To be Abased

Recently a brother made a comment that sent my thinking down a road I have often pondered but not pushed to a conclusion. I’m reasonably confident I haven’t got to that conclusion yet, but thought it good to put some words together to help me think.

In Philippians 4:10–13 we read:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I’m sure that you (the reader of this post) remember occasions when the last sentence of this passage has been taken out of context and made to say things that Paul (and the Holy Spirit) did not intend. I know I have. Context is such an important consideration in our reading and study of the Scriptures. I’m confident Paul’s statement is applicable in a general way; but this passage is all about finances.

“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply” (Hudson Taylor). This is a quotation that has been used to justify all sorts of ideas. There is certainly truth in the statement; but there are quite a few caveats that need to be added. For instance, we need to be careful how we define “God’s supply”. In the case of Hudson Taylor, (if I remember correctly) it was the supply of workers to reach the unreached areas of China.

In another passage (2 Corinthians 12:7–10) Paul tells us that it is in weakness that the Lord’s strength is able to work, and be seen. Sometimes (in fact, many times) God’s supply is “weakness”; whether physical, emotional, or financial.

Coming back to Philippians 4:10–13, Paul’s comments are in the area of finances. It is interesting to note that Paul uses 3 comparisons to speak of his experiences in the area of finances:

To be abased — to abound
To be full — to be hungry
To abound — to suffer need

In the case of “mission workers” we sometimes think that a lack of financial support is an indication that: either Hudson Taylor’s dictum has been broken in some way, or that the Lord is telling the worker it is time to leave the field. Both of these may be true; but my recent thinking has led me to urge caution in judgment; particularly as it relates to others, and not myself.

We have no Biblical indication that the Apostle Paul was ever out of the Lord’s will as concerning his sphere of service or methods used. In fact, he clearly says that he had “…fought the good fight, …finished the race, …kept the faith”, and yet he says clearly that there were times when he was abased, hungry, and suffered need.

One of the conclusions I have come to, at this time, is that perhaps we need to step away a little from the financial conditions a worker might find himself in, and listen more carefully to what the Lord might be saying as we listen to Him in our devotions and prayers. There might even be times in the life of the Lord’s servant when that worker needs to be reminded not to depend on financial support; wherever it might come from.

I am not saying that we should not support commended workers financially. We ought to. Particularly if we have (as in the case of the Corinthian church with respect to the poor in Jerusalem) made a commitment to do so. This might be a commitment to the Lord, or directly to the worker. It is also necessary that we support them financially in an inteligent way, taking note of any particular situations the worker might be in.