...for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
The city of Philippi in ancient Greece was a town that waxed and waned from the public spotlight. Founded by Alexander the Great's father, Philip, the city became known for the resources of gold that could be mined from the nearby mountains and for its strategic position guarding the outer reaches of the Greek territory. The city enjoyed a season in the Greek spotlight, then faded from the stage as Rome overran Greece in the mid 100's B.C.
After a century of quiet, Philippi once more found itself a pivotal player in military theater. The Battle of Philippi was fought in 42 B.C., Mark Antony and Octavian avenging the assassination of Julius Caesar with the decimation of his murderers Brutus and Cassius, in what was to be the final battle for continued Roman domination of the region.
And about 90 years later, the Apostle Paul came to this pivotal little place on the map.
It was a town that had known violence and quiet, influence and abatement.
And it seems fitting, somehow, that it was to this urban outpost that Paul would send a little thank you note, telling the good folks at Philippi that he had learned a secret.
The secret of contentment.
Paul's time in Philippi was certainly a mixed bag. He made a dear and influention friend in Lydia, a successful textiles business woman in town. He experienced the exhilaration of the healing of a young woman possessed by an evil spirit. And then he found himself in prison there,severely beaten, hands and feet bound in the stocks, accussed of bringing civil unrest to the city. He and his fellow missionary Silas chose to sing and pray during that long night, backs aching, limbs restrained. He felt the violence of an earthquake shaking loose the bars and bindings of the prison. He witnessed the conversion of his Roman guard to the gospel. He saw the light of day as magistrates came to escort him from the city. And he left the little city behind as he continued the travels that would take him many more miles.
And he had learned a secret.
Ten years later he wrote the church that had formed there a little note, a note of thanks for their devotion and love and prayers, a note of encouragement as they continued to walk out the message of the gospel. And he shared with them that he had learned to be content, to find contentment regardless of what was going on around him, contentment in the face of plenty and contentment in the face of want. His words seem a compilation of the joys and trials of his short time in Philippi a decade before. Friendship, deliverance, beatings, imprisonment, release, expulsion.
And in that mixed bag of highs and lows, he singles out the secret.
And the secret is this.
"I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."
It's funny--we often use this verse as a mantra to gear ourselves up to meet a high goal or to face a long run or to achieve more, do more, go faster, further, harder. And perhaps those are apt applications...but it wasn't the context in which Paul penned those words.
He penned them as the key to experiencing contentment. He posted those words as the antitode to worry, the cure for reliance on things, the answer for our tumultuous questions of why and how and when.
We can do all things, even find contentment, through Him who gives us strength.
Read it again, all together:
...for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.
A simple secret. A profound philosophy. A pivotal promise for Paul, for prison, for plenty, for Philippi. For me.
And for you.