Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Paul writes to the Philippians:

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Philippians 4:12-13.

We can understand why Paul would need to learn how to live with being brought low. But the idea that “good” could be something which would require wisdom and learning seems positively foreign. Consider the words to a popular Christian song

Blessed be your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the worlds all as it should be

This is contrasted with the “road marked with suffering”. I don’t mean to push too much weight onto a song which was not written to bear too much scrutiny (I think of the ghastly graduate thesis where a poor student tries to wring some semiotic significance from a pop song). But the given of the song is that getting what I would like (even if it is not a sinful thing, merely a matter of comfort) is how things “should be”. For the Christian, isn’t everything “as it should be?”

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

Ecclesiastes 7:14. Both want and fullness present trials:

7 Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:7-9. Melanchthon explains:

In prosperity, men become reckless; they think less of God’s wrath, and less expect His aid. Thus they become more and more presumptuous; they trust to their own industry, their own power, and are thus easily driven on by the devil.—

Buchanan draws out this point at greater length:

Alas! that prosperity, instead of thus drawing the soul nearer to the great fountain of all blessedness, should, on the contrary, serve so often only to wed it more closely to the world! It is in this way that “the prosperity of fools shall destroy them” (Prov. 1:32). As was exemplified in the case of Israel of old, “Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness: then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.” Therefore the Lord said, “I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be” (Deut. 32:15, &c). Solomon himself had painfully illustrated, in his own personal history, this fatal tendency of outward prosperity to alienate the heart from God. The wisdom, and wealth, and power with which the Lord had so remarkably endowed him, became his snare. In that dark season of spiritual declension he tried to be joyful. He said in his heart, Go to; I will prove thee with mirth. He withheld not his heart from any joy; from any joy, that is, but one. He had ceased to joy in God. And how empty and unsatisfying did his earthly joys prove! Of the best of them he had nothing better than this to say, “It is vanity.” When he, therefore, with all this experience, says, “In the day of prosperity be joyful,” let us be well assured he does not mean us to repeat his own error; but rather that, taking warning from that error, we should turn every blessing we receive, whether temporal or spiritual, into a fresh argument for stirring up our souls and all that is within us, to praise and magnify the great name of our God.

Robert Buchanan, The Book of Ecclesiastes Its Meaning and Its Lessons, 1859, 259-260.

Of the two, ease and mirth are the more dangerous:

2 It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4.

How then did Paul learn to abound? Did he merely consider the end of death? No, he writes, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

In what does Christ strength Paul? By rightly valuing all the things of this life. He happily receives gifts and comforts as gifts from The Lord which will prosper those who give them (Philippians 4:10 & 14-19). But Paul does not fall into the trap of trusting in such things:

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,
19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

1 Timothy 6:17-19. He sees a thing for what it is — uncertain. But he also sees something better:

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Philippians 3:12-16. Thus, the answer is not enforced poverty. The answer is not a grimace and growl. We may learn how to abound by realizing that even gaining the entire world cannot compare with Christ:

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
37 For what can a man give in return for his soul?
38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:34-38