By Jerry Price
Retired Pastor, Spring Hill
The late Dr. E. Stanley Jones once wrote: “The art of living is the least learned of all arts. Man has learned the art of existing, of getting by somehow with the demands of life, of escaping into half answers; but he knows little about the art of living, about being able to walk up to life, with all its demands, humbly conscious that he has within him a mastery that is able to face this business of living with adequacy” (from The Adequate Man: Paul in Philippians, Paul S. Rees, (Fleming H. Revell, 1959).
Paul’s adequacy was dependent on the life of Christ within him (Philippians 1:21). His adequacy produced contentment because he knew that everything he needed was already provided by Christ Himself — whether he was in the lap of luxury or the pit of poverty (“well fed or hungry … in abundance or in need”).
Where did Paul make this statement? While in prison. When did he make it? Not long before he faced the executioner.
He was confident that he was in the hands of an omnipotent, omniscient, all powerful God who had and would continue to take care of him in any and all circumstances.
Prison bars and dungeons could never take away the peace and contentment that reigned in his heart.
Every believer can and should have that same confidence and contentment. Christ’s life within us unbinds us from the impotence of self and ties us to the omnipotence of Almighty God. We do not need to attempt to work out our own dilemma.
In fact, oftentimes when we do, we simply cause the situation to get worse, not better.
Why? Because God does not honor self-sufficiency but utter dependence on Him. Jack Taylor, former pastor of the Castle Hills First Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, said in a sermon I once had on tape: “God puts you in a fix to fix you. But if you fix the fix God fixes for you, He has to put you in another fix in order to fix you.” I love that — except sometimes when it is me that He is fixing.
Note that Paul says this contentment is a “learned” behavior. Paul had learned to trust God with his needs. How did he do that? Through the experiences of life (II Corinthians 11:23-28) — the imprisonments, the beatings, the shipwrecks.
Though we may not experience the same trials and tribulations that Paul did, we all have to learn it the same way. We learn through our experiences that God will be what He has always been (Hebrews 13:8).
Throughout his letters, Paul consistently expresses his gratitude for God and His provision. But he also expresses gratitude for those who ministered to his needs. The church at Philippi had done that on more than one occasion. Though there had been a period of time when they were not able to do so for whatever reason, they had found a new opportunity to begin again.
They had been the instruments in God’s hands to meet his needs. He also wanted them to understand that he was seeking their spiritual growth rather than the gifts they sent. He compared their gifts to the fragrant aroma that ascended from the Old Testament sacrifices into the nostrils of God (Leviticus 1:9,13,17; 19:5; 22:29).
Paul then says that, because the Philippian church had met his needs through their generosity, God would, in turn, meet their needs according to His boundless supply through Christ Jesus.
Paul could make that promise because of his understanding that everything belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). The result of that would bring glory to God “forever and ever.”