A Positive Biblical Approach to Rewards and Inheritance
4:10 I have great joy in the Lord because now at last you have again expressed your concern for me (now I know you were concerned before but had no opportunity to do anything). 4:11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. 4:12 I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. 4:13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me. 4:14 Nevertheless, you did well to share with me in my trouble. 4:15 And as you Philippians know, at the beginning of my gospel ministry, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in this matter of giving and receiving except you alone. 4:16 For even in Thessalonica on more than one occasion you sent something for my need. 4:17 It is not that I am seeking the gift. Rather, I seek the credit that abounds to your account. 4:18 For I have received all things, and I have plenty. I have all I need because I received from Epaphroditus your gifts—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, very pleasing to God. 4:19 And my God will supply all that you need according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. 4:20 May glory be given to God our Father forever and ever. Amen.
4:21 Give greetings to all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers with me here send greetings. 4:22 All the saints greet you, especially those from the emperor’s household. 4:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
A. Paul’s Thanksgiving for Their Gift (4:10-20)
1. Paul’s Thanksgiving Proper (4:10)
2. Is Not Because He Lacks Contentment (4:11-14)
a. Paul’s Various Circumstances (4:11-12)
b. Paul’s Secret to Contentment (4:13)
3. Is Because He Wants Them To Be Blessed (4:14-20)
a. Paul’s Commendation of the Philippians (4:14-16)
i. For Their Present Gift (4:14)
ii. For Their Past Faithfulness (4:15-16)
b. The Blessing of the Philippians (4:17)
c. Paul’s Plenty Because of Their Gift (4:18-20)
i. The Nature of Their Gift (4:18)
ii. The Promise of Needs Met (4:19)
iii. The Glory to God (4:20)
B. Final Greeting (4:21-23)
In 4:10-20 Paul brings to a conclusion the issue of their gift hinted at throughout the letter (1:5-6; 2:25-30) and stresses their friendship in the midst of rejoicing over their generosity.
Paul says he has great joy (ecarhn) in the Lord because now at last the Philippians have again expressed their concern for him. But it wasn’t that the Philippians didn’t care and only recently decided to do something about Paul’s needs. On the contrary, Paul acknowledges their desire, but understands that they had had no opportunity to do anything.
Paul’s great rejoicing (ecarhn…megalws) could be taken (wrongly) as his eager desire to get money from the church. But this is not the case, as he goes on to make clear in the rest of the paragraph, especially in 4:11 and 4:17-18. Thus he is walking a thin line between expressing his gratitude for the gift sent by Epaphroditus (4:18) and having the church misunderstand his intentions. Paul was simply overjoyed due to their generous response to him. But he was so, more because of what such a response demonstrated spiritually about them, than he was because of any benefit he might have received (see v. 17).
One cannot miss the imagery here implied in the use of the verb again expressed …concern (aneqalete). It is a rare term meaning “grow up again,” “bloom again” as used with plants. Paul is therefore saying that like the new bloom of flowers in the spring so is the Philippians’ blossoming interest in his welfare.237 The imagery is picturesque and connotes a deep and growing friendship.
4:11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content (autarkhs) in any circumstance. 4:12 I have experienced times of need (tapeinousqai) and times of abundance (perisseuein). In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret (memuhmai) of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing.
Paul is not rejoicing because he was in need and now the Philippians have given him some money. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He had learned, since his conversion—growth takes time—to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself. The Greek term autarkhs (“content”) was a common term in the culture, but had special duty among Stoic philosophers such as Seneca. Stoics viewed contentment as being happy with (i.e., accepting) one’s present circumstances, station in life, etc. It involves a certain resignation to the surrounding circumstances. But, for Paul, contentment comes from a faith-oriented, Christ-centered approach to life’s circumstances; it is not mere resignation, for it involves a deep and abiding joy through an ongoing consciousness of God’s sovereign and good hand in everything. Therefore, Paul may have once again used Stoic jargon, but he certainly has a different integrating center in his thought; indeed, he is a long way from a Stoic worldview with its practical deism. For him, final reality was not some “world-spirit,” but rather a personal God who had made himself known in and through his Son, Jesus Christ.
The verb memuhmai (I have learned the secret) was a term used in the mystery religions to describe the experience of the religious initiates. For those in such pagan cults it was a secret or private affair, but for Paul, on the other hand, it was a secret learned about contentment. He learned it not in some secretive service, but in the course of his public ministry to others, and he freely made it known. The secret of contentment is found in knowing God’s secret, that is Christ, who was publicly portrayed as crucified and who was preached by Paul to every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23). Thus Paul’s secret was not only for a select few, but for everyone (Matt 11:28-30) who might take up the cross and follow Christ (Luke 9:23).
So, what was the secret that Paul had been learning since his conversion and which had taught him contentment? In 4:13 he says, I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me (panta iscuw en tw endunamounti me). Paul learned in the context of serving Christ that he could do all things through Christ who gave him strength. Most of us today only here the I am able part of the sentence. Corporate America, and its love affair with modernistic ideals and concepts of progress and achievement, sells tons of books and gives daily seminars with standing room only on “how” to be able.238 But Paul’s focus is not so much on his achievements and abilities, as if he were somehow superior to the average man, but more on Christ who gives him the strength to carry out His will. It is the one who strengthens me who gets the credit and glory. It is not that progress is not important to Paul, as he indicates in 1:25 (though he defines it as the development of a servant character and faith, not necessarily mental and managerial prowess), but that Christ is the one who gives the grace for such “progress” (1 Cor 15:10). Since with his fallen human strength he was a stumbling block to Christ, Paul learned to rejoice in his weakness so that Christ’s strength, and not his own, would become evident (2 Cor 12:9-10). It must be noted as well that this verse is not the Christian’s carte blanche to get “power” from God to do whatever he/she wants. Paul received incredible internal strength from Christ to carry out Christ’s will, not his own (Eph 2:10; 3:16; Titus 2:11-12).
i. For Their Present Gift (4:14)
Even though he had learned the secret of living with much and living with little—and both take learning—he says to the Philippians that they nevertheless…did well to share with him in his trouble (plhn kalws epoihsate sugkoinwnhsantes mou th qliyei). The gift that the church sent to Paul via Epaphroditus was both a blessing to Paul as well as to the church (cf. 4:17). The verb sugkoinwnhsantes (“to share with”) with the sun (“with”) prefix (remember this from previous lessons) stress the Philippians’ close participation with the apostle in his ministry and concomitant struggles. While the term embraces what was probably a financial gift, it also takes in much more in terms of Paul’s overall needs and support. He regarded them as dear friends in the cause of the gospel. The term qlipsei does not particularly stress the idea of suffering in light of the end times and the coming of Christ, but more Paul’s general distress and suffering in the cause of the gospel (Phil cf. 1:12-26). It is true that the coming to light of the gospel has ushered in the eschaton (in an inaugural way), but the use of mou (“my”) seems to lay greater emphasis on Paul’s ministry now and the trials and tribulations that came as a result (cf. 2 Cor 6:4-10; 11:23).
ii. For Their Past Faithfulness (4:15-16)
In continuing his praise of the church for their involvement in his ministry, the apostle says in 4:15: And as you Philippians know, at the beginning of my gospel ministry, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in this matter of giving and receiving except you alone. The phrase at the beginning of my gospel ministry can be translated as “in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel” (so NIV) thus referring to Paul’s initial ministry among them in Acts 16. This, it appears to me, is the best way to read the passage.
The reference to giving and receiving is not just a “double” transaction between the apostle and the church, i.e., they gave money and he gave spiritual input.239 Such a view ignores the strong probability that the phrase was idiomatic and used in many other contexts denoting the whole range of interaction within a friendship.240 It also ignores the fact that the letter to the Philippians stresses the friendship the apostle had with the church (cf. 1:7). Therefore, giving and receiving has metaphorical nuances—even though the term matter (logos) was used as an accounting term—expressing the sharing back and forth of many things (including finances). Such is the case in all genuine friendships.
Even when Paul was in Thessalonica (For even in Thessalonica) the Philippians sent him financial help. The phrase on more than one occasion (kai Japax kai dis) probably does not refer to repeated gifts received while in Thessalonica, but to gifts received while ministering in other places as well. But we know that since Paul chose to work night and day among the Thessalonians (1 Thess 2:9) the gift(s) was either insufficient to meet his total needs or he used only as much of the money as he needed, but then worked diligently so as to set an example for the Thessalonians (cf. 2 Thess 3:8). In any case, Paul was very grateful (cf. the term even in 4:16) for their support and had obviously not forgotten their faithfulness.
In 4:17 Paul emphatically denies that he is simply seeking the gift, but rather that he is seeking their good and spiritual growth. It is not that (ouc Joti…alla) I am seeking the gift. Rather, I seek the credit that abounds to your account. The expression ouc Joti is a strong denial: “It is not this, but that.” But what is it that the apostle is ardently seeking for this church? He refers to it as the credit that abounds to your account. But what does that mean? The expression is a commercial one and seems to speak to the spiritual benefits accruing to the account of the Philippians, both in the present in terms of their experience of God’s grace as well as in their future at the second coming. O’Brien comments similarly on Paul’s language:
The picture painted by the accounting metaphor is of compound interest that accumulates all the time until the last day. The apostle has employed this commercial language to show that he has set his heart on an ongoing, permanent gain for the Philippians in the spiritual realm. The advantage (karpos) that accrues to them as a result of their generous giving is God’s blessing in their lives by which they continually grow in the graces of Christ until the parousia.241
i. The Nature of Their Gift (4:18)
If there were a legitimate inference in v. 16 indicating that the gifts of the Philippians did not meet all his needs while he was in Thessalonica, such is certainly not the case here. The apostle says that he was amply supplied for he had received all things, and had plenty. The gifts from Epaphroditus had supplied all his needs and he regarded them as a fragrant offering (osmhn euwdias), an acceptable sacrifice (qusian dekthn), very pleasing (euareston) to God.
The expression a fragrant offering (osmhn euwdias) is used in Ephesians 5:2 to describe Christ’s sacrifice which was motivated by love. Ultimately the language grows out of the OT and while it was used generally to describe sacrifices to God (i.e., in the case of Noah after the flood; Gen 8:21), it is especially connected in its approximately 50 uses to the Levitical sacrificial system and the various burnt offerings (cf. Exod 29:18, 25, 41; Lev 1:9, 13, 2:2, 9, 12; Num 15:3, 5, 7, 10, 13-14).
The expression acceptable sacrifice (qusian dekthn) in the OT referred to grain offerings as well as burnt offerings and could refer spiritually to the sacrifice of a broken spirit (Ps 51:17-19) or of praise (50:8). It indicated that the sacrifice as a whole was acceptable to God because the sacrifice itself as well as the heart of the one doing the sacrificing was pleasing to God. In the case of the Philippians whose hearts were committed to Christ and to their apostle, and whose gift was generous by any measure, their sacrificial offer was very pleasing (euareston) to God. It was given to Paul, but it was as if it had been offered directly to God.
ii. The Promise of Needs Met (4:19)
4:19 And my God will supply (Jo de qeos mou plhrwsei) all that you need (pasan creian Jumwn) according to the riches (kata to ploutos) of his glory in Christ Jesus. Paul knew his God. As a result he could say that his (i.e., my) God would meet all their needs, just as his God had done in his life. But it is not as if God would fulfill all their needs because they were so generous to Paul. Rather, God would fulfill all their needs as a demonstration of his approval of their sacrificial giving.242
When Paul says all that you need he is not simply referring to their financial needs (cf. v. 16), but also to many other needs they have as well, including the need for growth in discernment for living a holy life (1:9-11), unity in the church and humility (2:2-4). Whatever they need to accomplish God’s will, will be provided. One is reminded of 2 Cor 9:8:
And God is able to overflow unto you all grace so that at all times, always having all that you need, you will overflow in every good work.
Paul can say this because God does not give according to human need, but according to the riches (kata to ploutos) of his glory in Christ Jesus. Kent explains the meaning and function of this phrase:
The preposition kata (“according to”) conveys the thought that God’s supply of the Philippians’ need will not be merely from or out of his wealth but in some sense appropriate to or commensurate with it. The phrase en doxh (“in glory”; NIV, “glorious”) is sometimes construed with plerwsei (“will fill”; NIV, “will meet”) and translated “gloriously” (Muller), or in a local sense, perhaps with eschatological tones, “by placing you in glory” (Lightfoot). Word order, however, strongly favors relating it to ploutos (“riches”), “his riches in glory,” or “glorious riches” (Martin, Philippians). By this understanding, we are to think of the heavenly glories that Christ now enjoys as explaining the source of our supply.243
iii. The Glory to God (4:20)
The only thing left to do is to give glory and honor to the One who orchestrates life so that unworthy (but not worthless) sinners can benefit in his boundless grace and love. Paul cannot help himself as he joyfully writes: may glory be given to God our Father forever and ever. Amen. Glory be to God for his mercy, grace, and sovereignty (Rom 11:33-36).
4:21 Give greetings to all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers with me here send greetings. 4:22 All the saints greet you, especially those from the emperor’s household (Kaisaros oikias). 4:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
In his final word the apostle commands that greetings be given to all the saints. By the term saints he means God’s holy people as set apart by Him to be a new covenanted community—a new commonwealth as it were (cf. Eph 2:11-22).
The reference to saints from Caesar’s household in v. 22 is important and somewhat ironic. The very Romans who were persecuting the church in Philippi (cf. 1:27-30) had within their ranks, back home in Nero’s house, Christians to whom Paul refers as saints! This stands as an encouragement to the Philippians concerning the power of the gospel to change lives. After all, probably much to the surprise of many of them, the gospel had penetrated into the very heart of their “opponents!”
Philippians is a letter which stresses joy, humility, and unity. Paul provided many living examples of these qualities in order to flesh out what “the concepts looked like in action.” He talks about his own life, as well as that of Timothy, Epaphroditus, and the example par excellence of Jesus Christ himself. It is fitting, therefore, since Christ in his condescension is at the heart of the letter (2:6-11), to conclude with: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. For Paul, everything was focused in Christ as God’s plan for the universe (3:20-21).
1. Are you content with the situation in which you are? This does not mean that you cannot seek to improve yourself, develop, etc. It does mean, however, that if you’re not content with the life God has designed for you at the moment, then no amount of further restructuring will make you content. We must learn to be content in every situation and this includes good situations in which we find ourselves as well as “not so good” situations.
2. If you are affluent, remember that it takes as much of Christ’s strength to live well in that situation—perhaps more—as it does to live in a situation of relative want (connect 4:12 with 4:13). People seem to forget when they have money that it takes just as much grace to please God in that situation as it does when we do not have money. In both situations we need the Lord!
3. Is there a genuine need that you can fill right now? It doesn’t have to be just financial, although that may be exactly what the Lord wants you to do. It could be spiritual, emotional, etc. Is there someone you can help? Remember that when you reach out to someone in need, God will provide all that you need. And recall that he does so according to his riches in glory, not according to your need. In our way of thinking, the need is barely covered, but in God’s way of acting, not only is the need covered, but there are abundant blessings on top of it: People’s lives are changed, obligations are met, the gospel is advanced, and God is praised. It’s hard to think of a better plan!
237 Cf. BAGD, s.v., anaqallw.
238 The rapidly emerging post-modern culture of the 20th and 21st centuries will have serious implications for the profile of the corporate person.
239 So Martin, Philippians, 181.
240 Cf. O’Brien, Philippians, 534.
241 O’Brien, Philippians, 539.
242 O’Brien, Philippians, 545; cf. Fee, Philippians, 452; Hawthorne, Philippians, 207.
243 Kent, “Philippians,” 157.