Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Philippians 4:14-23 ESV
Now Paul turns his heart once again to the gift of the Philippians, saying that it was kind of them to share in his troubles. Even though Paul wants to be clear that it was Christ that enabled him to face his various tribulations, he wants the Philippians to understand that their gift was a joy upon joy. He further describes the previous help that these brothers and sisters had been to him while he was in Macedonia and Thessalonica. Christ alone is sufficient for every concern, but he was incredibly thankful to have such a generous and loving family around the world.
PARTNERING IN THE GOSPEL // VERSES 14-20
Having taken a detour in thought to describe his contentment in the Lord in verses 11-13, Paul now returns to commenting on the concern the Philippians showed him through their gift. Sent by the hands of Epaphroditus, we do not know what their gifts to the apostle were, although we can assume that they included a letter of encouragement to him. Whatever the gifts were (whether financial, literary, or something else), Paul makes it clear that the Philippians were partnering with Paul in his ministry. And since Paul’s primary ministry was to preach the gospel to those who had yet to hear of Jesus, we can look to these verses for a theological snapshot of why churches supporting missionaries is so crucial to the advancement of the gospel.
Verse 14 gives us our first principle: partnering in missions means sharing trouble. The sufferings of Paul are no secret. Few people can even fathom persevering through the trials that he faced. He lists a few of these tribulations in 2 Corinthians 11:24–28:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Most of us would cease after facing even a fraction of what Paul experienced, yet he continued onward. This letter has revealed much of the apostle’s theological grounds for joy in the midst of such suffering; however, Paul also took joy in knowing that churches like the Philippians were ready to share with him in his trials. The word for share here derives from the same root word that Paul uses for partnership in verse 15 and in 1:5. He is describing the fellowship, community, or communion that followers of Christ share. Such partnership and community are marks of true Christians. It is fitting, therefore, that we would also share each other’s sufferings.
But how can long distance partnerships, like Paul and Philippians, really mean sharing in the missionary’s troubles? First, we must remember that sending Epaphroditus with their gifts was a sacrifice in and of itself. The journey from Philippi to Rome was around 800 miles, which was an especially significant voyage in the ancient world. Indeed, as we should recall, Epaphroditus nearly died taking their gifts to Paul (2:27). So the risk of sending someone to Paul was great; however, there was also danger in openly showing their support of Paul and his ministry. Remember that Paul was imprisoned because his proclamation of the gospel was thought to stir up public outrage. The Romans considered Paul an enemy of the state, a danger to the fragile peace of the ethnically-diverse patchwork that was the Roman Empire. And for a city as Romanized as Philippi, knowledge of such support could have intensified their already present persecution.
Finally, we must also remember that there is much spiritual comfort in knowing that brothers and sisters are praying for you. Even if the Philippians could not be sitting with Paul in prison, there was comfort in knowing that they were concerned and praying for him. Simply knowing that fellow Christians around the world were petitioning the Father for him and eagerly awaiting news from him must have strengthened his resolve to persevere.
Although I don’t pretend to know anything close to Paul’s trials or even those of career missionaries, I do recall the encouragement of support while spending two months in Venezuela. As humans, it is impossible not to have days of discouragement, yet the knowledge that I was serving on behalf of others that could not go often gave me strength to keep pressing forward. May we never forget how much it means to those who are on the frontlines of missions that we care about them and are praying for them. Doing so is a form of sharing in their troubles.
In verses 15-16, Paul recalls how the Philippians repeatedly helped to meet Paul’s needs throughout his journey in Macedonia and even to Thessalonica (which was nearly one hundred miles from Philippi). Notice how carefully Paul words things here. He does not say that the Philippians met all of his needs while he was traveling in their area; instead, he says that they helped to meet his needs. The apostle is careful not to place too great of a burden upon the Philippians since they certainly did not have the ability to meet his needs entirely, not while he was still in Macedonia and especially not while he was in Rome. God alone could meet Paul’s needs, yet the Philippians were used by the Lord to meet some of his needs.
Likewise, we must understand that in our support of missionaries today we are called to meet their needs, yet we cannot meet all their needs. Only the Father can give them the support that they need, yet it is our privilege to be one instrument through which he provides that very support for them. This keeps us from two common errors: pride and discouragement. We are kept from pride because we know that regardless of how great our support is it will never be entirely sufficient. But we are also kept from discouragement because we know that God is ultimately the one who is doing the work and meeting the needs. We, therefore, have the ability to do our part with joy, knowing that God is true supplier.
In verse 17, Paul reiterates his selfless mentality by stating that he seeks the fruitful increase of the Philippians’ account rather than their gift itself. Paul’s language here is undeniably financial. The ESV footnotes suggests another possible translation as being: I seek the profit that accrues to your account. Unmistakably, Paul views the Philippians’ giving as a financial investment, one that is accruing fruitful interest on their behalf. But how are we to understand this concept of heavenly investment?
Paul’s language is similar to Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 6:19-20 | Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Like Paul, Jesus is describing a kind of heavenly investment, storing our treasures in heaven rather than on earth. The wisdom is found in the security of our investment. On earth, savings can be lost. In a moment, people with great wealth have been reduced to poverty (as we learned in Ecclesiastes 5:13-17). Earthly funds are never entirely safe, but what can rob us of our heavenly treasure? Investing in the kingdom of God will never prove unsecure or unprofitable. It is, therefore, foolish not to store our treasures in heaven. By their support of Paul, the Philippians were doing just that. Their partnership in Paul’s ministry was an investment in God’s kingdom, in the advancement of the gospel. One day, when the gospel has spread through all the earth and Jesus has returned as King, the Philippians’ investment will be proven fruitful indeed. We likewise make such an investment whenever we support the spreading of the good news. Generous giving toward gospel efforts is an eternal investment for us.
In verse 18, Paul now returns to the significance of their gift. First, he assures them of his satisfaction with their gift. The word Paul uses for more at the beginning of the verse is actually the same word Paul used in verse 12 for abound; thus, tying this thought with that one. Indeed, we would expect prison of all places to have put Paul in a position of need, yet he writes to the Philippians that their gift has well supplied him, giving him plenty. In other words, he understands the tremendous grace God has given him through the generosity of the Philippian church.
But once again, his emphasis turns from himself back onto the Philippians as he calls their gift a fragrant offering to God. Having used financial language, Paul now uses the language of Old Testament sacrifices to describe their partnership with him. Like a sacrifice made on the altar of the Temple, so is the giving of the Philippians to meet the needs of Paul. It is an offering back to God from what he has generously provided for us. In the Old Testament, offerings were made to God in thanksgiving and recognition that He gives all that we have. Sacrificing an animal, therefore, was certainly a financial sacrifice, but it served as a physical reminder that all things ultimately belong to God. In this way, a sacrifice is a form of recognizing God as God. Thus, Paul informs the Philippians that the same event is occurring with their gift. Their giving was a sacrifice, money that could have been used to meet other needs, yet they still gave, knowing that God Himself is the Giver of all things. Their gift to Paul was ultimately not about Paul but about God. They sacrificed to the God of all things and to the work that He is doing here on earth.
In verse 19, Paul’s attention shifts yet again back to the benefit of the Philippians in their giving. This mighty verse is essentially the apostle’s expression of confidence that God will be faithful to pay his tab. Especially in the culture of the Roman Empire, reciprocal giving among friends was commonplace. Giving to a friend was done with the understanding that they were essentially indebted to you and would need to one day return the favor. Paul takes this customary mentality and flips it on its head, assuring the Philippians that God Himself would take care of Paul’s end.
It is worth making a side note that God has always been in the business of rearranging cultural norms and practices. Because we are made in God’s image, every culture will somewhat reflect God’s character; nevertheless, each reflection is broken by sin. Whenever the gospel penetrates a society, its culture must bow to the gospel, not the other way around. As with the reciprocal giving of friendship in the ancient world, God will often use the language of our culture to reach us, but He recircuits our customs, beliefs, and values for His glory. While giving with the understanding that the other person is indebted to you could lead to non-generous, selfish giving, Paul shifts their expectations by pointing them to God as the one who would give to them in return.
Now this verse can very easily be taken as support for property theology. After all, it does sound like Paul is saying that because the Philippians supported him, God will completely provide for the Philippians. They give, and God blesses. That’s how it works, right? Not exactly. We can never forget that this verse is in the context of the Philippians’ partnership with Paul in advancing the gospel. Paul is not saying that for every dollar that the Philippians gave to his ministry God would give them ten more. Instead, he is saying that as they continue to partner in the spreading of the gospel God would continue to give them the ability to do so. In other words, as they did the work of expanding God’s kingdom, God would be faithful to supply their every need.
Seeing verse 19 as following verses 14-18 is crucial to our mentality of giving. Too often, we either give less than we should or not at all because we are waiting for God to give us a greater ability to give. However, God expects us to give sacrificially, while trusting Him to provide. Indeed, as we support the work of His kingdom, God will be faithful to support us. John G. Paton wrote these words about his home church in Scotland’s support of his missionary work:
Nor did the dear old Church thus cripple herself; on the contrary, her zeal for Missions accompanied, if not caused, unwonted prosperity at home. New waves of liberality passed over the heart of her people. Debts that had burdened many of the Churches and Manses were swept away. Additional Congregations were organized. And in May, 1876, the Reformed Presbyterian Church entered into an honorable and independent Union with her larger, wealthier, and more progressive sister, the Free Church of Scotland. (21 Servants, 541)
This isn’t to say that we should give in order to be blessed by God; however, it is a promise that God will provide for His work. God desires for disciples to be made of all nations, and He will be faithful to fund that mission. We should not be surprised, then, that many of the healthiest churches are also the most mission-minded churches.
Unsurprisingly, all this talk about partnerships, giving, and being supplied causes Paul to erupt into a doxology of praise. Just as our supply from God only comes through His riches in Christ Jesus, so the apostle emphasizes again that God alone receives the glory for all things. Yes, we are called to do our part in accomplishing the Great Commission, but we are not entitled to any praise for our work because it is the Father who enables us to do it in the first place. In the spreading of the gospel, as in the gospel itself, the glory is to God alone.
FINAL GREETINGS // VERSES 21-23
Paul concludes his letter by exchanging greetings. He wishes for greetings to be sent from him and “all the saints” to each believer that is with them. While this is a common element for Christians to express toward one another, the real surprise is Paul’s inclusion of the saints in Caesar’s household. Our minds should recall Paul’s assurance in 1:13 that through his imprisonment even the Praetorian Guard had heard the gospel. Now, as if to comfort the Philippians even more, Paul subtly lets them know that even members of the Roman Emperor’s household believe in Christ. This is a powerful foretelling of the far-reaching pervasiveness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although Paul would be beheaded by the order of the Emperor only a few years after writing this letter, Christianity would be the official religion of the Empire in about three centuries. Regardless of the present circumstances, both history and the Scriptures remind us that the Jesus’ kingdom always triumphs and will permanently triumph in the end.
In a letter as Christocentric as Philippians, it is only fitting for it to end by turning toward Jesus once again. Paul’s final prayer is for the grace of Jesus to be with them. This was the greatest prayer that Paul could give them because only by the unmerited grace of Christ, could they take hold of the joy presented in this letter. And two thousand years later, the same is still true for us.
By grace alone, we have hope of being completed at the day of Jesus Christ.
By grace alone, our love will continue to abound more and more.
By grace alone, our life is Christ.
By grace alone, our death is gain.
By grace alone, we behave as citizens worthy of the gospel.
By grace alone, we are unified in our minds and hearts toward each other.
By grace alone, we clothe ourselves with the humility of Christ, treating others as better than ourselves.
By grace alone, we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
By grace alone, we know Christ and the power of His resurrection.
By grace alone, we are citizens of heaven, awaiting the Savior who will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body.
By grace alone, we are content in every situation, being strengthened by Jesus Himself.
By grace alone, we partner in the advancing of the gospel into all nations.
By grace alone, we rejoice in the Lord always, no matter the circumstance or tribulation.
By grace alone, we count everything as vanity for the sake of Christ.
May we fall constantly and continuously upon the grace of Christ.