philippians 4:11)
Now, Paul turns the discussion into instruction on Christian contentment. Paul wants the Philippian believers to know that his statement was not a complaint in disguise, a plea for more gifts. Paul wants them to see that one can truly have joy in any circumstance – even in prison. The idea of want is being in need of something. Paul is enforcing the fact that he is not making an appeal; he is not sending an SOS for help.
Paul gives encouragement for the believers to seek this as he states he has learned this – basically telling the reader that they can also acquire true contentment. Learned (μανθάνω manthanō) implies a lesson resulting in better knowledge from inquiry or observation. We can see from Paul’s prior self-sufficiency that he was driven for more at one point. Content (αὐτάρκης autarkēs) literally means to “see self” or self-reliant. Paul wants the believers to understand a Christian view of this self-sufficiency that grows out of trust in Christ.
No matter if he was in prison, in chains, in want, in hunger – Paul was content. Many believe that if we are in the right place and things are going well, then we are content. That is placing our sufficiency in outward circumstances and ourselves. Pail will be building the case that true sufficiency comes from Jesus Christ. Let us follow along with his reasoning.
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Not that I speak from want. In the past two thousand years, there are few Christians who have been in situations of not even having the basic necessities of life as Paul was often, yet he was not trying to make this point. In the 10,000+ miles (16093.44 km) that Paul traveled across Israel, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy by foot, ship, and animal, his imprisonments, his being stoned and left for dead, he certainly was in want often. Yet, he had taught himself to cope with the most severe difficulties that Satan’s world could throw at him. What concerned him most, though, was what the church should be evidenced in the cause of Christ and how it would hold up under what was coming after Paul was gone. Paul had learned to bear up under his trials and tribulations to the point where they did not cause him any discomfort.
For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. Paul had learned to be (αὐτάρκης autarkēs) satisfied or showing satisfaction with life as it was. He was content (in circumstance), self-sufficient (REB, NAB), found resources in self (NEB), managed whatever one has (NJB), and was content in his thinking and his mindset with the circumstances in which one exists. Paul states that he had learned (μανθάνω manthanō; from the root μαθ- math) this. Paul had come to realize, come to learn, implying reflection on what life was going to be like when all that was in Satan’s world was hostile toward him. He understood as a result of having learned this through experience. When one comes to grips with their circumstances, the mind and body can learn to cope with the harshest environments so that the person can bear up under it as though it was nothing.
The life of Paul, “on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers.” (2 Cor. 11:26) How did Paul learn to cope in this way? Paul lived David’s words, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) As Paul worshiped God and carried out his missions, he enjoyed protective care even while he endured hardship. Verse 4 of Psalm 23 uses the metaphor of a sheep under a shepherd’s care, which shows Paul how God looks after him. He never felt alone even when languishing, isolated, living through dire circumstances, a place of deep darkness when he risked death often. Paul felt secure, as though God was right there in that prison cell with him.