Today we conclude a series by guest writer Marc Rader, in the book of Philippians. It’s written as a dialogue between Paul and Clement (an imaginary member of the Philippian church.)
Well, we’re at the end! I hope you’ve enjoyed this imaginative journey through Philippians. In this last section Paul thanks the Philippians for their financial partnership with him but in typical fashion takes the opportunity to teach on contentment.
Paul – There was, however, one last things to say. I’d kept it til last so that it was the final word – a word of thanks!
Read Philippians 4:10-14
I am so thankful for their support but I’m keen not to suggest that I need more. It’s a fine line. In our society, to help someone usually involves some sort of repayment; unless it’s between friends. Their partnership with me is certainly based on the partnership with the gospel but I am very aware how easily an overly exuberant thank you might be misunderstood as a request for patronage. I needed to dance the fine line of thanks but without going over the top.
Clement – One of the challenges we face as believer is to work out how much is enough. It’s too common to believe that we don’t have enough; to focus on our lack and want more. Paul’ words, were another reminder of his example. He was content in whatever situation he found himself; in prison or in freedom, in plenty or in want.
And that’s a big thing. I mean, to be content with very little is the situation of most people. And that’s important. But how much more difficult to be content when you have lots! In this, Paul sounds a bit like the Stoic philosophers who urge contentment. Of course, they encouragement detachment from the world and an emotionless response to everything which isn’t quite what Paul has in mind. He rejoices in want and rejoices in plenty.
Paul – The secret of contentment! I purposely used the language of initiation; because I have been initiated into the sphere of all contentment! I can do all things in Christ. Of course, when I say “all things” I mean I can face prosperity and want with contentment. If I were to have all my physical needs met I would not want more. And if I were in want I would not desire more.
And, their gift – so nice to receive – has met many of my needs. Being under house arrest has its benefits and its challenges. It’s been wonderful because I have been able to receive visitors but it’s a challenge because I have to provide for myself. Their gift came in the providence of God.
Clement – What struck me about Paul’s comment about contentment was that he didn’t give a preference. He didn’t say whether he preferred to be content in plenty or in want. And that got me thinking about my own circumstances. What do I prefer? Surely, I prefer to attempt contentment in plenty. And yet wealth breeds discontentment. I heard a popular speaker say that “Those who have five couches, go looking for ten” and I know that to be true in my own life.
One of the things that drew me to Judaism originally was its high ethical lifestyle. The teaching on wealth was one of those that I have had occasion to reflect on. The numerous warnings that are found in the Hebrew Scriptures about how wealth will tempt you to put your trust in your own resources and to decrease your thankfulness are certainly thought provoking.
Now, as a follower of Jesus that is even more so. To consider my wealth as something that I could use to my advantage – rightfully so – but not to hold on to it… that is too important to let go of.
Paul’s contentment was really challenging to me – again!
Paul – But I was really thankful for their gift. And not only the fact that the money made things a bit more comfortable for me but that it showed their concern for me; the fruit of their faith.
And, as I’ve already mentioned, the Philippians are one of the few churches that I can trust to help me with the gospel in mind.
Read Philippians 4:15-19
Clement – To hear Paul recount our help of him showed that he hadn’t forgotten anything. In fact, he even mentioned the second time we helped in Thessalonica. Even I’d forgotten about that!
But there was no sense in his letter that he was looking for more; only that he was grateful for the help we were able to send.
Paul – Their gift was actually an example of the sort of self-sacrificing love that I’d been talking about. There are a few members of that community who have ample resources to support themselves and others, but the majority of them are pretty poor. They know what I mean about not having much!
And yet, like the offering to the saints of Jerusalem, for the joy of giving, they have over-extended themselves to help me. The gift really was quite generous when you know the circumstances of the community.
I know that some, like Lydia, will make sure that none of them starve if she can help it, but they have really set aside money that they could have used – legitimately – for their own good and their own benefit. But, for my sake and the sake of the gospel and the sake of Christ Jesus their Lord, they have set aside their own desires and wants and supported me.
It is a sacrifice and, as such, is pleasing to God.
Clement – Paul shifts nearly everything to how it relates to God the Father and this was no exception. Our gift, he said, wasn’t a gift just between friends, but was in fact a sacrifice presented to God.
His promise that God would look after our needs was another of those promises that is so hard to keep one’s trust in. It is so much easier to trust in cold, hard cash. It is so much more tangible. And yet, we are those who have put our faith in Jesus Christ as the Lord; as the one who will provide everything we need because that’s what Lord’s do!
Paul – And that was it. That was all I had to say. It was perhaps a bit more than they might have expected when they first got the letter; most letters tend to be much shorter! But what I had to say was very, very important.
As a last note I included some greetings but was careful to avoid using any names; I wanted to avoid even a hint of favouritism, but wished to emphasise again their unity in Christ.
Clement – The greetings were a bit odd. Normally, Paul would greet specific people by name. Not so here.
Read Philippians 4:20-23
Of course, we knew why. His whole letter had been about unity and how we were all in this together. It would have defeated the purpose to finish with specific greetings. And it was so encouraging to think that there were believers in the palace of Caesar who sent their greetings! These were people who we had never met and might never meet before the glories of heaven, but who were one with us.
Paul – I don’t know if the Philippians know how inspirational they are to me and those I tell about them. The reason the believers here wished to be remembered by the Philippians is that they are such an example of Christ’s love and of the reality of discipleship. The church in Philippi – under pressure from their culture (and the same pressure faced by those in Caesar’s palace) – were an example of how to stand firm.
Yes, they’d been going through a bit of a rough patch, but I was confident that God would complete his work among them. So I continue to boast about them, to used them as an example of how to live faithfully as followers of Jesus.
Clement – It’s not an easy task, following Jesus. The claims of our culture are difficult to navigate and the unlearning that must be done is not a simple process either. Putting others first like Jesus did, discerning what is good in culture and affirming it, without allowing those things that are incompatible to fall away is just like a marathon – we must, as Paul has urged us, strain ahead for the crown of victory; to gain Christ.
To think about
One of the ways that we can exhibit the sort of attitude Paul had in mind is how we treat our financial resources. It is too easy to spend all our resources on ourselves. As we conclude the letter to the Philippians take some time to consider how you might use your resources for others rather than yourself.
Pray for opportunities to share the wealth with those around you!