Updated: Jul 28, 2020
"10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."
Philippians 4:10-13 NASB
Adaptability. If you’ve ever applied for a job, I’m sure you’ve included this word or its adjective form, adaptable, somewhere in your application, resume, or cover letter. Among your many skills and qualifications, it’s the one particular skill that you truly want your potential employer to know that you have, especially considering that if given the opportunity, you’ll be transitioning from one work environment to a new one. Adaptability (Shelton, 2018) can be defined as the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions. It’s a great skill to possess, not only for the workforce but for life!
To become truly adaptable, to be able to adjust to new conditions, you must first be exposed to new conditions. My ability to adapt has not truly been tested if I haven’t first experienced some form of change, shift, or transition in my life. By virtue of living in a world that is constantly changing, I’m sure you’ve already experienced some form of transition or change before, whether you took the initiative to make that change yourself or whether the circumstances forced you to. Being exposed to new conditions is only the first step, then begs the question: what enables or helps me to adjust to those conditions, successfully at that? Oftentimes just being in a different environment or in unfamiliar conditions sort of forces you to adjust. As believers, however, I'm sure that we can testify that it ultimately isn't something that helps us to adjust during seasons of transition, but a very specific someone.
In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul is expressing his gratitude to the saints of Philippi for their generous financial contributions which they sent to him through Epaphroditus, Paul's fellow worker and soldier in the kingdom of God (cf. 2:25). Paul clarifies to the Philippians that while he is grateful for their gifts, he is not writing to them from a place of need, although he is sitting in a Roman prison, for he has "learned to be content in whatever circumstances" he is in. Notice how Paul says that he has "learned" how to be content. This state of contentment was not something that was innate to him. Paul learned how to be content, or satisfied and self-sufficient, by enduring seasons of both scarcity ("I know how to get along with humble means...") and abundance ("...and I also know how to live in prosperity.") As a result, Paul confidently declares, "...in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need."
What is this secret Paul is referring to? The Amplified Version expands it to "...the secret [of facing life]". What then is the secret to facing life despite any circumstance? The secret is a Person! Through seasons of abundance, scarcity, and everything in-between, Jesus remained the only constant in the apostle Paul's life! There was nothing in and of Paul's self that enabled him to adjust and live under various conditions. Rather, it was Jesus Christ who supernaturally empowered Paul to live contently in whatever state he was in! That's why Paul could boldly declare, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."
The subject of verse 13 is not personal ambition; this is not a verse to recite or meditate upon when you are applying for a job, competing in a sport or contest, or working towards achieving a goal! The subject of Philippians 4:13 is Jesus Christ, who supernaturally empowers us as believers to live contently in whatever state of life that we are currently living in, and will endure in the future! Understand that as a human being, you were born with certain innate actions and behaviors, such as crying, sneezing, sleeping, etc. These are actions that you came out the womb doing naturally; no one had to teach them to you nor did you "learn" how to do them. In contrast, there are certain skills, behaviors, and dispositions that we must learn how to take on and develop; adaptability is one of those skills, and contentment is one of those dispositions.
We learn how to adapt and how to be content in whatever state of life that we are in by experiencing seasons of various kinds. Learning contentment in seasons of humble means teaches us how to manage seasons of wealth and prosperity and vice versa! Therefore, do not despise your current state! The same Lord Jesus Christ who you need to empower you to live contently in humble means is the same Lord you will need to empower you to live contently in abundance. Our lives remain in a constant cycle of change, regardless of whether we choose to adapt to that change or not. Therefore, be strengthened and uplifted in the power of the One who changes not (cf. Malachi 3:6)! You'll be able to encourage yourself and others with the words of Ezra the priest: "...the joy of the Lord is your (my) strength" (cf. Nehemiah 8:10).
Shelton, A. (2018, July 6). The Importance of Adaptability. Retrieved from Amplified Digital Agency: https://amplifieddigitalagency.com/adaptability/