As Paul sums up his letter to the Philippians, one of gratitude but also correction, he does so with an amazing lesson for us all. Although Paul is thankful for the gifts he has received from the Philippians, which is the primary occasion for the letter, the church had some struggles. It seems from 3:18–19 that the Philippians misunderstood grace, thinking it to mean they can do as they please. Paul encourages them in a few ways, 3:17 says, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Also, in 4:9 we see yet again, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
It seems that although many of the Philippians were givers, they struggled with gratification. The grace and provision of the Lord is not a license to continue living in unrighteousness (see Romans 6). Paul states clearly twice in the immediate context of our passage today, “Follow my example.” In our passage today, we see one more example from Paul the Philippians should follow.
My love language is gifts—I love getting gifts because I feel loved by the giver. It seems Paul feels somewhat the same, but his concern runs much deeper. Verse 11 begins an odd idea for someone sending a thank you note. Paul thanks them for the gift, but sort of says, “I didn’t really need it.” The famous verse in this passage is 13, “I can do all things,” but from the context it is clear Paul says that the “all things” refers to contentment in either poverty or abundance. It is not his power, but the power of Christ, in which Paul finds his strength. However, although Paul says he didn’t need the gift (17a), he was grateful because the Philippians shared in his affliction (14), and it was profitable for them to be givers (17b).
What is the cure for those who seek gratification? The answer, at least in part, is giving. For all of us, it’s hard to put others first. Giving is a tangible way of sharing in the suffering of others and turns our hearts outward, away from ourselves, toward the world. Giving is profitable for the giver because, as Paul says, “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Additionally, Paul wants the Philippians to follow in his example of radical contentment. Paul was thankful for the Lord for every single breath—whether that breath is the air of a prison cell, the sea air of a prisoner transport ship, or the aroma-rich air of a banquet hall among friends, Paul was thankful. The key to contentment is gratitude, and the key to generosity is contentment. Simply put, a discontent person will never be a generous person. But sometimes, the way to learn contentment begins with generosity.
Questions for reflection:
Are you grateful to God for every gracious gift in your life?
Considering your attitude over recent weeks, has it been marked by contentment and gratitude or by frustration and self-focused want?
Our giving is basically limited to our time, talent, and treasure, in what ways have you been generous or selfish?
Where is God calling you to be content? Where is He calling you to give?
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate