Week of February 26, 2017
The Point: Join God in His work of giving for the benefit of others.
The Contented Christian: Philippians 4:10-20.
 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.  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.  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. [ESV]
“As Paul turns to autobiography in these closing verses of the epistle, he is a man of unshakeable contentment. Do his circumstances vary from one extreme to the other? Then in any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need . Has he received a helpful gift from the Philippian church? Then whatever they sent contents him, I have received full payment and more, I am well supplied . Does he face an uncertain future? Then I can do all things through him who strengthens me . Here indeed is Christian contentment. As Paul testifies to his contentedness, he shows that three factors helped him to master his variable circumstances.
- Christian generosity. Paul had enough because other Christians contributed to his need, and he was glad to acknowledge his indebtedness. He thus enunciates a principle: one Christian has enough because another Christian is generous. The Lord uses generous Christians to help needy Christians. The Philippians’ generosity to Paul was an ever-present sentiment: You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity . It would appear that it was not always easy for the Philippian church to communicate with Paul or to cater for him as they would have desired, but they maintained their concern even when they could not act on it. As soon as an opportunity opened up they were swift to grasp it. A spirit of generosity, a truly Christian spirit, prevailed among them. We may take it that this is written for our learning. As Paul saw it, such a generous sentiment was inseparable from Christian relationships. It was, in fact, a means of Christian fellowship, and he commends and approves of it as such. It was kind of you to share my trouble . His need was not a remote thing to them. They felt it themselves. It touched them at the point of fellowship and they responded. This generosity lays up treasure in heaven . Paul was always sensitive about receiving monetary help from the churches which he founded, in case anyone should say that he was motivated by self-advantage. Consequently here, though he needed the help which the Philippians sent, and made no bones about his joy and comfort in receiving it, yet he did not covet what they sent. He is even prepared to risk seeming brusque in order to emphasize the real value of the gift. His words in verse 17 have the air of a disclaimer, Not that I seek the gift. What a response to an act of sensitive Christian fellowship! But this was not the apostle’s intention. It was just that he was so contented to abide by whatever circumstances the Lord appointed for him that he genuinely did not covet their loving gifts. But he did covet something for them – I seek the fruit that increases to your credit . And he seems to suggest that this is a proper motive for Christians to cultivate: they should seek out opportunities to expend their generosity upon the needy, because by selling what they have and giving alms they would make for themselves moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail [Luke 12:33]. For God would not be unrighteous and forget their work and the love which they showed Him when they ministered to the saints. It is on this note that Paul ends his incidental teaching on Christian generosity. It is a work that is a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God . The picture of a fragrant offering is homely and the teaching is plain. The burnt offering expresses obedient consecration to God, and God delights in His people dedicated to Himself. Paul teaches here that when Christians take note of Christian needs and generously sacrifice to meet them, it is, for God, the burnt offering all over again, and He delights to accept it.
- Christian discipline. The first factor, then, which makes for Christian contentment is the generosity of others, as the Lord uses the resources of one to meet the necessities of somebody else. But the second factor in producing contentment is a Christian’s own attitude towards circumstances. As Christians we may start complaining when times are hard; or we may discipline ourselves to be content, reckoning that we have enough, no matter what. Paul is speaking personally in these verses, and he testifies that ‘enough’ and ‘contentment’ are relative terms – relative to what we feel ourselves to need. There is a discipline of self whereby one does not need more than one has. First of all we must decide not to covet. We have already noted how jealously Paul preserved his financial detachment from the rewards of gospel preaching, and how he even endangered the sincerity of his expressions of thanks to the Philippians for their generous gift. Not that I am speaking of being in need . Not that I seek the gift . But in reality he is not giving backhanded or grudging thanks; he is safeguarding the great Christian opposite of covetousness, that is, contentment. Because he had freed himself from the covetous spirit, he was able to ride every sort of circumstance [11-12]. Circumstances no longer had power to touch him, for he was content. This contentment was something which he learned: I have learned [11,12]. Contentment is the mark of a mature believer, and an objective to be cultivated by all believers who want to grow in Christ. Paul had learned this lesson. Bit by bit, test by test, circumstance by circumstance, he persevered through the lower degrees until he finally graduated and the secret was his. Contentment did not come easily. He purchased it at the price of exacting discipline. But as we shall now see, he found God’s grace in it, for his heart, weaned away from things, was wholly and solely God’s.
- Christian trustfulness. Paul, the contented Christian, gives the sole glory to God. Verse 20 expresses such familiar ideas that we might easily fail to see the wonder of it. What is he giving glory to God about? The times when the Philippians could not help him , the times of hunger and of plenty , the churches who neglected him and those who remembered him  – he accepted all his circumstances as from God, and glorified God in them all. Paul was contented because God was trustworthy and to be glorified even when (by worldly standards) he seemed not to be! The apostle had learned to be content because he had learned to trust. He expresses this in two ways. First, in terms of personal experience: I can do all things through him who strengthens me . No circumstance could ever arise which would be too much for Paul’s God, and therefore no circumstance could ever beat Paul. Here is vigorous faith. The verse refers to two sorts of power. On the one hand there is the power which Paul experiences in concrete situations of life: all things. Here is the power which goes out to meet specific circumstances and subdue them. It is the power of victory over the demands of every day. But it arises from another sort of power, not inherent in Paul but derivative from elsewhere. Paul has this daily strength for daily needs because of One who gives Paul the power to meet every need. But Paul can only do this when he is depending upon the strength that comes to Paul through him (Christ). Paul was in Christ – and so are we – by living daily under His sheltering blood and feeding daily and momently upon His flesh [John 6:51-56], that is to say, by preserving a living relationship with the Lamb Himself, our once crucified and now risen Lord, and by living in the good of the benefits which He has purchased for us. This relationship of being in Christ, however, is something which we enjoy by consciously attending to it. Paul, and we ourselves, are in Christ by fleeing to Him, and pressing close to Him, covering ourselves in Him, hiding in Him, by seeing the danger and taking shelter in Him. Paul’s experience of the trustworthiness of God can therefore be ours. We too can find ability to do all things (meet all circumstances with contentment) in Him who infuses us with dynamic power. Power arises by constantly and restfully enjoying the benefits of the atonement, constantly and deliberately taking refuge in His proffered security. This sort of trust produces that sort of victory. Lest, however, we should feel that what Paul expresses in terms of personal experience must be peculiar to him and cannot be our experience as well, he also states the trustworthiness of God as a Christian doctrine: my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus . The all things of personal experience  is matched by the every need which might come upon the Philippians or us. Nothing will prove beyond the capacity of this God whom Paul knows well enough to call my God. And he will not be mean in giving to them. He will supply … according to his riches in glory. He will meet your need to the full. In so doing, His supply will not be limited to the size of your need, but rather according to (that is, in a manner which befits) his riches. And as if this were not reassurance enough to carry with us into the future, Paul adds the words in glory. It is hard to know precisely what they mean. They may supplement the verb supply: ‘He will supply … in glory’, that is ‘in glorious measure’. They may describe the riches: ‘He will supply in a measure appropriate to His glorious riches’. They may mean ‘in the glory’ – all the resources of heaven laid at the disposal of the Christian on earth. Such is the wealth of His supply. But the key to it all is in Christ Jesus. He mediates to us all the benefits and blessings of God. More than that, He is Himself the sum of all the blessings, for the preposition is not ‘through’ but ‘in’. He is not a channel along which they flow, but a place in which they are deposited. It is finally because of Christ that Paul is contented, and it is Christ whom he offers to us as the means and guarantee of our contentment. For Paul, the person who possesses Christ possesses all.” [Motyer, pp. 214-221].
“Sacrificial Giving: a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God . For Paul, this is the wonderful thing about the Philippians’ gifts: they reflect the ministry of all believers as priests before the Lord. Not only have they exercised the priesthood of all believers in praying for Paul; their gifts have been like thank-offerings to the Lord, with which He has been pleased. What a delight it was to the apostle to think that these Christians he had nurtured were also doing things that were a delight to the Lord! To give sacrificially, as the Philippians did, means that we may be in danger of impoverishing ourselves. Paul has some words of encouragement: their needs will be supplied, in turn, by the Lord, according to his riches in glory . He is reminding them of the principle, illustrated frequently throughout Scripture, but powerfully enunciated by Jesus Himself: whatever we yield up to Him we will regain again and again [Luke 18:28-30]. All the riches of Christ’s heavenly resources are available to us. The Philippians were seeking to put the kingdom of God and its advance first in their lives; that was why they gave so lovingly to Paul. Paul was assuring them, on the basis of Jesus’ teaching and also out of his own experience, that everything they needed would be provided [Matt. 6:33]. In response to these thoughts, Paul breaks into praise. Prisoner he may be, but his soul cannot be contained by walls. It rises in adoration to his God and Father, who is also the God and Father of the Philippians. To Him be glory forever and ever . These verses provide us with material for a catechism which will help us assess our concern for the Lord, His servants and the advance of His kingdom. It may be a challenging exercise to reflect on the answers we would give.
Question 1: Am I really concerned for the welfare of the Lord’s servants? If they have material needs, do I simply shrug my shoulders and say, ‘They didn’t need to become involved in poorly supported Christian service’? But they did need to, didn’t they? Otherwise they would have been disobeying their Lord, and yours.
Question 2: Do I regard my Christian stewardship, particularly although not exclusively of money, as a partnership? Of do I see it only as an investment with no return, a one-way-relationship (I give, they get)?
Question 3: Do I really believe that God will supply what I need if I give sacrificially? Or do I always give in such a way that sacrifice will be avoided? Do I see that generous giving is not the same thing as sacrificial giving (I can give generously, yet not sacrificially)?
Question 4: Do I really want to live and give, pray and share with others in such a way that glory will be seen to come to our God and Father by the way His people (i) love each other, (ii) support each other’s ministries, and (iii) depend on the Lord’s provision so that it becomes clear that the power and the glory are His and not ours?
When, with Paul and the Philippians, we see that our chief end is to glorify God then we will also discover what it means to enjoy Him forever.” [Ferguson, pp. 112-113].
Questions for Discussion:
- What circumstances make you discontented? What do you learn from this passage concerning how to be content in any and every circumstance? What is the secret that Paul learned [see 4:6-7,13]? Note Paul’s emphasis on his relationship with Christ: through him , in Christ Jesus .
- When we think of contentment, we naturally think of being content when we lack something we desire or think that we need. But, in verse 12, Paul speaks of being content when facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. How do we show contentment in times of abundance?
- What is Paul giving glory to God for in verse 20? How do the all things of verse 13 and the every need of verse 19 relate to God’s glory? How does being content in any and every circumstance bring glory to God?
- What is sacrificial giving? How does it differ from generous giving? Why is sacrificial giving a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God? Seek to give personal answers to the four questions Ferguson presents to us concerning sacrificial giving.
Let’s Study Philippians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.
The Letter to the Philippians, G. Walter Hansen, Eerdmans.
The Message of Philippians, J. A. Motyer, Inter Varsity.
Philippians, Moises Silva, Baker.