Philippians 4:10-13 – Philippians: Life Together
4th Sunday of Easter – April 22, 2018 (am)
What do you possess in your life right now that you believe you could do without? Most often we use this expression just for humor. A friend was reporting on a rather intrusive procedure he’d endured at the dentist, and he finished a pretty gruesome description by saying what? I could have done without that!
Similar situations where I’ve heard it said are traffic jams, flight delays, sports injuries—anything inconvenient or undesirable that comes at us out of left field.
And as I’ve thought about it, I believe the only times I’ve heard this statement applied to personal possessions is when they break down at a bad time. The cable goes out on the day of the big game. Or, the frig stops working just before a large dinner party. We’ve had that one. And, yeah, we could have done without it!
I’m quite sure, however, that I’ve never heard anyone make that statement in prayer: Lord, by your grace and for your glory, please teach us what we can do without—teach me what I can do without. If you’ve prayed such a thing, I’d love to hear about it. But if you haven’t, you may well be asking: Why should I. Why would I ever want to? In addition to worship, confession, and thanksgiving in prayer, we usually go on to ask for the things we need, right? Didn’t Jesus say: If you ask anything in my name, I will do it (Joh.14:14). And the writer of Hebrews (4:16) added: Let us…approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Right here in Philippians (4:6) Paul said we should let (our) requests be made known to God. Why, then, would we ask God to teach us what we can do without?
Well, as we’ll see in our text today, one reason might be that we learn things in our relationship with the Lord in seasons of lack, of need, that we can’t learn, or can’t learn as well, in times of abundance. Paul opens our eyes to that possibility here. He begins by (rejoicing) over the concern the Philippians expressed to him when he was facing a time of need. But that leads him into an explanation of the fact that his (contentment) was not at all dependent on their financial gift. In fact, it was rooted in something quite different—in a secret he’d learned (12) in his ministry life. As Paul reveals the secret of his (contentment), he actually makes three amazing statements in this passage.
I rejoice that you had opportunity to give. – 10
Now, that’s an interesting way to put it. 10 I (rejoice) that you (had) the opportunity to give. Not, thank you for your generous gift; it was a great help to me, but I (rejoice) that you (had) the opportunity to give it. And look closer, Paul never even gets around to mentioning their money at all; he’s actually grateful for their concern for him; and he (rejoices) in the fact that they’ve had the opportunity to express that concern again after some sort of a lengthy hiatus (Jerusalem offering? [Bruce]).
Regardless, Paul isn’t just (rejoicing) that it’s been renewed; he’s (rejoicing) greatly that it’s been renewed. And he’s (rejoicing) greatly in the Lord. He (rejoicing) greatly that God enabled a concern within them that’s once again being expressed—almost seeming crafted to avoid mention of their money. I say this because the Greek word behind both appearances of concern here (10) is not giving or gift. It is, once again, our favorite Philippian word in verb form φρονέω: to think, feel, ponder, to set one’s mind on, to have a certain understanding or outlook, an attitude or perspective. These two appearances mark the ninth and tenth time Paul has used some form of that word in this letter. Lets do a quick survey: 1) it described his great love for the Philippians in 1:7 (it is right for me to feel this way about you). 2, 3) In 2:2 he urged them to have the same mind and to be of one mind, then 4) in 2:5 to have this mind among (them) which is (theirs) in Christ Jesus. 5, 6) In 3:15 Paul used this word two more times: let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think, otherwise, God will reveal that also. 7) Down in 3:19 it describes those enemies of the cross whose minds are set on earthly things. Then 8) in 4:2 Paul urged Euodia and Syntyche to agree with one another. Now (4:10), he uses this word twice to capture the Philippians’ concern for him, their attentiveness to his need—they were on his mind (1:7), now he’s on theirs. And this bond of attentiveness is facilitated in them as together they pursue the mind of Christ.
Paul is modeling here what it looks like when our minds and hearts are properly oriented. Even when he’s in need (which we’ll get to in a moment), he’s more grateful for the work God is doing in the lives of the givers than for the impact of their gift in his own life. Think about that. This would be like having a flat tire on a lonely road at midnight, having someone stop to give you a hand, and being more grateful that God gave them an opportunity to please Him by their service than you are that you received the help in that situation. You’re just delighted that they will be reminded by their own actions that God will supply in their times of need by some means that seems as random as their own stopping on a dark road to help a stranger!
I am content despite my circumstances. – 11-12
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Whenever I read this verse, I’m reminded of 2 Co.11-12. In that passage we’re given a rapid-fire recital of all that Paul had endured in his life and ministry. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And he wrote 2Co. as many as five-or-so years before he wrote Phi.—certainly before he was arrested in Jerusalem and eventually shipped off to Rome. Much more had happened since then—he was writing this letter from prison—and still he was able to say to these Philippians: I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content!
Friends, (contentment) does not flow from an abundance of resources. (Contentment) doesn’t flow from a pain-free life. This word means sufficient. Whatever situation I’m in, I’m sufficiently supplied. In 2Co.12:9a, Jesus said to Paul: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. True (contentment) can come even when we’re (weak). And as a matter of fact, weakness in the flesh—suffering, poverty—may well be one of the greatest blessings from God because strength in the flesh is a mere illusion. It’s not real. Scripture says all flesh is grass (Isa.40:6). There’s no strength there, no endurance, no self-sufficiency; it’s here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the (fire) (Luk.12:28). But God’s strength is brought to maturity in us when we realize our true weakness and so trust Him in it—depend on Him.
Paul knew that. These Philippians knew it too. They had suffered deeply themselves, and perhaps just needed to be reminded. That’s why in Paul’s second statement he affirmed that he is content whatever (the) situation (11). He’s even content with weakness (2Co.12:10). In fact, he wrote: I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2Co.12:9b). That’s an amazing statement. You see, (contentment) doesn’t result from power in this life. It doesn’t result from possessions. Paul’s life, and the lives of the Philippians, had proven that with clarity.
12 I know how to be brought low (reduced to poverty) and I know how to abound (overflowing abundance). … He knows how to live in either state, and still be content. That’s no small achievement! Have you mastered that? I haven’t! Are we content regardless of our financial state, regardless of our need? Some are without work here today. Times are tight. So, we give up small things, and even some big things. But are we truly content as we do that? Do we rest in God’s sufficiency? Or do we feel like something significant is being lost?
Paul continued. 12 … In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. My circumstances, my possessions, my bank balance, even the fullness or emptiness of my stomach, is not what determines my (contentment). Can you imagine being hungry, not knowing where your next meal will come from, and yet still feeling truly content, still (rejoicing) in the Lord? That’s what Paul is describing here! Then he reveals his secret.
I can do all things through Christ. – 13
And apparently the Philippians had learned the same lesson. We know two things about them from Paul’s mention of them in 2Co.8: 1) They had also gone through a tough time. In v.2 of that chapter Paul called it a severe test of affliction, a time of extreme poverty. We don’t know the details, but we do know Paul isn’t given to overstatement! And 2) they had still given sacrificially to the Jerusalem offering even at that time. They (begged) earnestly for the (privilege) of (being involved)! (2Co.8:4)
Generosity in the midst of poverty, that’s not a very common quality to observe. Jesus saw it in the poor widow who gave two copper coins at the Temple (Mar.12:42-44), but it’s exceedingly rare, and quite hard to understand. So, how did this poor widow do it? How did the Philippians? How did Paul? He gives us the secret of this (contentment) right here: 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
When Christ is our treasure, we can give up anything for Him, endure any loss and still thrive, for where (our) treasure is, there (our) heart will be also (Mat.6:21). When we count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (3:8), we don’t lament losing it! In fact, we may even begin to ask God it prayer: What could I do without? What could I give away? And it could actually become a joy to start finding things! And odd as that may sound to some, there’s actually rich biblical merit in it. Scripture itself gives us pictures of it.
Think of the rich young man (Mar.10), a negative example. How did Jesus break through his confidence that he’d kept the whole law? (He looked) at him, loved him, and gave him a challenge to test his affections—whether he loved God or money more. Jesus said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (Mar.10:21). And Mark records that he went away sorrowful, disheartened by the saying, for he had great possessions (Mar.10:22).
And another, a positive example, turn with me for a moment to Heb.10. Like the Philippians, these folk were also living under great persecution. So, a pressing question filled their minds: Should they go encourage their brothers and sisters in prison and risk being identified as Christians themselves, or should they protect themselves by staying away? Listen to what they did: 32 Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering—that is, the confiscation—of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. These folk gave it all up! They allowed their property to be seized, because they knew their citizenship was in heaven—a truth we learned in 3:20—and that promised possession meant more to them than their possessions here and now! What can we do without? We can do without all of it, except Jesus! So how do we give it up? (We) count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord (3:8). How is that possible? Here’s the secret: 32 (We) can do all things through him who strengthens (us). C. S. Lewis said: He who has Jesus and everything else has no more than he who has Jesus and nothing else. But do we really believe that?
Friends, until we do, we’ve not truly learned Paul’s secret of (contentment), which means there is so much more of the gospel, and the joy of life together with our Savior here and now, that we’ve not yet tasted to the full! Let’s taste and see that the Lord is good (Psa.34:8).