“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.” Philippians 4:12
We’ve all got this thing down, right? Well, I know I don’t. Right now I am looking for employment. I had a couple of interviews last week, but so far nothing has panned out. When I got the phone call from the first interview letting me know that they ‘went with someone who has more experience’ my heart sank. The uncertainty of my next step in life is anxiety provoking to say the least.
Prior to the interview, on my drive down, I spent time praying and practicing answers in my head. Interview questions are often abstract and unrealistic. They’re like the real-life scenario questions found in text books meant to prepare you for real life situations, but they fail to accurately replicate the little nuances and intricacies of actuality. I prayed as genuinely as I could, attempting to align myself with God’s will for my life instead of my fear of being financially strapped during this time.
I prayed for an answer and I got one. “No” is an answer and according to Paul, the response of a mature Christian is to be content. Some “no’s” are easier than others. A “no” from a job interview is difficult, but a “no” when asking God to heal cancer can be emotionally devastating. Being content is a lot to ask in times like these, but Paul also gives us a clue in this sentence as to how it’s possible.
Paul says that he has “learned the secret.” In the days of early Christianity secret gospels were rampant. Adherents of Gnosticism claimed to have secret knowledge and teachings that were not widely available to the public. Texts such as “The Secret gospel of Mark” or “The Gospel of Judas” appeared as an attempt to substantiate these claims. So when Paul says “I have learned the secret,’” he captures his audience’s attention because they know exactly what cultural phenomenon he is referencing.
Unlike the Gnostics, Paul doesn’t hide is secret. He clearly lays it out for us in verse thirteen. “I can do all things through Jesus who gives me strength.” This is one of the most inspirational verses of all times. It’s associated with having the ability to achieve success or overcome obstacles and attain victory. It’s the kind of verse that marathon runners or mountain climbers might make their motto. While it is true that the strength of Jesus can help us to do all of those things, in this particular context Paul means something different.
Paul is telling us that we can be content no matter what situation we find ourselves in, whether it good times or bad because Christ will give us the strength.
It takes a certain amount of spiritual maturity to master this virtue and with each answered prayer whether yes or no, we get an opportunity to practice. When I got a “no” answer to that job, it was hard to swallow. Yet, I choose to believe that God doesn’t want me in that particular place, at that particular time for His particular reasons.
It’s not easy, but the point of Philippians 4:13 wasn’t meant as an inspirational verse to climb mountains, run marathons or close business deals. Philippians 4:13 doesn’t mean the answer will always be “yes.” Instead, Paul defines success as being in a close relationship with God, where you trust fully His answers to your prayers. In its context, it’s about God giving us the strength to be content (to not have any complaints) whether he gives us a yes or a no.