“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”
“both to abound and to suffer need”
This is the third pair of contingencies with which Paul learned to deal in his life.
The word “abound” means over supply or over flow. This is a term for extreme prosperity. This is the second word for prosperity used in this verse. The first word “full” and the second word “abound” convey different meanings in the Greek. “Full” means abundance we receive (passive voice). “Abound” here means abundance for which we work (active voice). There are two kinds of prosperous people: those who inherit it and those who work for it.
“Hunger” and “suffer need” are both terms of extreme adversity. “Suffer need” means to lack. When we fall behind in meeting our bills, how do we cope with that?
“Hunger” is something we get ourselves into (active voice). We bring it on ourselves. We do not manage our budget well enough. We go on spending sprees. “Suffer need” is something we receive (passive voice). This is the hunger that is of no fault of our own. An unanticipated change in the market brings our business into bankruptcy.
This means that there are four different circumstances of life with which we need to cope.
Prosperity where we earned it.
Prosperity where we fell into it.
Adversity where it was our fault.
Adversity where it was not our fault.
There is no experience in life that does not fall into one of these four categories. This makes the statement about composure in Christ even stronger. There is no experience in life that can keep us from inner composure. We can have stability in and orientation to any situation in life. Our lives do not have to depend on circumstances.
Detachment from things is a great strength. Paul would not chain his spirit to circumstances. He refused to allow his contentment to rest upon material possessions or physical comfort.
The mature Christian can adjust to any contingency with equal contentment.
Our circumstances will vary but our God does not vary. Circumstances change but inner composure never changes if Christ is the center of our lives.
Paul was content under any contingency. He was content under every condition he faced. He had to learn this. He was able to be calm and confident in the midst of the most disturbing circumstance. He also refused to allow his peace and joy to be dependent upon material possessions and physical comforts. He did not chain his spirit to the satisfactions of the body.
There are depths in the ocean that the storms lashing the surface never reach. People who learn composure in Christ do not live on the surface but in the depth with Christ (v. 13).
Most Christians are slaves to their circumstances. If circumstances are positive, they are happy; if circumstances are adverse, they are miserable. Maturity in Christ breaks the bonds of circumstance. We cannot have contentment and at the same time sing the woes of financial difficulty. We cannot be content and at the same time carry arrogant pride.
Paul avoided the two dangers of discontentment and self-satisfied pride. Some people can take a great deal of adversity but do not know how to handle prosperity. They do not know how to handle life without restraint. Others are happy with plenty and become bitter when adversity hits. We need to learn how to endure both the lean years and the fat. The pendulum swings back and forth. Poise of character in Christ keeps us steady.