In Need of Nothing.
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. – Philippians 4:11-12 NLT
Thanks for your gift, but I never really needed it.
That sounds like a strange way of expressing gratitude to someone who has just shown you generosity. But in essence, that’s exactly what Paul writes as he wraps up his letter to the believers in Philippi. They had sent him a gift through Epaphroditus. We don’t know the nature of the gift, but it was not the first time they had helped Paul out. His reaction to their generosity seems somewhat strange at first glance, even a bit rude. But Paul is genuinely grateful – for them, not for the gift. “How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again” (Philippians 4:10 NLT). He doesn’t thank God for the gift, but sees it as an expression of their growing Christ-likeness. Their generosity was evidence of their increasing maturity. And he wanted them to know how proud he was of them. “…you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty” (Philippians 4:14 NLT). For Paul, the emphasis was not on the gift, but on the givers. He even let them know that he could have done without their gift. He had been perfectly content before their gift had even arrived. This is the part that most of us have a hard time getting out heads around. Paul comes across as rude and ungrateful, almost arrogant. But his point was that his contentment was not contingent upon material goods or circumstances. Paul is under house arrest in Rome. He has limited freedom and no known source of income. And yet, throughout this entire letter, Paul has spent no time complaining about his circumstances or the less-than-perfect conditions under which he is having to live.
Instead, Paul reveals that he is perfectly content. Why? Because over the years, he had learned the secret to contentment. Their gift, while it may have improved Paul’s circumstances to one degree or another, had nothing to do with his outlook on life. Whether he had a lot or a little, Paul was content. Material things did not improve his mood. An empty stomach and hunger pangs could not ruin his day or shake his confidence in God. The degree of his neediness had no bearing on his joyfulness. “I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is why a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little” (Philippians 4:12 NLT). So what was this secret? Paul expresses it in the very next verse. “For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength? (Philippians 4:13 NLT). Paul didn’t simply harness the power of positive thinking. He wasn’t an optimist or some kind of Pollyanna who had an unrealistic outlook on life. He had Christ and Christ was all he needed. His relationship with Christ made it possible for him to endure any and all circumstances. Christ had become everything to him. He was even content to suffer on behalf of Christ. Paul didn’t see his suffering as a punishment, but a privilege. It allowed him to experience a little bit of what His Lord and Savior had experienced on his behalf. Which is why Paul wrote earlier, “I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NLT). Rather than focus on his circumstances, Paul had learned to keep his eyes on Christ. He focused his attention on the one who had given His life and made possible abundant life for all who placed their faith in Him. Paul knew that circumstances were a lousy litmus test of God’s love. Which is why he had written to the believers in Rome long before he ended up in prison there, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT).
Paul knew that Christ had made it possible for him to have a right relationship with God, and nothing could ever change that. A prison sentence couldn’t alter Paul’s relationship with God. Lack of food didn’t represent a lack of God’s love. Less-than-perfect circumstances were a lousy indicator of God’s unwavering faithfulness. Paul was content to know that he was in Christ and right with God. With Christ’s help, he could endure anything and everything. You could take away everything Paul had – his freedom, health, relationships, rights – and he would be content, because he still had Christ. The greater English pastor and theologian, C. H. Spurgeon put it well in his poem, The Soul Satisfied in Christ.
He who delights in the possession of the Lord Jesus has all that
heart can wish. As for ‘created things’, they are like shallow and
deceitful brooks– they fail to supply our needs, much less our
wishes. “The bed of earthly enjoyment is shorter than that a man
can stretch himself on it, and the covering narrower than that he
can wrap himself in it.”
But in Jesus there is room for imagination’s utmost stretch
and widest range. When Jesus is enjoyed, He puts a fullness
into all other mercies.
The creature without Christ is an empty thing,
a lamp without oil, a bone without marrow.
But when Christ is present our cup runs over,
and we eat bread to the full.
A dinner of herbs, when we have communion with Him,
is as rich a feast as a stalled ox; and our narrow cot
is as noble a mansion as the great house of the wealthy.
Go not abroad, you hungry wishes of my soul– stay at home,
and feast on Jesus; for abroad you must starve, since all other
beloveds are empty and undesirable. Stay with Christ, and eat
that which is good, and delight yourself in fatness.
Father, we tend to love the gift more than the giver. We put way too much stock in the things of this earth, instead of in our relationship with You and Your Son. Help us learn to be content with and satisfied in Christ. May we grow ever more content with knowing that we are loved by You and understand that we are heirs of a much more valuable kingdom to come. Our circumstances on this earth are not a reliable reflection of our worth and should not be the source of our joy. If we have Christ, we have all we need. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men