A Secret That the Philippians Learned
WHO does not enjoy learning a secret? Surely you have thrilled at being taken into someone’s confidence and told a secret, perhaps some happy development that the person trusts you with until he or she makes it public.
Another sort of secret is knowledge, or insight, that others lack. This sort of secret was important to a group of Christians in the first century, the congregation in the Macedonian city of Philippi. To understand what that special secret was, and to see how we can benefit from it, let us briefly get some background on a letter written to the Philippians, a letter that is now part of the Bible.
Paul—To the Philippians
Missionary Paul was in prison in Rome about the years 59-61 C.E. During this time he was able to reflect on the many experiences that he had enjoyed in his travels. He could recall the many faithful brothers whom he had met and the congregations that he had the privilege of getting started in the way of the truth and seeing them grow. He could not help but think of the congregation in Philippi. It had a very special place in his heart because of the unusual experiences associated with it.
It was during Paul’s second missionary journey, about the year 50 C.E., that God’s spirit prevented him (and Silas) from preaching in the district of Asia, Mysia and Bithynia. So Paul went to Troas, where he had a vision one night. “A certain Macedonian man was standing and entreating him and saying: ‘Step over into Macedonia and help us.’” (Acts 16:9) At once Paul and his companions set out by boat for Samothrace and went on to the seaport of Neapolis. They then traveled overland to Philippi.
Perhaps to their surprise, they found few Jews in that city and apparently not even a synagogue. On the Sabbath Paul and Silas, instead of going to a synagogue as was their custom, went forth outside the gate beside a river and began speaking to the women assembled there. (Acts 16:13) You can find out more about this eventful visit to Philippi by reading Acts 16:11-40. Paul’s witnessing led to the start of a congregation in Europe, and he was later to revisit this congregation in Philippi, perhaps even twice.—Acts 20:1, 2, 6; Philippians 2:24.
Paul, when imprisoned in Rome, could think of the fine Christians he had associated with in Philippi. Lydia had displayed extraordinary hospitality. Euodia and Syntyche had worked side by side with Paul in spreading the “good news.” Nor could Paul forget the jailer and his household, as well as the miraculous experience connected with their embracing Christianity.
When Paul reflected on the love, kindness and concern of the Philippians, he had reason to write them a letter. (Philippians 1:3, 12) It reveals the love that he had for them and the “righteous fruit” they displayed.—Philippians 1:11.
What Is That Secret?
In his letter Paul spoke of a secret that he personally had learned, and the evidence is that the Philippians had learned it from him. It was a secret that had helped Paul through various trials over the years. He wrote: “In everything and in all circumstances I have learned the secret of both how to be full and how to hunger, both how to have an abundance and how to suffer want. For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.” (Philippians 4:12, 13) So it was a secret of Christian living, no matter what one’s circumstances were, all the while relying on Jehovah.
The Philippians had learned this secret, and it affected them in several ways. For one thing, the congregation was very zealous in preaching. Paul wrote: “You are shining as illuminators in the world.” (Philippians 2:15) They embraced the good news with great joy and then continued to advance that good news. Paul was able to describe them as being “sharers with me . . . in the defending and legally establishing of the good news.”—Philippians 1:7.
When Paul wrote this letter he knew that they would be interested in his prison experiences. He described that, though in prison, his affairs “turned out for the advancement of the good news rather than otherwise, so that,” as he said, “my bonds have become public knowledge in association with Christ among all the Praetorian Guard.” (Philippians 1:12, 13) He also related that most Roman Christians were showing more courage to speak the word of God fearlessly because of his prison bonds. It must have encouraged the Philippians to know that Paul, even though in prison, was continuing to be zealous for the Kingdom preaching even as they were.—Philippians 1:14.
Another thing that might have related to the secret mentioned in Philippians 4:12, 13 was their having the proper mental attitude. Their disposition was, not to please themselves, but to help others. Indeed, they had been very helpful to Paul. While he was in Thessalonica, they twice sent material assistance to him, the only congregation to do so. (Philippians 4:15, 16) Later, when, because of persecution, the Jerusalem congregation was having hard times and needed assistance, the Philippians, although poor themselves, contributed freely. Paul wrote that this giving was “beyond their actual ability.” (2 Corinthians 8:3) Still later, when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, they sent material goods by means of Epaphroditus.
Yes, the Philippians had a loving concern for fellow Christians. They acted as Paul urged, keeping an eye “not in personal interest upon just [their] own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” What a refreshing spirit that showed! It suggested that the Philippians had a mental attitude of humility, even as Jesus did, and were not critical of others.—Philippians 2:1-5, 14.
We Can Learn and Apply Their Secret
Removed in time as we are, we are not in position to fellowship with the apostle Paul directly. How thankful we should be, then, that Jehovah God preserved in his Word the inspired letter to the Philippians! We thus can work to learn and apply the marvelous counsel in it, including the secret that Paul learned and evidently shared with them.
For the Philippians that secret involved knowledge, attitude and conduct. Paul encouraged them to “behave in a manner worthy of the good news about the Christ.” (Philippians 1:27) As they followed Paul’s admonition, they would “come to be blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation.” (Philippians 2:15) Of course, to maintain that clean conduct would require caution, even in regard to their thinking. There certainly is a lesson in this for us too. We may want to do what many others have done who are seeking to apply this “secret”—memorize and regularly reflect on what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8 about our thinking. Can you repeat that passage from memory?
The secret of depending on God and serving him happily whether you have much or little materially can bring a very satisfying life. In Paul’s case, think of the satisfaction he could have in reflecting on the fruitage of his labors manifested in the Philippian congregation. He had seen the congregation grow in love for Christian truth and in zeal for spreading the good news. He also saw their love in action toward fellow Christians. He could draw much satisfaction from seeing that they, too, had learned the secret of relying totally on God in all they did and serving him with all they had.
Each Christian today can appropriately ask himself whether he personally has learned the important secret that Paul mentioned in Philippians 4:12, 13. One evidence is our having Jehovah’s blessing, being “filled with righteous fruit.” (Philippians 1:9-11; 4:17) Too, if we have learned that vital secret and are manifesting it, those around us will be helped along the same line. We will be setting a good example for others, even as Paul did, so that he could advise the Philippians: “Unitedly become imitators of me, brothers, and keep your eye on those who are walking in a way that accords with the example you have in us.” (Philippians 3:17; compare Php 3 verses 13, 14.) For us and for others, then, that secret is of the greatest value; it will contribute to the gaining of everlasting life.