“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content”
Having expressed his appreciation for the Philippian’s financial support, Paul now introduced a caveat. He was afraid that they would think that his appreciation for their gift of money (v. 10) was a left-handed dun for more money.
“Not that I speak in regard to need”
He did not want the Philippians to think that their gift was the source of his satisfaction. Although Paul was destitute in jail, money was not his primary concern. The word “need” means to come short—hence, being in want. He had learned to be content, no matter what his circumstances might be. Paul wanted to dispel any thought that the Philippians’ delayed gift imposed any disruption of his soul.
Paul was not parlaying a subtle insinuation that they should send another gift. Paul was no panhandler: “Not that I seek for the gift” (v.17). He did not want them to construe that he was asking for more money. He was trying to establish the principle that he was independent of external circumstances.
“for I have learned”
Contentment is not something that comes naturally. In his early years, Paul grew up in the lap of luxury. At that time, he had not learned contentment. At this point in his life, he was needy, yet he was content. Paul had to “learn” this virtue. He decidedly came to grips with this lesson (aorist tense). At the point of learning this, he entered into a new condition of his soul: “I have come to learn contentment.” He did not always know contentment, even in his days of affluence.
“Contentment” is not automatic. Paul “learned” contentment in the School of Hard Knocks. Courses in that school are difficult. We think university is tough. It is not nearly as difficult as God’s Graduate School. Can we say with the Psalmist, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (Ps 119:71)?
“in whatever state I am”
Paul was going through a mighty thin time. No matter what circumstance Paul faced, under any contingency, he was content. In this case, Paul needed food, clothing, and blankets. Even in this dire situation, he was independent of these things to fill his sense of satisfaction.
If we fill a bottle with coffee, we cannot fill it with milk simultaneously. One displaces the other. If we fill our lives with material things, we have no room for Jesus Christ. If we make riches our central goal, we cannot find satisfaction that comes from Jesus Christ.
Circumstances do not need to determine our state of mind.
Our state of mind can be content if we learn that our source of satisfaction is Jesus Christ.
Have you “learned” contentment? Do you expect contentment to come automatically? This is a hard lesson to learn in life. It will not come if we flunk God’s school of financial setback. As long as we seek security in money, we will fail. God wants us to learn the lesson that security is found in Jesus Christ. We cannot go to school to learn this lesson. No textbook will teach us how to be content. We learn the lesson in the hard knocks of life.
The prevailing philosophy of our day is that the more things we have, the more life we have. Life is not made up of gadgets. Some of the most unhappy people in the world are wealthy celebrities who do not have a life. They are fabulously rich but miserable. Fame and fortune do not equate to contentment. If we put these things as the core of our contentment, we will never reach a sense of satisfaction.