Paul starts this section of the chapter (Philippians 4:10-14) with a familiar theme: joy! He tells the Philippians that he has great joy in the Lord because they have again showed their concern for him. He is thankful for what they have done to provide for his needs, but his joy does not come from their provision. He is grateful for their gift, but he wants to be clear that he is not asking for more. He has learned to be content in any circumstance, whether he has little and is hungry or he has food in abundance.
The Greek word that is translated as ‘learned’ has the connotation of a long, hard lesson. It wasn’t just a matter of hearing someone say that Christ’s grace is sufficient, (II Corinthians 12:9) as many of us have. I have often heard that verse used as a platitude when someone is facing a trial, but Paul learned this from experience. You may remember from the post on April 20, 2011 that Paul had had more than his fair share of trials, and yet he had learned the secret of contentment. We all should be so fortunate. Sometimes I think that we don’t appreciate the suffering that we have to endure. I know I often wish that things were easier, but perhaps we (I) should look at what we can gain from our suffering rather than work so hard to avoid it. Job learned that lesson in the Old Testament. He had lost everything, even his wife’s support, but Job continued to bless the Lord despite his circumstances. (Job 1:21) Likewise, Paul rejoiced despite his circumstances because he knew that he was in the will of God. Whatever came his way, he knew that he would be able to get through it because God was on his side.
Philippians 4:13 is another verse that is used frequently to encourage people. It is usually quoted by itself without the verses around it for context. Yes, it’s true that with Christ’s strength we can do anything, but the context tells us that this is Paul’s secret of contentment. As long as he is in the will of God, God will provide the strength that he needs to face any situation. Nevertheless, the Philippians were right to support him in whatever way they could. Sometimes the way God provides His strength is through his people, by allowing us to be His hands and feet. It is not that God could not do it without us, but He is allowing us to have a part in the blessing of helping others. We, too, could be the reason for another’s joy.