Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"PAULíS GOD WILL FILL EVERY NEED OF ALL HIS PEOPLE."
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
The passage we read from Philippians 4 contains sentences that gladden us and sentences that make us somewhat jealous. A promise as our text contains, yes, that gladdens us; we are encouraged with the promise that God will supply all our need according to His riches in glory. But a word as recorded in vs 11 makes us somewhat jealous, and even unsettled: "I have learned in whatever state I am to be content." Vs 12: Paul knows how to be abased, humiliated, and he knows how to abound. "Everywhere and in all things," he says, "I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." We read that, and find ourselves thinking that Paul was obviously a better Christian, more mature in the faith, than we areÖ. Be content when things go wrong? To be honest, I donít find that so easyÖ.
And that in turn makes the promise of vs 19 problematic. Yes, we find it encouraging to hear that in the future the Lord will supply our need, but what about those moments in the past when we lacked? In the past we havenít had the contentment Paul describes, and thatís to say that the Lord has not given that contentmentÖ. If He hasnít given it in the past, will He really give it tomorrow Ė despite the promise of the text?
As it is, congregation, the Lord God in boundless mercy gives His people the greatest treasure possible: Jesus Christ. Paul has Christ, Christ is his everything, and that is why he can be content, can say heís Ďfullí Ė never mind whether the eye sees him as gaunt or healthy, imprisoned or free. Health or finance, good work or moral support or love: to Paul and the Philippians these things are all so secondary as to disappear from view when one sees the real riches God gives: Christ. Thatís why Paul can say so confidently that his God shall surely supply every need of the Philippians.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
PAULíS GOD WILL FILL EVERY NEED OF ALL HIS PEOPLE.
1. The reason for Paulís statement.
From his cell in prison the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Philippi. Heíd used the letter to set straight particular weaknesses he knew existed in that congregation. But itís not until the closing words of this letter that Paul comes to the actual reason why he wrote this letter in the first place. For the catalyst that prompted this letter was his desire to say Thank You to the congregation in Philippi for the gift they had given him. And Paul says Thank You not according to the habit of our western culture, but according to the habit of the culture of his day. Even then, he does not say Thank You in exactly the same way as his contemporaries would do it; rather, he Christianizes the habit of his day.
You see, when we see need to express our thanks, we do so at the beginning of a letter and not at the end. More, when we express thanks, we do exactly that, we say Thank You. And perhaps weíll even add that if thereís opportunity to do the other a good turn, weíll gladly do it; he need but ask. The Greeks, though, expressed their thanks differently. Instead of saying thanks, they would express thanks by giving a gift back, preferably a bit bigger than the gift initially received. Yet thereís Paulís problem: heís in prison, with no resources to his name, and therefore not in a position to give something back to the Philippians in gratitude for their gift to him.
How, now, does he solve this problem? How does Paul express his thanks? Letís first, congregation, trace the good turn the Philippians had done to Paul. The particular gift is described in vs 18: "I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you." Just what the things were which the Philippian congregation had sent to Paul through Epaphroditus is not told to us; no doubt the package included some very physical needs as in food or clothes or blankets Ė none of which the Roman prison system supplied its prisoners. From chap 2:25 itís clear that the Philippians sent more than a gift through Epaphroditus; they actually sent Epaphroditus himself as a gift to Paul. That is, the Philippians sent this brother from their midst to care for Paul in prison. We appreciate: this was very generous on the part of the Philippians.
According to chap 4:10, this gift, this assistance was not the first time that the Philippians had reached out to Paul. Says vs 10: "I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again." In time past they had expressed care for Paul in concrete ways. After her conversion, Lydia insisted that Paul lodge at her house (Acts 16:15), and thatís to say that she provided (at the very least) his bed and breakfast Ė and so made it possible for him to do his preaching in Philippi. That initial care became characteristic of the way the Philippian saints reached out to support the apostle. After Paul and his companions left Philippi, the young Philippian saints "sent aid once and again for my necessities" in the next town, in Thessalonica, says Paul in Phil 4:16. That sort of care continued over the years, so that in 1:3ff Paul can say he is most thankful for the help he has received from the Philippians over the years. But it wasnít consistent help; perhaps because of distance they lost track of where Paul was, and so "lacked opportunity" to demonstrate their abiding care for Paul (4:10b). However that may be, the Philippians of late had learned again where Paul was, and straightaway sent him help. And that help was in the form of a material gift and in the form of the person Epaphroditus.
In a word: Paul had benefited much from the Philippiansí generosity over the years.
Now, how is Paul going to express his appreciation for their generosity? Is there some need the Philippians have which Paul could supply, as token of his gratitude Ė in keeping with the accepted standards of the day?
Well, yes, congregation, there is. In the first place, the congregation of Jesus Christ in Philippi was anything but well off in financial terms. I say that because of what the apostle writes to the Corinthians (2 Cor 8:1ff). There he writes about "the churches of Macedonia", and says that "in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality." The only church of Macedonia mentioned anywhere in Scripture as generous in giving was the church in Philippi. Yet here theyíre described as experiencing "deep poverty". Here, then, is a particular need amongst the Philippians: despite their generosity, theyíre poor.
Are there other needs in Philippi? From the letter Paul wrote to the Philippians, itís clear that Paul himself is aware of other needs (details of which heís undoubtedly learned from Epaphroditus). I read, for example, in chap 1:29f that the Philippians were suffering for Jesusí sake, indeed, they experienced the same conflict Paul was experiencing. Thatís a reference to persecution, to the hatred of the world (John 15:18ff; cf 2 Cor 11:24ff). In the face of hatred and persecution there was obviously need for courage and faithfulness and perseverance.
The biggest need in the congregation, though, forms the meat of Paulís letter. You will recall: the congregation was divided, was afflicted with selfishness. Paul instructs the Philippians in chap 1 to "stand fast in one Spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" (vs 27), and that instruction implies that the Philippian saints Ėdespite the care they showed to Paul over the years- were not standing side by side in the fight of faith. Chap 2:3: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than himself." Again, Paul says this because there was selfishness and conceit among the brethren (cf 4:2), with each looking out for himself first of all. To straighten out that fault, the apostle gives the detailed and wonderful expose of how the Lord Jesus Christ gave up the glory of heaven in exchange for the shame of the cross in order to save the unworthy (2:5ff). Paul knows: selfishness and its resulting friction are deadly for the church of Jesus Christ, are essentially denials of what the church is all about. Yes, there was need in the church of the Philippians!
Over the years the Philippians had given the apostle wonderful gifts, most recently through Epaphroditus. The culture of the day required that Paul express his gratitude by giving a gift in return. And yes, the Philippian saints had needs. But Paul in prison has no resources upon which to draw in an attempt to express his gratitude. The Philippians have a great financial need, but Paul in prison is powerless to give a material gift. The Philippians are persecuted on account of the faith, but Paul in prison is powerless to give relief from persecution. The Philippians are caught in that general human vice of self-centeredness, but what can Paul from prison do about that?! How, then, can Paul properly say thanks?!
His answer is the words of our text: "my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Paul give something to the Philippians to express his gratitude for their gift? From his prison cell Paul has nothing tangible to give in the face of the Philippiansí needs. But Paul has something better to give the Philippians in their struggles, and thatís the wealth of the gospel. Thatís how he expresses his gratitude: by giving more, much more the Philippians first gave him!
That brings us to our second point:
2. The surprise of Paulís statement.
"My God," says Paul, "shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." We understand: what a wonderful way for the apostle to express his appreciation for the gift he received from the Philippians! From his cell in prison he has no resources upon which to draw to return something to the Philippians for their gift to him Ė according to the convention of the day. But he Ėapostle that he is- has something outside of himself to give to them, and thatís the promise that his God will supply all their need. What a way to say Thank You!
But, congregation, does Paul want the Philippians to think that God will supply their every need in this sense that He will deliver them from their financial distress, will deliver them from their persecutors, will deliver them from their selfishness? That question is so very important to us because we have tangible problems also, and if Paulís God will supply the Philippians in their real needs, surely we may go home assured that God will supply us also in our real needs?!
Notice, then, brothers and sisters, how the apostle speaks of God in our text. At the beginning of vs 19 Paul describes God as Ďmy Godí. Why that pronoun Ďmyí? What would be different if he had simply said ĎGodí or Ďthe Lordí, or even Ďour Godí? Why Ďmy Godí?
The question is important. With that pronoun Ďmyí, congregation, the apostle is drawing attention to the way God has supplied for Paul. As God has dealt with Paul, has supplied his every need, so God will deal with the Philippians Ė supply their every need.
How, then, has God supplied for the needs of the apostle? The book of Acts and the letters of Paul tell us a few things about what sort of life Paul was given to live. I mentioned already that at the time he wrote this letter to the Philippians Paul was in prison (be it in Caesarea or in Rome). And this wasnít the first time; heíd been in and out of prison repeatedly. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 11 Paul relates the sort of things he suffered regularly. "From the Jews five times," Paul relates, "I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness" (vss 24ff). That was Paulís life: constantly hounded by the devil, always pursued by the hosts of hell in their satanic effort to silence Godís emissary to the Gentiles. Had God supplied his needs? Three times the apostle had asked the Lord to take away these hellish attacks that hindered his preaching and increased his suffering, but the Lord God declined! (2 Cor 12: 7ff). Instead, his life was characterized by difficulty, suffering, trials and tribulations!
This is the apostle who writes that his God would supply the needs of the Philippians. What do you think, congregation: how much encouragement is there in such a statement for these Philippians?! If the Lord will supply their need as He has supplied Paulís, their future certainly doesnít look bright at all! So we need to look more carefully at how the Lord has cared for Paul.
Here I draw your attention to the apostleís words in the verses before our text. He greatly appreciates Ėvs 10- that the Philippians have provided help for him again (now that they know where he is, in some prison cell). Paul appreciates it much, but (he adds in vs 11) itís not that I really have need. Sure, he says, Iím in prison and so I canít do what I want, and this stone prison is cold and damp, and thereís rats around and itís smelly, and sometimes Iím hungry and I canít sleep because of the ravings of other prisoners. But, he says, "I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content." "I know," he says in vs 12, "I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound." I can be content with little, he says, and I can be content with much. Both are for Paul quite manageable. Itís the material that makes us somewhat jealous, that makes us feel so spiritually inferior to PaulÖ.
So thereís the question: why can Paul be so content in both good times and bad? Whatís his secret? He tells us in vs 13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Paul is not a stronger person, a better Christian than everybody else so that he can boast of an inner reserve of strength that the Philippians didnít have Ė and we donít either. Rather, Paul describes to the Philippians a work that daily takes place within him. What that work is? This: Christ strengthens him. That is to say: Jesus Christ gives Paul grace day by day not to get despondent in the face of adversity, not to get cynical in the face of injustice, not to get bitter in the face of wrong. The ascended Savior gives His servant grace to believe that the gates of hell cannot prevail, and so all the opposition and disappointment and unfairness and injustice this life throws at him will ultimately come to nothing. More, the ascended Christ gives His servant grace to believe that He is using all this opposition and disappointment and unfairness and injustice to make His kingdom come. Recall what Paul wrote in chap 1, how his imprisonment provided opportunity for the gospel to come to ears of persons who otherwise would not hear the gospel Ė all those prison guards and so even Caesarís household (cf 1:12ff)! For Paul "to live is Christ", and so he lays himself at Christís disposal, willing to be of service in whatever manner Christ chooses.
Do you see, congregation, why Paul begins our text with a reference to "my God"? That God is the center of Paulís life, and that God is so very faithful Ė He uses Paul in His kingdom, and Paul considers that such a privilege, yes, nothing else is important as long as he can serve. And see: Christ supplies his needs so that he can serve! As Christ supplies the apostleís need, even in the valley of the shadow of death, so, says Paul, this God will supply every need the Philippians might have. Of that Paul has no doubt.
When he expresses in our text, then, his confidence that the Lord will supply the needs of the Philippians, he is not thinking first of all of material abundance or of relief from persecution or even grace to overcome their selfishness. Paul knows: on this side of the fall into sin life remains a wilderness, characterized by sweat and tears. Persecution, hatred, oppression form the lot of Christians in this fallen world. And selfishness will continue to plague even those renewed through the Spirit of Jesus Christ until the Day of Glory. But in the midst of all that brokenness, the Lord will give peace in oneís heart, contentment in the privilege of being allowed to serve. Paul has experienced it himself, and heís sure that the God who supplies all his needs Ėgives grace to be content so that Paul knows who to be abased and how to abound- the God who supplies all his needs will supply the needs of the struggling saints of Philippi also. And of struggling saints all over the world!
Truly, beloved, what a promise! And what an encouragement! But a question remains: is it really true that God will supply the Philippians in the way He has supplied for the apostle? More: on what grounds can we today be sure that the Lord will supply all our needs? Thatís our last point:
3. The guarantee of Paulís statement.
The guarantee, brothers and sisters, lies in the concluding words of our text: "according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
"His riches in glory." God is God. This is He ĖPaul knows his Bible- who created all things and therefore possesses all things (Ps 24:1). All the riches of all creation Ėfrom gold and silver on the one hand to power and peace on the other- belong to this God. This God who owns all dwells in eternal glory in heaven, with multitudes of angels who sing His praise and do His bidding. "Riches in glory": the phrase describes the wealth of resources that God has at His disposal Ė resources so infinitely greater than Paul has at his disposal in the confines of his prison cell.
But God does not keep the resources at His disposal for Himself alone. Heís rather pleased to share all this wealth and all this glory with His people. Thatís the force of the concluding words of our text: "by Christ Jesus." For Christ Jesus is the link between this holy God and man on earth. Christ Jesus: He gave up His glory with the Father in order to redeem man to God. On the cross He paid for sin, reconciled sinners to God, so that sinners might be children of God once more. Now that these sinners are Godís children again, the Lord in mercy gives of the abundance He has for the good of His people. Thatís the promise of God drawn out so often in Scripture, the promise whose truth the apostle has tasted himself in all the ups and downs of his life. From the abundance God has, God for Jesusí sake has supplied Paulís needs so that Paul could be content both in poverty and in riches, could be at peace in his heart even when storms were raging around him.
Given those grounds for Paulís conviction that God will supply the needs of the Philippians, we may be assured too, congregation, that the Lord supplies all our needs. No, not that He takes away all sickness today or all tension or all oppression; those things will be taken away on the day of Christís return. Meanwhile, the God of all riches supplies for His own so that we can be at peace always. See there the grounds for Paulís certainly: God remains God!
Do we ever lack? We have our moments that we certainly feel we do. Health or finance, good work or moral support or love: time and again we feel that we lack, that we donít have what we need (or perhaps deserve). Cynicism and discontent lie then so close at handÖ. But Paul sets us straight. Do we lack? That depends on who is central to our lives. Self? Own comfort? Own reputation? Yes, then we lack so much, lack so oftenÖ. Or Christ? Then, says Paul, we never lack. Whether our struggle be with material shortage or devilish persecution or strife in the communion of saints, whether we be abased or abound, we can be content Ė for our God through Jesus Christ is bringing praise to Himself. To achieve that goal Heíll ensure that we always have all we need.
So: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication,
with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through
Christ Jesus" (4:6f). Amen.