Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.
There never was a pupil who graduated in any university with such a diploma as that. There never was penned such a record of attainment as the result of education. A man is educated just in the proportion in which by his soul-power he controls the conditions of life. An uneducated man is controlled by his conditions. What did Paul learn?
I. To be CONTENT. But it was a very poor kind of learning if by content is meant stupidity, want of aspiration and enterprise. If Paul meant, I consider one thing or place just as good as another, poverty as good as riches, slavery as good as independence, he had learned nothing useful. But he did not mean that. He had learned to be content because he carried about with him that which made any circumstances blessed. Englishmen are laughed at because they travel on the continent with their household and all its comforts; and when they camp down in a poverty-stricken village they feel better off than if they had nothing but herbs and rocks to subsist upon; and so are content. Now suppose we imitate that inwardly, and carry in ourselves such a store of inspirations, such an amplitude of moral life as shall make us superior to every circumstance! When a man is living so near to God as to have his whole being pervaded with Divine power, why should he not say, I am content wherever He is.
II. He was content in ALL THINGS. A great many have learned it in single things.
1. The mother says, loving her child, I am content. She will forsake exhilarating pleasures and entertaining friends for the nursery, and there she is happy.
2. There is a gay giddy girl, for whom is predicted no enviable future; but her time comes. When love finds her, and wakes her up to her true life, and she becomes a wife and mother, how all the frivolity is gone. She has learned to be content. Take her out of that and she has not learned the lesson.
3. There are others who would be perfectly content if they could have fortunes made or their ambition gratified.
4. But where are those who can say, "Put me where you will and I will make it a paradise. Give me children and I am happy; take them away and I have still that which will make me happy. Give me husband, wealth, learning, or deprive me of them, and I am content"? Here is one at any rate.
III. He was content to ALTERNATE BETWEEN DIFFERENT STATES. Men get used to things, so that if you let them have one state of things long enough they will adapt themselves to it; or give them, if you change, time enough to get used to the next, they will continue to bear it. But Paul says, "I have learned both." It is as if a man were oscillating between the extremes of heat and cold, and in the sudden transition from one to the other should be content. Yet there is a power in the soul if rightly cultured that shall enable a man to pass from any state to another and say, "I am content." Here is a man who is reduced by an adverse stroke of fortune from affluence to beggary, and if he be a Christian what is to prevent him saying, "I have lost a little dust; but God is mine, Christ is mine, heaven is mine. The ocean is not spilled even if my cup is. My coat is very useful; but should it be stolen it is not I." Conclusion:
1. This is not a miraculous state. There are those who think that apostles do not belong to the common race.
2. This is not a superficial power, but one which requires developement. "I have learned." It took him forty years to learn it, and you must not be discouraged if you cannot all at once put on the virtues which were the result of forty years' experience.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.