Rejoicing in the Paradox

Here in Philippians 4.10-19, scholars see some nuances here in the text as though Paul is embarrassed by the gift from the Philippians or is at least speaking somewhat reserved as he speaks of finances. There’s an uneasiness as Paul expresses thanks and presents his own contentedness.

Strength from Christ (10-13)

The secret to contentedness regardless of circumstances is realizing Christ’s strength is available to Christians.

10I 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.

I rejoiced in the Lord…concern for me: The cause for Paul’s joy was the Philippians’ active interest in him is once more in blossom and the manifestation of this in their monetary gift sent by way of Epaphroditus. As always, the Lord is both Source and Sustainer of joy.

You were…had no opportunity: The Philippians had desired to show their interest in Paul but had not had favorable circumstances to show it. Connected with “revived” (a horticultural term), the season was not right for their concern to blossom, though they always had Paul in mind and wanted to do something for him.

11Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

Not that I am speaking of being in need: As he is writing Paul is not presently lacking in supplies or was suffering want. Paul is “well supplied” (v.18) and…

For I have learned…to be content: When did Paul learn this lesson? Aorist tense seems to indicate a specific point in his past. In fact, some suggest that it was when he became a Christian that Paul learned this. “It broke upon him at his conversion” and his life the outworking of that lesson learned (Morris 178). Robertson suggests that Paul is “looking at his long experience as a unit.” It was “in the school of life” that Paul came to “know” (v.12) contentedness. Either way, Paul learned sufficiency for every situation is possible only in Christ (cf. v.13). He is not self-sufficient but God-sufficient. This is true contentedness.

12I 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 know…how to abound: Even as Christ “humbled himself” (2.8) so Paul has shared in humiliation, be it voluntary or forced upon him. Conversely, he has seen an overflow.

In any and every circumstance: Little, much, high, low, and everything in-between…

I have learned the secret: Gk memuemai, (perf. Pass), the root of which we get our English “mystery.” Paul came to eb instructed and is fully instructed (initiated) into the secret of facing life with contentedness, namely, that Christ’s strength is sufficient for every circumstance.

Facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need: cf. 2 Corinthians 6.4-10; 11.21-29

13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me: Lit. I have strength for all things. In every conceivable circumstance (v.12) the Lord empowers “me”  by His Spirit in the inner being to be adequate for the situation. Paul’s strength is wholly inadequate; he finds the strength for life and work in Him. Barnes says,  “It was not in any native ability which he had; not in any vigor of body or of mind; not in any power which there was in his own resolutions; it was in the strength that he derived from the Redeemer.” See 1 Timothy 1.12

Supply from the Church (14-19)

Fellowship in Christ ensures that all brethren have their needs met by the riches of God’s glory.

14Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.

Yet it was kind of you to share in my trouble: Although in “all things” he is content and capable due to Christ, Paul does not want his brethren thinking their gift was not welcome or wanted. Indeed, they were joint fellowshipping (Gk sugkoinoneo, a compound of sun [with] and koinonia [fellowship]) with Paul in his affliction by means of the gift they sent. This, Paul says, was a good or beautiful thing.

15And 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.

And you…beginning of the gospel: cf. 1.5, when the gospel was first preached in Philippi and the church was established these brethren have been willing to help support Paul’s work. Lenski says Paul is remembering back about a decade.

When I left Macedonia: see Acts 17.14, he ends up in Athens (17.16-34).

No church…except you only: Paul’s modus operandi was not to burden churches with monetary support (1 Thessalonians 2.9; 2 Thessalonians 3.7-8). That’s why he worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18.3). He had the right to earn his living by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9.14; 2 Thessalonians 3.9), but did not avail himself of that right. Later the churches in Macedonia (which might include Thessalonica and Berea) sent him support so he could work with the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11.8-9). However, at first it was only the Philippians who opened an account with Paul; other churches came along later.

16Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.

Even in Thessalonica: Paul went there immediately following the establishment of the congregation in Philippi (Acts 17.1ff). No sooner has Paul left the city than the church in Philippi is sending him support for his apostolic work.

You sent me…once and again: Lit. “both once and twice” the Philippians sent Paul what was needed, supplies necessary to maintain his work. They supplied his needs not greeds.

17Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.

Not that I seek the gift: Paul does not want to be misunderstood as though he is prodding the Philippians to send him more support. He is not wishing for a monetary or material gift.

But I seek the fruit that increases to your credit: Gk alla (strong contrast). Paul does desire  a spiritual increase of fruit in the account of the Philippians. Paul “desired that when they came to appear before God, they might reap the benefit of all the acts of kindness which they had shown him” (Barnes). See Proverbs 11.25

18I 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.

I have received full payment and more: Or I have more than enough. The generosity of the Philippians had more than met his needs.

I am well supplied: This continues the thought of Paul having all his physical needs met. He has had all his needs met and at the time of his writing his needs are still met (perf. Tense).

Having received…the gifts you sent: Mentioned earlier in the epistle (2.25-30), Epaphroditus once more enters the scene as the gift-bearer. He delivered the Philippians contribution.

A fragrant offering: The phrase “fragrant offering” or “sweet-smelling aroma” (NKJV) occurs often in the Old Testament in connection with sacrifices (e.g. Gen. 8.21; Exo. 29.18, 25, 41; Lev. 1.9, 13, 17; et al). “The true sweetness of [the burnt sacrifices] consisted in the spiritual condition of the persons bringing the sacrifice” (Lenski 896). The Philippians contribution was an act of worship, the scent of which rose to God in heaven and in which he took pleasure.

A sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God: “Given to the servant of God, it is in truth offered to God himself” (Caffin 159). God received the gift through Paul (cf. Matthew 25.40). Through these allusions, Paul is essentially saying that what the Old Testament Jewish sacrifices performed at the temple were, the Philippians (New Testament church) gift is (cf. Hebrews 13.16). When Christ’s church gives to support ministry we engage in sacred sacrifice.

19And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

And my God will…in Christ Jesus: Even as Paul’s needs were met by them and with abundance so the Philippians’ “every need” would be met by God. In Paul’s case, God used the agency of the church to meet Paul’s need. How God would meet the needs of the Philippian Christians is not stated, though it makes no difference; Paul is emphatic that God will do it. Further, all (“every”) need would be met, indicating not only physical but also spiritual needs. And abundantly as well! It will be according to God’s “glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Christ is both head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1.22) as well as the supplier of every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1.3). “In Him there is full provision for all the needs of God’s people” (Muller (152).

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