“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Paul possessed a transcendent contentment whatever the circumstances. Now, nobody suspects Paul of being utterly indifferent to his surroundings, as if he wouldn’t prefer a Roman 5-Star Resort on the Anatolian coast (been there several times—beeeautiful) over being ship-wrecked or beaten in a prison cell. And yet—and yet—in all these fluctuating circumstances Paul learned to possess himself in a contentment that was not derived from his preferences regarding these circumstances. Where’d this come from? Well, back up to vv. 6-7:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
“God’s peace transcends all understanding.” We don’t really know what to do with that, do we? He can’t really mean “transcend” as in t-r-a-n-s-c-e-n-d, right? I mean, that would mean we can’t say propositionally what that divine reality is and that in turn would hurl us headlong into an epistemological abyss of unrestrained agnosticism. Perhaps Paul just means something more like God’s not being functionally impaired however deeply the world’s drama in fact depreciates or affects his felt sense of peace/contentment, right? But there the words are staring at you: “God’s peace transcends all understanding.” (He had to include the universal qualifier “all” as well.) Repeat the words slowly, aloud and alone, and with your eyes closed. Julia de Beausobre, Richard Wurmbrand, Blandina (perhaps the most notable of the martyrs of Lyon), and innumerable others, chose, like Paul, to define themselves by the truth of such peace.
The “peace” of v. 7 is repeated in v. 9: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Then we have the well-known verses in which Paul states he has learned “to be content” (“self-sufficed”), and this contentment abides whether he is abased or abounds, whether he’s full or hungry, whether he’s doing well or suffering need. Interesting.
Divine peace that “transcends all understanding” (which should be enough to settle the debate right there) and which “guards our hearts and minds” in all circumstances, teaching us to possess ourselves in a contentment/peace that in turn transcends our circumstances? Come on somebody.