Text: Philippians 4:10-23
In vs. 10-14 Paul relays thankfulness for their gift to him. Yet, he acts as though he doesn’t need the gift, because he has learned the secret of life: contentment in Christ. Whether he has much or little, he has learned how to be content in either. He doesn’t pass this on as something he expects from them, although as part of his example he wants them to aspire to this level of contentment. But he points out that it was the experience of going through these things that taught him contentment.
All elements in these verses are financial needs; they are not psychological needs or feelings. How can one be content with little if he has never had little? Conversely, how can one be content with much if he has never had much? The danger is for one who has much to assume he will be content if all is taken away from him, and for the one with little to assume he will be content if he is suddenly given much. Or, is the one with much really content, or does she worry about her money? Is the one with little really content, or does she complain about her lot in life? This issue is more complex than we initially think.
Verse 13 is directly related to the above context. Paul does not mean he can climb mountains and get promotions and slam-dunk basketballs because God strengthens him. Paul does not even mean that God’s strength will help him face a difficult day at work, although other passages certainly teach this. Contextually, this verse describes Paul’s learning process—it is because of God’s strength that Paul was able to learn how to be content even when he had little, and when he had much, God’s strength taught him how to remain content. “I can do all things” means I can face all economic situations (having nothing and in jail, perhaps?) because God provides his strength.
Paul continues to relate that the gift they sent had better results for them than him. They are the only church that has stood by him through thick-and-thin. Their result is a profit to their account. Givers get. They learned a valuable lesson about contentment and humility by giving of themselves for Paul. Their gift is a pleasing sacrifice accepted by God.
Because they met Paul’s needs, God will meet their needs. This is a not a psychological affirmation or platitude. Taken in light of Paul’s teaching on contentment, we should read “needs” as those things that we really do need. Not a good job, a nice bank account, good friends, etc., but we will be provided for in life. Let us be thankful, full of gratitude and humility, and content with our lot in life. God will meet our needs, but we should also cooperate with God to help meet the needs of others.