“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.”
“I have learned”
“I have learned” means Paul learned in the past with the result that he established the principle of having learned (perfect tense). This is no abstruse, nebulous, or esoteric knowledge. This information comes from Scripture.
The word “learned” means initiation into an organization where certain information is well known. It is like an initiation into a fraternity. This is the fraternity of those mature in Christ. Paul learned this lesson from God and no other source. God revealed this secret to Paul, apart from which he would have been unable to enter into contentment.
“both to be full and to be hungry”
Paul introduced another pair of two extremes: very full and very hungry. “Full” and “hungry” are the second of three pairs for which Paul prepared himself.
“Full” means prosperity. It takes a mature Christian to live a dynamic spiritual life when he is extremely wealthy. The word “full” was used for a cow who loads up on grass after finding a good pasture. The cow sates and stuffs herself with grass. This is a figure for extreme prosperity. Paul knew how to carry wealth. Some of the most outstanding Christians I know are very wealthy. Their wealth is not the core of their life. Their money is a detail by which they serve Jesus Christ. This was Paul’s point here.
Matthew 5:6 uses the word “full” for spiritual fullness: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.” We also need to know how to carry our spiritual prosperity!
Paul often faced hunger in his life. This was true in his present circumstance in jail. The Roman jail did not provide food. The prisoner depended on people from the outside to give him food.
Contentment does not come automatically.
We must learn contentment by being initiated into the fraternity of mature believers. In that fraternity, God reveals himself through the Word of God.
In the fraternity of the born-again, God shows believers how they can cope with both prosperity and adversity. Neither extreme wealth nor starvation upsets the equilibrium of the mature Christian because of his composure in Christ (vv. 11, 13).