We all go through high and low points in our lives. But when faced with the lows—the puzzling and difficult situations—what do we do? How do we react? Do we wish things were different?
In Philippians 4:11-12 Paul makes a remarkable claim:
“I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be content. I know also how to be abased, and I know how to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to hunger, both to abound and to lack.”
What was this secret Paul had learned? Let’s find out.
Paul’s circumstances when he wrote Philippians
It’s easy to see how Paul could be content while abounding, that is, while his needs were abundantly met. But when Paul wrote the Epistle to the Philippians, he was far from being in a pleasant, trouble-free environment. He was abased, hungry and lacking, in a prison in Rome.
Let’s recall who Paul was and how he ended up in prison.
Born to Hebrew parents and educated under Gamaliel, an honored teacher of the law, Paul was zealous for the Old Testament law and spent his time hunting down and persecuting believers in Jesus. But God had chosen him. While he was still a young man, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him directly. Paul saw the living Christ, and his life was forever changed. He repented, completely forsook his previous life, and believed in Christ. He was regenerated, and Christ entered into him to live in him.
God then sent Paul to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the Roman Empire. While many were saved through his preaching, many others opposed him. Eventually, he was imprisoned for his faith. The Roman prison of ancient times was by no means a comfortable place; we can only imagine how much Paul suffered in such an environment of extreme deprivation.
Yet it was from that prison, Paul said that in whatever circumstances, good or bad, he had learned to be content.
What secret did Paul learn?
If we consider the entire book of Philippians, one thing stands out: the experience and enjoyment of Christ. This was Paul’s secret. From the moment Paul received the Lord, he began to love and experience Christ.
Chapter after chapter in the book of Philippians reveals that experiencing Christ was Paul’s secret.
In Philippians 1:21 Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ.” Note 1 on live in the New Testament Recovery Version explains,
“Paul’s life was to live Christ. To him to live was Christ, not the law or circumcision. He would not live the law but would live Christ, not be found in the law but be found in Christ (3:9). Christ was not only his life but also his living. He lived Christ because Christ lived in him (Gal. 2:20). He was one with Christ in both life and living. He and Christ had one life and one living. They lived together as one person. Christ lived within Paul as Paul’s life, and Paul lived Christ without as Christ’s living. The normal experience of Christ is to live Him, and to live Him is to magnify Him always, regardless of the circumstances.”
In that Roman prison, Paul experienced Christ living in him and with him. For Paul to live there was Christ, and the indwelling Christ was his life and his bountiful supply.
Going on to Philippians 2:5-11, Paul presented Christ as the pattern for believers. Christ was the One who existed in the form of God yet emptied Himself, and in His incarnation, took the form of a slave, humbled Himself, and became obedient even unto the death of the cross.
Paul’s point wasn’t for believers to imitate Christ outwardly. It was to help them to experience Christ Himself as the pattern. We can see this in verse 16 where he says, “Holding forth the word of life.” When we take in God’s Word as life by using our spirit, that living Word operates in us, and we spontaneously live out the pattern of the Lord Jesus.
Continuing on to chapter 3, Paul testified in verse 8,
“But moreover I also count all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as refuse that I may gain Christ.”
For Paul, all religious, cultural, and philosophical things were refuse compared to experiencing and enjoying Christ.
In every chapter, Paul focused on nothing other than experiencing and enjoying Christ. This was the secret he had learned that enabled him to be content in any and every situation.
Experiencing Christ by being in Him and being empowered by Him
In Philippians 4:13 Paul went on to say, “I am able to do all things in Him who empowers me.” From this verse, we can see Paul experienced Christ as the secret of being content by being in Christ and by being empowered by Christ.
By being in Christ, Paul didn’t react to his circumstances in himself. Note 1 on in Him explains,
“Paul was a person in Christ (2 Cor. 12:2), and he desired to be found in Christ by others. Now he declared that he was able to do all things in Him, the very Christ who empowered him. This is an all-inclusive and concluding word on his experience of Christ. It is the converse of the Lord’s word in John 15:5 concerning our organic relationship with Him, ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing.’”
In his miserable environment, Paul didn’t try to muster a positive attitude. He remained in Christ, not theoretically, but actually, in his situation. By being in Him, He experienced Christ in his circumstances.
Being in Christ, Paul was empowered by Christ. Note 2 on empowers tells us,
“The Greek word means makes dynamic inwardly. Christ dwells in us (Col. 1:27). He empowers us, makes us dynamic from within, not from without. By such inward empowering, Paul was able to do all things in Christ.”
Paul was able to do all things, including being content in his negative situation, by being in Christ and being empowered inwardly by Christ.
Experiencing Christ as the secret
From Philippians, we can see that to be content in all our circumstances, we need to experience Christ by abiding in the Lord and not leaving Him, remembering that apart from Him we can do nothing. When we’re apart from Him, we simply have no way to handle our situation. We can’t endure anything, much less be content. Christ wants us to remain in Him in our daily life. When we do, He lives in us and with us, and empowers us within.
So how can we be in Christ in our experience?
First, we have to realize that when we believed in Christ, He as the life-giving Spirit came to live in our spirit, and was even mingled with our spirit. So for us to be in Him simply means to be in our mingled spirit.
But often we may find ourselves drifting away from the Lord and from our spirit, to our anxious thoughts or depressed feelings. At that point, we need to actively turn to our spirit where Christ is, to be in our mingled spirit with Him.
To help us come back to and abide in the Lord, we can call on His name, pray, sing, and pray with His Word. We can do these things any time—in the morning, during the day, at night—to be brought back to Christ to enjoy His empowering.
The more we remain in our spirit, the more we can enjoy Christ. On the outside, our situation may not change, but we change. Instead of complaining and fretting, Christ’s empowering brings us satisfaction, contentment, and even joy, enabling us to do the impossible—to be content in the midst of our circumstances.
It’s also helpful to realize that our loving Father arranges the circumstances of our life so we can gain Christ. Instead of grumbling and missing out on enjoying Christ, we can view our environment, whether good or bad, as a God-allowed opportunity for us to learn the secret of experiencing Christ in everything and in all things.
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