“The reason why he was glad of their help was because it spoke to his heart and told him that they were making themselves sharers with him in his troubles. As he tells us in the beginning of the letter, their fellowship in his labours had been from the beginning a joy to him. It was not so much their material help as their true sympathy that he valued. The high level to which he lifts what was possibly a very modest contribution…carries with it a great lesson for all receivers and for all givers of such gifts.”And today we’re going to begin one of those passages that people use for inspiration when things in life start to go sour. What we have is Paul telling us is that he really didn’t care about stuff. No matter what his circumstances, he was perfectly happy being the man God had made him. We saw that the word “content” in verse 11 doesn’t necessarily refer to his living conditions—but rather his spiritual condition. That, no matter what goes on around him, he’s still gonna be the man God has made him to be.
Philippians 4:11-13 (KJV)—11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
We’re gonna focus pretty much on verse 12 today, because there are 6 words in that verse that will help us understand verse 13 a lot better. So, let’s just jump right in. First, he says I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Two words here: abased, and abound. The word “abased”—literally means, “To make low; to bring into a humble condition; to assign a lower rank or place.” He’s not so much talking about his means—or his stuff. He’s talking about his rank in the human race. Also, it’s in the passive voice—that means it is something done to him. In other words, he knows how to allow himself to be put under the authority of another. Not only was he made an apostle of Christ, he was the least of the apostles. 1st Corinthians 15:9—For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
We also see other forms of the Greek word used in many other places. Matthew 11:29—“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” James 1:9-10 (KJV)—Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low. Romans 12:16—Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. 1st Peter 5:5-6—“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time. And, not coincidentally, this is the same word Paul uses in chapter 2 when he talks about Christ offering Himself as a sacrifice for us. Philippians 2:8—And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. He uses different forms of the same word two other places in Philippians. For example, Philippians 2:3—In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Philippians 3:20-21—The Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body. The fact that Paul would not only submit to a lower ranking, but that he would allow someone else to put him in that lower position was probably a very foreign concept to these Philippians. And it all goes back to the word “content” in verse 11. That no matter where he may have ranked among human beings, he knew who he was in Christ. And he’s telling us that, contrary to what Paula White may say, you ain't all that!
He lays that word “abased” next to the word “abound.” The best way to define this would be: “To abound, overflow; that is, to be pre-eminent or to excel.” It can refer to an abundance of material goods, and we’ll actually see this same word used that way at the end of this verse, but considering that Paul is talking about his stature in the community, I tend to agree with those who say that in this particular place he’s referring to “being pre-eminent.” He’s saying, “I know how to be the one in charge.” Basically. He had been at the very top of Jewish society. He was the one that parents looked to as the model for their children. If they had bubble gum cards, his would have been the most highly prized. Galatians 1:13-14—For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. Until…he met the risen Christ. He was then put under the leadership of the other apostles—so to speak.
For example, concerning the question of whether Gentile Christians need to be circumcised, he and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to meet with these other apostles. Acts 15:1-2—And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. Paul did not say, “Hello, Paul here! The one that the risen Christ appeared to personally!! It's my call, and I say thus!” Instead, he took the matter to the other apostles, and awaited their decision.
Now, however, he is the one instructing his own protégé’s such as Timothy and Titus and others about matters in the church. For example, 1st Timothy 2:10-11—Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. By the time he wrote the majority of his epistles, he was at the point where he could now give authoritative instruction on church matters. But he did not do so out of a sense of entitlement or some sense of “Do you know who I am?” He was a leader in the church, but he was not so vain that he struck down those who wanted to make sure he knew what he was talking about. Listen to how this very idea is described by Luke in Acts 17:10-12—Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. He had been the chief of sinners. After he met Christ he was under the authority of the other apostles. Now he has a “pre-eminence” so to speak in church matters. He has learned how to be abased. He has learned how to have a pre-eminence.
Next, every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry. Is there some big golf thing this weekend? Ah yeas, the Masters Invitational Tournament. Off the top of your head, who might be the most prominent name in the field of competitors? Some guy named…uhhh...oh, yeah. Tiger. Tiger Woods. Unfortunately, over the last few months he has been making news for things other than his golf game, and I don’t think we need to go over the specifics. If what he said in his press conference is a true revelation of the reasons behind his indiscretions, then they are really telling:
“I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself…I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled…I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself…I've had a lot of time to think about what I have done. My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before.”That little phrase at the end. He had to look at himself in a way he didn’t want to. Sounds a lot like us, doesn’t it? We don’t want to think of ourselves as sinners, do we? Now, do you think Tiger Woods is worried about where his next meal is coming from? But sadly, Tiger Woods had clearly not learned how to be well-fed. This is just one example of “You may be able to do something—but that doesn’t mean you should.” What would you say is the key word in that quote from Tiger? Entitled. “Well, the man works hard! Isn't he entitled to have a little fun?” BUT…listen to the difference between that attitude, and the attitude of a Christian. 1st Corinthians 9:27—I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Colossians 3:8-11—But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. These words are written to the poor, and also to the rich. He doesn’t make a distinction here. He doesn’t say, “If you're rich, these rules don’t apply to you.” That last little part, there is neither slave nor free. In other words, whether you're a slave, or a slave owner—these things apply to both just as much. Learn how to be well-fed, and how to be hungry. This may actually be easier than being well-fed. Difference between handling money and handling wealth. Unlike Tiger Woods, who is surrounded by all those temptations, if you're Joe Schmoe at Putt-Putt, you're just happy to hit the clown’s mouth and win a free game. Woo-Hoo!! I got it through the windmill!
That’s why I think fasting is such an underappreciated practice, one which, unfortunately, I don’t practice nearly as much as I should. Because when you let go of the most basic human need—even for a day—it makes you realize there are a lot of other things you can do without. Listen to this quote from Jim Elliott:
“Father, let me be weak that I might loose my clutch on everything temporal. My life, my reputation, my possessions, Lord, let me loose the tension of the grasping hand. Even, Father, would I lose the love of fondling. How often I have released a grasp only to retain what I prized by ‘harmless’ longing, the fondling touch. Rather, open my hand to receive the nail of Calvary, as Christ’s was opened—that I, releasing all, might be released, unleashed from all that binds me now.”In other words, “Don’t let me hold on to my stuff, lest my stuff hold on to me.” Those are the words of a man who knows how to be hungering. King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. Yet it took him until near the end of his life to finally figure out how fleeting riches can be. Proverbs 23:5—Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven. He was also troubled by the fact that he would have to leave all the wealth that took him a lifetime to accumulate to a son who just might squander it all. Ecclesiastes 2:18-19—Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. Which is why he said, in Proverbs 15:16—Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, than great treasure with trouble. And in the next to last chapter of Proverbs, the prophet Agur makes this prayer to YHVH, Proverbs 30:8-9—Give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the LORD?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God. Or, as Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day”—what? Not tomorrow’s bread, or next week’s or next month’s. Matthew 6:11—“Give us this day our daily bread.” Learn to be well-fed and to be hungered.
Finally, both to abound and to suffer need. There’s that word “abound” again, and it’s the very same Greek word we saw before. But he uses it here in a slightly different context. Now he’s using it to describe his supply of material things. Now he’s saying “I have learned how to live both with an excess of everything—and how to live with nothing.” He made sure that even though, yeah, he had to eat, but we see in Acts 18:1-2—Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila…[and] his wife Priscilla… because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. When no one in the Corinthian church supported him financially, Paul worked with his hands so he wouldn’t be a burden to them, and so that no one could accuse him of calling himself an apostle just to make money off of people.
And if he did get financial help from another church, like he did from the Macedonians—that is, the Philippians—he’d tell you that you might as well call him a robber. In fact, he calls himself a robber in 2nd Corinthians 11:8-9—I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself. In other words, “I ain't giving anybody any ammunition to use against me. These folks want to say that I'm taking money I don’t deserve—yeah, good luck with that!” 2nd Corinthians 11:12—But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. And if that means building tents in the middle of summer, and living on Vienna sausages and saltine crackers—then that’s what he did.
He knew how to abound—and he knew how to suffer need. I dare say, one of the things that is hindering true spiritual revival in this country is that we don’t know how to live with abundance—and we sure don’t want to know how to suffer need. I'll close with a quote from Charles Spurgeon on the subject of contentment:
“Making a day's excursion from Botzen, in the Tyrol [Swiss Alps], we went along the very narrowest of roads, mere alleys…Well, you may be sure that we did not engage an ordinary broad carriage, for that would have found the passage as difficult as the needle's eye is to the camel; but our landlord had a very narrow [carriage] for us—just the thing for threading those [four-foot wide] passages. Now, I must make you hear the moral of it, you fretful little gentlemen. When you have a small estate, you must have small wants, and by contentment suit your carriage to your road. ‘Not so easy,’ say you? ‘Very necessary to a Christian,’ say I.”Jesus Christ is Lord.