Philippians 4 and 2 Corinthians 11
In Philippians 4, Paul opens a line of reasoning in verses 4-7 that presents us with a formula for psychological soundness. He begins by linking one's potential for psychological soundness to the unseen.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice! Let your
gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for
nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of
God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and
your minds in Christ Jesus.”
These character traits are critical elements for the psychological soundness of the believer. The circumstances of one's life are to have no influence upon the state of mind of the Christian.
- Rejoice in the Lord always.
- Display a gentle spirit.
- Be anxious for nothing.
- Be thankful
The appeal in these matters is to the unseen world - "Let your requests be made known to God.” The result then is the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. How is this possible? In verse eight Paul provides us with eight non-natural variants that we regard as virtues.
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever
is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good
repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise,
dwell on these things.”
These eight variants are a set of representational controls that serve as the foundation for psychological soundness. These representational controls allow us to govern our behavior in a way that is completely contrary to our circumstances. I call these non-natural variants because:
- These things do not originate from the natural world of human experiences.
- They are external to ALL circumstances.
- These variants proceed from the character of God.
- These are not relevant to time, nor are they controlled by time.
- These variants allow us to bear up even under the most difficult of circumstances. I call these circumstances an "experiential index". An experiential index is a catalog of events in a person's life that are limited to time. In 2 Cor. 11:23-28, Paul rehearses for us some of the events in his life that make up his experiential index.
“...In far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times
without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from
the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once
I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have
spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from
rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from
the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers
on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and
hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often
without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things,
there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.”
In looking at this list of circumstances it is important we understand that these never represent a closed system. It is in the midst of all of these experiences that Paul says in Phil 4:11, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." Contentment in the mindset of horrific catastrophic or even life-threatening circumstances is a learned behavior. When Paul says he has leaned to be content in the midst of these experiences it is obvious that this knowledge is not obtained on the basis of his experiential index. He did not learn contentment from his sufferings. He learned it through the exercise of these non-natural virtues. All of the difficulties he rehearses are things that were imposed on his body yet, these things are regarded by Paul as non-determinate. In other words, he does not allow them to control his mind. He does not allow them to determine his behavior or his psychology. Of course, these are pragmatic experiences imposed on his flesh that cannot simply be ignored and demand a psychological response. What must govern the Christian's response to his experiences are those non-natural variants that are stronger than the experiences themselves. These are things that strengthen the inner man and enable us to rejoice even in the mist of such difficulties. How does Paul learn contentment in the midst of such experiences? By cultivating a mind that is governed not by the circumstances or their effects on one's life but by the representational controls given in Phil. 4:8 and 2 Cor 4: 4-7 where he adds to this list such virtues as endurance, knowledge, patience, and kindness. Paul regards all these hardships as nothing more than ephemeral concerns. In other words, these are things that are limited to time. They are temporary experiences that exist only briefly. Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:17 that these things are but “light momentary afflictions” that are not even worthy to be compared with the eternal weight of glory. This is an extraordinary statement. Such experiences are by design intended to destroy the outer man and unless representational controls are in place that will allow us to properly contextualize these experiences, the inner man will also be overwhelmed and destroyed.
Paul says in Phil 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This is a statement that is very often taken out of its context and much abused. This statement is linked to the things Paul says he has learned. What has he learned? He has learned to:
- Not be anxious
- Be thankful
- Get along with humble means
- Live in poverty
- Live in abundance
- Be filled
- Be hungry
- Endure need
- Be content in all things. Why? Because he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. "Do all things" is contextual to all the things he has learned to endure.