….in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (Philippians 4:12b)
I’m an early riser. I usually read the Word, pray, then get some coffee and watch the news. As soon as I am the least bit bored with the news, I begin to channel surf. At that hour, more than half of the first 100 channels are infomercials. As I click away, I am offered for a price many secrets to happiness. The secret to weight loss, financial prosperity, riches, education, sexual prowess, and hearing from God – all at a price. How would a guy like the Apostle Paul have responded to these offers? I think as he did in today’s verse — in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret…..
What was Paul’s secret?
I have learned… Paul wasn’t born knowing the secret, he had to learn it. He spent years in temple instruction under the greatest teachers Israel had ever produced. He sat eagerly at the feet of great men like Gameliel, but their instruction produced a man who called himself “the chief of sinners”.
God is willing to simply whisper in our ears, but He often needs to firmly first attract our attention. Paul had not learned the secret by the Lord blessing him with easy days. He had learned instead by some ungodly mathematics – thirty nine lashes times three, three days of blindness, two shipwrecks and one snakebite. He had learned to be content, to walk in God’s peace no matter the circumstance. As with the viper that bit his hand (Acts 20) he simply shook it off.
The secret of being filled and going hungry… At first this appears to be a verse about lunch, comparing a full belly to an empty one, and on its simplest level it is. But it is much more. It is a crucial error to separate our spiritual worldview as a sort of theoretical reality which might slightly temper the harshness of our actual reality. The opposite is true. When we are immature in our faith, our spiritual belly empties every time our physical belly is without food, or when our wallet is empty. In fact, in Christ, trying times strengthen our faith. More trials=more faith. In the trails, the secret is revealed as God repeatedly provides and saves and fills and encourages us. Jesus told us in John 15, …apart from Me, you are nothing…, implying the parallel, with Me you are everything. Paul understood the secret and he left it for us a few verses later in this chapter.
Paul spoke in a metaphor that was familiar to the gentile Believers to whom he wrote this epistle. The root word of the word translated as secret (found only here in the NT) referred to the initiation rites of the many pagan mystery religions which existed at the time. They all promised a secret would be revealed to new initiates. People endured the often painful and expensive rites, but no secret existed, so none was ever revealed. He was telling them then and us now, the secret is that peace in Christ often comes at a cost of suffering. Once we learn this secret and have confidence in our salvation we are bullet proof in a sense, having been taught by Christ to suffer without suffering. Paul didn’t suffer in the Philippians’ jail, but instead he rejoiced and sang hymns ‘til midnight. So the secret is simple. It has no price but often a cost. Paul paid the cost and lived in Peace with the only real secret to happiness (vs 13) — I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
And remember, it’s only a secret until you tell somebody. Share the testimony of how Jesus has strengthened you.