A thank-you note
Paul then thanks the church for the help they sent him while he was in prison: “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it” (v. 10). Although Paul is thankful for the physical help they gave, he also uses this opportunity to point the readers away from the physical, toward faith in Christ:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (vv. 11-13).
Paul had times of plenty, and times of poverty. In both cases, he looked to the Lord, not to his physical circumstances. He was content even when in poverty, because he looked to Christ. Christ did not give him strength to break out of jail, but to stay in jail. Christ did not give him the ability to turn stones into bread, but to endure hunger. This is the kind of strength Christ gives — perhaps not the kind we want, but the kind we need most.
Verse 13 is sometimes lifted out of context to say that Christ enables us to do anything we want, such as to succeed in business. But this is not what Paul meant. Rather, Christ enables us to endure all circumstances. The 2011 revision of the NIV makes it clear that we need to consider the context: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” He can be content, even in poverty, through Christ.
Paul does not preach in order to get a salary, and he is not dependent on anyone. But Paul praises them for the help that they gave, because it reflects a spiritual virtue within them. “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need” (vv. 14-16).
When Paul was ministering in Corinth, for example, he received financial help from Philippi (2 Cor. 8:1-2) rather than being supported by the Corinthians (1 Cor. 9:7-14). Although the church at Philippi was poor, and some of the Corinthians were wealthy, the Philippians supported Paul’s missionary work. And in Thessalonica, too, they continued to help him.
Paul appreciates this not so much for his own benefit, but because it is a spiritual value for the Philippians. “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account” (Phil. 4:17). Frank Thielman says, “The imagery is of a bank account that receives compounded interest” (Philippians, p. 237). God will reward them for the good that they have done, and Paul was eager for them to be blessed as a reflection of their generosity. When we serve God in physical ways, we benefit spiritually as God is working in us.
“I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (v. 18). This financial help is more than enough for me, he says, and then he points out its spiritual significance: It is a sacrifice that pleases God. We worship God in our offerings, whether they are given to the poor or to missionary workers.
And in return, “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (v. 19). The reason that we can be generous is because God will supply everything we need, including the strength to endure difficulties.
Paul ends his letter with a traditional doxology, praising God: “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (v. 20).
Then, as a customary postscript, he adds a few personal greetings: “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” (vv. 21-22).
Who are these people from Caesar’s household? We do not know — they may have been part of Caesar’s staff that worked in various parts of the empire. Paul mentions them here perhaps to drop a hint that the gospel is bearing fruit in significant places.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen” (v. 23).
Things to think about
- Poor people are more likely to be Christians than wealthy people are. Do I find it easier to trust in God when I am poor, or does wealth tempt me to trust in my money? (v. 12)
- What kind of strength is Christ giving me in my circumstances? (v. 13)
- Do I view my offerings as a form of worship, or as payment for services that I want to benefit from? (v. 19).
- How often do I greet saints in other cities? (v. 22)
Author: Michael Morrison