We wrapped up our time in Philippians last Friday. I’m sad to be walking away from this study, but grateful for how my understanding of the book has deepened and shaped the way I view life. There is so much value in soaking in the Scripture. A friend asked me a question over the weekend and I practically handed her a sermon from Philippians. One of my friends commented that she had listened to the book every single morning of the study; she can probably quote much more of it than she realizes.
This last section of the book is probably the least talked about overall, but contains one of the most mis-used verses in the Bible. We know that I mean Philippians 4:13, but let’s look at surrounding context.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly because once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me. Still, you did well by partnering with me in my hardship. Philippians 4:10-14
I’ve grown leery of pulling one verse, any verse, out of its passage and discussing it without filling in context. If we do that we can make a verse mean anything, regardless of what the author actually intended.
Contentment and All Things
Paul isn’t talking about winning ball games or blowing that interview out of the water. When Paul says he can do all things that statement has context in the surrounding verses: Paul can be content in any circumstances. He can be content with a little. He can be content with a lot. Contentment is knowing that God will strengthen you to make do with whatever you have. If the people come to his aid, that’s great! They’ve done well and he appreciates it but if they lack opportunity, God will strengthen him.
Contentment in our physical circumstances and with our material possessions is a learned skills. Paul learned the secret. That secret is, of course, Christ.
Paul has already told us that there are places to be pressing forward, moving ahead. We are always pursuing the goal and the prize: knowing Christ. But we aren’t pressing toward more things or more opportunities and success. Paul had the success too. Remember how in chapter 3 he gave us his pedigree? He told us the story of his success and his power and then showed us how to lay it aside. Paul is placing both his story and what he’s asking of the Philippians in context of what Jesus did in coming to earth as perfect humanity.
We aren’t content with our view of the world or our understanding of Christ or complacent in the work He is inviting us to participate in. We are content, because of His strength, with our possessions and our circumstances, but we are forever being transformed.
Service and Sacrifice
Paul did care about the Philippians believers helping him, just not for the reasons we might expect. He continues in Philippians 4:13-18, “Still, you did well by partnering with me in my hardship. And you Philippians know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone. For even in Thessalonica you sent gifts for my need several times. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that is increasing to your account. But I have received everything in full, and I have an abundance. I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided— a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”
Paul wasn’t being an unnecessary martyr. We actually gain nothing from that, no matter how “good” it might make us feel. Instead he points out, not his need for the gift, but the profit that increases for them. We live out our faith when we share with other believers and provide for their needs. James points this out as well, “If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,’ but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (James 2:15-17).
Our faith is seen and proven to be real as we live it out. Faith has to affect our actions. The Philippians care for Paul was proof of their changed hearts; it was their changed lives. Paul remarks that it’s an offering. He’s already talked about their offering in relationship to his life. Philippians 2:17 says, “But even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrificial service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” Paul uses these analogies to explain what our lives can be: fragrant sacrifices that please God.
This talk about giving to others being a sacrifice that God recognizes is Christianity 101. Hebrews 13:15-16 says, “Therefore, through him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.”
Caring for others believers does not escape God’s notice, even if it doesn’t rank high on things that people notice and value (unless they are doing the receiving, of course).
All Glory to God
The Philippians had supplied Paul’s needs, probably at cost to themselves. Paul sends a reminder tucked into the end of the book that they needn’t worry because God will supply everything they need. But it’s not just enough that God is going to supply them. God will supply from his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Christ is how we receive everything. We have Christ. God has riches. Through Christ we also have riches.
All the glory to God. Not to the Philippians for sending Paul help. Not to Paul for being Paul. God gets the glory for the things that we do in Christ, for how we are being transformed in Christ.
To conclude the book every saint is greeted and all the saints send greetings. None of us are excluded from this call of being a believer. None of us are forgotten or less in God’s way of looking at the world. It is all Him and we matter to Him.
Eugene Peterson ends Philippians 4 like this in the Message: “Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves.”