Philippians 4:11-13 (NKJV) 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me..
This week we have been looking at the end of Romans chapter 8. In this chapter, we found five underlying beliefs that enabled Paul to walk in faith through tremendous opposition. In the end of his life he was able to declare before God and the world, “I have run my race, I have finished my course and I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) Given what we read about his life in the Book of Acts, this is a powerful testimony.
In recent years, there has been a focus in much of the church on the temporal aspects of life. I believe that there is great truth in teachings about prosperity and healing. I believe God wants his children to be successful in every area of life. In the past, a point of view took hold among many Pentecostal and Charismatic believers that there was somehow something spiritually noble about sickness and poverty. This is not what the bible teaches.
To say that we are really serving God if we are unsuccessful, sick or poor cannot be supported by the bible. Many of the great characters of biblical history were tremendously successful and wealthy. Throughout the Old Testament God makes promises concerning healing such as the one in Psalm 103.
If poverty and failure are somehow spiritual, the ghetto should be the most spiritual place in any city. We all know that the opposite is true. Wherever people are bound in poverty and failure, sin will abound. That is a spiritual principle.
When we come to the understanding that God wants to bless us and that the curse is from the devil, we can interpret trials as God withdrawing that blessing from our lives. If I am going through a difficult time and if it is true that it is God’s will to bless me, I must be out of God’s will. I must be doing something wrong or I would be healed. I must not have enough faith or I would be able to pay my bills. Paul looked at trials and understood that none of the things he suffered were a result of God withdrawing anything from him. When we define the will and blessing of God solely on outward things, we will fail to be able to trust God through the trial.
As a father, I want my children to be successful. I have greater joy seeing them get nice things than I do getting them myself. I would gladly sacrifice my own wellbeing to secure theirs. If I go through sickness, I do not like it very much, but I would rather be sick myself then see them sick. That is the essence of John 3:16. God so loved the world, his wayward children, that he gave the best he had, his only begotten son, so the world could be free of the dominion of the devil.
The Father delights in blessing you just as I delight in the blessing of my children. However, there is one thing that makes me happier than even the blessing of my children. It makes me truly happy when I see them fulfill their calling and have an impact on the world. If they go through trial in order to do that and are successful in their faith, that is what really makes me proud of them. God wants to bless us but it is even more important to him that we be productive adults in his Kingdom.
What helped Paul become fully persuaded that no matter what happened he was secure in God’s love? What caused him to see trials as evidence that he was more than a conqueror and not that he had somehow fallen from favor with God? What caused Paul to be so able to keep the kind of faith that he became a blessing to so many over such a long time? I believe Paul found a secret that we must find today.
In today’s scripture, we read what seems to be a simple statement. Paul had just received a gift of provision from someone who loved him. He appreciated the gift and was thankful for the provision. However, he makes a statement that could be construed as not appreciating what these Saints had done for him. He says, “I know how to be abased and I know how to abound. I know how to have enough and I know how to suffer lack. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
This knowledge is a major key to what we read in Romans 8. We use the verse that says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” to mean that we can work miracles, heal diseases or raise the dead through Christ. That is true enough. We use this statement to preach that we have a big God and we should believe for big things. This is also very true. It is just not what this verse means.
The things Paul could do by the strength he found in Christ were to enjoy plenty and endure lack with the same faith, joy and peace. He had learned that neither outward blessing nor outward trouble were reliable gages to his standing with God. If the work of God required that he go through shipwreck, so be it. He would trust God to have his way in the shipwreck. If the work of God caused a caring people to bless him in abundance he did not see himself as any more loved by God than he was in the shipwreck.
Paul’s message to us is that he has learned that no matter what his outward state might be it has nothing to do with how much he is loved by God. He has learned how to prosper and he has learned how to go through trials. Both kinds of knowledge are equally important.
I believe that there are those who have never learned how to prosper. They have never learned how to believe God and see him meet a need. They have been taught to think that poverty or failure or sickness is somehow pleasing to God and so they stay poor, sick and in failure.
On the other hand, there are many who have learned the principles of how to believe God for blessing, but they have never learned how to be blessed. They have never learned the secret that outward blessings are temporary and not the real indication of pleasing God. When trial comes, since outward blessing is the sole gage of faith, they have great difficulty enduring to the victory faith wants to give them.
As a pastor I have seen far too many people learn the principles of faith and use the to climb out of some trial only to have pride in their accomplishments cause them to fall to an even lower state the next time. If what we want is the goal of our faith, we can come to the place that we abandon the faith and relationship when we get what we want. (Deuteronomy 8:18) When outward blessing supersedes inward relationship there will always be a problem.
I believe many have never learned how to be abased or suffer lack without it destroying them. They face trial and they collapse because they think God must not love them. Paul did not think that way. He knew that God loved him. God’s love for him transcended outward circumstances. He enjoyed the good things of life, but he had just as much joy and peace if he found himself in hard times. He could do all things through Christ and therefore could not be defeated by the pride that can come in blessing or by the pressure of trials. He was more than a conqueror and because of that, we remember him not for his great wealth or earthly success but for the great blessing his words and his life have been to countless millions through the ages.