By Christopher VanDusen
For many people across the world, they have been put in situations in which they’re having difficulty providing for themselves. Even if this isn’t the case, the recent pandemic has had massive effects on people’s everyday lives, presenting new challenges that can be very frustrating. So, how are Christians to respond to these challenges? Specifically, how are Christians to view and use their resources and money when some of them now have very little? The apostle Paul answers that question in Philippians 4:10-20.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he’s writing to a church that he had a very intimate and affectionate relationship with. He had founded the church on one of his missionary journeys, in the city of Philippi. This was a Roman city located in modern-day northern Greece. From the time that he founded the church, they had supported him financially and through their prayers in his missionary work.
When Paul wrote this letter, he was in the city of Rome, being confined by the Roman government to a house. He was imprisoned like this because some of his Jewish enemies had accused him of crimes against their society in Jerusalem, and he had asked to defend himself before the Roman Emperor, and seek his release. So, when he wrote the letter, he was awaiting this hearing, and one of the Philippians, named Epaphroditus, visited him with money for him, and news of the church.
In response, Paul wrote Philippians to thank the church for their gift, to describe his circumstances, and to instruct them on how to deal with some of their problems. In chapter 1, he explains how he prays for them; describes his situation; and instructs them on how to deal with persecution. In chapter 2, he explains how they are to be unified and loving; how to present a good testimony to their unbelieving neighbors; prepares them to meet a representative he’s sending; and explains why he sent Epaphroditus back with this letter. In chapter 3, he warns them against false teachers, against fake Christians, and instructs them to imitate him and those like him. Finally, in chapter 4, he addresses conflict between two of them, urges them to rejoice, be gentle, and to be prayerful; and explains to them how to think and what to pattern their lives after. After this section on how to think and practice the best things, Paul expresses his joy and pride in the Philippians for sending them gifts for his needs in 4:10-20:
“10 I 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. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And 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. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I 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. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (ESV)
In this passage Paul does seven things in response to their gift:
- He Rejoices that They’ve Revived Their Concern for Him (v. 10)
- He Reveals that He’s Been Readied to Be Content (vss. 11-13)
- He Recognizes Their Relief of His Cares (vss. 14-16)
- He Reasons that They Profit by Caring (v. 17)
- He Regards Their Relief as Complete (v. 18)
- He Reminds Them that Their Relief is Coming (v. 19)
- He Responds by Recognizing Their Caretaker (v. 20)
Paul Rejoices that They’ve Revived Their Concern for Him
Paul begins expressing his joy and gratitude for the Philippians’ support by just saying that he’s rejoiced over what prompted them to provide it:
“I 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.”
First, he says that he rejoiced in the Lord. He speaks in the past tense, since he’s describing what he did when he learned that Epaphroditus had brought a gift to him from the Philippians. But notice that he doesn’t just say that he “rejoiced”. Rather, he rejoiced in the Lord. This means that the basis of, and direction of, his rejoicing was the Lord, or Supreme Authority, Jesus. In other words, he rejoiced because he knew that the Lord was the One who had used the Philippians to provide him with gifts. And what does it mean that he rejoiced? He felt inner happiness, which he had to express by his physical behavior.
However, he doesn’t just rejoice that the Philippians provided for his needs, but rejoices at what motivated them to do so. It was the fact that they “revived” their concern for him. In other words, at one point, they had been concerned about his needs, but, as he says, “had no opportunity” to do anything about it. Thus, they may have just forgotten about the fact that he was in need. However, at some point, they revived, or remembered, their concern for him, which motivated them to send gifts to him with Epaphroditus. This revival is what Paul had rejoiced about.
Paul Reveals that He’s Been Readied to Be Content
In verses 11-13, Paul explains that he didn’t rejoice because he would have his physical burdens removed, since he’s learned to be content in any situation:
“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 can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
He first says that he didn’t express his joy at the Philippians’ gift because he was “in need” of it. Why? Because he’s “learned in whatever situation [he’s] in to be content”. What does he mean by being “content”? The Greek word translated “content” literally means “self-sufficient”, or having enough in oneself to meet one’s needs. Obviously, this bare definition of the word doesn’t apply to anyone, since it’s God who provides all of our needs, and not ourselves. However, Paul’s use of the word “content” doesn’t have so much to do with being able to provide for one’s needs, as it does with being at peace with one’s circumstances, whatever they are. This is something that Paul could do, but he says that he “learned” it. This implies that it wasn’t natural to him, but he had to be taught to be satisfied, and at peace with, whatever situation he found himself in.
He then describes the types of situations that he’s learned to be content with. First, he says he knows how to be “brought low”, or humiliated with very little resources, or the bare necessities of life. However, he also knows “how to abound”, or to have way more than he needs. Next, he says that he’s “learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need”. So, there’s a secret that he’s learned to have plenty, and to go hungry, to have great luxuries, and to be in need.
What is this secret that he’s learned? He tells the Philippians in verse 13, where he famously says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”. Despite the popularity of this verse, this is a really bad translation of the Greek. The Greek word for “things” isn’t even there. Instead, Paul literally says, “I can do all through him who strengthens me”. Now, let’s think about this. Was Paul saying that he could do anything through the One who strengthened him? Obviously not, since there were some things that he couldn’t do. Therefore, when Paul uses the word “all”, he’s referring to all the situations that he’s just described in the last two sentences. He’s saying that he can do “all this through Him who strengthens” him. In other words, he can be content in every situation through the One who strengthens him.
And who is the One who strengthens him? The Lord Jesus Christ through God the Holy Spirit. But what does He strengthen him to do? To be content with any situation he’s in, whether he’s in need, or has more than enough. And how does He strengthen Paul? By continuing to give Paul faith in His promises for him, and by reminding Paul of those promises, the greatest of which is that the Lord always loves him, and is willing to use him to please and glorify Himself, no matter what situation he’s in.
Paul Recognizes Their Relief of His Cares
In verses 14-16, Paul praises the Philippians for their gift, and for their history of providing for his needs:
“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And 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. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.”
Having just said that he wasn’t actually in need of the Philippians’ gifts, he nevertheless reminds them that what they did was helpful to him. To express this, he says that they were “kind” to “share [his] trouble”. The Greek word translated “kind” literally means “useful” or “helpful”, but it obviously reflects the fact that the Philippians were motivated by love to provide Paul with gifts. Not only did they provide for some of his needs, but in doing so they shared his “trouble”. This refers to his imprisonment, which prevented him from providing for himself by making and selling tents, as he had done during his missionary journeys.
But Paul doesn’t just praise the Philippians for sending this most recent gift, but reminds them of their track record of love for him through their provisions for his needs. He begins by saying that, “when [he] left Macedonia”, they were the only church that “entered into partnership with [him] in giving and receiving”. Macedonia was the region in which Philippi was located, so he’s referring to when he first left the Philippians, after having just established them as a church. He calls this time “in the beginning of the gospel”, or the beginning of their faith in the gospel. At that time, they were the only church that partnered with him in “giving and receiving”. The Greek that’s translated “giving and receiving” is a term that was used to describe commercial transactions, in which goods, services, and money were given and received between buyers and sellers. In this case, Paul is referring to the Philippians’ ministry of “giving” to him, so that he would “receive” from them, which was partly motivated by the fact that Paul had “given” to them the gospel, God’s Word, and his love.
He goes on to say that when he was in Thessalonica, the Philippians “sent [him] help for [his] needs once and again”. In the Book of Acts, it says that Paul went to Thessalonica immediately after leaving Philippi. In Thessalonica, he faced fierce opposition from the Jews, so that he eventually was forced to leave. During this time of being persecuted, the Philippians provided for his needs, so he could preach the gospel, and teach Scripture. Paul thought it helpful to remind the Philippians of their support of him, so they would be encouraged that they were doing the right thing, and would be motivated to continue to provide for others’ needs.
He Reasons that They Profit by Caring
In verse 17, explains what motivates him to encourage the Philippians to support him in his ministry by saying,
“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.”
In most other popular English translations of this verse, the word “fruit” is either “profit” or “credit”, while the word “credit” is instead “account”. What Paul is really saying is that he doesn’t seek the gift itself from the Philippians, but the results of using that gift to continue his ministry of preaching God’s Word. The immediate or direct results of that preaching is what he refers to by “fruit” or “profit”, such as people’s salvation, and the benefit of God’s children.
But he doesn’t merely leave it at what the Philippians’ support allows him to accomplish. He knows the results benefit them, so he says that these results “increase to [their] account”. Paul is here referring to the Philippians’ record of good deeds that the Lord is keeping, which He’ll use to reward them for their giving on judgement day. This is very similar to what Jesus said when he commanded His disciples to not store up treasure on earth, but treasure in heaven. In other words, Paul is promising the Philippians that they are using their resources to earn rewards from the Lord, which they’ll receive on the day of judgement. This is why Paul wants the Philippians to help him in his ministry. First, it allows him to spread God’s Word more, and second, it will benefit the Philippians in eternity.
Paul Regards Their Relief as Complete
In verse 18, Paul praises the Philippians for the quality of their gifts, and explains how God sees their gifts:
“I 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.”
First, he says that the gifts they provided have supplied him with everything he needs physically. In fact, he adds that he has more than he needs. Second, he assures them that Epaphroditus himself, who was one of them, gave the gifts to him. Epaphroditus was the one whom Paul sent back with this letter.
Then, Paul describes how God views their gifts. First, he calls them “a fragrant offering”. This is an allusion to the Old Testament burnt offerings of animals that were offered to God to please Him, picturing the sacrifice of life that God requires to pay for our rebellion against Him. The word “fragrant” means that the offering of the Philippians’ gifts “smells good” to God. This is a metaphor that means God is pleased with the Philippians’ giving. Second, Paul calls their gifts “a sacrifice”. In other words, they had to give up something they owned in order to provide them. Finally, the gifts are “acceptable and pleasing to God”. These are two ways of saying basically the same thing, with different emphases. The fact that the gifts are “acceptable” means that the Philippians gave the gifts out of the right motives, including love for Paul, and for the right purposes, including the purpose of helping Paul in his ministry. The fact that the gifts are pleasing to God speaks to God’s response to the gifts, which is to please Him, and give Him joy.
He Reminds Them that Their Relief is Coming
In verse 19, Paul promises the Philippians that the same God who has provided for his needs will also provide for their needs:
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Paul calls God “my God” to emphasize the fact that God has just provided for his needs for the Philippians. Since Paul’s God is their God, He’ll provide for their needs as well. And how will He do this? “According to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”. First, His provision of their needs is “according to His riches”. The word “riches” refers to an overabundance of wealth, and represents the limitless supply of wealth and resources that God possesses. This means that God will never be unable to supply the Philippians’ needs. Second, these riches are “in glory”. That is, they come from God’s glory, or the expression of His character and nature. And where is this glory found? “In Christ Jesus”. The title “Christ” is the English translation of the Greek christos, which literally means “anointed one”. This describes Jesus as the anointed, or chosen, Prophet, Priest, and King, of God’s chosen people. As Christ, Jesus is the human Representation of God, who shows us who God is, or perfectly glorifies Him, since He shares God’s very nature and essence. It is through Christ Jesus, and His glorious work, that God uses His riches to provide for the Philippians’ needs.
Paul Responds by Recognizing Their Caretaker
Finally, Paul concludes this passage by praising the God who provides for all of their needs by saying,
“To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Not only is the God who provides for their needs their God, or Creator, but He’s also their Father. As their Father, He loves them, and cares for them. This is why He provides for all of their needs. Because He’s the Creator of the universe, He will receive “glory forever and ever”. Whereas the “glory” Paul has just mentioned refers to God’s expression and display of His character and nature, the glory here refers to the recognition and praise that God receives from His creatures. Paul promises, while expressing his desire for this to occur, that will happen forever, without end. He ends this wish by saying “amen”, which means “so be it”, or “for sure”.
Be Concerned for Others, Content with Yourself, Committed to Giving, and Confident in God
So, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, how does this passage apply to you?
First, Paul praises the Philippians for their concern for his well-being, which motivates them to actually attempt to provide for his needs. Why were they concerned? Because he was a missionary without the means to support himself, since he was under house arrest. We ought to be concerned about our brothers and sisters in Christ who can’t support themselves financially, and use whatever resources we have, as is appropriate, to support them. More specifically, we ought to be concerned about the missionaries that we support, and help them as needed. Are you concerned about your brothers and sisters who are in need?
Second, Paul explains that was content even before the Philippians sent their gifts to him. In fact, he says that he’s learned to be content in whatever situation he’s in. We ought to be content with our situation, whatever it may be, since we can be at peace with it through Him who strengthens us. This doesn’t mean that we neglect working to provide for our needs, but that we recognize that the Lord is the One who has put us in our particular situation, and He’s done it for our good. Are you content with your current situation?
Third, Paul praises the Philippians for partnering with them in his missionary work, and for regularly helping to meet his needs. We ought to have the same commitment to our missionaries, and generously give to them, as is appropriate. And when we give, we ought to give as “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God”, knowing that any good results that come from it will “increase to our account”. If you’re able, do you physically support evangelistic or missionary work to please God?
Finally, Paul promises the Philippians that God, as their Father, will supply every need of theirs “according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”. Do you believe that God is always giving you all you need at exactly the right time?
If you have no concern for Christians in need, you have no contentment about any of your circumstances, you aren’t concerned about Christian evangelism, or you don’t trust God to provide for all your needs, you’re sinning against Christ. If any of these are a part of who you are, and they don’t concern you at all, you aren’t a Christian at all, and are an enemy of God. If you don’t change your mind and trust in the Lord Jesus, then God will punish you for your sins on judgement day by confining you to hell. The good news is that God sent His eternal and divine Son to become the man, Jesus of Nazareth, to live the perfect life, and to suffer and die on a Roman cross to take the punishment we deserve for our rebellion against Him. Then, He raised Him from the dead, and made Him the King of the universe. He commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Jesus as their Savior from sin and His wrath, and as their King, to receive His forgiveness, since He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus, and punish all His enemies. Please make sure you’ve repented of your rebellion and distrust in Christ, and are trusting in Him alone as your Substitute on the cross, your Mediator to God, and your King, to have God’s forgiveness, mercy, and peace.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.