Letter 2: Philippians 4:11-13 Explanation
Tommy Belk M.A.; M.Div.; LPC
Dear (young friend at college Im encouraging),
In that last letter I gave a pretty long explanation about going to God in prayer in your mind to a high place, setting and renewing your mind from that place, and let that begin to organize more of your life. I also emphasized how much more choice you have in the matter than most people believe. What I want to do here is just reinforce all that with some a specific Scriptural example and some ways we can mediate on the Word to make it more useful to us.
Lets Biblically mediate on Philippians 4:11-13. Paul, when he wrote this, was stuck in jail maybe facing a death sentence, low on money, had "hornet angry" Jewish enemies pressing him, guys were running around messing up the churches he had poured his life into, he was getting older, he was physically not comfortable, and there is more "stuff" out there he could have focused on. But instead he, in this short book, used the word "joy" the most times anywhere in the Bible and was having a great time. How did he do it?
The clues are all over the book, especially in chapter 4. I want to look specifically at 4 verses 11-13 just to see better how he ran his brain to be in such a great state of mind. He says, "Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me."
As Paul looks out in the world he deliberately chooses not to allow his consciousness to go out, mentally attach to, and then react to all the "stuff." Yet he has a very realistic grasp of what is going on; it is not a magical denial escape trip. As he reflects on his "abased" "circumstances" he chooses to not complain as a reaction to it. He, instead, sends his mind to higher states of mind built with the Lord, (meta-states [away and above states of mind]). From there he self reflects about himself as he sees himself down here on earth.
If I were to map out, just in these valuable verses, where Paul sent his mind to his own meta-states, I would see it as something like this. First, just above his immediate experience he first self reflected using a state of learning. He used the word "learned" twice. I think Paul had a curious, excited, and a not boring attitude of learning. Paul must of have loved to learn things considering the genius depth of knowledge he displayed. Also, the word disciple literally means "an apprentice learner." Paul definitely was a learner following Christ.
The next state of mind up (meta) from learning that Paul sent his thinking and feeling to as he reflected on learning in his circumstances, he says, he "learned, in whatever state Im in, to be content." The word content literally means "self-governed" (auto [self] arkes [govern, rule]). It is the process of self ruling or self-sufficiency with the emotional feel of satisfying contentment or well being. But this was different from the Stoics word for this state of mind because he says he rules himself through the power of Christ, v. 13. It was an attitude that, he, through Christ, will set his mental "thermostat" to control his own internal comfort atmosphere -- no matter what!
And where did this mental state come from? Above that understanding of being a learner of contentment, he self reflected again from an even higher state lets call "I-can-do all things." Paul knew that in Christ he was given more, not less, choices in life within Gods infinitely flexible yet firm Will. This means being proactive verses reactive in life, sort of like Stephen Covey writes about. Literally the word "I-can-do," ischuo, means that I, myself, can be enforce, be valid, and be effective all the time verses being a powerless victim in reaction to circumstances.
And going still higher, where did Paul go in running his brain to get that attitude? By studying his statement, "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me," Phil. 4:13, we see that his appraisal of his self image was something that was firmly planted as being "in Christ" a state of mind that was "I am in Him, in Christ." Paul constantly used the term of being "in
Christ" all through his writings; it was who he was. And this was a validation state for his own sense of self, a secure state; it was a "given" that nothing can touch or take away.
Pauls teachings on justification by faith set the anchor for his secure, "given" self image being "in Christ." Because of Gods grace in Christ Work we only need faith for God to justify us in Gods eternal court, and so there is no performance we can do to try harder to earn it. Paul clearly does not confuse his self esteem with his achievements (Phil. 3). Although he is free to enjoy achieving with excellence in Christ, he doesnt need it to be O.K.
Also, he does not confuse enjoying "other esteem" from others with his own esteeming either. Because of having reconciliation with Christ, he does not do any people pleasing to get acceptance to be O.K. So, theres neither perfor-mance or acceptance traps for him. (See Rapha materials on the four traps)
Thirdly, he is also able to be graciously kind and gentle with himself and not fall into the blame trap because of Christs grace through the atonement. Paul is very certain that he is deeply loved, no matter what, inspite of knowing he is like the "chief of sinners" without Christ. This does not contradict that there are Gods appropriate times to be convicted of sin and repent. And fourthly, Pauls concepts of regeneration and sanctification means he is not stuck in the old "junk" of life, the shame trap, but he is a new creation changing "from glory to glory" in the power of the Spirit.
Negative meta-states you are under can multiply upon each other and really amplify how terrible your sense of self is when you appraise and esteem your self from these things. By constantly telling himself and others the truth in Christ, however, Paul wonderfully avoids these traps of needing performance or people pleasing for acceptance to be O.K. Also he avoids those states of mind that blame and beat you up for failing or those states that make you feel you are hopelessly stuck and a powerless miserable victim.
Self esteem is not something you have or not, but is a verb. It is unfortunate that people typically think of it as a noun, like a thing, you can possess. But rather, it is a process you do all the time, one way or the other, from ones higher states of mind. However, if the source you make your judgement from is negative, it can terribly compound negative through the other negative states.
Also, if the source is based on "out there" things that can change, good one day, bad another, like your performance or how people treat you, then you are in for a roller coaster of emotion. Some people also locate some of their source of doing their esteeming from how well they can think, or how good they feel, or how their body feels, their role at work, school, or home, or how circumstances like possessions, money, position are going.
The key to constant, positive self esteeming is locating your self appraisal in positive "givens" in life that lifes stressors cant touch, take away, or destroy. Jesus told us to put our treasures in heaven where there is no decay or theft, Matt. 6:19-21. Paul was constantly saying things like nothing in all creation, whether death itself, any supernatural powers, or wherever you go in the universe can separate us from the love of God in Christ, Romans 8:38-39. This love in Christ is the "given," unmovable basis of us being more than conquerors in life, verse 37.
So, when Paul self reflexively sees himself as under the higher state of "I am in Christ," he constantly is anchoring that with useful, healthy beliefs from God which were sourced outside himself and the worlds experience. Because of the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, he keeps on appraising and esteeming himself as "Im pleasing just as I am, no matter how I perform." Because of reconciliation, he keeps on believing, "I am totally acceptable and accepted no matter what people want me to be." Because of Christs atonement (propitatiation) and my regeneration and the Holy Spirit in me, he can keep on affirming, "I am deeply loved no matter what, and also, I am made new and constantly growing with the gracious power and presence of the Spirit."
There is one more still higher state of mind where Paul sent his thinking and feeling, and that of course is to Christ Himself "who strengthens me," Phil. 4:13. Literally the Greek means the empowering-one (endunamounti), that is, I can do all things in the empowering-one who empowers me. So, the source of Pauls power to learn, to learn to be in contented self-sufficient mental government in all circumstances, to learn to be content as an "I-can-do" person who is an "I am in Christ" person, all ultimately comes from Christ Himself. Christ is the great over arching umbrella frame or canopy in his mind. Paul has learned to be a learner as a disciple directly and personally walking with Christ.
As important as it is to be able to run your brain a certain way to have these abundantly resourceful attitudes, it was not just a mental technique with Paul. It was more than just a technology anybody can just follow the steps and apply, although there is clear instruction of what to do with our minds. Paul had a very personal relationship with a Person, Christ Himself who lived in Him by the Spirit through faith.
Paul would go be with God in worship. Worship was a full, rich experience of relating personally to God in Christ that Paul did all the time. Now we are full circle. Paul starts out in prayer, zooming up to God in Christ as He worshipped and hallowed the Fathers Name in heaven. And while personally there relating, and while from being "seated" with Christ, he is always setting and renewing his mind on what is above, not on what is on earth below. Then he works downward. Its "Thy kingdom done on earth as in heaven."
I hope all this will be a blessing to you as you think on these things.
In our Lord,
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(c)1997 Tommy Belk. All rights reserved.