Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 15 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

Finally Paul personally thanks the Philippian church for the special place they have had in his ministry:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 

Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. 

But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 

Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (Philippians 4:10-23)

It is obvious that the members of the Church at Philippi had sent a substantial gift to Paul and that it encouraged him. He was on their minds and in their prayers.. Now that we are at the end of the letter, we can surmise that they had sent the gift with Epaphroditus. Paul and he had talked about the people in Philippi and that was the basis for the instructional aspects of Paul's letter.

Look at the effort that Paul makes to communicate that the Philippians had sent a gift rather than fulfilled an obligation.

  • Paul is content whether he has little or much. A perpetual state of contentment is the key to being in a perpetual state of thanksgiving, because everything is received as a gift. The Philippians can know that they have brought joy to Paul in their remembering him, and they do not have to feel guilty about not sending a gift sooner or more often or for a greater amount.
  • He praises them for being a continual part of his ministry.
  • He acknowledges their generosity.
  • He is pleased to tell them that God will reward them.

It is interesting to note the context of two famous verses. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" is written in the context of a life unaffected by material things. There are two sides to this.. On one side is being able to live with basic necessities while giving thanks for them and without desiring more. On the other side is being able to live in prosperity without clinging to those possessions and able to let them go when needed. Of course, the ability to do "all things" includes much more, but it is significant that the immediate application is to the material things of life. These are what can hinder a call to discipleship more than anything else. Just think of the rich young ruler who walked away from an invitation to follow Jesus, because he could not let go of his possessions. I would say that the means to leave everything and follow Jesus is the first of "all things" that we can do through him. Earlier Paul had written:

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:6-12)

The second famous verse "My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." The promise of supply is in response to a generous gift. The best commentary on this comes from 2 Corinthians 9

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

My pastor has defined prosperity as "Having everything that you need with something to share." That is the dynamic in this portion of Philippians and in 2 Corinthians. Note what Paul says, "Always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed." All that you need is not luxury. Paul defines contentment as having "food and covering." Sufficiency suggests enough food, a change of clothes, and a roof over your head. It all comes down to this: be thankful for and generous with what you have.

Philippians is full of joy in troubled circumstances. Its central message is that joy comes from giving up self interest in order to look out for the interests of others. May the lessons of this book dwell in us fully and richly.

Wednesday: PaRaDiSe

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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