"I have learned..."
Reading this passage was eye opening. Near the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he tells them not once but twice: “I have learned…” The letter is one of thanks to a group that has continued to provide him monetary resources first as an itinerant evangelist telling people across the known world about Jesus, but now supporting him as a prisoner in jail in Nero’s Rome – where he still gets to tell people about Jesus, but now it’s prison guards and palace staff. Paul writes:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. 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.” (Phi 4:11-12 NIV emphasis mine)
Imagine everything the apostle went through by that time in his life. 2 Cor 11:21-30 reads as a litany of work, imprisonments, being whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, constantly on the move and in danger from foreigners and his own people, spending days without food or sleep, and on top of all that being desperately concerned about the welfare of all the new family and friends in the church. And his take-away? Contentment. “I have learned the secret of being content…”
I wonder, what have you learned? With all the experiences that life has thrown at you in times of need – disappointment, disease, deprivation, disability, divorce – but also in times of plenty, when things are fat and the living large, what lessons do you take away?
Too many times it’s to protect ourselves. We can learn not to step out in fear of failure or embarrassment, not to trust for fear of betrayal. We can learn to put others down and to watch out for ourselves, to try and build up security against potential downturns and to be stingy with whatever we’ve been able to scratch out and cobble together. But you know what? That’s less about learning, and more about just reacting.
Reacting reduces us; learning enlarges.
Learning means looking for God in that, seeing where Jesus is working, and how all the times of need can bring us together in love for Him. Learning means seeing through the pain of what sinful people do to each other and the frustration of living in a broken world - to sacrificially caring and giving more and more. Learning means growing stronger in faith, in grace, in truth, in love.
What have you learned?
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phi 4:19 NIV)