I love to take verses from the Bible and pick them apart. Learning the original meanings of words, understanding what the writer was really trying to say, knowing better why it’s there in the Bible in the first place. God always intended for us to really know His Word–more than just on the level of having a few famous verses memorized (we’re all guilty of that)–more than even on the level of knowing the culture and tradition that’s so deeply ingrained into the Word. But knowing the Word. What it really means, the reason it’s there, the beautiful lesson He puts behind every single word. The Bible has always been more than just words slapped on a blank page, more than just inspirational stories, more, even, than God’s Word, directly from His heart. Everything in the Bible has a lesson underlying the surface image–something God wants us to learn about Him. So I try to learn it.
Philippians 4:10-11 says:
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.
11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
People have a tendency to bring to remembrance 11b when it comes in handy as a reminder that our circumstances shouldn’t determine our attitudes. They like to say that Paul said he learned to be content, even as he wrote this letter to Philippi in prison. That he was content with where he was–behind bars for no just cause. But I’m going to touch on what God has taught me through this verse as I’ve meditated on it.
In full context of this passage, you can see that Paul was saying to the Philippians that he noticed that their care for him has grown. . . back up. Interesting. Notice the use of the words “again” and “ye lacked opportunity”. So basically they hadn’t really shown their care for him until “the last”, meaning very recently. He could possibly have been referring to the time of his arrest, in which case he would be saying that they only actively cared for him when he was in trouble. And let’s be honest, we’ve all had a friend like that. One who only pays you any real mind when they think you need them to. Far past the time when you actually needed them to take notice of you. So we can understand where Paul is coming from here.
Now, to clear any confusion, the word “opportunity”, coming from “opportune”, originally came from the Latin ob–“in the direction of”–and portus–“harbor”, which was used to describe the wind driving against the harbor–which always happened at the expected time and place, like the tide rolling in. Also coming from “opportune” is the word “seasonable”, which meant in its archaic form “coming at the right time or meeting the needs of the occasion”. So when Paul says “opportunity”, he’s not saying that the Philippians didn’t get the opportunity–or the chance–to show their care for him, like we would read today. But rather, he’s saying that they didn’t show their care for him even when presented with the opportunity. Therefore, “wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity” means, “I know you cared for me, but you didn’t show it.”
Referring back to what I first said, this is where I point out the importance of studying more than just the Scripture itself. You have to look into the words used in the Scripture. Language has changed since the Bible was written (duuuh, obviously), so what the word used to mean isn’t always what it still means.
So back to the point. Paul notices that the Philippians’ care for him has grown back up, and he praises God for that. But then he says, “Not that I speak in respect of want”. So he’s saying, “Not that I’m saying I wanted you to show your care for me.” He’s pretty much making the most selfless statement ever. “I needed you and you weren’t there until it was too late. But that’s perfectly okay.”
This is where 11b actually steps in. “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Paul was never really saying that, in prison or not, he has learned to be content in God. He was saying that even without support and help and love from his “friends”, he’s okay because of God. Now, I’m not belittling the fact that living in prison, especially under unjust accusations, is hard. I’m positive that he was referring to that, too. But taken into full context, his mind was probably on the hurt that doesn’t come from imprisonment, but comes from. . . loneliness.
So let’s see again what Philippians 4:10-11 really means, in its truest context.
“I greatly rejoiced in the Lord, because recently I saw that you really do care for me. I knew that you cared before, but it was hard to see. Not that I’m complaining or putting you down for it. Because I’ve learned that, no matter what’s going on in my life, I can and will be content in all that God is.”
So I’m speaking this out over all those who are in a state in which it’s hard to be content. Those who feel rejected or isolated or alone. Especially in this day and time when we’re all so separated from our friends and family. It’s hard, I know, I’ve been there, even a matter of days ago. But guess what? There’s actually a Bible verse that speaks over your situation, pushing you to find your contentedness in God, not in people, and also not in your circumstances. People are so great to have in our lives, but they’re also so easy to trust in, even when they’re not trustworthy. So easy to depend on, even when they’re not dependable. Only God and Jesus will ever be worthy of the trust and dependence that we absolutely have to place on someone, because we all need someone who will hold us up, but will never let us down. That’s God. We’re not alone, after all. Now that sounds like something to be content in.
About The Author
Hey, y’all, my name’s Faith. I’m the author and creator of Suddenly, Grace blog; a blog where I write about everything from my life to my relationship with God to what I’ve learned from God’s Word. I’m a recently graduated homeschool kid from Texas, prepping for my first year of Bible college to come in September. Some of my favorite things are playing with the worship team at my church (I’m the keyboardist!), reading, writing (DUH), taking care of my crazy family, and growing my relationship with God one day at a time. If you enjoyed reading this awesome God-post, be sure to check out my website at suddenlygraceblog.weebly.com and follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest! Praying for y’all!