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. (Philippians 4:12, NKJV).
Culturally, there is a certain noble, austere dignity attached to a man who eschews worldly goods in favor of loftier things. It's mostly bunk.
That stereotypical man, whoever he might be, if he makes a point of letting it be known how austere and dignified he is, is simply trading one form of gluttony, material acquisition, for another form of gluttony, public acclaim. That is not what the apostle Paul is talking about here when he mentions his diligently acquired know how regarding what my mother used to call, feast or famine.
The word, abased, comes with the connotation of not only lack, but an embarrassing lack, referring to not having something that by all earthly rights and sensibility, one should really have in order to meet the commonly accepted idea of propriety. It's kind of like being subjected to a criticism along the lines of, "It's not proper that he doesn't have a high school diploma in this day and age!" So, in short, being abased in this sense is nothing to be proud of, or announce to the media.
Of course, Paul's viewpoint was not at all earthly in nature. His mind was set on heavenly priorities, and he understood very well that what is considered valuable by man is, more often than not, an abomination to God. Consequently, while his abasement might be viewed by the neighbors as improper, Paul saw it as more than proper, since he understood his life was in God's hands. Instead of bemoaning his circumstance, he learned to be content in whatever state he happened to be.
Similarly, the word, abound signifies "filled to overflowing". The picture it paints is of an animal's food trough spilling over with an abundance of grain.
Now here's a question to ponder: what would you become if you had more than what you needed or wanted of this world's goods? And before you answer, consider this statistic - studies have shown that no matter how much storage space a given residence may have, it not only eventually gets filled, but always becomes not enough. Those of you who have migrated from apartment, to fixer-upper, to middle-aged abode of dreams understand this progression in a visceral sense. Add children in the mix and the outcome is even more predictable.
Then too, there is the syndrome called, perceived shortage. What at one point in a sensible person's life was considered completely adequate, becomes, after prolonged increase, not nearly enough, regardless of the actual facts. To those of my generation, televisions fall into that category. At first, one per block was something. Then one per household, quickly transmigrating to one color TV per household, with the obsolete black-and-white relegated to some peripheral room. Now it is commonly one flat screen per room, and perhaps one room with a whole wall morphed into a flat screen, and a portable HD player in every pocket, purse or fanny pack.
Learning to do without, after having had, is a skill achieved only through conscious effort. Being content in either condition is a miracle wrought by God in His child's heart that comes about only through willful reliance on Him.
Look at it this way - anything you, as a Christian, possess, is not really yours. It's His. That is true whatever it might be. Your very breath is His, as is your health, your spouse, your children, your home, your reputation, your income, or conversely, your lack of any or all these things. Oh, we think it's all us, but that is Paul's point underneath these exhortations to godly contentment. Even your best human efforts succeed only because of His grace. And often, though you may practice an utter lack of diligence and good stewardship, the consequences are usually not nearly as bad as they could be, or would be if He were not your loving Father softening the blow.
Job had it exactly right: the LORD gives and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.
The thing is, if you really live your life believing this, you will neither lack diligence nor cultivate greed. You won't get puffed up nor overly fretful. You may suffer from being hungry, or you may be at ease from being full, but neither condition will become more important or significant in your life than the Source of both: your Lord and Savior.
The Apostle Paul was a hard man to rattle, and impervious to bribes and manipulation, precisely because he knew what side his bread was really buttered on. How could you possibly either threaten or tempt a man so heavenly minded, and so devoted to His Lord? The answer is, you couldn't.
There is a proverb that asks God to neither give a man too little, so that he feels compelled to become a thief, nor provide too much, lest he become something in his own mind. It is a wise prayer, but there is a far superior strategy: learn contentment. Become well-versed in the skill set needed to be abased and to abound.
Cultivate and practice the know how to everywhere and in all things BE CONTENT (not COMPLACENT).
And know this, contentment with godliness is great gain.