Learning to be self-sufficient

Self-sufficiency is a popular modern theme, yet surely Adam and Eve were at first both self-sufficient – not just ‘two halves that made a whole’ but two wholes who made a perfect duet. In the New Testament the terms autarkes and autarkeia (autos = self + arkeo = sufficient/enough) occur only three times (Philippians 4:11, ‘content’; 1 Timothy 6:6, ‘contentment’; 2 Corinthians 9:8, ‘sufficiency’), all from Paul’s pen.

[] Self-sufficiency is progressive through discipline (Philippians 4:10-19)

When Paul wrote a short thank you letter to the church in Philippi from his prison in Rome (Philippians 1:7, 12-14), he seasoned it with twenty or so mentions of gladness and peace. After all, they were a community born out of a local imprisonment in which he and Silas had praised God aloud (Acts 16:25).

Although he had ‘great joy … in the Lord’ on receiving their gift, he wanted them to know : ‘I have learned, in whatever situation I am to be [self-sufficient]’ and ’ the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need’ (Philippians 4:11-12), all thanks to ‘him who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13). They too had learned to maintain their poise: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; … do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer … with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God … will guard your hearts and … minds’ (Philippians 4:4-7). And they must focus their thoughts on ‘whatever [has] excellence’ and ‘the peace of God’ will accompany them as their security guard.

[] Self-sufficiency is profitable with godliness (1 Timothy 6:2c–10, 17-19)

Timothy not only should ‘teach … sound …  doctrine’ but ‘urge’ God’s people to ‘godliness’ (1 Timothy 6:2-3; eusebeia from eu =  well + sebomai = be devoted, seb = sacred awe; respond with behaviour well-pleasing to an awesome God). This contrasts with a prevalent heresy that ‘godliness is a means of gain’ (1 Timothy 6:5) – increase in finances, kudos and spiritual sensitivity. Actually, if you are contented ‘with food and clothing’ (1 Timothy 6:8), then ‘godliness with [such]self-sufficiency is great gain’ (1 Timothy 6:6) in character. A root of all other ‘harmful desires’ is the ‘desire to be rich’ and ‘love of money’ (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Such a ‘craving’ causes believers to ‘wander … away from the faith’ (1 Timothy 6:10); so Christians must appreciate that it is ‘God …who richly provides us with everything to enjoy,’ enabling us ‘to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to serve’ (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

[] Self-sufficiency is productive in ‘the grace of giving’ (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)

These verses conclude Paul’s major teaching on the grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:1 – 9:15). He uses an agricultural metaphor to encourage the church in Corinth to contribute generously to the famine-hit saints in Judea. The quantity of our sowing determines the quantity of the harvest (2 Corinthians 9:6), and the quality of our sowing (‘a cheerful giver’), the harvest’s quality (2 Corinthians 9:7).

The self-sufficiency Paul advocates will not produce self-centred independence. It is ‘God [who] is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all [self-sufficiency]  in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work’ (2 Corinthians 9:8). And they will be ‘enriched in every way’ because of the gratitude of the Judean Christians (2 Corinthians 9:11-12).

* Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift’  – his only Son (John 3:16).

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