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Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 4:10-13

God’s Provision

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

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Last week’s post discussed spiritual maturity and standing firm in the truth of God and His Son Jesus Christ.

These are the concluding verses of Philippians 3 (emphases mine):

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Then we have the first nine verses of Philippians 4:

Therefore, my brothers,[a] whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Exhortation, Encouragement, and Prayer

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion,[b] help these women, who have labored[c] side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

As we have seen over the past few weeks, the theme of Philippians is joy in the Lord.

Paul suffered greatly for the Gospel, yet, throughout, he rejoiced in the Lord and put all his trust in Him.

He says he rejoiced upon hearing ‘at length’ about the Philippians’ revived concern for him, understanding that they had no prior opportunity to express their concern (verse 10).

Matthew Henry’s commentary takes issue with their neglect of their teacher but advises that we, too, should show Paul’s generosity in forgiving our friends who neglect us:

How could they lack opportunity, if they had been resolved upon it? They might have sent a messenger on purpose. But the apostle is willing to suppose, in favour of them, that they would have done it if a fair opportunity had offered. How contrary is this to the behaviour of many to their friends, by whom neglects which really are excusable are resented very heinously, when Paul excused that which he had reason enough to resent.

We can understand why Henry takes issue with them when John MacArthur tells us that Paul had left Philippi ten years previously:

Ten years have passed since the last Philippian gift was sent to him, ten years since he arrived in Philippi, ten years since he preached the gospel there, ten years since he was thrown in jail, ten years since the earthquake released all the prisoners, ten years since the Philippian jailer was converted to Christ and all of his household, ten years since he moved from there to Thessalonica and the Philippians gave him some support, ten years since he left Macedonia for Achaia, the cities of Athens and Corinth and the Philippians sent him another gift after he had left.  Ten years since the last expression of their love He was the founder of their church, they had a love bond, but for ten years there had been no support. That was all right with Paul.  He understood that. 

Then Epaphroditus showed up with a gift from the congregation:

And he says I know it wasn’t because you weren’t concerned, it was because you lacked what?  Opportunity, the end of the verse.  You just didn’t have the opportunity The word is kairos, it means the season You never had a time, an opportunity, not chronological time You never had that moment when it could happen.  We don’t know why that is true We don’t know why they hadn’t done it.  We don’t know whether it was their poverty, or whether it was the fact that they didn’t know what Paul’s needs were, or couldn’t locate Paul.  But for some reason they had not sent to him any support for well-nigh ten years and he simply says to them, well, you didn’t have an opportunity to do that.  I don’t hold that against you.  I don’t reprimand you for that.  I understand.  You had no opportunity for that until recently.  And he says, “But I rejoiced,” when?  Well, when Epaphroditus came after ten years with a gift from the Philippians, that was a happy moment.  “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly,” he says. 

Paul notes they ‘revived’ their concern for them. MacArthur looks at the word in the Greek:

His joy was extensive as this expression of love came, “That now at last after all this long wait,” is implied in the at last, “you have revived your concern for me.” That’s a beautiful word, that word “revived;” it’s a horticultural term that means to bloom again Your love has flowered again Your love has bloomed again.  It’s always been there but it just didn’t have an opportunity to bloom because blooms are seasonal and you haven’t had the season Oh, he says in verse 10, “You were concerned,” and the implication is all along, I know you were concerned about me, I don’t want you to misunderstand me, I know you were concerned.  But you just never had an opportunity.

Henry says the same thing:

… now at the last their care of him flourished again (v. 10), like a tree in the spring, which seemed all the winter to be quite dead.

The next three verses are about Paul’s contentment in all circumstances.

Paul makes it clear that he has not been in need, for he is content in whatever situation in which he finds himself (verse 11).

MacArthur says:

Paul has an amazing contentment.  And it built on the idea that there never was given an opportunity.  In other words, God never providentially made it possible.  There is a quiet calm in that kind of faith.  If I believe that God is sovereign, and He is, if I believe that God orders all circumstances to accomplish His own holy purpose, then I can be content in anything because everything is under control.  Discontent comes when we want to control everything.  That usually is a direct result of a failure to understand that everything is already under control, and somebody better than you is running it.  God.  See, Paul was fully confident that God was in charge and would order the events to meet his needs.

MacArthur defines ‘content’:

By the way, let me comment at least briefly on the word “content.”  It’s a marvelous word.  It goes way back to the Greek term which meant to be self-sufficient, to be satisfied, to have enoughThe term actually indicates a certain independence, a certain lack of necessity for aid or help.  In fact, it was used in some places outside the Scripture to refer to a person who supported himself without anyone’s aid.  Paul is saying, “I have learned to be satisfied, I’ve learned to be sufficient in myself, and yet not in myself as myself, but in myself as indwelt by Christ.”  He had come to spiritual contentment

Paul says that he knows what it is like to be brought low and what it is to abound, or flourish; in any and every circumstance he has learned the secret of facing plenty and also facing hunger and need (verse 12).

MacArthur discusses ‘secret’:

This is a fascinating verb; it is a verb that is used to speak of being initiated into the mystery religions, of being initiated into the pagan cults which held certain secrets for only the initiated to know.  Paul borrows that word and says, “I have been initiated into the secrets of contentment, I have learned the secret of living a contented life.”  Truly the peace of God, in verse 7, was his portion Truly, the God of peace in verse 9 was his portion Truly, he was experiencing verse 6, he was anxious for nothing He was content, he was satisfied, he was adequate, he had enough, he was sufficient. 

MacArthur explains what Paul means by the secret of contentment:

Strand number one, confidence in God’s providence, confidence in God’s providence.  Look at verse 10, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed you were concerned, but you lacked opportunity”

… He could do without and waiting on the Lord be content.  He knew it was all in God’s hands, and if God gave a proper season, and a proper time, and a proper opportunity, then those things that should be expressed would be expressed There was no panic in heart; there was no need to manipulate people.  There was no turning of the screws, as it were, to get what he thought he wanted or needed out of someone.  He was certain that God, in due time, would order the circumstances so that his need would be met.  He knew that there was nothing really between he and the Philippians that was at all negative, and so he didn’t feel any responsibility to resolve conflict.  He just waited patiently until the Lord made it happen …

Let me give you a second principle, a second strand in the fabric of contentment.  Paul was content, number one, because of confidence in the providence of God; number two, because of satisfaction with little, of satisfaction with little.  Look at verse 11 This is a quick kind of disclaimer after verse 10.  He says, “Not that I speak from want,” in other words, “Oh I rejoiced when your gift came, I rejoiced so much when it came,” not that I needed it, “not that I’m speaking out of my own want.  For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” 

Well, what is this telling us?  This is telling us that he was satisfied with little.  He had bare subsistence.  His need was deep and great, but he didn’t acknowledge any discontent.  He was so at peace with the providence of a sovereign God that he was content.  He was so satisfied with very little that it didn’t matter that he was a prisoner, in the sense that it took his contentment, it didn’t.  It didn’t matter that he was chained to a Roman soldier, that he ate with bare subsistence, that he stayed in a place that was greatly lacking in comfort.  That didn’t really touch his contentment; he was satisfied with little …

When he says, “Not that I speak from want,” what he means is, “I really don’t have any needs that aren’t met.”  Maybe they aren’t met as fully as I would want them to be met but they’re met.  He is so sensitive to this that it’s amazing to me.  When he wrote 1 Corinthians, he says in chapter 9 to the Corinthians, he says, “Look,” he says, “I have a right to live of the gospel because I preach the gospel,” which means to make my living off of preaching I should be supported by churches.  He talks about soldiers being supported when they fight wars, and why shouldn’t preachers be supported when they preach messages, and he says I have a right to that.  But he says, “Look, I’m not going to take anything from you ‘cause I don’t want to charge you for what I do.”  So, he says, I work with my own hands, I don’t want to make the gospel chargeable to you; I don’t want to cloud your thinking about my motives, so I work

“I have learned,” emphatic I, “I have learned,” points to the fact that this lesson is in the bag, folks, I’ve got this one down, “to be content, to be satisfied, to be self-sufficient in Christ in whatever circumstances I am.”  The word “content,” by the way, is the same word in 2 Corinthians 9:8 translated sufficiency.  I’m sufficient, I’m self-contained, I have no needs that aren’t met.  He’s not denying difficulty.  He’s not denying hard circumstances.  He is simply content in God’s providential care and he is satisfied with very, very little

Paul knew that the chief end of man was not to meet his needs, but the chief end of man was to worship and enjoy God.  Paul knew that it was not the meeting of human need that was the issue, but it was living to the glory of the God who created him that was the issue.  And so, he was content with very little of this earth stuff, only what he really needed.  And that was enough to satisfy him  

Let me give you a third strand A third strand in the fabric of contentment we’ll call independence from circumstances, independence from circumstances.  Now, he already alluded to it in verse 11 when he said, “In whatsoever circumstances I am, I’ve learned to be content.”  Now, he wants to expand on that in verse 12, so he says, “I know how to get along with humble means.  I also know how to live in prosperity, in any and every circumstances.”  That’s the key idea.  “I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need, or lack.”

So, what is he saying here?  He’s saying, look, the third element that you see coming out of his heart here in this contentment is that he was independent of circumstances.  He says “in whatever circumstance,” in verse 11, and then in verse 12, “in any and every circumstance, I’m the same.  I’m the same.”  It’s the part of contentment that is utterly indifferent and independent of all circumstances.  Beloved, let me tell you, the one thing that steals our contentment most frequently is bad circumstances.  Right?  And we crumble, and we lose our contentment in the sense of sufficiency, satisfaction and peace because we are victimized by circumstances.

What does Paul say?  “I know how.”  He says it twice in this verse, “I know how,” and a little later, “I also know how.  I know how, I’ve learned it.”  He says, “I’ve got the secret, folks, I’m living it here, I know how.”  What do you know how to do, Paul?  “I know how, one, to get along with humble means.”  What do you mean by that, Paul?  “I mean, I’m talking about physical things.”  He’s talking here about food, clothing, daily necessities.  I know how to get along with humble means, poverty is what he has in mind.  I know how to be poor.  I know how to have very, very little of daily sustenance.  And this is very, very basic, just the basic needs of life.  Then, he says, “Also, I also know how to live in prosperity,” or to overflow, perisseu, to abound, to be filled.  And he’s talking again about earthly goods and earthly supplies.

“Hey, I can get along with poverty; I can get along with prosperity.  In any and every circumstance I’ve learned the secret.”  And then, he goes on.  What secret?  “The secret of being filled.”  Well, that’s an interesting word, chortaz, it was used of foddering animals It’s used of feeding and fattening animals.  Hey, I know what it is to have a big meal.  I know what it is to eat well.  I know what it is to eat sumptuously.  I know what it is to be well fed.  And I also know what it is to what?  To be going hungry.  He had times of great deprivation.  He had times when he didn’t have enough food to eat.  He knew that.  He experienced that.  And then, he closes verse 12 by saying, “And I know what it’s like to have abundance, and I know what it’s like to suffer lack.  But the point is: in everything I’m content because I live independent from the circumstances.”

However, lest he give the impression that he does it all by himself, he gives ‘him’ — Christ — the credit for getting him through all circumstances (verse 13).

MacArthur introduces Christ as being the fourth — and most important — element in contentment:

Let me take you to a fourth pointThis matter of contentment demands not only a confidence in God’s sovereign providence, a satisfaction with little, and an independence of circumstance; but, fourthly, Paul was content because he was sustained by divine power, he was sustained by divine power.  And he experienced that.  You could even make it, he experienced divine power.  Notice verse 13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Some manuscripts say “Christ;” there are manuscripts on both sides of that issue.  The better manuscripts seem to use the word “Him,” but, of course, it refers to Christ, I’m only saying that because some of your Bibles may say Christ.  Whether it says Christ or Him, it’s referring to Christ.  Paul says I am sustained by Christ who strengthens me.

You see, he had learned that no matter how difficult it was in the material world, there was a spiritual undergirding Our adequacy and our sufficiency comes from being attached to the adequate and the sufficient one.  We are not really self-sufficient, we are Christ-sufficient It is because we are linked to His life and linked to His power in us that we have sufficiency Paul is saying, “Look, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  What does he mean by that?  Well, he means I’m connected to Christ.  And because I’m connected to Christ, that is the life of Christ in the soul of man, He lives in me, the life which I live is His life living in me, Galatians 2:20; because of that, I have a supernatural divine strength for every situation.

Now, he does not mean, and I want you to listen carefully to this, he does not mean that I can go forever without eating.  He does not mean that I can go forever without drinking, or I can forever without sleeping, or I can be battered with 5,000 stripes and still survive.  He does not mean that.  He knows that if he doesn’t have food eventually, he will die.  If he doesn’t have something to drink eventually, he will die.  And if he is continually pummeled, he will die.  There is a limit to the physical extremities which he can endure.  I mean, that would be true in any case, obviously.  But what he is saying is when I have come to the end of my own resources, then I experience the power of Christ to sustain me until a provision is made.

Now, I believe he is talking here about the material world when he says, “I can do all things.”  He could have said, “I can endure all things.”  He uses a Greek verb that means to be strong, or to have strength.  He is saying, “I am strong enough to go through anything because of Him who infuses His strength into me.”  He does not mean that I could live forever with no food.  He’s not talking about a miraculous provision in that sense.  What he is simply saying is in those exigencies of life, those extremities of life where I have no more human resources, I am infused with the strength of Christ.  The Bible says, “To him who has no might, He increases strength.”  And Isaiah says in chapter 40, that great and familiar 31st verse, “That when we would faint and grow weary, we automatically feel the power of God and mount up as wings as eagles.”  He’s talking about coming to the bottom, as it were, of human resources and finding there the strength of Christ. 

Henry has a note on the Greek in the original manuscript:

here he transfers all the praise to Christ. “What do I talk of knowing how to be abased, and how to abound? It is only through Christ who strengthens me that I can do it, not in my own strength.” So we are required to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might (Eph 6 10), and to be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2 1); and we are strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, Eph 3 16. The word in the original is a participle of the present tense, en to endynamounti me Christo, and denotes a present and continued act; as if he had said, “Through Christ, who is strengthening me, and does continually strengthen me; it is by his constant and renewed strength I am enabled to act in every thing; I wholly depend upon him for all my spiritual power.”

We Europeans are approaching what could be a highly expensive winter with the huge increase in energy prices coming this autumn.

Will we be content with colder homes? One wonders.

Perhaps we can take a leaf out of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and bear it in mind prayerfully as our hour of need approaches.

May we, too, be content thanks to the power of Christ, regardless of circumstances.

Next time — Philippians 4:14-19

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