Handling Poverty and Plenty (Philippians 4:12–13, 18)
Finally, Paul discusses how to handle both poverty and plenty. This has direct workplace relevance because work makes the difference between poverty and plenty for us, or at least for those of us who are paid for our work. Again, Paul’s advice is simple, yet hard to follow. Don’t idolize your work in expectation that it will always provide plenty for you. Instead, do your work because of the benefit it brings to others, and learn to be content with however much or little it provides for you. Tough advice indeed. Some professions—teachers, health workers, customer service people, and parents, to name a few—may be used to working overtime without extra pay to help people in need. Others expect to be amply rewarded for the service they perform. Imagine a senior executive or investment banker working without a contract or bonus target saying,
“I take care of the customers, employees, and shareholders, and am happy to receive whatever they choose to give me at the end of the year.” It’s not common, but a few people do it. Paul says simply this:
I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, or having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. . . . I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied. (Phil. 4:12–13, 18)
The point is not how much or how little we are paid—within reason— but whether we are motivated by the benefit our work does for others or only for our self-interest. Yet that motivation itself should move us to resist institutions, practices, and systems that result in extremes of either too much plenty or too much poverty.