Devotional: Applying the Bible to my today.
Read: Philippians 4:10-14
By Halee Wood
My first encounter with Philippians 4 was as a floundering, non-Christian in my 20’s. The handout read, “I’ve learned to be content no matter my circumstances. (Philippians 4:11)” The word “content” grabbed my attention because it seemed synonymous with the word “fine,” and “fine” was so much better than the downward, emotional spiral I was experiencing. I checked out a Bible from my school’s library to learn more of the author’s story. Imagine my shock when I found that the author, Paul, was imprisoned AND his expression of “content” meant way more than “fine.”
If you haven’t read today’s scripture prior to reading this written commentary, will you please just pause and read it? Read it twice. It’s a relatively easy read, but there is so much packed into these few short verses.
Go ahead… I’ll wait here.
Let’s unpack this:
Anxiety vs. Concern
In yesterday’s devotional, we studied Paul’s action plan to be anxious about nothing, but today’s reading starts with Paul rejoicing because the people of Philippi showed great concern for him. What is the difference between anxiety and concern?
Concern is listed as a synonym to anxiety and one definition is “to make anxious,” but Paul distinguishes between the two. Having a concern is to identify a need exists rather than being in denial, but only when the concern is dwelled upon does it become anxiety. When a concern leads us to our knees and to action by way of the Lord’s leading, then it is something worth rejoicing. In the case of the Philippians, upon understanding Paul’s needs, they were concerned and then shared with him in his affliction.
The Philippians were rightfully concerned about Paul; he was in a complicated and potentially depressing situation, yet he communicated that he was fully satisfied (while also accepting their gifts). If we desire to follow in the footsteps of Paul, let’s not overlook these important principles:
- Contentment is learned. “…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Philippians 4:11b)
He did not instinctively “know” how to be content. It was a process. When we face a new circumstance that we’ve never faced before, it’s a new process of learning…new waters to test…Are the principles we learned in the last set of circumstances going to hold true for the new set of circumstances? If they do hold true over a variety of circumstances, then they are likely to hold true for new circumstances going forward – which takes a lot of the uncertainty out of uncertain circumstances!
- Circumstances are neither good nor bad. “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” (Philippians 4:12)
I have lived in a variety of socioeconomic cultures…while Jesus constantly reminded us to serve and be mindful of the poor and their needs, He never asked us to pity them. Do you know why? Because there are some beautiful things that can happen when there are minimal resources. For example, the community connections – people often sit on their front porches, saying hello to one another, helping one another out, kids playing in the street. This isn’t something often seen in higher income neighborhoods. Community connections happen in a unique way in impoverished communities. Bottom line, people can be miserable in “good” circumstances, not just “bad” circumstances, and Paul is teaching us that circumstances don’t dictate our inner peace.
- The focus is on the journey, not a specific outcome. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13
A very interesting thing happens whenever we begin to fully rely on Christ – our strength goes beyond human capacity and our definition of success becomes fluid. Paul was not content because he knew everything would be “fine,” which is good because it didn’t turn out “fine.” Though he was released from his house arrest, he was eventually martyred for proclaiming Jesus Christ. He was content because, without a doubt, he knew he could do hard things…all hard things – because he was not living by his own strength. He was banking on the strength of the Creator of the universe, the one who had conquered death.
Submitting the journey to Christ also gives us the faith, strength and peace to submit the outcome to Him. We can be short-sighted when it comes to determining what “success” or “victory” looks like. Victory, from God’s perspective, is sometimes more than we can comprehend. He sees the big picture. He has the Kingdom and our individual well-being in mind – and something He sees as a victory may not seem so much like victory to the world. God creates unforeseen victories by interjecting His wisdom and strength into those who are imperfect and find themselves in imperfect circumstances.
This dynamic is so well displayed in 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul implored God multiple times to relieve him of an affliction. God’s response was simply, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (vs 9). Paul concludes, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (vs 10). Wow...
Just because we hold tightly to these principles doesn’t mean we won’t experience grief or suffering. As Paul closes out Philippians 4, he is so grateful for all those who have come alongside him and invested in him. By not being in denial and expressing humility, he is an encouragement to others while appreciating their generosity as an extension of God’s goodness.
As I have contemplated this chapter for many years now, I have come to believe that the “formula” Paul presents here is a way of refreshing our spirits through healing our attitude. As we meander the challenges of today, may we surrender our attitudes and the outcome to Jesus Christ so that we may live an abundant and joy-filled life long before we go to spend eternity with Him.
Lord, it’s incredible that we can truly be content in any and every circumstance, and it’s not because we are so good; it’s because You are so good. We are blessed, we are called, we are healed, we are whole – all because of who You are and all You’ve done on our behalf. Thank You for giving us Your strength so that we can do all things and submit the outcome to You. Amen.
Halee Wood is a Certified Life Coach, Speaker and Writer. Connect with her at Run the Race Together.