But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (vv. 10-23)
In this, the closing section of the epistle, Paul thanks the assembly at Philippi for the practical way in which they had manifested their fellowship in the gospel. They were not of those who are willing to profit eternally through the gospel ministry, but have very little exercise as to the temporal welfare of the servants of Christ to whom they owe the knowledge of that truth which has made them free. From the beginning of their Christian lives, the Philippian saints had cared, as occasion offered, for the needs of the apostle, even sending to him of their substance when he was laboring in Thessalonica where he and his companions had gone after being released from the Philippian jail. But years had elapsed since then, and Paul had traveled far and passed through many varied experiences, often finding it quite impossible to keep in close touch with the different assemblies he had been used of God to establish. Consequently it was not strange that, at times, it should seem as if his dearest friends had forgotten him. Nevertheless, the love was there though they had lacked opportunity to display it. But now they had learned of his circumstances as a prisoner in Rome for the truth’s sake, and they had hastened to show their fellowship with him in his sufferings by sending Epaphroditus with a gift of love, as we have already noticed.
In acknowledging this, Paul takes occasion to glorify God for His care of him, even when Christian assemblies forgot their indebtedness to him. He had indeed known cold neglect and indifference, but it never soured his spirit nor led him to complain. He noted the cold-heartedness, but he did not find fault. He left it all with the Lord and committed his own circumstances to Him, assured that He never forgot and was never an unconcerned spectator of His servant’s sufferings. So, he accepted it all as a course in the school of God, and he could say, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am to be content.” The Lord was his portion, and he could rest in the knowledge of His unchanging love and care.
It was not in a moment that he entered into this. He, like all disciples in God’s school, had to advance in the life of faith by learning practically the things he could now teach to others. But he had taken his degree, so to speak, and he could now declare, “I know both how to be abased, and know how to abound: every where and in all things I [possess the secret, or I have been initiated] both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Blessed lessons these! And we may say the soul is never really at rest in regard to the trials and testings of the way until these precious secrets have been apprehended.
John Wesley is reported to have said that he did not know which dishonored God the most—to worry, which is really to doubt His love and care, or to curse and swear. Yet every saint would shrink from the latter with abhorrence, while many of us have no sense of the wrong we do when we fret and worry. To rest in faith upon the knowledge that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose,” should ever be our attitude. And in a very special sense they who minister in word and doctrine (in entire dependence on the One who has sent them out as His ambassadors) are called upon to exemplify this in their calm dependence upon Him whom they serve.
This leads me to say something upon the New Testament principle for the support of those who labor entirely in spiritual things. And, first, let it be noted carefully, there is no such thing known in Scripture as putting the servant of God upon the low level of a salary basis. The only man mentioned in the Bible to be hired by the year as a “minister” was the recreant Levite who was engaged by Micah of Mount Ephraim, and later by the Danites to be their “father and priest” (Judg. 17-18). Even in the legal dispensation, Jehovah Himself was the portion of the Levites. They were prospered and cared for in accordance with the measure in which God blessed His people and their hearts responded to His goodness. In the Christian economy we have no special clerical or extra-priestly class to be supported as professional men by their so-called lay-brethren. The distinction of clergy and laity is utterly unscriptural, and is but part of the Judaizing system that has so perverted the truth of the church. But there are those who are specially gifted as evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and who, in many instances, though not in all, are called upon to separate themselves from secular pursuits in order to give their time unhinderedly to spiritual service. These of old “for his name’s sake… went forth,” we are told in 3 John, “taking nothing of the Gentiles.” They were cast entirely on the Lord, and He cared for them through His own grateful people, according to the Word, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” And so John, by the Spirit, writes, “We therefore ought to receive such that we might be fellow helpers to the truth.” Such servants have a claim upon the people of God, not because they are official ministers, but because they are engaged in making known the truth, and in this service all believers are privileged to share. But observe carefully—the servant is never to look to the saints for his support, but to count directly on the Lord and make his personal needs known only to Him. He need not fear to acquaint the assemblies with special opportunities for ministry to others as occasions arise. Paul did this frequently and earnestly. But rather than mention his personal needs, he would labor with his own hands. Nor did he feel he was degrading his calling in so doing, that thus he might provide things honest in the sight of all men and set an example to any who might be inclined to seek an easy path and depend upon support by those in better circumstances than themselves.
And so the principle is clear: the servant of Christ is to go forth in absolute dependence upon the One who has commissioned him and who makes Himself responsible to meet his needs. But the people of God are called upon to be exercised before Him as to what share they should have in the support of those who are thus engaged. No ministering brother has the right or authority to demand support from the saints. They, not he, must judge whether he is worthy of that support. But, on the other hand, if receiving from him in spiritual things, it is, we are told, a small matter that he should reap their carnal things. “They which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14).
For a servant of the Lord to be finding fault because of the smallness of his support is to make manifest at once that his dependence is upon man rather than on God. For saints to be callously indifferent to the temporal needs of those whom they recognize as God-sent messengers is to show themselves out of touch with Him who has given to them the privilege of being in this way fellow helpers to the truth. Thus should both those who minister and those who are ministered to be exercised before God as to their mutual responsibilities.
This had been the path in which Paul had walked for many years, and as he looked back over the journey and saw how he had been sustained of God, he knew he could count on Him for the future. So he faced the days to come with the assurance that he could do all things through Christ who was his strength. He who was to him life, example, and object was also his unfailing source of supply for every emergency that might arise, even to a martyr’s death.
But while he did not look to man for his supplies, he shows himself truly grateful for the ministry extended to him. He would not take the gift of love sent by his dear Philippian children in the faith as though it were a mere matter of course. He expresses himself in most appreciative terms as he thanks them for their fellowship, and in this he is an example to all Christ’s servants, some of whom have been only too neglectful of the finer courtesies, which often mean more to the saints than they realize.
Paul received the gift not because he desired to profit by means of their generosity, but because he saw in it an added evidence of the working of the spirit of grace in their souls, and this was for their blessing, as well as relieving his need. And so he gladly accepted it all, seeing in it “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.”
Nor would He, for whose glory they ministered the gift to His imprisoned servant, allow them to put Him in their debt, but engaged Himself to supply all their need, according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus. The more blessed part must always be His, for when we have given to our utmost limit, we have only returned Him a little of His own, and even that He will abundantly repay.
The last three verses give the concluding salutation. Note again how “every saint” is affectionately greeted. He would refuse to the last to recognize any parties among them. And all with him joined in saluting them—particularly some, evidently newly come to the faith, and possibly as a result of coming in contact with him in his prison cell, whom he mentions as “those of Caesar’s household,” who belonged to the imperial guard.
And so we close our meditations on this instructive epistle with a message of “grace” ringing in our souls.