In these verses we have the thankful grateful acknowledgment which the apostle makes of the kindness of the Philippians in sending him a present for his support, now that he was a prisoner at Rome. And here,
I. He takes occasion to acknowledge their former kindnesses to him, and to make mention of them, Phil. 4:15, 16. Paul had a grateful spirit; for, though what his friends did for him was nothing in comparison of what he deserved from them and the obligations he had laid upon them, yet he speaks of their kindness as if it had been a piece of generous charity, when it was really far short of a just debt. If they had each of them contributed half their estates to him, they had not given him too much, since they owed to him even their own souls; and yet, when they send a small present to him, how kindly does he take it, how thankfully does he mention it, even in this epistle which was to be left upon record, and read in the churches, through all ages; so that wherever this epistle shall be read there shall this which they did to Paul be told for a memorial of them. Surely never was present so well repaid. He reminds them that in the beginning of the gospel no church communicated with him as to giving and receiving but they only, Phil. 4:15. They not only maintained him comfortably while he was with them, but when he departed from Macedonia they sent tokens of their kindness after him; and this when no other church did so. None besides sent after him of their carnal things, in consideration of what they had reaped of his spiritual things. In works of charity, we are ready to ask what other people do. But the church of the Philippians never considered that. It redounded so much the more to their honour that they were the only church who were thus just and generous. Even in Thessalonica (after he had departed from Macedonia) you sent once and again to my necessity, Phil. 4:16. Observe, 1. It was but little which they sent; they sent only to his necessity, just such things as he had need of; perhaps it was according to their ability, and he did not desire superfluities nor dainties. 2. It is an excellent thing to see those to whom God has abounded in the gifts of his grace abounding in grateful returns to his people and ministers, according to their own ability and their necessity: You sent once and again. Many people make it an excuse for their charity that they have given once; why should the charge come upon them again? But the Philippians sent once and again; they often relieved and refreshed him in his necessities. He makes this mention of their former kindness, not only out of gratitude, but for their encouragement.
II. He excuses their neglect of late. It seems, for some time they had not sent to enquire after him, or sent him any present; but now at the last their care of him flourished again (Phil. 4:10), like a tree in the spring, which seemed all the winter to be quite dead. Now, in conformity to the example of his great Master, instead of upbraiding them for their neglect, he makes an excuse for them: Wherein you were also careful, but you lacked opportunity. How could they lack opportunity, if they had been resolved upon it? They might have sent a messenger on purpose. But the apostle is willing to suppose, in favour of them, that they would have done it if a fair opportunity had offered. How contrary is this to the behaviour of many to their friends, by whom neglects which really are excusable are resented very heinously, when Paul excused that which he had reason enough to resent.
III. He commends their present liberality: Notwithstanding, you have well done that you did communicate with my affliction, Phil. 4:14. It is a good work to succour and help a good minister in trouble. Here see what is the nature of true Christian sympathy; not only to be concerned for our friends in their troubles, but to do what we can to help them. They communicated with his affliction, in relieving him under it. He who says, Be you warmed, be you filled, and giveth not those things they have need of, what doth it profit? Jas. 2:16. He rejoiced greatly in it (Phil. 4:10), because it was an evidence of their affection to him and the success of his ministry among them. When the fruit of their charity abounded towards the apostle, it appeared that the fruit of his ministry abounded among them.
IV. He takes care to obviate the bad use some might make of his taking so much notice of what was sent him. It did not proceed either from discontent and distrust (Phil. 4:11) or from covetousness and love of the world, Phil. 4:12. 1. It did not come from discontent, or distrust of Providence: Not that I speak in respect of want (Phil. 4:11); not in respect of any want he felt, nor of any want he feared. As to the former, he was content with the little he had, and that satisfied him; as to the latter, he depended upon the providence of God to provide for him from day to day, and that satisfied him: so that he did not speak in respect of want any way. For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. We have here an account of Paul’s learning, not that which he got at the feet of Gamaliel, but that which he got at the feet of Christ. He had learnt to be content; and that was the lesson he had as much need to learn as most men, considering the hardships and sufferings with which he was exercised. He was in bonds, and imprisonments, and necessities, often; but in all he had learnt to be content, that is, to bring his mind to his condition, and make the best of it.—I know both how to be abased and I know how to abound, Phil. 4:12. This is a special act of grace, to accommodate ourselves to every condition of life, and carry an equal temper of mind through all the varieties of our state. (1.) To accommodate ourselves to an afflicted condition—to know how to be abased, how to be hungry, how to suffer want, so as not to be overcome by the temptations of it, either to lose our comfort in God or distrust his providence, or to take any indirect course for our own supply. (2.) To a prosperous condition—to know how to abound, how to be full, so as not to be proud, or secure, or luxurious. And this is as hard a lesson as the other; for the temptations of fulness and prosperity are not less than those of affliction and want. But how must we learn it? I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, Phil. 4:13. We have need of strength from Christ, to enable us to perform not only those duties which are purely Christian, but even those which are the fruit of moral virtue. We need his strength to teach us to be content in every condition. The apostle had seemed to boast of himself, and of his own strength: I know how to be abased (Phil. 4:12); but here he transfers all the praise to Christ. “What do I talk of knowing how to be abased, and how to abound? It is only through Christ who strengthens me that I can do it, not in my own strength.” So we are required to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might (Eph. 6:10), and to be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:1); and we are strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, Eph. 3:16. The word in the original is a participle of the present tense, en to endynamounti me Christo, and denotes a present and continued act; as if he had said, “Through Christ, who is strengthening me, and does continually strengthen me; it is by his constant and renewed strength I am enabled to act in every thing; I wholly depend upon him for all my spiritual power.” 2. It did not come from covetousness, or an affection to worldly wealth: “Not because I desired a gift (Phil. 4:17): that is, I welcome your kindness, not because it adds to my enjoyments, but because it adds to your account.” He desired not so much for his own sake, but theirs: “I desire fruit that may abound to your account, that is, that you may be enabled to make such a good use of your worldly possessions that you may give an account of them with joy.” It is not with any design to draw more from you, but to encourage you to such an exercise of beneficence as will meet with a glorious reward hereafter. “For my part,” says he, “I have all, and abound, Phil. 4:18. What can a man desire more than enough? I do not desire a gift for the gift’s sake, for I have all, and abound.” They sent him a small token, and he desired no more; he was not solicitous for a present superfluity, or a future supply: I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things which were sent by you. Note, A good man will soon have enough of this world; not only of living in it, but of receiving from it. A covetous worldling, if he has ever so much, would still have more; but a heavenly Christian, though he has little, has enough.
V. The apostle assures them that God did accept, and would recompense, their kindness to him. 1. He did accept it: It is an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God. Not a sacrifice of atonement, for none makes atonement for sin but Christ; but a sacrifice of acknowledgment, and well-pleasing to God. It was more acceptable to God as it was the fruit of their grace than it was to Paul as it was the supply of his want. With such sacrifices God is well pleased, Heb. 13:16. 2. He would recompense it: But my God shall supply all your wants according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus, Phil. 4:19. He does as it were draw a bill upon the exchequer in heaven, and leaves it to God to make them amends for the kindness they had shown him. “He shall do it, not only as your God, but as my God, who takes what is done to me as done to himself. You supplied my needs, according to your poverty; and he shall supply yours, according to his riches.” But still it is by Christ Jesus; through him we have grace to do that which is good, and through him we must expect the reward of it. Not of debt, but of grace; for the more we do for God the more we are indebted to him, because we receive the more from him.