Philippians 4 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
These concluding exhortations, very like what one finds elsewhere (e.g., 1 Cor 16:13; 2 Cor 13:11; 1 Thess 5:12-24), are tailored to the situation in Philippi. Among other things they are to rejoice in the Lord, to let their "gentle forbearance" be evident to all (including those who oppose them) and to not be anxious about anything (given the present opposition and suffering), but let prayer and thanksgiving lead them to experience God's peace. The exhortations fall into two clear parts: verses 4-7, in which Paul appropriates his Jewish heritage, and verses 8-9, which reflect both his Hellenistic Jewish background (Jewish wisdom) and the best of Greco-Roman philosophical virtues.
The heart of the first set reflects the threefold expression of Jewish piety--rejoicing in the Lord, prayer and thanksgiving--which are basic to the Psalter: "the righteous rejoice in the LORD" (Ps 64:10; 97:12) as they "come before him with thanksgiving" (Ps 95:2; 100:4) to pray in his sanctuary (Ps 61:1-4; 84:1-8). For Paul these are the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and especially of the believing congregation. They are expressed as imperatives because, in keeping with the Old Testament, devotion and ethics are inseparable responses to grace. The truly godly person both longs for God's presence, where one pours out one's heart to God in joy, prayer and thanksgiving, and lives in God's presence by "doing" the righteousness of God. Otherwise piety is merely religion, not devotion.
Also in keeping with the Psalter, these (second-person plural) imperatives exemplify the conjunction between individual and corporate piety (see commentary on 2:4 and 13). For Paul joy, prayer and thanksgiving, evidenced outwardly by gentleness (v. 5) and inwardly by God's peace in their midst (v. 9), have first to do with the (gathered) people of God; but the fact that God's peace will serve as a garrison for your hearts and minds reminds us that what is to be reflected in the gathered community must first of all be the experience of each believer.Rejoice, Give Thanks and Pray (4:4-7) As elsewhere (2 Cor 13:11; 1 Thess 5:16), Paul begins with rejoice, here repeating 3:1 exactly, rejoice in the Lord--with the adverbial addition always (from 1 Thess 5:16). Thus it serves both to frame the preceding section on "their affairs," giving a context for the warnings and appeals in that section, and to introduce the final series of encouragements and exhortations. The two adverbs always and again tell us much, especially that this is not just "typical" and therefore to be passed over as a nice Christian platitude, but crucial to the whole of this letter.
Joy, unmitigated, untrammeled joy, is--or at least should be--the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus. The wearing of black and the long face, which so often came to typify some later expressions of Christian piety, are totally foreign to Paul's version; Paul the theologian of grace is equally the theologian of joy. Christian joy does not come and go with one's circumstances; rather it is predicated altogether on one's relationship with the Lord and is thus an abiding, deeply spiritual quality of life. It finds expression in "rejoicing," which is an imperative, not an option. With its concentration in the Lord, rejoicing is always to mark individual and corporate life in Philippi. They who "serve by the Spirit of God" (3:3) do so in part by rejoicing in the Lord, whatever else may be their lot. In this letter "whatever else" includes opposition and suffering at the hands of the local citizens of the Empire, where Caesar was honored as "lord." In the face of such, the Philippians are to rejoice in the Lord always." (See further comment on 1:18; 2:2, 17-18; 3:1.)
The second imperative, let your gentleness be evident to all, follows from the first. The Lord to whom they belong has graciously set them free for joy--always. At the same time others should know them for their "gentle forbearance" (NIV gentleness) toward one another and toward all, including those who are currently making life miserable for them. Gentleness is used by Hellenistic writers and in the LXX primarily to refer to God (or the gods) or to the "noble," who are characterized by their "gentle forbearance" toward others. That is most likely its sense here, only now as the disposition of all of God's people.
This is the Pauline version of 1 Peter 2:23, spoken of Christ but urged on Christian slaves: "when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." It is this gentle forbearance and meekness of Christ, to which Paul appealed in 2 Corinthians 10:1, which he here calls the believers to exhibit in Philippi.
The sudden appearance of an indicative (the Lord is near) is as surprising as its intent is obscure. Does Paul intend "Rejoice in the Lord always; and let your gentleness be evident to all, for the [coming of] the Lord is near"? Or "Because the Lord is [always] near, do not be anxious about anything"? Or does he intend a bit of both, perhaps something as close to intentional double-entendre as one finds in the apostle?
On the one hand, this looks very much like another instance of intertextuality, purposely echoing Psalm 145:18, "The LORD is near to all who call on him." In this case it introduces verses 6-7 as an expression of realized eschatology: "Because the Lord is ever present, do not be anxious but pray." On the other hand (or perhaps at the same time), it also echoes the apocalyptic language of Zephaniah 1:7 and 14 ("the day of the LORD is near"), picked up by Paul in Romans 13:12, and found in James 5:8, regarding the coming of the Lord.
On the whole it seems likely that this is primarily intended as the last in the series of eschatological words to this suffering congregation, again reminding them of their sure future despite present difficulties. It thus functions as encouragement and affirmation. Since the Philippians' present suffering is at the hands of those who proclaim Caesar as Lord, they are reminded that the true Lord is near. Their eschatological vindication is close at hand. At the same time, by using the language of the Psalter, Paul is encouraging them to pray in the midst of their present distress, because the Lord is near in a very real way to those who call on him now.
Borrowing from the Jesus tradition, that the children of the kingdom are to live without care--but not "uncaring" or "careless"--Paul turns to one consequence of the Lord's being near. They are to live without anxiety, instead entrusting their lives to God with prayer and thanksgiving. Apprehension and fear mark the life of the unbelieving, the untrusting, for whom the present is all there is, and for whom the present is so uncertain--or for many filled with distress and suffering, like the Philippians. On the contrary, Paul urges, in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. In everything stands in contrast to not . . . about anything and means "in all the details and circumstances of life." The three words for prayer are not significantly distinguishable; requests (aitemata) are "made known" before God by prayer (proseuche) and petition (deesis). In so doing one acknowledges utter dependence on God while at the same time expressing complete trust in him.
Petition accompanied by thanksgiving puts both prayer and our lives into proper theological perspective. Thanksgiving is a recognition that everything comes as gift, the verbalization before God of his goodness and generosity. Gratitude thus acknowledged begets generosity. Indeed, lack of gratitude is the first step to idolatry (Rom 1:21). Paul's own life was accentuated by thanksgiving; and he could not imagine Christian life that was not a constant outpouring of gratitude to God. Thus thanksgiving does not mean to say "thank you" in advance for gifts to be received; rather, it is the absolutely basic posture of the believer and the proper context for petitioning God. It is also the key to the affirmation that follows.
Paul deliberately conjoins the peace of God with the exhortation to pray in trusting submission with thanksgiving. This is God's alternative to anxiety, in the form of affirmation and promise. As we submit our situation to God in prayer, with thanksgiving, . . . the peace of God in turn will guard our hearts and minds--because we are in Christ Jesus. That Paul expresses peace in such terms is probably an indication that one can make too much of the differences within this believing community, implied in 2:1-4 and made explicit in 4:2. He is indeed concerned that all of them "have the same mindset" as they "do" the gospel in Philippi; but in contrast to other letters, he does not express peace as an imperative (cf. Col 3:15) but as an indicative, closely related to their trusting God in prayer.
Like joy, peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). It is especially associated with God and his relationship to his people. Here it is the peace of God because God is the God of peace (Phil 4:9), the God who dwells in total shalom (wholeness, well-being) and who gives such shalom to his people. Such peace transcends all understanding. This could mean "beyond all human comprehension," which in one sense is certainly true. More likely Paul intends that God's peace totally transcends the merely human, unbelieving mind, which is full of anxiety because it cannot think higher than itself. Our prayer to the God who is totally trustworthy is accompanied by his peace, not because he answers according to our wishes but because his peace totally transcends our merely human way of perceiving the world. Fortunately, God's people do not need to have it all figured out in order to trust him!
Such peace will therefore guard our hearts and thoughts (NIV minds). In the Hebrew view the heart is the center of one's being, out of which flows all of life (e.g., Mk 7:21). God's peace will do what instruction in "wisdom" urged the young to do: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Prov 4:23). In the present context God's peace will be his "garrison" (a striking military metaphor) around our hearts when anxiety threatens. It will also guard our "thoughts"--those very thoughts that lead to fear and distress and that keep one from trusting prayer. As so often in this letter, such protection is in (or "by") Christ Jesus. It is the Philippians' relationship to God through Christ, in whom they trust and in whom they rejoice, that is the key to all of these imperatives and this affirming indicative.
Even though the experience of God's peace happens first of all at the individual level, it is doubtful whether in this context it refers only to "the well-arranged heart." For Paul peace is primarily a community matter. As noted below (Phil 4:9), the ascription God of peace occurs in contexts where community unrest is lurking. Indeed, apart from the standard salutation the mention of peace in Paul's letters occurs most often in community or relational settings (e.g., Rom 14:19; Eph 2:14-17; 4:3; Col 3:15). Thus the Philippians need not have anxiety in the face of opposition, because they together will experience the protection of God's peace in the midst of that conflict; and they who have been urged over and again to "have the same mindset" are here assured that the peace of God which surpasses merely human understanding will also protect their thoughts as they live out the gospel together in Philippi.
Joy, prayer, thanksgiving, peace--these identify Pauline spirituality. Such lives are further marked by gentle forbearance and no anxiety. The key lies with the indicative, the Lord is near--now and to come. In a post-Christian, postmodern world, which has generally lost its bearings because it has generally abandoned its God, such spirituality is very often the key to effective evangelism. In a world where fear is a much greater reality than joy, our privilege is to live out the gospel of true shalom, wholeness in every sense of that word, and to point others to its source. We can do that because the Lord is near in this first sense, by the Spirit who turns our present circumstances into joy and peace and who prompts our prayer and thanksgiving. And we should be at that task with greater concern than many of us are, because the Lord is near in the eschatological sense as well.On Good Thoughts and Following Paul (4:8-9) With a finally, brothers [and sisters], Paul brings the hortatory part of the letter to conclusion. There remains but the acknowledgment of their gift. These final two sentences need to be held tightly together, not only because their structural similarity suggests as much, but especially because the truth of the one is to be assessed in light of the other.
For many who were raised in evangelical traditions, verse 8 ought to be a breath of fresh air. Contrary to what is often taught, implicitly if not explicitly, there is a place in Christian life for taking into serious account the best of the world in which we live, even though it may not be (perish the thought!) overtly Christian. Or to put it another way, it is decidedly not Paul's view that only what is explicitly Christian (be it literature, art, music, movies or whatever) is worth seeing or hearing. Truth and beauty are where you find them. But at all times the gospel is the ultimate paradigm for what is true, noble or admirable. Or perhaps you have not noticed that many truly great movies (e.g., Spitfire Grill) find their greatness because they tell our story (redemption through self-sacrifice), probably without even knowing it.
There is nothing else like verse 8 in Paul's extant letters. It reflects a world with which the Philippians were familiar before they had ever become followers of Christ and friends of Paul; for although some of these words are common stock in Jewish wisdom, they are especially the language of Hellenistic moralism (and would be quite at home in Epictetus's Discourses). In effect Paul tells the Philippian believers to take into account the best of their Greco-Roman heritage, as long as it has moral excellence and is praiseworthy. Verse 9 puts that into perspective: they comply with the first set of exhortations by putting into practice what they have learned from Paul as teacher and have seen modeled in his life. The whole concludes with the promise of God's abiding presence as the God of peace.
The verb logizomai ordinarily means "to reckon" in the sense of "take into account," rather than simply to think about. Since the first four words already point to what is virtuous (NIV excellent) and praiseworthy, Paul most likely adds the proviso because he intends them to select out what is morally excellent and praiseworthy from whatever belongs to the world around them, and to do so on the basis of Christ.
They should thus give consideration first to whatever is true, a word that is narrowly circumscribed in Paul's letters, finding its measure in God (Rom 1:18, 25) and the gospel (Gal 2:5; 5:7). Noble is a word that most often has a "sacred" sense ("revered" or "majestic") but here probably denotes "honorable," "noble" or "worthy of respect." Like truth, right for Paul is always defined by God and his character. Thus even though this is one of the cardinal virtues of Greek antiquity, in Paul it carries the further sense of "righteousness," so that it is not defined by merely human understanding of what is "right" or "just" but by God and his relationship with his people. Pure is a word that originated in the religious cultus, where what had been sanctified for the temple could not have blemishes. Here it has to do with whatever is not besmirched or tainted in some way by evil. Like truth (1:18), it occurs earlier in this letter (1:17), referring to the "impure" motives of those wishing to afflict Paul.
With the fifth and sixth words (lovely and admirable) we step off New Testament turf altogether--linguistically, at least--onto the unfamiliar ground of Hellenism. Nonetheless, these words remind us that common grace is a New Testament reality. Lovely refers to what people consider "lovable" in the sense of having a friendly disposition toward. Here is the word that throws the net broadly, so as to include conduct that has little to do with morality in itself but is recognized as admirable by the world at large. It could refer to a Beethoven symphony as well as to the work of Mother Teresa among the poor of Calcutta; the former is lovely and enjoyable, the latter admirable as well as moral. Admirable, although not quite a synonym of lovely, belongs to the same general category of "virtues." Rather than referring to a virtue in the moral sense, it represents the kind of conduct that is worth considering because it is well spoken of by people in general.
It is probably the lack of inherent morality in the last two words that called forth the interrupting double proviso: if anything is excellent, if anything is praiseworthy. Arete (excellent) is the primary Greek word for "virtue" or "moral excellence" and is generally avoided by the LXX translators. Although it is not found elsewhere in Paul, the present usage, along with "contentment" in verse 11, is clear evidence that he felt no need to shy away from the language of the Greek moralists. What he intends, of course, is that "virtue" be filled with Christian content, exemplified by his own life and teaching (v. 9). Likewise with praiseworthy. Although this word probably refers to the approval of others, the basis has been changed from general ethical judgment to conduct that is in keeping with God's own righteousness. While not inherent in verse 8 itself, such an understanding of these words comes from the immediately following exhortation to imitate Paul, which in turn must be understood in light of what has been said to this point.
It is not surprising that the concluding exhortations in this letter should end on the note of imitation. In effect verse 9 summarizes, as well as concludes, the letter. Paul's concern throughout has been the gospel, especially its lived-out expression in the world. To get there he has informed the Philippians of his response to his own present suffering (1:12-26), reminded them of the "way of Christ" (2:6-11) and told his own story (3:4-14), all of which were intended to appeal, warn and encourage them to steadfastness and unity in the face of opposition. Now he puts it to them plainly, as the final proviso to the preceding list of virtues that they should take into account. Read that list, he now tells them, in light of what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and above all else put these things (what you have learned, etc.) into practice.
Learned and received reflect Paul's Jewish tradition, where what is learned is thus received by students; heard and seen in me appeared in this way in 1:30 in the context of their common struggle of suffering for Christ's sake. Given the overall context of this letter, one may rightly assume that Paul is once again calling the Philippians to the kind of cruciform existence (see note on 1:11) he has been commending and urging throughout. Only as they are "conformed to Christ's death" as Paul himself seeks continually to be, even as they eagerly await the final consummation at Christ's coming, will they truly live what is excellent and praiseworthy from Paul's distinctively "in Christ" perspective.
The exhortations are thus finished; so Paul rightly concludes with a "wish of peace," which here takes the form of ultimate benediction, that the God of peace will be with you. The ascription God of peace is derived from the Old Testament; every occurrence in Paul's letters is in contexts where strife or unrest is close at hand (cf. Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 14:33; 2 Thess 3:16). Although "strife" is hardly the word to describe the Philippian scene, he nonetheless signs off with this affirmation, perhaps significantly so in light of the repeated exhortation to "have the same mindset."
Will be with you reflects the motif of God's presence, the desire for which determines so much in Jewish piety and theology, both in the Old Testament and in the intertestamental period. For Paul, and the rest of the New Testament, the way God is now present is by his Spirit, who is the fulfillment of the promises that God will put his Spirit into his people's hearts so that they will obey him (Ezek 36:27). In Paul's understanding this is how the God of peace will be--and already is--with you. And the fruit of the Spirit is peace (Phil 4:7).
These concluding exhortations call us to embrace what is good wherever we find it, including the culture with which we are most intimately familiar, but to do so in a discriminating way, the key to which is the gospel Paul preached and lived--about a crucified Messiah, whose death on a cross served both to redeem us and to reveal the character of God into which we are continually being transformed.
This is an especially relevant word in our postmodern, media-saturated world, where truth is relative and morality is up for grabs. The most common response to such a culture, unfortunately, is not discrimination but rejection or absorption. This text suggests a better way, that we approach the marketplace, the arts, the media, the university looking for what is true and noble and admirable, but that we do so with a discriminating eye and heart, for which the Crucified One serves as the template. Indeed, if one does not consider carefully and then discriminate on the basis of the gospel, what is rejected very often are the mere trappings, the more visible expressions, of the "world," while its antigospel values (relativism, materialism, hedonism, nationalism, individualism, to name but a few) are absorbed into the believer through cultural osmosis. This text reminds us that the head counts for something, after all; but it must be a sanctified head, ready to practice the gospel it knows through what has been learned and received.Acknowledging Their Gift: Friendship and the Gospel (4:10-20) So how would you feel? Your financially strapped college group has scraped together a considerable amount of cash in order to help a former member do humanitarian missionary work in Central Africa. After some time you receive word back--a long letter in fact--which goes on and on about how the group might better serve the Lord on its own campus, but nary a word about the gift. And then at the end, with a kind of "by the way," the gift is mentioned; but even so more time is spent on how little the gift was really needed than on thanksgiving itself. You would have a right to be a bit miffed. Both our secular and spiritual cultures expect something better of friends, and no one likes an ingrate. Which is exactly how many feel about Paul at this point in the letter.
Carrying our own feelings about our "missionary friend" back into Paul's letter to the Philippians, however, is its own form of cultural gaffe, a clear reflection that we cannot really imagine a culture in which such things might be done differently. But different they were indeed; and we know this because many of the philosophers wrote treatises on friendship and on the benefits of friendship that were a part of their cultural presuppositions. It turns out in fact that the placement of Paul's gratitude for their gift at the end, his avoidance of the word meaning "thank you" and the way he wrestles with reciprocity (the "giving and receiving" [v. 15] of benefits) are all perfectly explainable on the grounds of Greco-Roman friendship, which is presupposed at every point in this letter, and now especially in this passage.
With his major concerns about the Philippians' affairs now addressed, and the concluding exhortations given, Paul turns at last then to the first reason for the letter--to acknowledge their recent gift and thus to rejoice over this evidence of friendship renewed. To this point he has not thanked them directly, although his gratitude is clearly implied in 1:3-7 and 2:25, 30 (perhaps 2:17). But now he does so, and at the end (4:18-20) does so in a profuse way.
Three matters thus intertwine. First is his genuine gratitude for their recent gift, expressed three times in three variations (vv. 10, 14, 18). This is set, second, in the primary context of friendship: mutuality and reciprocity, evidenced by "giving and receiving" (v. 15)--a theme that gets strained in this case because of (1) his being on the receiving end of that for which he has nothing to give in return and (2) his and their mutuality also carries some of the baggage of a patron-client relationship, due to his role as apostle of Jesus Christ. Third, and most significant (and typical!), this sociological reality is subsumed under the greater reality of the gospel; thus the whole climaxes in doxology. All of this is fashioned with consummate artistry, so that their "giving," his "receiving," and the long-term partnership in the gospel which their gift reaffirms climax in verses 18-20 with gratitude (from Paul), accolade and promise (from God to them), and doxology (from both to God).
A passage like this should also be read in light of Paul's unsolicited, lavish praise of this church in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, with its (thoroughly Christian) equation "affliction + poverty abounding in generosity." It is unlikely that the Philippians have changed radically in the intervening few years. Indeed, it is precisely this quality of their Christian life, expressed toward him within the cultural context of friendship, that leads Paul to give thanks in this way--as "rejoicing in the Lord" (see v. 10) and as an outburst of praise to God's glory (v. 20). Here is a community where the gospel had done its certain work.
Their Gift and Paul's "Need" (4:10-13) Two matters are taken up in these opening sentences. First (v. 10a), Paul rejoices over their renew-ing the first feature of friendship, giving and receiving. But having expressed that in terms of at last, he is quick to caution that they must not hear him wrongly (v. 10b). He knows that the long hiatus in this tangible evidence of their partnership in the gospel was due to the lack of opportunity. Second (vv. 11-13), Paul wants to make sure that they do not understand his joy as based on need. This demurral is his way of reminding the Philippians that theirs was true friendship, without utilitarian origins based on mutual usefulness.
1. Their Gift--Friendship Renewed (4:10). There is nothing quite so buoyant to the weary soul as an unexpected visit from an old friend. No wonder as Paul turns to express gratitude for their gift, he starts by telling them that he did then what he has been urging them to do throughout: "I rejoiced" (NIV rejoice) greatly in the Lord. The reason for his great joy is expressed with a botanical metaphor, meaning to "blossom again"--like perennials or the spring shoots of deciduous trees and bushes. After a period of some dormancy in the matter of giving and receiving, the Philippians have thus renewed this dimension of their friendship with Paul. The adverb at last likewise implies a hiatus in their giving, not meaning--as he suddenly realizes they may take it--"finally, at last," as though he had been expecting something in the meantime, but points to the conclusion of the hiatus. Thus "now, finally, you were able to do what for a long time you could not."
This in turn is expressed in language special to this letter: to show concern for me. Here begins a series of word repetitions and wordplays that appear regularly in this final section of the letter. The verb phroneo appeared first in the thanksgiving (1:7) to refer to Paul's "feeling this way" about them. Elsewhere in the letter it means "have a (certain) mindset." Here it carries the sense of a mind set toward the care of another; hence the NIV's you have been concerned. This is made certain by the qualifier indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. Two points of grammar indicate he is trying to deflect possible misunderstanding of the first clause. He begins, first, with a contraction that picks up your concern and intensifies it; second, both verbs in this clause are Greek imperfects, implying a continual concern for Paul with a likewise ongoing lack of opportunity to do anything about it. Together they mean something like "with reference to which [concern] you were indeed continually concerned." Thus he recognizes--and acknowledges--that the hiatus had nothing to do with their lack of concern but with a lack of opportunity.
2. Paul's "Need" and Christ's Sufficiency (4:11-13). Typically, Paul adds qualifier to qualifier, now putting the entire event into christological perspective. It would be wrong for the Philippians to infer that he rejoiced over their gift because I am in need, that his joy was over their gift as such, as though it had to do with finally being able to eat again. Rather, his joy is over friendship's having had opportunity to blossom again; and their friendship, he points out further, is not utilitarian in the sense of what he can secure from it.
Here is the second in the series of word repetitions and wordplays. He had told them in 2:30 that he did have "lack"--of their presence!--which was made up in part by Epaphroditus's coming. Now he says that his joy is not over their filling his "lack" in the material sense (although he gladly acknowledges in 4:18 that he was "filled to the full" by their gift). But that also calls for further explanation; so rather than take up the matter of what his joy is all about (which comes next in vv. 14-17), he instead goes on to elaborate why their ministering to his need was not the reason for his joy.
And with that he launches into one of his finer moments. With the language of Stoicism still ringing in his own mind (from v. 8), he moves into the Stoic stronghold of autarkeia (contentment based on self-sufficiency) and transforms it by means of the gospel into "Christ-sufficiency." To be sure, the outward expression and inner result between him and the Stoics appear much the same; but in fact Paul and Seneca are a thousand leagues apart. The Stoic's (and Cynic's) sufficiency or contentment comes from within; Paul's comes from without, from his being a man in Christ, on whom he is totally dependent and thus not independent at all in the Stoic sense. Because Paul and the Philippians are both "in Christ," neither is dependent on the other for life in the world; but also because they are both "in Christ," Paul received their gift with joy.
He begins with the premise: I have learned to be content [autarkes] whatever the circumstances. The rest is explanation. His circumstances run the gamut from being "humbled" (NIV in need) to "abounding" (NIV have plenty). These are then elaborated--and partly repeated--in light of his present imprisonment as well fed or hungry and, now in reverse order, "abounding" (NIV in plenty) or "lacking" (NIV in want). Although we do not know how much hunger he experienced before Epaphroditus arrived, he does pick up the verb "abound" again in verse 18 specifically to refer to how the Philippians' gift has altered his circumstances: I have received full payment and abound (NIV and even more); I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.
By starting with I know (by experience) what it is to be humbled, Paul says such an "un-Stoic" thing that one suspects he is making sure his premise is not understood in a Stoic way. Not only is "humbled" not the ordinary verb for being in need, it is in fact something to be avoided. Some Stoics may have reveled in "want"; none of them could tolerate the "humiliation of humility." Thus even though the broad term is used to embrace his being in need, with this word Paul is also embracing a way of life similar to that of his Lord (2:8; cf. Mt 11:28), a way of life that finds expression elsewhere in his various "hardship lists" (e.g., 1 Cor 4:11-13; 2 Cor 6:4-10).
The broader vocabulary of need and plenty implies "in every which way"; so in light of his present circumstances he specifies, whether well fed or hungry. The Philippians themselves have often been party to his being well fed: when he and his coworkers lived in Philippi under the generous patronage of Lydia (Acts 16:15) and when the Philippians repeatedly supplied his material needs in Thessalonica (Phil 4:15 below) and Corinth (2 Cor 11:9), and perhaps elsewhere. But in a prison system where prisoners must secure their own food supply, he also has had plenty of opportunity to go hungry. Indeed, he has learned the secret of both, a verb used primarily for initiation into the mystery cults. Thus "I have gotten in on the secret of both having a full stomach and going hungry."
But Paul is neither reveling in the one nor complaining of the other. His various hardship lists make it clear he had experienced "plenty" of "want." But in contrast to some of the Cynics, he did not choose "want" as a way of life, so as to demonstrate himself autarkes; rather he had learned to accept whatever came his way, knowing that his life was not conditioned by either. His relationship to Christ made them both essentially irrelevant. Thus he concludes: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. With that he transforms his very Stoic-sounding sentences into a sufficiency quite beyond himself, in Christ, the basis and source of everything for Paul. Thus "self-sufficiency" becomes contentment because of his "Christ-sufficiency."
Here is a much-used sentence from Paul that is often taken out of context and thus abused. While everything seems to be all-embracing and is often applied to one's activities (especially those that are personally demanding--athletics, learning to drive and the like), in context it refers primarily to living in want or plenty. Paul finds Christ sufficient in times of bounty as well as in times of need! Thus, rather than being a christianized version of the Stoic ideal, this passage points up the absolute Christ-centeredness of Paul's whole life. He is a man in Christ. As such he takes what Christ brings. If it means "plenty," he is a man in Christ, and that alone; if it means "want," he is still a man in Christ, and he accepts deprivation as part of his understanding of discipleship.
Given the context, this brief autobiographical moment probably also serves as a paradigm. He has just urged them to practice what he both taught and modeled (4:9). In the midst of their own present difficulties, here is what they too should learn of life in Christ, that being "in him who enables" means to be "content" whatever their circumstances.Their Gift as Partnership in the Gospel (4:14-17) Returning to the language of the thanksgiving in 1:3-8, Paul resumes what he began in 4:10, moving it a step forward. In verse 10 he joyfully received the Philippians' gift as tangible evidence that their concern for him had "blossomed afresh." Since their gift met his material needs during imprisonment, it serves as evidence of their being "partners with him" (synkoinoneo) in his "affliction" (thlipsis; NIV share in my troubles); in verses 15-16 it is likewise evidence of their partnership with him in the work of the gospel. As in 1:5-7, their love for Paul and serving the cause of the gospel blend. After all, to love Paul is to love the gospel. But also as in the preceding paragraph, he qualifies what he says about the gift itself; again, it is not that he is not grateful (4:18-20 makes that abundantly clear) but that the gift is secondary to their relationship, in this case expressed in terms of how their gift to him is seen from above--a point that gets full elaboration in verses 18-19.
To speak of their gift in terms of "being partners with him in his affliction" echoes both his and their "participation in Christ's sufferings" (3:10) and the mutuality of their suffering together from 1:29-30 and 2:17--although in this case the emphasis is on their succoring him in his time of need. The language it was good of you (4:14) also appears on a regular basis in letters of friendship in reference to a benefit that one has received from the other.
The use of koinonia language in verse 14 in turn brings Paul back to the first use of this word in 1:5 (their "participation/partnership with him in the gospel"), but now with specifics. Indeed, the next sentence (4:15-16) holds the key that unlocks many of the mysteries of our letter. Four important reminders are noted. First, you Philippians . . . shared (aorist of koinoneo) with me in the matter of giving and receiving uses the technical language for the mutual giving and receiving of benefits in Greco-Roman friendship. Second, this "partnership" is related to the gospel and goes back to their early days; third, they are the only church that has entered into this kind of "partnership" with him (not one church . . . except you only). And fourth, the earliest evidence for it occurred at his very next stop in Macedonia, in Thessalonica, where you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Unpacking these four items will tell a lot of the story between Paul and this church--and other churches as well.
First, the crucial matter is Paul's metaphorical use of commercial language that begins here and goes through verse 18: the matter of giving and receiving (v. 15); what may be credited to your account (v. 17); I have received full payment (v. 18). This sudden proliferation of commercial language has long been recognized; only recently has it also been recognized that well before Paul came by it, the language of verse 15 had been co-opted by the philosophers to express the reciprocity of benefits--the matter of giving and receiving--in true friendship. In the Greco-Roman world one could not understand genuine friendship without friends' benefit to one another; hence goodwill included mutual "benefits." But since benefits could easily deteriorate into something more utilitarian, Seneca, for example, actually wrote treatises on benefits, both to expound on their nature and necessity and to safeguard them from such deterioration. "Benefits" simply meant that friends could be counted on to help each other out, often at some degree of personal sacrifice--by caring for family, for example (see the sample letter on p. 14, or coming to one's aid in time of need or crisis, or embarking on activities that were of mutual benefit.
The language that had become common parlance for this social phenomenon was borrowed from the world of commerce, which is what Paul is now picking up. His use of this technical language in conjunction with koinonia in this matter implies a friendship agreement that both sides have intentionally entered into. The rest of his plays on the commercial dimension of the metaphor are his own.
Second, as already noted in the thanksgiving (1:5, your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now), this relationship goes back to the beginning, and thus to the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel (literally "in the beginning of the gospel when I set out from Macedonia"). Although there is some stickiness here in terms of details, together with 1:5 this passage makes clear that the friendship existed while Paul was first among them; it later became a bond between them, as this passage (cf. 1 Thess 2:2) and 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 make certain. This is what leads him in Philippians 4:10 to mention the hiatus, and now renewal, of this partnership.
Third, that not one church . . . except you only entered into this relationship with Paul can be taken in at least two ways: as a pejorative swipe at other churches or as a way of reminding the Philippians of the unique relationship he had with them. In light of the evidence especially from 1 and 2 Corinthians, where that church also wanted such a relationship but it was not granted (1 Cor 9:1-18; 2 Cor 11:7-11), the latter of these is surely the more likely. Why Paul chose such a relationship with this one church only is a matter of speculation, most likely related both to his choice to maintain himself hereafter by "working with his own hands" (1 Cor 4:12; 2 Thess 3:6-12) and to the special relationship he had developed with this first Christian congregation on European soil.
Fourth, this relationship, in which their part of the reciprocity was to minister to Paul's physical needs while his was to let this be their way of partnering with him in the advance of the gospel, began even when I was in Thessalonica. According to 1 Thessalonians 2:2, his early memory of his time in Philippi had also to do with his suffering and ill treatment there by the authorities; according to Acts 17:1-7, similar ill treatment happened again in Thessalonica--under the charge of treason. So the Philippians' material help during those rough days is now fondly recalled, this time in terms of his need. That they gave such help "more than once" (the NIV's again and again stretches the idiom a bit) indicates the level of their commitment to him in this matter.
But just as in Philippians 4:10-13, this mention of his need immediately calls forth another not that qualifier against possible misunderstanding. His short recital of their exemplary history of friendship with him in the matter of giving and receiving is not to be taken as an indirect request for more help. Exactly the opposite, and now picking up on the commercial metaphor itself, what he "seeks" (NIV looking for), he tells them, is (literally) "the fruit that increases into your account," by which he means metaphorically "an accrual of `interest' against your divine `account.' "
When unpacked, the metaphor expresses Paul's real concern for them, found as early as 1:25 in terms of "your progress in the faith." Their giving to him is an expression of love, of the gospel at work in their midst. For Paul every time they do so, it is also evidence of "fruitfulness," of the kind for which he prayed in 1:11. Such fruitfulness has the effect of being entered on the divine ledger as "interest," as the certain indication of the increase of their fruitfulness, which will find its full expression at the coming of Christ. They themselves will be Paul's eschatological "reward" (2:16; 4:1); their gift to him has the effect of accumulating "interest" toward their eschatological reward. Their gift, which serves his physical health, serves more significantly as evidence of their spiritual health. What else would one seek, one wonders, in a relationship such as theirs, which is predicated altogether on their mutual belonging to Christ?
Many years ago I heard a wise preacher counsel some younger ministers that Satan has three hounds with which he pursues those in ministry: pride, money and sex. Money is surely not the least of these. It is therefore of some interest for us to note how sensitive Paul is on this matter. He can scarcely speak about it, and especially his relationship to receiving it, without offering a demurral such as one finds in verse 17. This may well account for his (apparent) change of policy when he got to Thessalonica. There were enough itinerant religious and philosophical hucksters about, who according to Dio Chrysostom "used flattery as a cloak for greed" (cf. 1 Thess 2:4), for Paul to set out on a different course of maintenance upon leaving Philippi. Thus he can remind those in both Thessalonica and Corinth that his motives were totally free of pecuniary interests (1 Thess 2:1-10; 2 Cor 12:14-15). Paul did not "seek what is yours, but you" (2 Cor 12:14)--a paradigm for all who are in Christian ministry of any kind.Gratitude and Divine Reciprocity (4:18-19) These final sentences in Paul's letter to his friends are certain evidence that those who have accused Paul of offering "thankless thanks" in this section (vv. 10-20) have read him poorly--through their own cultural biases. For now he mentions their gift directly. In doing so he soars, piling up verbs at the beginning by which he indicates how richly his own needs have been met by their lavish generosity, and concluding with a change of metaphors expressing God's pleasure over their gift.
The first clause, I have received full payment, reflects his final use of the commercial/friendship metaphor, indicating that his "receipt" of what they have "given" puts the "obligation" of friendship back on his side. To this he adds the verb from verse 12; "I abound" (NIV and even more), he says, meaning that with the coming of Epaphroditus with the gifts you sent, "I have more than enough."
As further indication that the passage is not "thankless," Paul starts all over again. I am amply supplied, "filled to the full," he says, and then mentions Epaphroditus and their gifts ("the things from you") directly. But in doing so he describes their gift by means of a rich metaphor from the Old Testament sacrifices (a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God), so as also to indicate divine approval for what they have done. The imagery is of the burnt offering, which was understood as a fragrant offering to God. The picture is of the "aroma" of the sacrificial fire wafting heavenward--into God's "nostrils," as it were. Properly offered, it becomes an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to him. This, Paul says, is what their gift has amounted to from the divine perspective.
In its own way this sentence thus responds directly to verse 17. Although Paul does not seek the gift as such, in fact he has received their gifts, which have resulted in his now "having plenty" (see v. 12). What he does seek, he told them, is "an accrual of interest against your divine account." That, he now tells them with this splendid shift of metaphors, is exactly what has happened. Their gift, which has met Paul's material needs, has by that very fact pleased God, who becomes the focus of the rest of the passage.
The mention of God at the end of verse 18 leads directly to Paul's great master stroke--verse 19. The reciprocity of friendship is now back in Paul's court. But he is in prison and cannot reciprocate directly. So he does an even better thing: Since their gift had the effect of being a sweet-smelling sacrifice, pleasing to God, Paul assures them that God, whom he deliberately designates as my God, will assume responsibility for reciprocity. Thus, picking up the language "my need" from verse 16 and "fill to the full" from verse 18, he promises them that "my God will fill up every need of yours" (NIV meet all your needs).
From his point of view, they obviously have the better of it! First, he promises that God's reciprocation will cover "every need of yours," especially their material needs, as the context demands--but also every other kind of need, as the language demands. One cannot imagine a more fitting way for this letter to conclude, in terms of Paul's final word to them personally. In the midst of their "poverty" (2 Cor 8:2), God will richly supply their material needs. In their present suffering in the face of opposition (1:27-30), God will richly supply what is needed (steadfastness, joy, encouragement). In their need to advance in the faith with one mindset (1:25; 2:1-4; 4:2-3), God will richly supply the grace and humility necessary for it. In the place of both "grumbling" (2:14) and "anxiety" (4:6) God will be present with them as the "God of peace" (4:7, 9). My God, Paul says, will act for me on your behalf by "filling to the full" all your needs.
And God will do so, Paul says, according to his riches in glory (NIV glorious riches) in Christ Jesus. The Philippians' generosity toward Paul, expressed lavishly at the beginning of verse 18, is exceeded beyond all imagination by the lavish "wealth" of the eternal God, who dwells "in glory" full of riches made available to his own in Christ Jesus. God's riches are those inherent to his being God, Creator and Lord of all; nothing lies outside his rightful ownership and domain. They are his "in glory" in the sense that they exist in the sphere of God's glory, where God dwells in infinite splendor and majesty, the glory that is his as God alone (v. 20). It is according to all of this--not "out of" his riches but "in accordance with this norm," the infinite riches of grace that belong to God's own glory--that God's full supply will come their way to meet their every need. The language is deliberately expansive; after all, Paul is trying to say something concrete about the eternal God and God's relationship to his people.
Which is why the final word is not the heavenly one, "in glory," but the combined earthly and heavenly one, in Christ Jesus. Because Paul has beheld the "glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus" (2 Cor 4:6), expressed in this letter in the majestic Christ narrative in 2:6-11, Paul sees clearly that Christ Jesus is the way God has made his love known and available to his human creatures. This is what the letter has ultimately been all about. It began in Christ Jesus; it now concludes in Christ Jesus. For Paul "to live is Christ and to die is gain." Thus the final word in the body of the letter proper is this one, "every need of yours according to the wealth that is God's in glory made available to you in Christ Jesus."Doxology (4:20) Verses 18-19 say it all; nothing more can be added. So Paul simply bursts into doxology. The indicative yields to the imperative of worship. When one thinks on God's riches lavished on us in Christ Jesus, what else is there to do but praise and worship?
Christ is indeed the focus of everything that God has done and is doing in this world and the next, but God the Father is always the first and last word in Paul's theology. My God is now our God and Father; and the living God, the everlasting One who belongs to the "ages of ages" and who dwells "in glory," is now ascribed the glory that is due his name.
All of this because the Philippians have sent Paul material assistance to help him through his imprisonment! True theology is expressed in doxology, and doxology is always the proper response to God, even--especially?--in response to God's prompting friends to minister to friends.
This passage thus belongs to several such doxologies in the Pauline corpus, which come at varied moments and reflect Paul's true theological orientation. The amen with which they conclude, taken over by Christians from the Jewish synagogue, is the last word, our "so be it," not only to the doxology itself but especially to the ultimate eschatological words, for ever and ever. This is our way of acknowledging that "glory to God for ever and ever" is the way it is and ever will be world without end, no matter what we do. So let us, God's people in all times and climes, join the chorus.