God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.



© Rosemary Bardsley 2020


In verses 8 and 9 Paul gives two instructions, the first about our thoughts, the second about our actions.

B.1 What we think about
Paul has given us a list of positive, affirmative words to put boundaries around the kinds of thoughts that we allow to occupy our hearts and minds.

List all the positive qualities of the things that we should fill our minds with. Suggest the meaning of each one, along with an example of each.








Now, try to define the opposite of each, along with an example of each negative quality.








Paul knows, and the whole Bible testifies, that what goes on in our hearts and minds is extremely important.

How do these verses indicate the importance of what we think about?
Genesis 6:5

1Chronicles 28:9

Proverbs 15:26

Isaiah 65:2

Matthew 15:19, 20

Romans 1:21 – 25

Romans 1:28 – 32

Romans 12:2

Ephesians 4:17 – 19

What changes to you need to make in what you allow to occupy your heart and mind?








B.2 What we do
In Philippians 4:9 Paul instructs his readers to put into practice all that they have ‘learned or received or heard from’ him, and ‘seen in’ him. This includes both what he taught them and the example of his life.

How does this apply to you? What have you learned from Paul, both his teaching and his example, that you plan to ‘put into practice’ in your life?
From his teaching and instruction:






From his example:






Paul now brings up the subject of gifts that he recently received from the Philippian believers. About these gifts he says:

He rejoiced ‘in the Lord’ that they had expressed their concern for him in this way, as they had done in the past.

He realised that they had not had the opportunity to show this kind of concern for some time.

He himself was not in need of their gift, and was not looking for a gift from them.

But it was good of them to share in his ‘troubles’ in this practical way.

He is happy, for their own sake, that they have given him the gift. It is to their credit that they did.

Their gift is more than enough to meet his needs.

He sees their gifts as ‘a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

In all of this it is clear that Paul’s thankfulness for the gift is more to do with what it tells him about the Philippian believers, than because of any practical benefit it is to him personally. He is glad to see their genuine commitment to the Lord that is expressed in the giving of the gift.

C.1 The principle of contentment
But there is something more than that that he wants to say to the Philippians and to us. He draws our attention to the biblical principle of contentment.

He states the principle of contentment it in several ways.

‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances’ (verse 11).

‘I have learned (literally, ‘I have been initiated in’) the secret of being content in any and every situation ...’ (verse 12).

‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength’ (verse 13).

He knows, from experience:

What it is to be in need, and what it is to have plenty.
What it is to be well fed, what it is to be hungry.
What it is to live in plenty, what it is to live in want.

And in all of this, whatever the circumstance, God has taught him (he has ‘learned’) how to live, how to cope, how to do whatever it is:

He can do poverty.
He can do plenty.
He can do hungry.
He can do well-fed.

Whatever comes to him, everything that comes to him ... he can do it. He is ‘content’.

He is not saying, as is often understood from these verses (especially verse 13) that God gives him the strength to do spectacular, impossible things. He is saying that in all the circumstances in which he finds himself, he is content. And it is through all the circumstances that he experienced that he has learned to be content. Through experience, he knows.

Read these verses.
What circumstances and situations did Paul experience during his years of ministry?
How did he cope?
Acts 9:23 – 25


Acts 13:50 – 51


Acts 14:5 – 7


Acts 14:19 – 20


Acts 16:19 – 34


Acts 17:5, 13


Acts 19:23 – 31


Acts 21:27 – 36


2Corinthians 11:23 – 33







2Corinthians 11:7 – 10


These are among Paul’s life experiences through which he learned to be content, and because of which he knows how to live well in any and every circumstance.

C.2 The secret of contentment
We must pause and ask ‘What does he mean by content?’

The adjective he uses is autarkes. The literal meaning is ‘self-sufficient’, as indicated in the NASB margin.

But ‘self-sufficient’, as we understand the term today, is far from the apostle’s meaning. He never promotes self-sufficiency, but rather the mutual inter-dependence of the many members of the body of Christ, and even more so, dependence on Christ.

Nor can we understand autarkes in the way the stoics did: as the most desirable state of mind in which all feeling and caring was dulled, and even the most devastating loss couldn’t evoke any emotions.

The key to understanding Paul’s meaning is in verse 13: ‘through him who gives me strength’.

Willian Barclay uses the term ‘God-consciousness’. He says ‘Paul could face anything; he could have nothing and he could have all things; it made no difference, because, in any situation he had Jesus Christ. The man who walks with Christ and lives in Christ can cope with anything.’ (p105, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, Daily Study Bible, The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1961.)

Let’s expand Barclay’s concept of Paul’s ‘God-consciousness’ –

Paul knew that God is the Almighty, Sovereign Lord, the Creator, the King, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing.

Paul knew that this all-powerful God was also his Father who loved him intensely.

Paul knew that this all-loving God was present with him in all places, at all times, in all circumstances.

Paul knew that ‘in Christ’ he has complete, guaranteed salvation.

Paul knew that this ever-resent God dwelt within him, that he was sealed, marked and identified as God’s possession and as God’s child.

Paul knew, because of all of this, that there was nothing in the entire universe that could separate him from the love of God.

Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11 – 13 tell us the ‘secret’ of contentment, two secrets, actually. The first is hidden in Paul’s repeated ‘I have learned’. This contentment was not part of Paul’s nature. It was not automatic or spontaneous. It was learned. And the second is this ‘through God who gives me strength.’

Paul’s autarkes means that, although he really appreciates the generosity of the Philippians, he did not need their gift to make him feel at peace in his circumstances. He did not need their gift to avoid lapsing into fear, or grumbling or complaining. He did not need their gift to prevent him from railing against God. He was ‘sufficient’ in himself, not because of anything in himself, but because God was his all in all.

Paul, by himself, was nothing, and could do nothing.

But Paul, with the unseen God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – could ‘do everything’, that is, could be content regardless of the circumstances.

C.3 Correcting a misunderstanding
It is quite common for ‘do everything’ in verse 13 to be interpreted to mean that God will give us the ability/strength to do literally ‘everything’. And often ‘if we have enough faith’ is tacked on. This is not what Paul is talking about here. He is talking about God enabling us to be ‘content in any and every situation’ – whether it is wealth or poverty, sickness or health, employment or unemployment, good relationships or difficult relations, good news or devastating news. And we could add, global pandemics, international tensions, terrorists threats, or anything else that is part and parcel of human life in this present age.

It means that our confidence, our remaining on an even keel, our spiritual stability, our peace and our joy, are dependent solely on God, not on our circumstances being ‘good’, and not on the presence of supportive fellow-believers.

It means that God gives us the strength to cope when without him we would fall to pieces emotionally.

It means that God gives us the strength to trust him, when without him we would grumble and complain.

It means that God gives us the strength to be at peace, when without him we would be overwhelmed by fear.

This being ‘content’ because of the presence of God is expressed by Old Testament believers:

Nehemiah, to a people overwhelmed because they had heard the word of God, said:

‘This day is sacred to the Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10)

David, surrounded by enemies seeking to kill him, said:

‘You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.
I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.’ (Psalm 4:7, 8).

Habakkuk, facing utter devastation of the land, said:

‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength ... ‘ (Habakkuk 3:17 – 19).

And here we come right back to something that Paul has been stressing in this letter: that the Lord is the source and sustainer of our joy. We rejoice in the Lord. We get our joy, our confidence, our sense of identity and purpose, from the Lord. There is in Paul’s autarkes a deep satisfaction in and with God, that overrides and overpowers everything else.

C.4 Pursuing contentment
The principle of contentment is found scattered throughout the Bible, and the opposite of contentment is shown to be offensive to God as it expresses a lack of trust in him.

Study these verses. How do they challenge you regarding contentment?
Genesis 3:6


Exodus 16:1 – 8


Exodus 20:17


Philippians 2:14, 15


1Timothy 6:6 – 10


Hebrews 13:5


James 4:1 – 6


Go here for a brief meditation on contentment.


C.5 Paul and the Philippians
In 4:14 – 20 Paul encourages the Philippians. His statement that he was ‘content’ did not mean that he failed to appreciate their gifts. Indeed he was glad of it because, as he had already expressed in verse 1, that he rejoiced in the Lord because of it. It showed the genuineness of their faith in Christ. He remembered a time when they were the only church that supported him financially. He sees their gifts as ‘a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God (verse 18). He assures them of God’s provision.

Think about the phrases below. How do they help you to have a healthy attitude about (1) the financial support you give to Christ’s kingdom and (2) your own financial needs?
‘a fragrant offering’


‘an acceptable sacrifice’


‘pleasing to God’


‘my God will meet all your needs’


‘according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’


‘To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever.’



Paul’s final greetings are brief.

Again, as in his opening greeting, he refers to those who believe in Jesus Christ as ‘saints’. As we noted there, the word ‘saints’ refers to those set apart by God for God as his own possession. The word used is the adjective ‘holy’, used as a noun: the holy ones, that is, the set-apart ones.

Paul also refers to believers as ‘brothers’.

In addition he indicates that there are ‘saints’, believers in Christ, in Caesar’s household.

His closing benediction is ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.’ By this benediction he prays that God’s grace will be the dominant influence in their lives. If this ‘grace’ is the foundation upon which our relationship with God is grounded –

We will not fear God’s rejection.
We will not be focused on ourselves and our perceived merit or demerit.
We will live with great peace and joy that issues from the Gospel.
We will live in God’s presence with complete confidence.
We will be committed to live for him and for his glory.


Review questions on Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
What have you learned about the person of Christ?



What have you learned about the death of Christ and salvation?



What have you learned about personal attitudes - 

(1) humility 



(2) joy



(3) contentment