I. The Philippians concern is the Lord’s Provision (10-14) – God executes his providential decrees through means, both natural and personal. He might use the forces of nature, which he made and controls, for both blessing and cursing. He will use both angels and men by exciting in them compassion, concern, and benevolence on the one hand or leaving them in deceit for judgment on the other. (Philippians 2:12, 13; 2 Thessalonians 2:11 – 13). God used the love that the church at Philippi had for Paul as a means to give him needed physical sustenance.
A. Paul recognized this manner of God’s merciful providence in that his gratitude to the Philippians began with an acknowledgment of his joy in the Lord.
- As Paul did, so should we all follow his example (4:9) in seeing the hand of God sustaining us in material blessing, the spiritual friendship of others, and in stirring them up in acts of Christian piety.
- In so doing, Paul also recognized that natural limitations often hinder expressions of genuine love. For some time, after the first evidences of exuberant support (verses 15, 16) they had been unable to send him support (“you were concerned before, but lacked opportunity”), but now through Epaphroditus they were able to send a gift of support to Paul.
B. The gift by God’s providence, had come in time to meet needs, but Paul was not in desperate straits, for he had learned how to adjust his need to his circumstances (11). With absolute confidence in the purpose of God and the moment by moment execution of that purpose, Paul did not see himself as undersupplied but as exercising a spiritually-wrought contentment with all circumstances. This is his own testimony to how he practiced his admonition in verses 6 and 7, “Be anxious for nothing,” with the conceived result that the peace of God would “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The most vital and necessary answer to prayer is that we will find peace of heart and mind in how God inhabits our prayers.
- This was not a plea for pursuit of an ascetic style of living. He could be satisfied with that, even as John the Baptist was (Mark 1:6), but he did not assert that such a condition was spiritually superior to abundant provision. He knew how to live “in prosperity,” he uncovered the secret of “being filled,” and he had experienced the condition of “having abundance.” He coveted no man’s “silver or gold or apparel” (Acts 20:33). When free, if in need, his own hands ministered to his needs as well as of those who were with him (Acts 20:34). He advised the rich to be generous and not to set their hope on earthly possessions but to lay up riches in heaven for the life that is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
- As riches did not allure him or deceive him into covetousness and hoarding, so in “humble means,” and hunger, and “suffering need” he did not despair, murmur, complain, or lose hope. Rather in such external desperation he had internal peace and satisfaction. He had “learned to be content” for in “any and every circumstance” Paul had, by divine instruction and revelation, “learned the secret” of coping with the danger of riches and the distress of want. He told Timothy, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
C. Paul’s satisfaction in the entire spectrum of physical needs was simply one manifestation of his broader and deeper grasp of God’s calling, gifting, and commission. He could bear persecution and suffering for God had promised it to him and he never doubted that it came in order to strengthen and expand his ministry (Acts 9:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7; 2 Timothy 1:8; 3:11, 12). He was confident in the truthfulness of his instruction, for he had been called as an apostle and had received the gospel by revelation. His competence was by the special provision and gifting of God. He knew that God “works all things after the counsel of his own will” and He works “all thingstogether for good to those who love God and are the called according to his purpose” (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28). Thus, the time of want was from God and the provision from Philippi was from God. Paul’s ability to do “all things” relates to the sphere of divine calling and providence. Anything that God brings into his life in the context of his calling, Paul can do or endure for he knows and trust the God of “all things.”
D. By expressing his contentment in every circumstance, Paul did not want to communicate any diminished appreciation for the Philippians generosity. He saw them as moved both by divine purpose and by the bonds of Christian fellowship. Paul used the word for fellowship when he said that they “shared in [his] affliction.” To give when he suffered meant that, were they there they would suffer with him. “God takes care of everything,” Paul indicated, and “God has given me satisfaction no matter what the circumstance;” but those through whom God provides, nevertheless, are recognized for their Christ-like consideration of others.
II. The Philippians Concern is an Offering to God (15-18).
A. Paul points out the continuity of their sense of unity and fellowship with him. Immediately after he left Philippi they sent a gift to him in Thessalonica (Acts 16:40 – 17:1). They managed to reach him with a gift after he left Macedonia. They alone among the churches indebted to Paul for his expenditure of health at the expense of suffering had sought to give earthly blessing for spiritual labor (Galatians 6:6). He wrote the Corinthians, “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? . . . In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:11, 14).
B. Paul had avoided this right to avoid any semblance of covetousness and set a stumbling block to an earnest hearing of his message (1 Corinthians 9:12). This voluntary gift from Philippi, however, not only met a present need of his, but (continuing the language of finance) did not decrease their store of riches but became a profit to them, an increase to their account. They were involved in the miracle of filthy mammon being transformed into spiritual profit and heavenly fellowship (Luke 16:9-13).
C. Paul again engages this gift from the standpoint of its earthly origin and benefit as a manifestation of spiritual value and redemptive truth.
- The gift must have been sizable and sufficient to provide Paul’s needs for some time. Luke recorded in Acts that during the first Roman imprisonment, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30). This gift allowed him the freedom from want and the opportunity for hospitality, even in prison.
- The language is exuberant. Materially he now had an “abundance” and was “amply supplied.” But the greater benefit was the testimony the gift gave to the power of Christ’s sacrifice. Because these Gentiles had been redeemed by the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, who fulfilled every point of the ceremonial law, their gift extended the spiritual meaning of the sacrificial system as they gave themselves and their possessions as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” and act of true “spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Paul saw the gift in terms of “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” He had looked at the spiritual application of the ceremonial law of circumcision in 3:3, and now show that the ceremonial laws of sacrifice have been completed by Christ and find expression in the Philippians’ imitation of Christ in self-giving. He had pointed to this in 2:5 and refers to the “sacrifice and service of your faith” in 2:17. The work of Christ in redemption and the example of Christ in his humble obedience to the Father permeate this epistle and undergird every command and every commendation.
III. As God has supplied Paul’s need, so he will supply the Philippians’ needs (19-23).
A. Having given insistent assurance that God had met all his needs, whether in want or plenty, Paul now applies that same point of providential assurance to the Philippians.
- “My God” – Paul uses this first person possessive pronoun to show that the personal experience of perfect satisfaction in God’s provisions not a confidence isolated to him alone, but also is theirs. This same God, who gave his Son Jesus for our redemption, and sent his Spirit to grant us new life by trust in Christ—this God who has given himself so wonderfully to me—also gives what is needed to you. He provides this out of the same infinite storehouse of blessing from which he has made me say, “I can do all things the Him who strengthens me” (4:13).
- “Will supply all your needs” – The idea is that there are full supply chambers of provisions, material for this life and spiritual for life eternal, from which God grants his people all that they need. The needs we have here are very minor compared to the needs we have for eternity. If he sufficiently provided for the latter, how could we ever shrink from unshadowed confidence that he provides perfectly in the former?
- Paul has used possessive pronouns—my God, your needs—and he adds another, “His riches.” The limitless fulness of God’s provision arises from the goal he has of expressing, both in time and eternity the infinite excellence of his glory. As the Creator and Sustainer of all things, nothing that relates to this present order escapes his present and perfect notice or is beyond his power to provide. All that is necessary for life and that is necessary for godliness God grants us. This is what is divinely necessary for Paul’s great confidence to be true—“That He who began a good work in you will perfect it (bring it to completion) until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6).
- “In Christ Jesus” – Though “The heavens declare the glory of God,” and one should discern from the things that are made “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20), his brightest glory is seen in the person and work of his beloved and eternal Son, Jesus Christ. In Him are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). His power, knowledge, infinite and wholistic extension, intelligence, wisdom, governance, and self-existence may be discerned from the natural order and its inter-relationships. The operations of perfect retributive justice in conjunction with mercy, his uncompromised demand for perfectly meritorious righteousness in conjunction with grace, and his moral inability to clear the guilty in conjunction with lovingkindness may only be viewed in Christ.
In the person of the Savior
All his majesty is seen;
Love and justice shine forever;
And without a veil between,
Worms approach him
And rejoice in His dear Name.
Would we view his brightest glory
Here it shines in Jesus’ face;
Sing and tell the pleasing story,
O ye sinners saved by grace,
And with pleasure,
Bid the guilty Him embrace
In His highest work, redemption,
See his glory in a blaze;
Nor can angels ever mention
Aught that more of God displays.
Grace and justice
Here unite to endless days
Such a hymn arises from the testimony of the apostle John who said with awe and wonder, “And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The riches that supply all the needs of the saints are in Christ Jesus.
B. As he had emphasized at the end of his Christological discussion in 2:5-11, Paul points to the purpose of God’s arrangements toward us as being the manifestation of the eternal glory of the eternal Father. Even as Jesus’ work of redemption and the bowing of every knee to the exalted Son will bring glory to God the Father, so the provision of all the needs of the saints that come from the divine glory is “in Christ Jesus.” It is in this way that one can embrace the unity of glory in the triune God and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. And the Father meets all our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. This is to be enjoyed and celebrated for ever and ever by his redeemed people. We must confess this as a mystery, indiscernible by philosophy or empirical investigation, that our God eternally exists in three persons as one God, one eternal “whatness” of being but living in unbroken manifestation of a single love that nevertheless operates in an eternally reciprocal and tri-personal manner as the mark of the unity of God (Colossians 3:14 “Love, the perfect bond of unity”). When we are giving glory to our God and Father forever and ever, such praise equally goes to the Son, who is “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3), and to the Spirit, for the Father sent “the Spirit of His Son into our hearts whereby we cry ‘Abba,” Father” (Galatians 4:6).
C. In verses 21-23, Paul moves his attention seamlessly to Jesus Christ as the source of all blessings given us by the triune God.
- Greetings are given to all the Philippian Christians who are called “saints[s] in Christ Jesus.” Only in Christ do we become saints, and all who are in Christ are saints (Philippians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; Romans 1:7 etc.). By the glory of Christ, through the incarnation of Christ, by his finished work of propitiation, by his victory over death in his resurrection by the glory of the Father according to the Spirit of Holiness (Romans 6:4; 1:4); by his ascension and present intercession, and according to the hope we have of his glorious return, those who believe in Christ are saints. Saint Paul greets the saints in Philippi and all the saints that are with him greet all the saints that are there also. And with a foretaste of how all the kings of the earth will either kiss the Son or come under his wrath (Psalm 2:10-12), he lifts the lid on the house of the insane egomaniac Nero by saying “especially those of Caesar’s household” (22). Even there the grace of Christ had done its saving work.
- Again we find the operations of the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” existentially permeating the lives of Christians. We rely on the grace of the incarnation and the finality of all the historical manifestations of saving grace. We find here, in addition, that the grace of the Lord Jesus accompanies us on this earthly pilgrimage to the gates of heaven. Not only do we recall the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for [our] sake He became poor,” (2 Corinthians 8:9) but we find security to know that Paul prayed by the true revelation given him: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (23).