June 1, 2016
"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
As Paul brings his letter to a close, he moves to tackle one last subject. First, he commends the Philippians for their generosity. This kind of gracious and unprovoked giving is remarkable to him and it brings him great joy. Later we find that his joy doesn’t come from the reception of a gift, but rather the “fruit that accrues to their credit” (Philippians 4:17)—in other words, he’s filled with joy because God is pleased with their generosity. Paul’s joy is the pursuit of God’s joy.
Despite this praise, Paul uses this opportunity to talk about his own contentment, whether facing plenty or hunger, abundance or need. It’s clear that Paul isn’t boasting about his own ability or strength here, because he states that this is something he had to learn: he’s not the Source tapped into in order to be able to “do all things.” Whether Paul is resting on a soft couch in Lydia’s opulent Philippian home (Acts 16:15) or whether dealing with the constant peril and hardship of missionary work (2 Corinthians 12:10), Paul relies solely on the strength that God provides.
What is interesting here is that Paul does not set these two realities (abundance and need) against each other, one being favorable and the other not. But rather, both, he indicates, have great peril. He had to learn the secret of having plenty and abundance, because having those are just as dangerous. This is vividly reminiscent of the exchange between Jesus and the rich young man (Mark 10:17-27), where we learn that it is impossible for those with wealth to be saved outside of a miraculous work of God. Paul is giving us insight into this work of God, by saying that nothing is impossible if God provides the strength to accomplish it—whether rich or poor.
Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
Paul continues to praise their generosity, even in the early stages of the Gospel’s outbreak. He refers to it as a “partnership,” which echoes his exact language at the beginning of the letter (Philippians 1:3-5). He never sees himself as a one-man team—he needs family like the Philippians and God is faithful to use them to move Paul’s mission forward. It’s critical to note that Paul isn’t after their money, he’s after their glory—he sees the Philippians as his joy and his crown (Philippians 4:1), and he is hungry for their lives to count toward the healing of the broken people Paul has been sent to.
The words Paul uses to depict these gifts are “a fragrant offering” and “a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” He’s intentionally echoing the Old Testament sacrificial system, showing that this kind of giving is the culmination and fulfillment of those earlier shadows. It is the kind of lifestyle that puts God and his purposes first, even if it comes at great cost.
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Now Paul turns to them with a promise. Their sacrificial giving is evidence that they are part of God’s family. Paul knows that this means that God will always provide for their needs. And the amazing thing is that God doesn’t do this based on some intrinsic value that the Philippians earn or merit, which could easily falter. God does it “according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” So God—when surveying all of the many needs of the Philippian church—doesn’t scramble to find provision or warrant for blessing them. He doesn’t assess their value based on how good they’ve been. God taps into the infinite riches of glory in Christ Jesus—a limitless storehouse of provision and blessing.
Why does Paul want us to know this? He never ever wants us to doubt God’s ability to provide. Any doubt we might have here would originate from an uncertainty of whether we’ve earned or warranted his provision, or if he’s able to provide against seemingly hopeless and dire circumstances. Paul is saying that there is not a circumstance God can’t provide for, nor is there a reason he won’t provide abundantly for his family. When he blesses his family, the blessing arises from the infinite and immeasurable glories of Christ Jesus. We get bountiful provision and God gets the glory forever!
It should be noted that this is not God providing everything we want the way we want it. Nor is it God giving us anything other than what we absolutely need. And we do not always know what we need. But God does. Sometimes this means that we get something we don’t want at all, but it’s exactly what we need to grow deeper into our knowledge of Jesus, which is the most important thing. This is why Paul says earlier that he relies on “him who strengthens.” Jesus is the provision.
"Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit."
Finally, closing his letter, Paul issues a loving blessing, the greetings of those who are far away but are still part of God’s family with Philippi. This letter, as hinted at in the start (Philippians 1:2), is a deposit of grace. Paul is giving them this grace—the beautiful knowledge of Jesus they get from this letter—and he prays that it would be with their spirit. Knowing Jesus Christ is knowing real grace.
It doesn’t matter who were are, Paul’s laid out a spectrum that we all land on somewhere. Whether we’re enjoying abundance or whether we’re in dire need, Paul’s message at the close of this letter is for all of us. What we need to see is that there’s peril involved in both, because both of these can distract us from what we need the most, what we were made for: to know Jesus Christ.Is he everything to you?
Is he gain to you, even at death, when you lose everything defined as ‘abundance’ in this life (Philippians 1:21)? Is there nothing for you of greater surpassing value than knowing Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8)? When your joy is wrapped up in Jesus, it’s not controlled by what you have or what you don’t have. Neither abundance nor need have any claim to you, because you have the most valuable thing in the world: Christ! Make knowing and loving Jesus your life’s goal.
Here are some questions to help you dig a little deeper, both personally and in group: