And so we come to the end of the book of Philippians. In this part of the letter, or in this first letter, depending on your understanding, Paul spent the time to thank the Philippians for their gift. It’s interesting that while he’s doing that, he goes to great pains to say that he didn’t need what they sent, but he was thankful for it. He also noted that since God provided for him, he didn’t need their gift, but that their gift was a pleasing offering to God. The style at that point is similar to Paul’s discussion of baptism in 1 Corinthians 1 while discussing the problem of a church divided over leaders. That being said, while I have a few ideas about which book to tackle next, I’ll throw this open to suggestions. What book of the Bible should I go through in this semi-devotional, semi-Bible study approach? Comment below, or on the social media page you saw this and let me know what would help you the most.
- But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.
If, and I emphasize if, Philippians was three letters combined, the verse 10 begins what scholars define as the first letter. Paul spent this part of the epistle rejoicing that the Philippian Church had renewed their concern for him and showed that in the way they cared for him while he was in prison. He made it clear that he realized that they had always been concerned about him, but that they hadn’t had the opportunity to do so. Now that Paul was facing serious trouble, they jumped on the problem and sent help. We’re a lot like that. You can spend time with people, enjoy their company, and think highly of them – but you don’t do anything to help them because they don’t need help. If you hear that they need help, though, you’d be there in an instant. That’s why Paul noted that they were always concerned, but now they had the opportunity to show it.
- Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
Paul tempered his enthusiasm for the gift that the Philippian Church sent by reminding them that as great as their gift was to him, he wasn’t grateful because he was in need. He had learned how to be content no matter what the situation was. I can’t help but wonder if Paul included this reminder so that the Philippian church wouldn’t think that they needed to buy Paul’s love, or be the sole supporters of his ministry. It would be easy, if Paul had done nothing but rave about the gift they had sent and how it met his needs, to think that Paul needed still more from them. He may have had a greater need for provisions, but if so, he didn’t want the Philippians to give out of a sense of obligation, he wanted them to give under God’s leadership.
The key to understanding this verse is to understand the concept of contentment. I have no doubt that if you asked people living in America how much money they needed, you could summarize most people’s answers in the words, “Just a little bit more.” Contentment doesn’t ask for a little bit more, contentment thanks God for all of His provisions so far.
- I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
As Paul continued on this theme, he pointed out that whether he had a lot or a little; whether he was well fed, or fighting hunger pangs; whether he was accepted or rejected by the people he was sharing the gospel with; he was able to endure because his strength came from Jesus Christ. While it’s not obvious to us today, Paul took a dig at the mystery religions that permeated Roman society. As A.T. Robertson dealt with the word usage here he noted: “Paul draws this metaphor from the initiatory rites of the pagan mystery-religions.”
A lot of people take verse 13 out of context by applying this to any difficult task, often to the amusement of non-believers. I’ve heard reports of non-believers mocking believers over this verse by asking them why they won’t do an impossible task, since they can do all things through Christ. We should do everything we do in His power and through His grace, but this verse was written in the context of dealing with the trials and tribulations of life. We can endure persecution, because Jesus is with us. We can overcome the trial of great wealth and keep our faith because of Jesus working in us. Both persecution and wealth can be faith killers if we lose our relationship to Christ and His empowering love.
- Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. 15. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. 16. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. 17. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.
As Paul continued here, it’s almost like he’s debating himself. “Thanks, but I don’t need the help, but you’ve helped me before like no other church, and then we’ll see in the next few verses that he reminds them again that he didn’t have a need. Most of us don’t want to need help. Paul hated the idea that he had any needs because he wanted to make sure that people realized that all his trust was in God. Still, God used people like those in the Philippian church to care for him. Paul didn’t seek financial wealth from his call as an evangelist, he sought the wealth that only comes from strong relationships: from God first, and then from fellow believers like the church in Philippi. As Paul reminded them of their gifts through the years, the amount they gave wasn’t important to him; the fact that they thought enough about him to give anything was what moved Paul. Their gifts met two needs Paul had: financial and fellowship. The gifts that came from the heart because of the love and fellowship that they shared were the important gifts.
- But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.
This verse speaks of the arrival of Epaphroditus without mentioning any illness. (Phil. 2:26) The omission speaks volumes to scholars about the composition of this letter and is one of the reasons Philippians is seen as a group of letters instead of one, single letter written from start to finish. In short, the belief is that Paul responded immediately to the Philippians with a thank you note. (Which convicts me, because I am the world’s worst at writing them.) Later, he sent the other letters as an update to his situation.
Notice that however this epistle was composed, the whole letter is the word of God as given through Paul. Paul, meanwhile, after mentioning that he was well taken care of by God, compared the gift they sent to an ancient sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. His vivid imagery not only recalls the sacrificial offerings in the Temple, they let the Philippians know that Paul saw himself as a beneficiary of their love for God first, and then for himself.
- But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Too often, when we read this verse, we think of material needs. We often use it to justify taking care of ourselves without looking to the needs of others because we believe that God is taking care of our needs. While we have needs other than material needs, let’s examine this idea first. Paul wrote this to the Philippians after they had shown generosity in seeking to be used by God to meet his needs. Paul had needs while he was in prison, but he wasn’t worried because he knew God was going to meet his needs. One of the ways He did that was through the Philippian church. The people in the church itself weren’t rich, and it would be possible for some in the church to be concerned about their everyday needs. Jesus reminded His followers that God clothed the flowers and the birds as a reminder that He’d take care of their material needs. Paul echoed that sentiment in this verse.
At the same time, the riches in glory we gain from Christ Jesus is more than material needs: food, clothing, where we sleep. God cares about our spiritual needs. If you want true spiritual riches, develop a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he promised them Christ’s riches not because they had shared with him, but, because they showed their faith in God’s provision when they shared with him. It may seem like a small distinction, but that idea has huge implications. There are many people who will share out of obligation. Their heart isn’t in it. Paul recognized that this wasn’t the case for the Philippians. They were willing to sacrifice because of their relationship to God and their love for Paul as well. For this, they were rewarded with the riches of Christ Jesus which are far greater than material gain.
- Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
It all comes down to worshiping and glorifying God. Paul talked about the riches of Christ Jesus in glory and then noted that we will all be giving God the Father glory for all eternity. We have a heavenly reward waiting for us. A reward that comes not from our goodness or even our giving, but from the grace and work of Jesus Christ.
- Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. 22. All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household. 23. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Paul finished the letter with a reminder of the need for unity in Christ. Salute all those who follow Christ just as those who are with me salute and greet you. Notice that most of those saints, or Christians, around Paul are part of Caesar’s household. In context, that doesn’t mean that these people were part of Nero’s family, but that they were part of the Roman government. The gospel was reaching people who were at the heart of the Roman government. God’s grace was influencing the government then, as it should today. Our faith doesn’t depend on which candidate is elected to any office, nor does our faith command us to vote for a specific candidate; our faith commands us to share the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ with people of all political stripes and influence those in office for good. Lately, we’ve been more concerned with who we vote for and who wins than in ministering in the situation no matter who wins. If there’s anything we need to take away from these simple ending verses it’s that we’re called to make a difference for Christ in our world, no matter who wins any election, or who sits in worldly judgment.
I think I forgot to include the readings last week, so here they are for this week: