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."

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