This morning, we are concluding our study in the letter to the Philippians. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, there have been some things that I had expected when entering the study: Paul’s joy despite his imprisonment, his eternal perspective on his difficult circumstances, etc. But there have been some things that I did not expect, namely the emphasis on unity and partnership within the church and their relationship with the apostle. And I believe that this ending is an appropriate bookend for this theme.
First, let’s look back to see where we’ve been and how this passage fits within context. Chapter 1 contains Paul giving thanks because of the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel because they, too, were partakers of God’s grace. He reassured them that what God had started in them, he would be faithful to complete. Paul’s affection for them emerges and his pride in their spiritual progress. Their love was abounding and Paul was encouraging them to continue in that pursuit.
Paul then informed them that his present imprisonment has served to advance the gospel. He had received and even wider audience for the proclamation of Jesus Christ. The imperial guard was now witness to how Jesus had changed Paul. Other Christian preachers were also emboldened because of his imprisonment. And Paul could then rejoice because Christ was being proclaimed.
Paul could confidently assert that it was through the prayers of the Philippians and the help of the Holy Spirit that he would be bold and glorify God whether he lived or died. And this thought prompted him to have an inner struggle where he wrestled his desire to die and be with Christ or to remain for the sake of his fellow believers. In the end, it would be a win-win situation for him (and for all believers). For to live is Christ and to die is gain!
And then chapter one concludes with Paul exhorting his readers to let their manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. He wanted the next report (whether personally or not) to indicate that they were standing firm in one spirit and with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. They would be standing firm, even in the midst of suffering.
Chapter two begins by reminding them of the comfort from love and participation in the Holy Spirit that they enjoy. And then Paul once again exhorts them to be of the same mind, have the same love, be in full accord and to be humble. Lest they despair, Paul sets forward the example of Jesus. There is no greater example of humble obedience than Jesus. The Son of God who came to earth and live and die as a human for our sin.
Based on the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Philippians are exhorted to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. The mysterious tension is that it is God who is truly at work in their efforts. As the readers would do all things without grumbling and questioning, they would shine as lights in the world – holding fast the word of life.
Though Paul could not presently visit this church, he hoped to send both Timothy and Epaphroditus to them for mutual encouragement. These men were very instrumental and faithful partners of both Paul and the Philippian church.
In chapter three, Paul recalls his past credentials in religion and considers them rubbish for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ. All of his external pursuits he counts as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. It is because he now understands that it is only by acquiring the righteousness of Jesus that has any value. Man’s righteousness is nothing.
Paul recognizes that he has not yet been perfected and yet he presses on because Jesus has made him his own. He doesn’t let his past weigh him down, but he forgets what is behind and strains forward to what lies ahead. He is after the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. It is these who are the mature. These are the ones worth imitating. Keep your eyes on these examples. If you look to the wrong example, you may find yourself as an enemy of the cross of Jesus.
And now chapter 4. Doug made a nice observation when he indicated that these beginning verses of chapter 4 serve largely as a summary of the letter – and bullet point action steps to carry much of this out. And then in verses 8 and 9, Paul points out those qualities of things that should be meditated on. And that which is pondered is to be practiced. The things we dwell on should become a part of our daily lives. Practice these things.
This brings us to our present text, and concluding section of the letter. Please turn to Philippians 4.10-23. READ.
I’ve entitled the sermon “Spiritual Investments” because we are going to see the dynamic of how our earthly investments are related to our spiritual growth. We will see this reality intertwined throughout the entire passage. Sometimes the distinction is clear. And sometimes both physical and spiritual are intended.
The first point we will look at is Circumstantial Contentment. We will see this largely in verses 10-13. Paul begins by indicating that he rejoiced in the Lord because the Philippians’ concern for him had been revived. Through Epaphroditus, the church had sent Paul some provisions. It would seem as though this effort was not immediately carried out. This is why Paul acknowledged their willing concern, but their lack of opportunity. And for whatever reason, the Philippians were unable to assist him. A few suggestions are possible. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul mentions a “severe test of affliction” among the churches of Macedonia and extreme poverty. Or perhaps it was merely Paul’s imprisonment that made him temporarily inaccessible to the Philippians. Whatever the case, it appears that their inability did not pertain to a lack of desire to minister to Paul. Paul uses an imperfect verb here “you were concerned” which suggests a continuous interest in his welfare.
And then in verses 11-12, Paul adds these rather curious statements. He says, “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 think a couple of things are in play here. When Paul indicates that he is not speaking of being in need, Paul is trying to emphasize that their partnership is not simply a mutual exchange of material support. He wants to make sure that they realize that he doesn’t merely value their concern for him because his needs are supplied by their support. So this is why he says “not that I am speaking of being in need,” for I’ve learned to be content… in any circumstance.
And in verse 12, he elaborates on the circumstances. Paul says that he knows how to be brought low and how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need. I believe that he is saying the same thing three times. Paul knows what it is like to have plenty of provisions and what it is like to have none. And he is content.
It’s probably easier for us to identify with his inclusion of being content when he is lacking. It’s likely not as easy for us to carry out. But this is a concept that we understand. Paul can be content even when he does not have physical provisions. But what about having plenty? What does it mean for Paul to be content when he is “abounding, facing plenty and abundance”? Perhaps it is because the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils and promotes craving. Those who have great possessions are often not content until they have even more. Consequently, their hope is in their possessions and not God.
Paul says that he had learned in whatever situation I am to be content. This is a lesson he did not learn overnight. It is more likely that he learned these things throughout a lifetime of ups and downs. His experiences in life provided the many opportunities to learn contentment. And yet he refers to this as “learning the secret”. What is this secret he is referring to?
I believe that it is verse 13. Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This is a familiar verse to many of us. But when we learned it or memorized it, did we truly understand the context? This is a verse that is often ripped from its context and inserted in many different scenarios. Yes, I am even guilty of this one. I can recall when I was really into weight training, I quoted this verse as I attempted my new max bench press weight! Come on, some of you other guys probably did the same thing. This verse is often used to support claims or goals of a triumphant, victorious Christian life that is devoid of weaknesses or sicknesses. And it is inaccurate.
Rather, this is Pauline theology at its core. Paul repeatedly looks at himself and sees weakness. And yet he always looks to Christ and sees the one who strengthens him. Power made perfect in weakness. This is a consistent theme in Scripture. When Christians are able to acknowledge their own weaknesses, we become acquainted with our greatest Strength and Sufficiency.
In addition, this verse fits nicely with another consistent theme. It is the great paradox that our dependence on God’s power does not preclude our own effort, and our working does not contradict the reality of grace.
We saw this earlier when exhorted to work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God at work within us. In one respect, we are commanded to exert ourselves. And the reality is that it is God who changes us.
And so I think that we can conclude that ultimately knowing the “secret” draws the line of distinction. The secret is known only to those who are “in Christ”. God only strengthens those who are his.
I pondered this a bit. And here are some of the questions I asked. How can anyone who does not know Jesus ever be content? Knowing a bit more of Paul, we can conclude that he had a pretty good grasp of grace. Observing him and seeing through his eyes for a bit now, don’t we see that he really believes that he deserves nothing? It’s all or nothing for him because Jesus had made him his own. Everything else is rubbish, nothing. And so he can rejoice in prison and in want… hungry and alone. It’s ok because he can do all things through Christ.
But does this translate to the unbeliever? Don’t we often see a different perspective? There is often a sense of being “owed” because we have been victimized. Or, as I mentioned earlier, there really is no contentment even when there are many possessions.
And yet this paragraph really comes full circle. Paul began by acknowledging the gifts from the Philippians. And yet it is all about Jesus. As Paul teaches through these events, he wants them to know that he rejoices “in the Lord” in verse 10. And though they had a part to play, it is Christ who enables Paul and not human beings.
Let’s look next at Short-term Investments. This is derived in part by this first section where they had provided physical needs for the apostle. Here we will begin to see the intertwining of physical and spiritual realities. What we will see is how God has designed our relationship to other Christians, our interactions, and our spiritual growth in Christ. Most notably this will pertain to giving and receiving of financial resources.
In verse 14, Paul acknowledges the participation of the Philippians in the sufferings of himself. This is a compound verb that has this “share together” meaning. And we have already seen this in the first chapter where Paul indicates that the Philippians were partakers with him of grace, both in his imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. So they were bound together by grace and in his sufferings and ministry of the gospel of Jesus. And this was evidenced in their continued association with Paul (despite his imprisonment) and their ongoing support of him. Most immediately we can identify their sharing of his troubles by the fact that Epaphroditus had come and nearly died in his ministry to Paul. That qualifies as sharing troubles.
What Paul does here is significant. What he does throughout this passage is guage the maturity level and progress of his readers. So in verse 14, he does not explicitly say “thank you” for this sharing of troubles. This would have been more like a client to patron relationship. This is more of a teacher commending his students. He says it was “kind” of them which is more like “proper”. In other words, he says “what you did was the proper response”. You did exactly what you should have done. You are growing in your faith. Well done! And we’ll see more of this.
In verse 15, he wants to jog their memory. Paul says, “you remember… when you guys embraced the gospel… when I left Macedonia, you were the ones who partnered with me in giving and receiving.” Paul wants to retrace the steps and see the hand of God in hindsight. They had heard and received the gospel from Paul. They are truly indebted to him. And their support for the gospel ministry was a response to receiving the gospel from Paul. In verse 16, he indicates that while he was in Thessalonica they continued to support him. This is the short-term investment plan. Their contributions were immediate and frequent (once and again). They must have had online automatic transfers. For Paul, this stuff was noteworthy. Their contribution to the ministry was something that stuck with him.
Let’s look at the next point which is Investment Returns. We’ll see this beginning in verse 17. Paul does not dwell on the theme of true contentment. This isn’t the focus. Verse 17 communicates what he is really after. These are the grounds for Paul’s joy. He’s not after the gift that they contribute, but the fruit that increases to their credit.
A couple things here. First, Paul wants to be clear. Their relationship is a mutual friendship. Paul is not after their gifts for his own benefit. It is in their giving to Paul that they reveal their spiritual growth and are spiritually blessed. This act (and the others) are fruit that increases their credit. In chapter 1 verse 11, Paul prays that they would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
In a sentence, they will reap what they sow. They will get great returns on their investments. 2 Corinthians 9:6 6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Galatians 6:8 (ESV)
8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
And I think the returns are both immediate and future. The Philippians’ contribution to the ministry of Paul are paying off in the short term. They are growing by leaps and bounds in their faith. This is one way that we are sanctified – in our giving. And yet the final evaluation of fruit in the account will occur in the future. The long term returns. Paul has already alluded to the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20–21 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Philippians 2:16 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
In verse 18, he reinforces the fact that the gift isn’t necessary for himself. Paul says he now has plenty. He has received the gift in full. He’s all set, all taken care of. Notice next what he likens the gift to. He says that the gifts are a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. This would invoke the imagery of the Old Testament sacrifices that are a pleasing aroma that rise to God. Paul is making a very clear and direct connection between their social act of friendship and an act of worship to God. One commentator adds this: “The meaning of the gifts is derived not so much from the way they benefit Paul, the one who received these gifts, but from the way that the Philippians, those who gave these gifts, fulfilled the will of God and pleased God by their gifts.” And “nothing can give [Paul] more pleasure than the knowledge that the Philippians are expressing their faith by giving sacrificially in ways that are pleasing to God.”
I want to drive home a very significant point here. The timeless principle here is that contributing of material resources in not any less “spiritual” an activity than other acts of our Christian experience. In fact, these contributions are an integral factor in the believer’s sanctification. Did you get that? God provides us the opportunity to grow in our faith in our giving of material possessions. I often pray this way before we take an offering. God does not need our money. He has given us everything as it is. But insofar as we give generously and willingly, it is part of our growth process. I would suggest that it is a primary part. Because as we strip ourselves of our attachments to financial resources, we demonstrate our dependence and allegiance to God. We show that we do not idolize our resources and we want to share in the ministry of his gospel.
Let’s make this even more practical. I’ve recently been mulling over what it means to be part of a local church. Considering many of the themes and phrases of this letter, I began to flesh out some of the facets of partnership, one-mindedness, full accord thinking.
In the West, we have been swayed into thinking that the church is for consumers. We come and get our fill of teaching, perhaps throw a few bucks in the plate as “payment” or something. But the church is not about our acquiring a product but our participation together for the cause of Jesus Christ. And our connectedness and partnership is directly related to our investment. The most effective way to be connected to the church is to be involved – both in regard to our spiritual gifts and our financial resources. This is because, as you know, it all comes from God and is to be used for him. We don’t often think this way. We’ve gone to school, received our degree or learned a trade. And this all comes from God so that you can use these things for his glory.
The more we invest, the more of a return we can expect. Careful! I’m not referring to financial prosperity. There is a guaranteed long-term return. We are storing up treasures in heaven. But I want you to think even more in the short-term. Consider if what I am saying is true. Our increased investment will result in spiritual maturity in the here and now! Isn’t this what Paul is driving at. He doesn’t seek the gift, but the fruit in the lives of the Philippian believers! There is a direct link!
And then Paul is setting us up for this great promise in verse 19. Though he is under no obligation, God has promised to supply every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. I will refrain but I could provide a handful or two of verses that speak of the resources, or riches, that God has at his disposal in heaven. I’m not sure any believer questions how rich and powerful God is. God’s riches are not in the stock market or real estate. They are in glory and they surpass any worldly wealth that we can experience. You cannot outgive God!
In typical Pauline fashion, his reflections on the grandeur of his God cause him to burst out in doxology. As he considers his life and ministry, the many ways that God has provided for him, the spiritual growth of his beloved friends, he gives God all the credit and the glory forever and ever.
Listen to the words of Walter Hansen. Regarding this section, he says “This central focus on God transforms the transaction of giving and receiving among Christians from a human, horizontal exchange to a divine-human, triangular interaction. God initiates giving, empowers givers, supplies gifts, and meets needs. Participating in the activity of God by giving and receiving leads to rejoicing greatly in the Lord.”
And, lastly, we have Final Greetings. Paul concludes the letter where he began. He refers to his readers as saints – reminding them of their position with God. Paul apparently wants to make sure that no one is left out. Greet everyone, he says. Verse 22 is interesting. Included in “all the saints” are those of Caesar’s household. Perhaps this refers to the advancement of the gospel that he mentioned earlier in the letter. Perhaps there were some Romans who had listened to the gospel and embraced the gospel and wanted to send greetings to the Philippian church. What an encouragement that would be for them. They would be emboldened in their declaration of Jesus as they heard of the fruit of their ministry. Earthly authorities cannot stop the power of the gospel. The gospel can never be chained!
Finally, Paul closes the letter appealing to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ by which nothing could have been accomplished. And the same is true today. We are in daily need of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives as well. Let’s pray.