Philippians 4:10-20 (NRSV)
I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my trouble.
You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift; but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
This passage comes at the end of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, and it is commonly regarded as an expression of gratitude for the support the people of that church have given him. It is a thank-you note, in other words, and apart from the fact that it comes from a jail cell, in that respect it is nothing out of the ordinary. But in another respect it is anything but that. For in the course of expressing his appreciation for the aid, Paul says something revealing about his approach to life. “I have learned to be content,” he says, “with whatever I have.”
That could be taken as an expression of a quietistic outlook, and there are surely some passages in the Pauline letters which have that quality. But I do not think that is what is at issue in the statements in question here, which are, after all, an expression of Paul’s own way of dealing with various circumstances he has encountered in his life. Paul’s claim is that the state of mind he has acquired enables him to keep his balance in the face of both good fortune and hardship. Even if we admire that mentality (as I do), however, it is not easy to emulate. Most of us know from experience that it is all too easy to be overwhelmed by positive feelings when things are going well and negative ones when the opposite is true. It takes “strength,” as Paul puts it, to resist falling into the up-and-down pattern that brings.
But where does one get such strength? Paul’s answer in this passage is clear, and it illustrates something that has long been recognized to be one of the more important by-products of sincere religious conviction. It is his faith in God that has enabled him to keep an even keel and avoid attaching excessive significance to the bad as well as the good things he has experienced. Would that we all could do the same.
As you know well, Lord, we humans are all concerned about our own personal well-being—often too much so. We take pleasure in the things we experience we think are good for us and feel pain when events do not go our way, and we tend to do so in a manner that is all out of proportion to what is really at stake. Help us to have the peace of mind that only you can provide. These things we pray, as always, in the name of your Son.