by Kenneth W. Ledbetter
Sentry Magazine, March 2001
I want to take a moment to pass along a realization that has helped me in times of great distress and personal trials ... found in the words of the apostle Paul.
Paul said something in Philippians 4 that has always amazed me. In verse 11 he said: "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." (New American Standard version) Here is a man who, in II Corinthians 11: 23-28, reports that he has been beaten numerous times, stoned, imprisoned many times, three times shipwrecked, often subjected to many dangers, had countless sleepless nights, often hungry, thirsty, and subject to cold exposure. How could he make such a statement? How could this man achieve contentment under such difficult circumstances?
He goes on to say: "I know how to get along with humble means and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need" (Philippians 4:12). Finally, I asked myself, what is Paul's secret? After carefully reading this chapter, I think he tells us what it is right in the text, and furthermore, he also gives us the consequences of following his "secret" advice.
It begins back in verse 4 as he starts his personal summation to the Philippian church. "Rejoice in the Lord always." He feels this is so important, he says it twice. Joy is one of the fruits of the spirit he listed in Chapter 5 of Galatians and, indeed, those that have put on Christ have access to a most rewarding joy.
Then, continuing in verse 5, Paul says: "Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men." A forbearing spirit is one that refrains from an action in adverse circumstances; remains patient; forgives; endures without retaliation. This one is tough for me to do. Perhaps for you too.
Verse 6 continues: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." In short, he says for us not to worry about the cares of daily life, but pray to God for what we need. When we do this, verse 7 says: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." We shall have the blessing of peace! So much so it will be hard for us to even comprehend it.
Dwell on Excellent Things
But Paul isn't through. In verse 8 he adds a fourth item. He says "let your mind dwell on these things." What things? Whatever things are True, Honorable, Right, Pure, Lovely, of Good Repute, and anything that has Excellence or is worthy of Praise. If we fill our mind up with these things, there is no room left for the false, dishonorable, wrong, defiled, ugly, ill-reputed things that are worthy of contempt; things that can undermine a person's well-being. These are driven out of our minds and out of our lives. And with the bombardment we face every day from media sources obsessed with the evil and dishonorable -- messages in music, movies, magazines, radio, television, and almost every other source -- we need to have our minds occupied with the better things.
Practice Excellent Things
And verse 10 is a concluding statement, saying: "practice these things, and the God of peace shall be with you." There's that word "peace" again. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could summon a peaceful state of mind whenever and wherever we wanted -- no matter what the circumstance? Paul is trying to tell us how to do it, by this five-step process, as given in verses 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10. However, he didn't say it would be easy to do. In fact, for most of us, it might well be impossible -- if we attempt it by ourselves.
Let Jesus Help
However, after telling us in verse 12 he has this secret, Paul confesses that he can't really do it all by himself. In verse 13, he says: 'I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." He had some help after all! But this help is also available to us through the process he describes in verse 6. It is available, but we have to ask for it.
Hopefully, you will find useful these words from 2000 years ago.