In Philippians 4:10-13, Paul describes his life as an ongoing succession of different situations, each of which he regards as one of two classrooms in which he learns the way of contentment. One of the classrooms involved for him a sense of abasement, when he was humiliated before others. Perhaps some would have regarded his current imprisonment in that regard, especially as it was likely he had gone hungry often (prisoners had to provide their own food).
Believers often have to go into this classroom and many things within them will object to the treatment received. After all, abasement is a denial of human dignity, and a believer, of all people, knows that he or she is made in the image of God. Further, the imposing of abasement is sinful: such behaviour is an expression of rebellion against God, a denial of his command to love one’s neighbour as oneself. In such situations, believers sense strongly the injustice of it all. Yet they have to react to it in a Christlike way. When he was mistreated and abased, Jesus did not react with anger or fury. Instead he committed himself unto God. In the imitation of the behaviour of Jesus, Christians discover contentment in abasing circumstances.
Of course, Paul had discovered that abasing circumstances were often times of learning important realities. In these situations, he discovered afresh the sufficiency of God. To others, his situation gave the impression that he was in the grip of the iron hold of the Roman authorities; in reality, he was in the gentle grip of Jesus, the same hand that was on the tiller of the universe. In these antagonistic situations, Paul discovered that Jesus could strengthen him against all the attacks of the enemy. Jesus was in control, and working all things for his benefit.
The second classroom in which Paul learned contentment was in the classroom of abundance. Perhaps he has in mind the consequences of the gift given to him by the Philippians. Sometimes believers find themselves in a situation of material plenty, and there are dangers in this classroom that don’t exist in the other. One obvious danger is such a situation is the desire to want more, to not be satisfied with what one has. No doubt, a balance has to be maintained because there is nothing intrinsically wrong with having more possessions. Yet often the existence of more possessions increases the amount of care and worry that a person has. For example, if a burglar is on the prowl, the person who worries the most is the one who has most to lose. Worry and contentment are opposites, therefore a believer in the classroom of abundance needs to listen well to his heavenly Teacher. In times of plenty, Paul learned that gratitude to God was the appropriate response.