14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. 15 And you yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; 16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. 17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. 18 But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. 19 And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. [NASB ‘77]
Paul launches out of his treatise on contentment to encourage the Philippians in their generosity. Their giving to his ministry and for his needs is a pleasing sacrifice to God, and they can give confidently, knowing that God will supply their needs out of His great riches and grace. The Philippians with their generosity show what it means to live contented and faithful lives in pursuit of God’s kingdom and message.
Paul just went to great lengths to tell the Philippians that he didn’t need their gift because he’s totally content in Christ, through whom he can be content in all circumstances. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate their generosity. They did well to send him gifts on more than one occasion.
They supported him both in Philippi and even when he left them and went to Thessalonica (he went to Philippi and Thessalonica on his second journey – Acts 16-17), and again after he left Macedonia entirely. And they did this when no other church did, and did it on more than one occasion. They have fully supported Paul by laboring with him in the gospel (1:5), suffering with him for the gospel (1:7, 1:29), and now giving toward the spread of the gospel not just in their city but everywhere they can.
In all of this they’ve shown their heart. They demonstrate their sanctification with their generosity. Remember that they give in the midst of suffering. They love Paul and they love the gospel and that supersedes their love of possessions and concern for their own welfare. They trust God and love His message, and that drives their giving nature.
It’s interesting that Paul mentions that no other church supported him at the time the Philippians sent their gifts. It’s hard to know why this is, but it shows again the Philippians’ commitment to him and to the gospel. They don’t care what others do. They don’t care what conventional wisdom recommends. They don’t care about anything nearly as much as they care about seeing God’s message go out. Their eyes are on their Savior – period. And what everyone else does is of little importance by comparison.
Paul reminds them again that it’s not about him needing their resources. What’s important is what their giving means about their commitment to Christ and what it means for their eternal treasure. By giving to the ministry of the gospel they profit themselves where it truly matters – eternity. Jesus made the same point to His disciples – Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys (Lk 12:33). Paul also says something similar to Timothy – Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (I Tim 6:17-19). Giving toward God’s work or for God’s people always has eternal ramifications. We never simply give to a cause or person; we ultimately give to God and store up eternal treasure in the process.
When we give to God, it pleases Him. God loves His children’s gifts. The financial offerings of the Philippians are like the burnt offerings of old – they provide a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. God loves to be pursued and trusted, and a giving spirit stems from both. The believer who gives cheerfully and lovingly and faithfully pleases God because he shows his trust in God’s provision and his acknowledgment of God’s ownership.
In verse 18 – for the first time – Paul raves about the gift they sent with Epaphroditus (now that he’s made it clear that he doesn’t need anything he’s free to graciously tell them how nice it is). They’ve given him everything he needs – he actually has more than enough. It shows their generous spirit. But remember, he just said that he can be content in all circumstances because of Christ. So his claim in this verse is likely as much about Paul as it is about the gift. They likely could have sent just about anything and Paul would say he’s amply supplied. And – as we just pointed out – it’s really about the gift’s meaning for their eternity and their perspective on God. It’s not about Paul’s needs.
Paul ends this section with a promise stated almost like a benediction. They can give confidently because God will supply their needs. They’ve given out of their suffering and their love for Paul and the gospel, and God will not forget them.
Notice how Paul phrases this statement. He says it’s my God who will supply their needs. He knows God. He loves God. And he’s experienced God’s provision in every kind of circumstance. Thus he can say with confidence that God will take care of them.
Notice too, the scope of the promise. God will supply ALL your needs. Nothing’s left out. And how does He supply them? According to His riches in glory. He doesn’t supply according to our needs. He supplies according to His riches in glory – riches that are unlimited and beyond our comprehension.
He ends this statement with a qualifier. The riches out of which He supplies His children are in Christ Jesus. This is not a general promise for everyone. It’s limited to those who are in Christ Jesus. Do you remember how we’re supposed to rejoice? In the Lord (3:1, 4:4). How are we to stand firm? In the Lord (4:1). How are we to live in harmony with other believers? In the Lord (4:2). How will the peace of God guard our hearts and minds? In Christ Jesus (4:7). How can we be content in all circumstances? Through Him (4:13). This is a recurring theme throughout the letter. We must be a child of God to enjoy the privileges of family. And even as His children it is only in Him that we can live lives that please Him and enjoy Him in a sin-cursed world.
This verse echoes Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount. There He told us to stop worrying about our daily needs because God knows what we need and will supply us – just as He does the lilies of the field and birds of the air. Instead, we’re to seek His kingdom (Matt 6:30-34). Paul’s words also go along with David’s observation that he never saw a righteous man forsaken or the children of the righteous begging for bread (Ps 37:25). In all cases, it’s about God taking care of His children. He loves them and He’s already given His Son for them (Rom 8:32). How could He possibly neglect them?
[It’s interesting to compare this verse to other things Paul’s said about his own experience. He’s talked about all the trials he’s faced – beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, hungry (II Cor 11:23-27) – and even as he writes this letter he’s in prison with the possibility of execution. So how does that go along with this promise of God’s provision? It reminds us that God never promises us ease or prosperity or comfort. He promises to meet our needs – food and shelter. And even then, it may simply be the minimum for survival (based on Paul’s experiences). We can depend on this promise and we can look at the gospel and know that God won’t neglect us, but we can’t interpret it through the lens of our western mindset or assume God will meet our “need” for the good things in life.]
We can probably read this verse in two ways. First, it seems to be a contingent promise to those who give. Those who give – like the Philippians – have the promise of God’s provision. Those who don’t give can’t claim this in the same way. This goes along with Paul’s words to the Corinthians that God will supply seed to the one who sows bountifully (II Cor 9:6-11). The other way to read this is as a promise that frees us to give. If God promises to meet my needs – and I believe Him – I’m free to be generous. I can give generously and even radically (Christ didn’t rebuke the widow who gave everything she had – Lk 21:1-4). There’s obviously a balance – although the vast majority of us don’t have to worry about going too far in giving, it’s the balance the other way that trips us up – but if Paul’s words are true and Jesus’ words about not worrying about our needs are true, then our perspective on giving should be, “God’s got me, let’s see how I can meet others’ needs.”
Thus giving becomes a matter of faith and trust. Do I trust God enough to sacrificially give? Do you remember how the Israelites had to gather manna in the wilderness? They only were allowed to gather one day’s needs at a time. Every day they had to bring back to the house just a day’s worth of food and had to trust that another day’s worth would be on the ground the next morning. They couldn’t store up anything. So every day they had to trust God’s promise that He would provide their needs (Ex 16). Couldn’t the same be true of us today? Shouldn’t we live more like the Israelites in the wilderness or the widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17)? You might be thinking, “So you’re saying we shouldn’t have any savings and shouldn’t set aside anything for the future? We should give away everything and just trust God?” That may be more than the text is saying, and in the end we all have to decide before God what this means in our lives (and there are certainly other texts to take into account). BUT – it’s instructive that both Paul and Christ pretty clearly take the approach that we need to worry about our needs less and give more. Sacrificially more (Jesus several times expresses giving in terms of selling something in order to give – not just giving out of abundance). Which means at the end of the day our giving will reflect our perspective both on God’s provision and on His kingdom and gospel.
In II Cor 8:1-5, Paul gives us a clearer picture of how the Philippians give. In that text he describes how the churches of Macedonia – which include Philippi – collected money for the suffering saints in Jerusalem. He says they gave in the midst of a great ordeal of affliction and out of their deep poverty. He also says they gave beyond their ability and begged for the favor of participation in the gift. This is what it means to believe the promise of verse 19 and to believe that the eternal values of God’s kingdom are more important than the comforts of this world. When we truly believe that God has our needs and that there’s nothing more important in this world than His kingdom, we’ll give. When God grabs our hearts and turns our eyes on Him and on others – we’ll give.
If we want to give like a Philippian, three things must be true:
- We must be content in Christ. Remember that this text comes right out of Paul’s great lesson on contentment in verses 10-13. If we’re content in Christ as Paul commands, then our attitude on giving changes from, “Look what I’m giving up” to “Look what I can give away because I’m happy with whatever Christ gives me.” Contentment frees us from envy, the rat race, and from becoming consumed by the trappings of worldly success. It also allows us to more easily believe God’s promise to provide for us (I’m content in Christ so my needs are few).
- We must focus on eternity. Our gifts are a pleasing offering to God and He promises to reward us eternally for them. But those truths won’t mean anything if our eyes are only on what’s around us. When we’re fully invested in God’s kingdom and His eternity, giving becomes an act of worship rather than an act of difficult sacrifice. An eternal focus also allows us to more easily believe God’s promise to provide for us (I’m focused on eternal rewards so my needs are few).
- We must trust God. At its most fundamental level, giving is an act of trust. We’ll only give when we truly believe God’s promise to provide. Said negatively, we won’t give if we don’t believe (and we can’t claim to believe if we don’t give). When I take Jesus’ words to heart that God won’t neglect His children, and when I fully incorporate Paul’s words into my life that God will supply my needs out of His riches, and when I look at Christ on the cross and think about how ridiculous it is to think God could do that and then forget about me – THEN I’ll give, and I’ll give liberally and radically. But until I do those things, I won’t give. Disbelief breeds stinginess. Generosity springs out of trust.