Contentment and Fellowship Chap 4:2-23. Presentation 11. The Structure of the Book. Opening and introduction 1:1-2 Paul and the Philippian Church 1:3-26 Exhortation and Examples 1:27-2:30 Warnings 3:1-4:1 Encouragement Gratitude and Final Greetings 4: 2-23 Promoting prayer 4:1-9
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Opening and introduction 1:1-2
Paul and the Philippian Church 1:3-26
Exhortation and Examples 1:27-2:30
Encouragement Gratitude and Final Greetings 4: 2-23
Promoting prayer 4:1-9
Contentment and Fellowship 4:10-23
One of the very remarkable things about Paul\'s teaching is his ability to bring rich spiritual teaching out of mundane and material matters.
In these verses he thanks the church at Philippi for the material gifts which they had sent for his welfare and which Epaphroditus had delivered upon his arrival.
It is taken as a matter of course that churches should support those engaged in full time ministry. We can be sure that when Paul gave instruction to new converts, he taught them that Christian stewardship was a practical expression of their new found faith.
In dealing with financial matters Paul was neither self-conscious nor embarrassed. His concern cf v17 was not that he needed their gift - for God could have supplied his needs from another source - but that they have an opportunity to demonstrate the Spirit\'s work in their lives.
When such fruit is lacking, then Christians need to be challenged. E.g. the grace of thankfulness, can only be seen when we express it. If we fail to do so, those who have been generous have reason to ask, why we appear ungrateful. Not because they are hurt by our ingratitude - though that will undoubtedly be the case - but because they see something vital that is missing from our lives.
Two words sum up the substance of what Paul wants to talk about in these closing verses: contentment and fellowship.
For a period of 10 years Paul had known neither the promised financial nor moral support which the church in Philippi had promised. You can imagine how hurt he must have been. Hurt, lonely people can react in a number of different ways.
Bitterness is one obvious reaction. Or, the great heaviness of heart, such as that experienced by the Psalmist in Ps 102. Overwhelmed by his circumstances he describes himself as " a sparrow alone on a housetop".
What a picture of misery. A vulnerable, lonely, bedraggled sparrow sitting on the ridge of a roof! This kind of depression and heaviness is frightening, as all who have experienced it will acknowledge.
In the 17th century an English minister, Jeremiah Burroughs, wrote a little book entitled, "The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment". Contentment is still a rare jewel today. It is not something that we stumble upon by accident. It grows out of our fellowship with Christ. It becomes ours when we learn that life consists neither in having, nor in not having certain things.
Life for Paul was Christ. Whether he had much or little did not really matter. Neither condition touched the nerve centre of his spiritual life. If his surroundings were palatial, he was thankful to God. If that was exchanged for a prison and abundance replaced with need that was still O.K. He could still rejoice.
We can also learn from these verses what contentment is not. It is not a suppression of appetite and desire . It is a mistake to attempt to strangle desire within our heart as though desire itself is wrong. We need not fear being human with human appetites and desires. Being a committed Christian doesn\'t mean the absence of desire but it does mean the discipline of desire.
It involves a growing realisation that Christ gives a fuller enjoyment than anything that the world can offer. It is only when we expect too much of things - or people - that fail to provide us with what we seek, that discontentment and frustration arises.
Paul speaks in v12 of knowing and having ‘learned’ certain things. He has been taught in the school of Christ. He could face plenty and hunger, abundance and want without being disturbed. Why? Because the source of his life was not earthly things.
Now do you see the relationship between this learning and his claim in v13 “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength”. Action flows from a true grasp of doctrine. Without instruction there can be no corresponding God-honouring action. There can be no contentment, no victory over the sore circumstances of life, if we fail to learn the lessons Paul learned. Lessons that caused him to say, “for me to live is Christ.”
The text, \'I can do everything...\' is one that must be understood in its context. It doesn’t mean I possess superhero powers. e.g. ‘I can fly, lift a jumbo jet or see through concrete buildings.’
Paul is not talking in broad generalities. He is stating that in whatever circumstances God leads us, we can be confident that, through the enabling of Christ, we can do everything that needs to be done in those circumstances. And that is a great thing to know.
When Paul speaks of God supplying all our need sometimes that may mean that initially he seems to neglect us . Does that sound paradoxical? You see, if the Philippians had come through with Paul’s financial support every month, he might have grown blasé and complacent.
God sometimes appears to neglect us in order to remind us that he is the source of our adequacy. George Muller ran an orphanage and trusted God to supply its need. One day there was no food for the children to eat. Muller insisted they sit down and say grace. Immediately there was a knock at the door. A baker’s van had broken down outside and he did not want his food to go to waste.
The second word we will look at in v14 it is a compound of the Greek word "koinonia" and means "to share fellowship with". Paul commends them for sharing in his troubles. This they did in a twofold way, first by sending financial help to him and secondly by assuring him of their compassion and care for him in his troubles.
True Christian grace creates a spontaneous overflow of love and compassion and this is expressed in practical generosity. Giving, as we are frequently reminded in scripture, is an index of our spiritual health and vitality.
When our giving is mean and reluctant that is a sign of a low spiritual temperature in our hearts.
Of course when we think of giving we must not think only of material gifts. Self-giving lies at the heart of this grace. And it is the out-flowing and expenditure of self upon others that demonstrates the reality of salvation in a man\'s life.
This is precisely what Chap. 2 is all about with its focus upon the self-giving of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A heart of generous self-giving is not optional for the Christian cf. 1Jn.3.17...
When we are embarrassed at expressing our appreciation and thanks to others we must recognise this for the unchristian thing it is.
It is certainly not modesty.
In fact when you express appreciation you are giving a part of yourself away, and this is what selfishness grudges more than anything else.
It is this unwillingness, which produces hardness of heart and at the same time causes distress to those in closest association with us.
The whole point about fellowship in the New Testament sense is that we belong to one-another and need one-another and therefore must share ourselves with one-another. This is an immensely important concept and belongs to the biblical doctrine of man made in the image of God.
If we have been made for fellowship we cannot be ourselves by ourselves but only in fellowship with God and fellow believers. Jesus spoke of losing our lives in order to find it [Lk. 17.33].
The person who refuses to share himself with others never really discovers the richness of his own humanity! It is only when we act in fellowship, communicating ourselves, that we become what we are meant to be and realise our true destiny.
“No man is an Island”
The other thing worthy of our attention is the realisation that this giving of ourselves, in money or in kind, in work or prayer, is a ‘fragrant offering’ v18 to God giving him great pleasure and delight.
Paul was happy when the Philippians showed him an expression of their fellowship but what pleased him more was the thought that it made God happy. It is his pleasure more than ours which is important. Note the language Paul uses to express their self-giving - a ‘sacrifice’. You could almost say, their service cost them some of their lives’ blood. And so must ours, as we put ourselves into what we do - in giving we are giving part of our life.
Their service cost them some of their lives’ blood, does ours? In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress Mr. Standfast speaks to his companions before passing into heaven and says,
““I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I have got here, yet now I do not regret all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder...” So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”
In other words, “Christianity that costs nothing is worth nothing”.
Then comes this great assurance, God will supply ‘all their needs’ v19. Why does this statement appear at this point? Paul is saying, "As you have supplied my needs so God will supply yours".
They had helped Paul to their own considerable cost and sacrifice cf. 2 Cor.8v1ff....
Because they supplied Paul\'s need out of their poverty, God would supply theirs out of his riches. And so the words of v19 are a conditional promise, dependant upon our gracious giving. There is a price to pay for having all our needs met, and knowing that we need be anxious for nothing. However, the reward offered far outstrips the price that is to be paid.
In this closing section of Paul’s letter he has brought important teaching out of what to many might have seemed apparently mundane. But Paul saw God’s hand in every one of life\'s circumstances including the ordinary and apparently commonplace. And it was this awareness that filled him with such unspeakable joy. God’s control was absolute – nothing at all lay outside of the boundary of his control - and nothing can ever exhaust his limitless supplies!