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Reading: Philippians 4:14-20
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
One of the first effects of the arrival of coronavirus was panic buying. Suddenly supermarket shelves were cleared of a range of goods, sometimes the obvious, sometimes the unexpected. Whoever thought that toilet rolls would be so valuable? The results were unnecessary shortages and unfair pressure put on the vulnerable. Most stores have had to introduce some form of rationing to ensure that all customers are provided with the basics.
Uncertainty is hard for most people to live with. Fear of not having the essentials can be paralysing. Concern for survival would crowd out most other thoughts. For the Christian in such circumstances the temptation may be to focus on those needs to the exclusion of spiritual matters. Our proper Bible-based perspective can be lost and our outlook becomes very like that of the world around us. Paul in prison faced great uncertainties, yet his focus was on the Lord and he was confident God would provide whatever he needed. In Philippians 4:14-20 Paul shows where our trust is to be placed.
1. Thanksgiving for God’s provision
Sometimes the pressure of trying circumstances makes us forget God’s goodness to us in the past. Paul does not fall into that trap. He recognises that gratitude for past blessings and past answered prayers stimulates us to depend more fully on the Lord’s provision now and in the future.
‘It was good of you to share in my troubles’ (v14), he writes. Paul’s certainty that God will supply the strength he requires (v13) does not lead him to despise material help sent from Philippi during his time in prison. In fact, it is clear this is one of the ways in which God supplied his need. The God who provided manna (Exodus 16) can equally well provide by means of his people’s actions – ‘I am amply supplied’ (v18). The provision is viewed from three points of view:
(i) Paul. Their generosity relieved his material needs (v18), but even more important was the expression of fellowship the gifts represented. Note ‘share in my troubles … shared with me’ (v15) – they expressed love and unity in Christ. That explains Paul’s joyful spirit despite hardships. Fellowship should be expressed in all kinds of caring actions.
(ii) The Philippians. They were enriched by their giving – how is that possible? Note ‘what may be credited to your account’ (v17) – as if by giving to Paul they made an investment of material things that would produce a spiritual dividend. This is not a crude ‘payoff’ mentality, yet God does bless generosity (Proverbs 11:25). Giving is not to be done for profit yet God blesses the generous.
(iii) The Lord. The giving of the Philippians pleased God. Note the very striking words ‘They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God’ (v18). The act of giving and its motivation delighted the Lord. This emphasises the God-ward dimension of giving – it is to be done as service to him, for his glory.
2. Trust in God’s promise
The Philippians’ gifts are but one example of a general principle stated in the promise of verse 19 ‘my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’. These words are full of encouragement for God’s people. They help us face difficult and challenging times, such as those in which we are now living. There are several things here to notice:
(i) The Scope. We need to be careful, of course, that we do not try to make the verse say something that it does not say. This is not a promise that Christians will receive from God absolutely anything that they request. There are varieties of supposedly ‘Christian’ teaching that suggest we can ‘name it and claim it’ – that if we have enough faith, God will give whatever we ask. That is not what the Lord promises. He does not offer us a blank cheque that we can fill in however we wish. Often we do not know what would be best for us – we ask amiss or with selfish motives. No good parent will give his child everything he asks for, and our perfect heavenly Father will certainly not do so. The promise relates to ‘all your needs’ – the things we need in order to live for his glory and to serve him as he has planned. We are assured unequivocally that these things will be provided, and we can rest content with not having things we think we need or would like.
(ii) The Author. Paul speaks of ‘My God’ – the God who loves him, who has saved him and who will provide for him. This is the God who accepted the ‘fragrant offering’ of the gifts made to Paul by the Philippians (v18). Our God is concerned for both bodily and spiritual needs. The physical is not beneath the notice of the Creator (see Psalm 145:16 ‘You satisfy the desires of every living thing’). More than that, as Ephesians 1:3 reminds us, God has ‘blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ’. Have we not proved his ability to provide many times? People make promises that often they are not able to keep, but God is able to supply our needs. Paul says that [literally] God will ‘fulfil all your need’. His infinite love and wisdom decide what is a need and what is a desire, and he makes no mistakes. Desires are sometimes granted: needs always are.
(iii) The Source. Problems have arisen in shops recently when demand has outstripped supply, sometimes by a considerable margin. The resources of the Lord, however, are unlimited. Paul refers to [literally] ‘his riches in glory’. The resources are infinite and can never run out. The key to blessing is made clear – the riches are ‘in Christ Jesus’. All God’s provision flows to us through Christ. How is that so? The answer is that his saving work secured every blessing that his people will ever require. By his death and resurrection, Christ has secured not only forgiveness of sin (wonderful as that is). He has also secured all that we require to live the Christian life, to face every trial that he permits to come to us and to reach final glory. Christ is now ‘head over everything for the benefit of the church’ (Ephesians 1:22). Our Father has already given the greatest gift – Christ himself as our Saviour – and so all other gifts will certainly follow. Listen to Paul’s assurance in Romans 8:32 ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ United to Christ, we are in the place to receive God’s infinite provision.
(iv) The Supply. It is abundant, not just the bare minimum for survival. Notice that God supplies ‘according to his riches’. It is not merely ‘out of his riches’, but ‘according to his riches’. The Lord supplies in proportion to his infinite resources. He is not like a millionaire throwing a few coins to a beggar – that would be ‘out of his riches’. To those who themselves give generously, God will give ‘A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over’ (Luke 6:38).
Note also the certainty of the supply. Paul does not use the language of possibility. He does not suggest that God ‘might’ or even ‘probably will’ meet all our needs. He simply states that he will meet them. This is not an arrogant statement since it expresses the very opposite of self-confidence. Our confidence rests on the nature of the God who promises and on the full the provision made in Christ once for all. You can share Paul’s confidence when you look to the Lord and trust in him.
In view of such a promise, Paul bursts out in praise in the doxology of verse 20 ‘To our God and Father be glory forever and ever’. He ascribes ‘glory’ to ‘our God and Father’ because this is his doing, from start to finish, and all the glory is his. Evidence of our Father’s provision should fuel worship and praise from his people, even when they are called to endure hardships and trials. Sitting in prison, writing this letter, Paul knew what it was to practise what he preached. Let us do likewise.