I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
They really thought they had it all figured out. From their perspective, life was charmed. Those looking in from the outside, however, would tell you that their lives were really blowing in the wind. They would experience times of prosperity and unparalleled excess. In those times, they were smiling but proud and unkind to others. Their confidence in the security they thought they created would turn to arrogance. In the lean times, things were no better. When they did not have enough, the stress and desperation were palpable. They were either miserable in their need or unpleasant in their abundance. The issue was not what they had or lacked. Their problem was how they responded to their circumstances and allowed their condition to change them.
Paul talks about a secret in this passage. He says that he can handle both abundance and need correctly. It paints a picture of someone who can walk in confidence without arrogance when things line up for him. At the same time, he can walk in joy and peace when it appears that life is completely falling apart. Regardless of which one is his reality, his attitude does not change. He is stable and fixed both in the sunshine and in the storm. This is because of his foundation. He understands that God is what ultimately matters. When there is an abundance of provision, he does not get puffed up; when times are lean, he does not get worried. In all things, he is able to walk in humility and gratitude. Life may change around him, but it does not change him.
The secret to which Paul refers is the power and strength that God gives us to remain constant in all circumstances. He is the one who humbles us when we think we have every reason to be proud. He is the one who comforts us when the world says we should be worried. Left to ourselves and our abilities, we could not remain constant. Our attitudes and moods would be tossed about by the raging seas of this life. The secret of contentment is simply stepping into the power that God gives us to be constant in this life without letting external influences change us. Father, increase in us your power and strength that we would be constant, content and humble in all circumstances.