Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content (Phil. 4:11)
In the previous verse, Paul, having recently received the gift delivered by Epaphroditus, rejoiced in the Lord that the Philippians’ care for him had flourished again (4:10). Although the church loved the apostle dearly, it had been a while since they were able to send him an offering (cf. vs.15-16). Don’t forget, in those days they couldn’t simply wire the funds to the apostle Paul’s bank account. Not to mention, Paul’s journeys were both frequent and many, which made him a difficult man to locate. Whatever the exact circumstances were Paul said they “lacked opportunity” (vs.10).
So, having rejoiced in verse 10, Paul used verse 11 to make sure that he wasn’t misunderstood. He wrote,
“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (vs.11).
Remember, Paul was an example for the Philippians to follow (vs.9) and he didn’t want to come across as “needy.” Yes, he had needs but his disposition wasn’t needy, wanting, or discontented; rather, he was content with God’s providential dealings in his life.
This wasn’t something that happened overnight. Even as Paul wrote, he had learned to be content in whatever state he was in. What a lesson to learn! I’m sure it was by no means an easy one. Paul, who was a man of like passions, battled the impatience that rises up out of the fallen frame. Doubtless, upon being regenerated Paul’s patience was not perfected as though he were glorified. But, in all the different afflictions he faced (see 2 Cor. 11:23-28), this was something that he learned. When you look at Paul’s ministerial trials it’s as though he was thrust into situation after situation that would test his contentment. After all, being shipwrecked three times and spending a night and a day in the ocean will do that to a person (vs.25) – and that’s just a couple of examples. Sticking a little bit closer to the context, when Paul was put in situations where he hadn’t received material support from supporting churches, at least for a while, he would, at times, be forced to face circumstances where he would be hungry and lacking (Phil. 4:12).
Paul could have become bitter. And, if left to himself, we have every reason to believe he would have. But the reason he learned to be content in whatever state he was in was not because Paul was an impressively moral individual who, if given enough time, would find his way to the proper noble outlook. The key to Paul’s contentment is found in verse thirteen:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (vs.13)
Paul learned contentment because Christ taught him and Paul practiced contentment because Christ strengthened him. One only needs to survey what Paul had written up until this point to see the ground upon which this doctrine of contentment was built. Paul knew that the God who began a good work in believers would complete it (1:6). He had eyes to see how difficult circumstances, like imprisonment, could be a means through which the Gospel advanced (vs.12-18). He knew that the main purpose for living was Christ (vs.21), the same Christ who humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross (2:8). And if that’s the case, which it is, regardless of your circumstances you can please God wherever you are by pursuing intimacy with Christ (3:10) and the upward calling of Christlikeness (vs.12-14). Furthermore, Paul knew that God, via the Holy Spirit, worked inside the believer to both will and do the good pleasure of God (2:13). He knew it was God’s will for believers to not complain (vs.14) and he knew that his suffering was a part of sacrificial living for the body of Christ (vs.17). He knew there was always reason to rejoice in the Lord (2:18; 3:1; 4:1) and he knew that there was fellowship to be had with Christ in the midst of suffering (3:10). These are things that Paul taught the Philippians by the Holy Spirit’s revelation, but they were also things that were applied to his own heart via the Spirit’s work of sanctification. And oh what strength comes from the way in which the Spirit applies the Word (cf. Ps. 119:28b)!
You and I should take courage, then, because we too have the teaching of the Spirit in the Spirit-inspired text of Scripture. Alongside of the important and precious truths in the previous paragraph, we know that godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6). We can agree with the Scriptural assessment – “having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (vs.8). And we have the highest motivation for contentment. Even as the writer of Hebrews wrote:
“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Heb. 13:5)
That verse, while being a clear mandate of Scripture that we are responsible to heed, also provides the ultimate reason (and reality) that compels us to be content – if you are a Christian, you have Jesus with you and in you, never to leave you nor forsake you! And you can expect that the same Christ, who indwells you via the Holy Spirit, will continue to teach you contentment and strengthen you to apply that doctrine to daily living.