Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians with a grateful recognition of the gift they have sent him by the hand of Epaphroditus. The passage is, in a sense, "the apostle's formal receipt", Hawthorne. The passage can be divided into three parts: Paul first speaks of his contentment in all circumstances, v10-13; then how much he appreciates the church's gift, v14-18; and finally he addresses the subject of God's sufficiency in every need, v19-20.
v10. Paul begins this section with an observation about his own life. He has learnt to be content in all circumstances, whether good or evil, because he has taken hold of Christ's sustaining power. First, he notes with joy the gift sent from Philippi and carried by Epaphroditus. Paul is overjoyed that his converts haven't forgotten him, and assumes that a simple lack of opportunity had hindered them from acting earlier.
v11. His joy is for their gift, not for the meeting of his need. As far as Paul is concerned he has learnt to be satisfied in whatever circumstance he faces.
v12. As far as the trouble is concerned, Paul has learnt the secret of contentment, in either good times or bad.
v13. Paul lets us into his secret. How is it that he can be content within the circumstances of life? His answer is simple; he is able to meet the circumstances of life head-on in the strength of Christ. Paul does not depend on his own strength or ability, rather he relies on the sustaining help of Jesus. In Christ he is inwardly independent. In Christ he possesses an empowering grace above his own limitations and weakness which enables him to face all the circumstances of life - to be strong in the strength of Christ. Paul rests on Christ's word to him - "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
v14. Paul goes on to express his appreciation for the gift sent him by the Philippians. What they did was an act of great goodness, an act greatly appreciated.
v15-16. Paul notes that the Philippians had always financially supported his ministry and had done so all the way back to his first mission in Macedonia and Greece. In fact, they were the only church in the region to offer financial support. Paul was actually a tent maker by trade and would often work to support himself rather than be a burden on his mission churches.
v17. Not that Paul is looking for their patronage, but he is certainly looking for a partnership in the gospel in order that their generosity may be "credited" to their account. This is an interesting idea and is similar to Jesus' teaching. Our behaviour here on earth builds up a treasure in heaven "where moth and rust do no destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." As Bishop Lightfoot puts it, there is a "recompense which is placed to our account and increases with each fresh demonstration of love". This idea of reward for deeds done in service to the Lord is certainly not credit toward salvation, special heavenly blessings, brownie-points for eternity. Rather, acting in a Christ-like way helps to realize in our person the new creature we are in Christ.
v18. The gift sent to Paul has met his needs completely and so Paul sees it, not so much as a gift to him, but as a gift to God - an offering to God of beautiful fragrance, an offering pleasing to God. As Jesus said, an act of love toward a brother is an act of love toward himself.
v19. Paul now turns his attention to the Philippians themselves. Just as Paul knows that he can do everything through Christ who gives him strength, so too does this truth apply to the Philippians. They have to face the difficulties found service to the gospel, and Christ will stand with them in the rough-and-tumble of life, as he stands with Paul.
v20. This truth leads Paul into a statement of praise to God the Father - may his sublime revelation be for all time.
There are going to be times in our lives when doubts take hold: We may no longer be sure of God's presence; We may not be confident that Jesus is who he says he is; We may doubt the Bible, our own salvation, our sure standing in the sight of God; We may feel that Jesus is no longer close to us, and this feeling may fill us with fear. Such is life - we will always have to wrestle with self-doubt.
A disciple is not a person without doubts, but rather someone who believes amidst all their doubts. A disciple is someone who can say, "I believe, help my unbelief." So, a disciple is someone who affirms Biblical truth in Christ and tries to act on it, even when unsure of Christ's sufficiency.
We may have doubts that Jesus will stand with us in our service for him, but let us trust him in the midst of our doubts. Let us live by the truth that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, even though in moments of darkness we may doubt this truth.
1. Explain the "secret" discovered by Paul.
2. Can we do "everything" in Christ's strength? Discuss.
3. To what end does Christ strengthen us and for what purpose?