Philippians 4:10-13 – Paul’s Secret of Contentment


Philippians 4:10-13


Paul’s secret of contentment in all circumstances, bad and good, is rooted in the strength of Christ. 


At the end of the letter, Paul again reflects on his personal circumstances and his relationship with the Philippian congregation. He particularly rejoices in the happy coincidence between his present sufferings in prison and the Philippians’ supportive response (4:10). That is, Paul’s incarceration affords the Philippians a golden opportunity to renew their ministry to Paul as partial reciprocation for his vital ministry on their behalf. Such shared gospel work abounds in mutual joy and gratitude.  

But as grateful as Paul is for the Philippians’ financial assistance, his satisfaction in life is not dependent on it. He would agree with the assessment of Jesus in Luke 12, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Moreover, Paul remarkably announces that he has “learned to be content with whatever I have . . . in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need” (4:11‒12). Notice that Paul refers to this positive attitude as a “learned” response, not an inherent trait or even a spiritual gift. He has learned to be content partly by philosophical thought and reflection and by practical lived experience.

Yet there is also a “secret” component to Paul’s contentment. The term he uses connotes special knowledge revealed in religious initiation ceremonies. Such “secrets” could be highly esoteric and mysterious, like a secret code or password. But Paul’s “secret” is clear and straightforward, and he’s happy to share it with the Philippians and anyone who will listen. It is personal as much as informational, rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13). In light of his previous manifesto, “For to me, living is Christ” (1:21), there is no doubt that “him” is Christ. This strength that Paul finds in Christ is not some magic formula or ritual but rather a living relationship with Christ modeled on his life, death, and resurrection: in short, Paul is strengthened through thick and thin by his faith in Christ and faithfulness to Christ.

Paul’s “can do” mentality in Christ does not reflect a bullish self-reliance or rugged individualism. Paul freely admits his dependence on Christ and fellow Christ followers. Nevertheless, in this Christ-centered community, Paul believes that problems can be actively addressed, even overcome. His contentment in Christ is not a passive resignation to “whatever will be will be”—so no use trying to change anything. Here Paul parts company with Stoic thinkers who root tranquility in accepting one’s predetermined fate without concerted pushback.