“I believe you did the right thing by sharing my troubles. You Philippians know that in the beginning of my ministry, just after leaving Macedonia, no church partnered with me in giving and receiving except you. And while I was in Thessalonica, you met my needs more than once. But it is not money I am anxious for, but for the harvest of blessing in your lives which is accumulating to your account spiritually. I am fully satisfied, having received of Epaphroditus the gifts you sent me. They are like the sweet fragrance of a sacrifice that is pleasing to God. He will supply all your needs through Christ Jesus from the vastness of His wealth. Now unto God our Father be glory throughout eternity. Amen.” (paraphrased)
Paul expresses deep appreciation for their efforts on his behalf. They have “partnered” (koinonia) in his afflictions and are empathetic, not merely sympathetic. Their affectionate care is not romanticized, but visible, practical and tangible. Once again Paul assures them of his gratitude. They continue to share his troubles, being sensitive to his incarceration, trials and persecutions.
The term “giving and receiving” is an accounting term, meaning to move things from the debit side to the credit side of a ledger. As the Philippians have helped Paul with his physical needs, he helps them with their spiritual needs. From the outset of his ministry in Thessalonica ten years earlier, the Philippians have assisted Paul (Acts 16-17). He witnesses the work of the Spirit among them for nearly a decade. He is blessed as he considers their continuing acts of kindness and responds with sincere appreciation.
Again the Philippians come to his aid. He reminds them how thankful he is for past favors as well. Before Paul leaves Thessalonica, they send him aid repeatedly (Acts 17:1-9 & II Cor. 11:9). He mentions the generosity of the Macedonian churches in responding to the needs of the saints in Jerusalem (II Cor. 8:1-2). All these blessings serve to further validate the grace of God in their lives. But Paul makes it clear he will never take advantage of them. Aware that the enemies of the cross can exploit their gift giving, Paul works “day and night” in Thessalonica at his tent making trade and later testifies how he never eats anyone’s food without paying for it (I Thess.2:9 & II Thess.3:8).
He is quick to add he is not anticipating future blessings from them. He does not patronize them, hoping to get more. It is not their physical acts of generosity that bring joy to Paul. The reciprocal benefit of seeing how God impacts their lives blesses him in the dungeon. This serves as proof his labor is not in vain. Paul knows God will compensate them richly for their perpetual generosity.
The receipt for their gifts is written on Paul’s heart, not on paper. Because they have no obligation to give, he views their compassion as a representation of God’s own heart. Continuing his accounting terminology, Paul claims to have received “full payment” and more. He expresses appreciation for Epaphroditus (2:25-30) and he shares how their sacrifices are like a fragrant aroma that pleases God (Gen. 8:21; Rom. 12:1). Jesus explains how others “will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Paul regards the motivation behind their actions as further proof of spiritual maturity. To him they are deposits in the bank of heaven, reaping spiritual dividends.
“God shall supply every need of yours.” The phrase is emphatic. As they have supplied his needs, the Lord will continue to supply theirs. Paul assures them God will repay them abundantly via the limitless resources of His Son. The Bible is filled with examples of God’s miraculous provision. The Lord uses birds to take food to His people (I Kings 17:4). He rains manna from heaven (John 6:49). God causes water to flow from a rock (Num. 20:11). Jesus turns water into wine and multiplies loaves and fish (John 2:9 & 6:9).
A story is told of an aged and starving Native American who made his way to a settlement in search of food in the 1790’s. A brightly colored ribbon was around his neck from which hung a small pouch. When asked what it was, he opened it and took out a worn piece of paper. It was a discharge from the Continental Army in which he had served, signed by George Washington. This agreement entitled him to a pension for life. If he had produced this document earlier, all his needs would have been met. This serves as a graphic analogy of Christians everywhere who never fully claim the blessings of God. We must bind His commandments “around our necks” (Proverbs 3:1-3). Many people wander through life spiritually starved, though the written promises of God have been available for centuries.
Paul’s parting remark is an affirmation, not a casual wish. His doxology reflects his approval of this church family he loves so dearly. He expresses glory to God in prison and intends to praise Him throughout eternity. We must learn to give gifts with the spirit of the Philippians and receive gifts with the spirit Paul exemplifies.
COMMUNICATION – STUDY QUESTIONS
1. Read II Corinthians 11:9. What group supplies Paul’s needs while he is in prison?
A. The Corinthians
B. The Thessalonians
C. The Ephesians
D. The Macedonians
E. The Syrians
2. According to 4:19, who will supply all the needs of the Philippians?
A. Roman Christians
B. Gentiles Christians
C. Jewish Christians
E. Colossian Christians
3. Paul refers to gifts from the Philippians as a sweet fragrance (4:18). According to Ephesians 5:2, what else does Paul say is a sweet fragrance to God?
A. sacrifices from the Romans
B. sacrifices from the Ephesians
C. sacrifices from the Samaritans
D. the sacrifice of Christ
E. the sacrifice of praise
COMMUNICATION – REFLECTION
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR COUPLES
1. Paul refers to sacrifices as sweet fragrances (4:18). We are to be selfless in responding to our mate (Ephesians 5:21). List several major things your spouse has sacrificed on your behalf. Now, trade lists and express your appreciation for each item right now.
2. Paul informs us that while he is in Macedonia, the Philippians come to his aid continually (4:16). Thank your spouse right now for the little things you often take for granted.
3. We are informed in 4:17 that spiritual blessings are more important than physical blessings. Discuss specific things you do as a couple to “lay up treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20).
ESSAY QUESTIONS FOR INDIVIDUALS
1. Paul refers to sacrifices as “sweet fragrances” (4:18). We are to be selfless in responding to others (Ephesians 5:21). List several major things you have sacrificed for someone else.
2. While he is in Macedonia, the Philippians come to Paul’s aid continually (4:16). List things that others do for you that you have taken for granted. Write a note of appreciation to someone you have neglected to thank for a kindness.
3. We are informed in 4:17 that spiritual blessings are more important than physical blessings. List things you do to “lay up treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20).