The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:10 - "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity." The word "again" indicates that the Philippians had helped Paul in the past. How had they assisted him? They had evidently sent things to him--perhaps money or clothing or other items he could use. It appears that Epaphroditus brought the items to Paul (cf. 4:18). For whatever reason, the Philippian Christians had not had opportunity to help Paul recently. But now they showed their care for him again by sending support, and he rejoiced greatly as a result.
Paul was thankful for the assistance he received. May we always be appreciative and show our gratitude for the help we receive from others and from the Lord. Additionally, let us look for opportunities to help others and do good for them, as Galatians 6:10 teaches - "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith."
Paul continued in Philippians 4:11,12 - "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content; I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." Paul makes it clear that he wasn't talking about his needs. Thus, even if they had not sent anything to Paul, he still would have been satisfied. You see, Paul had learned a very difficult lesson--how to be content. He could be content regardless of whatever condition he found himself in. If he was in poor physical circumstances, he could live humbly and be content. If he was in good physical circumstances, he could live in prosperity and be satisfied.
Physical circumstances just did not matter to Paul! Whether he was hungry or full, he would be content. Whether he was abounding or in need, he would be content. This is a tough lesson to learn, but it is one that every Christian should work toward. Admittedly, it is not natural for a person to be content when he is in need physically, but it is possible for a Christian! Tragically, many in the world have an abundance of material goods, but they still lack true contentment. Paul said that he had learned this attitude of contentment. But how? How can a person learn to be content in any set of circumstances? The next verse holds the answer.
Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Paul realized this truth, and so must we if we are ever going to have the contentment God wants us to have. Paul understood that the Lord was in control! Jesus is the One who strengthens us and makes us capable of doing what we need to do as His servants. Paul knew that it was only in Christ that he could find abiding joy and true strength, and he knew that this joy and strength would raise him above all of the suffering, instability, and uncertainty of this physical life. Paul knew that it was only in Christ, in faithful dedication and devotion to God, that true contentment is found.
I don't believe the Scriptures teach that God strengthens us directly in some miraculous or mystical way. Rather, God strengthens us indirectly through His word. Consider Acts 20:32 - "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." God's word is able to build us up. His divine word makes us strong. This is how Christ strengthens us! He strengthens us through His inspired Scriptures. Paul was able to be content in whatever physical circumstance he found himself in because he had learned from God that physical concerns really don't matter in the big picture! It's all "rubbish" as he said back in Philippians 3:8. What really matters is faithful Christian living--standing fast in the Lord (4:1). That is what brings joy and contentment spiritually which makes physical pleasure or pain an insignificant issue. Realizing this makes contentment an attainable goal for a Christian in any circumstances.
Hebrews 13:5,6 also contains some good points on this subject of contentment - "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we may boldly say: 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?'" The Lord wants us to be content with what we have! Can we do that? We can if we remember that God is our helper. If we sincerely believe that, then there is nothing to be afraid of, there is nothing to worry about, and there is nothing to fret over--there is only joy and contentment!
Philippians 4:14-18 reads - "Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God." Even though Paul would have been content without their aid, he is very thankful for it. They had done well in sharing with him in this difficult time (remember, Paul is in prison; 1:13,14).
Paul states several facts in these verses regarding the Philippians' generosity in sending aid for his necessities on more than one occasion. They apparently were the only congregation who directly helped Paul in this way. Of course, that may have been by Paul's choice as other New Testament passages seem to indicate (cf. II Cor. 11:7ff; I Cor. 9). The apostle, perhaps afraid of being misunderstood, explicitly declared that his intent was not to seek a gift from them. Paul's yearning was not to receive aid from them, although it certainly was beneficial to him and he was grateful for it. His desire was the fruit that would increase to their accounts!
In other words, Paul wanted them to give, not for himself, but for their own strength and edification! Their giving to Paul would benefit others through the apostle's work and it would also be an indirect contribution to their own heavenly "account" (cf. Matt. 6:19,20). Paul compared their gift to a physical sacrifice with its pleasing aroma. The physical aid they sent to Paul was a sacrifice, and it certainly pleased Jehovah. As the Hebrews writer put it - "...do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb. 13:16). Paul appreciated their help, and their aid certainly took care of him even beyond his needs.
Paul continued in Philippians 4:19,20 - "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen."Paul assured them that God would provide all of their needs. There is, of course, a difference between our needs and our wants. Jesus Himself promised that those who seek God's kingdom as their first priority will have their needs provided (Matt. 6:33). We need to believe this promise and glorify God accordingly!
Paul concludes this epistle with these words - "Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar's household. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen" (Phil. 4:21-23). Here we find Paul's closing words and blessing. He encouraged them to be hospitable to all of their brethren in Christ--not just some of them. No one is to be overlooked! There is to be no partially or prejudice in the Lord's church. Every saint has been bought by the blood of Christ and redeemed from sin. Every saint is precious in God's eyes! It should be understood that everyone who has obeyed the gospel is a Christian or a saint (those terms can be used synonymously). Specifically, a saint is one who has been set apart from the world to fulfill God's purpose in his or her life.
Paul sends greetings to the Philippian church from those Christians who were with him personally and from other saints in the area. He explicitly mentions the Christians of Caesar's household. It would appear that Paul had a good influence on those who guarded him while he was in chains, even to the extent of converting some of them (cf. 1:13)! Paul did not feel sorry for himself in prison and thereby waste opportunities for evangelism. He served the Lord and brought glory to His name even while in chains!
Finally, he declares that his desire was for the unmerited favor of God to be with them (i.e., God's grace). We ought to possess the same wish for all of God's children today, wherever they may live!
As we wrap up this series of lessons on the book of Philippians, let us summarize what we have seen in the fourth chapter. Paul desired that the Philippian brethren stand fast in the Lord. To accomplish this they would need to be like-minded and united together. They would need to learn to trust God completely by rejoicing always, praying, and not worrying, and they would need to fill their minds with good things. As a result of these actions, they would have peace from God (i.e., true contentment). Paul then goes on to thank them for their financial assistance in his ministry. He had learned to be content in any circumstances, but he most certainly appreciated their aid. Finally, he wished that God's grace would be with them.
It is my prayer that you have benefited from our study in the book of Philippians. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.