Philippians 4:12 (ESV) … “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.”
The following verses give a bit of Paul’s personal testimony. Paul knew what it was like to have very little—to “be abased” (nkjv). The Greek word is the same root word used to describe Jesus humbling himself in 2:8. The picture is of Paul voluntarily accepting a low status, even a life of poverty, for his Master’s sake (see also 1 Corinthians 4:11–13; 2 Corinthians 6:4–10). Although he taught that the churches should support their leaders, Paul himself did not demand salaries from the churches that he had planted. This kept him above criticism (see 2 Corinthians 11:7). Thus with travel and food costs, Paul probably had very little to live on.
In the Greek, the opposite of having little is having plenty. Literally, the meaning of the Greek word perisseuein is “to overflow.” This might refer to Paul’s pre-Christian days as a fairly wealthy and influential Pharisee.
Whether Paul had plenty or little, he could keep life on an even keel because of contentment. What an important lesson for all believers to learn! No wonder Paul called it a “secret” (below).
The Greek words for learned the secret are used only here in the New Testament. It was an expression used in the pagan mystery cults to describe initiations of new members. Initiations were rarely easy, and Paul used the word to describe his initiation by his experiences into living a victorious Christian life. Paul’s initiation was filled with joys as well as difficulties, being well-fed and … going hungry—having plenty sometimes and being needy at other times (see discussion on 1:1). (For a more complete testimony of Paul’s life as an apostle of Jesus Christ, read 2 Corinthians 11:21–33.)
Are you content in any circumstances you face? Paul knew how to be content whether he had plenty or whether he was in need. The secret meant drawing on Christ’s power for strength. Do you have great needs? Are you discontented because you don’t have what you want? Learn to rely on God’s promises and Christ’s power to help you be content. If you always want more, ask God to remove that desire and teach you contentment in every circumstance. He will supply all your needs, but in a way that he knows is best for you.