An Apostolic "Thank You" Note
In order to understand Paul’s point in Philippians 4:10-13 we need to understand the context in which this famous statement appears. Continue reading . . .
In order to understand Paul’s point in Philippians 4:10-13 we need to understand the context in which this famous statement appears. But let’s first look at the text again:
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
I love my sister. She’s the only sibling I have. She’s four years old than me and I’ve learned a lot from her over the years. She sends me text-message prayers every Sunday morning, telling me how she’s praying for me as I preach. But she’s got some odd ways about her. One of them is her obsession with Thank You notes. I can’t recall the last birthday or Christmas that Ann and I didn’t give her a fresh supply of Thank You notes. She loves new designs and different textures of paper. And every so often, usually at Christmas, I get a fresh supply from her as well. I think it’s her way of reminding me of the importance of writing them. That’s especially important in this age of doing everything through email or twitter or text. A handwritten Thank You note is a very powerful way of expressing your gratitude to someone.
What you and I are reading in Philippians 4:10-13 (and what will appear yet again in 4:14-20) is Paul’s handwritten “Thank You” note to the church at Philippi. Let me remind you of something Paul said in chapter one, verse five. There he referred to the “partnership in the gospel” that the Philippian church had entered into with Paul. From the beginning of his ministry in Macedonia they had joined with him, not merely by praying for him but also by supplying him with financial resources so he could do the work God had called him to do.
In all likelihood, as was his custom, Paul has been dictating this letter to a secretary, most likely Epaphroditus. But as also was his custom, now that he has reached the end, he probably reached out and took the pen from Epaphroditus and wrote this concluding paragraph not only as a formal thanksgiving to them but also to express his deep affection for them as his fellow-believers in Jesus.
Some have wondered why Paul would have alluded to their financial support in Philippians 1:5 only then to drop the subject and now bring it up yet again here at the conclusion of his letter. We don’t know, but part of the answer may be in Paul’s personal perspective and policies concerning money. In a day when talking about money in church is either expected or avoided, we need to take a minute and consider Paul’s financial policy (see especially 2 Corinthians 11:7-12). A quick summary will suffice.
First, Paul clearly believed that he had a right to be supported by those to whom he ministered (see 1 Cor. 9:1-19; Gal. 6:6; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Tim. 5:17-18; cf. 3 John 5-8; Luke 9:3-4; 10:4,7; Mt. 10:10), even though he consistently chose not to avail himself of it.
Second, we know that he actively solicited financial assistance for other Christians in need (2 Cor. 8-9; 1 Cor. 16:1-4), but only rarely did he actively solicit financial assistance for himself (Rom. 15:24; Acts 15:3).
Third, while serving in a city like Corinth he was not opposed to accepting financial assistance from other churches where he had ministered in the past (cf. Phil. 4:10-20; 2 Cor. 11:8-9). Thus, as a general rule, he would not accept support from a church while he was living in their midst and ministering to them (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:6-12), but only after he had departed.
Since teachers, philosophers, and orators in ancient times were expected to charge for their services in proportion to their skill and gifting, Paul's refusal to accept financial support from the churches exposed him to the accusation of being a fraud. The false teachers had put Paul in a no-win situation: if he refuses remuneration he betrays his own awareness of inauthenticity, incompetence, and lack of authority; but if he receives remuneration it is because he is greedy and thus is guilty of peddling the gospel. Add to this the fact that manual labor, such as tent-making (Paul's chosen trade), was viewed by the Greeks with disdain.
Fourth, Paul knew that the reputation of the gospel was, to a degree, dependent on his own integrity. Paul’s stature and position in the first century was not unlike that of Billy Graham in our own day. Evidently he didn’t want to take any chances that someone might think he was in the ministry for the money. He knew the allure of wealth and chose to take extreme measures to guard himself from any possibility of temptation or grounds for slander.
Fifth, he wanted to be absolutely free to preach the truth without exposing himself to the pressure of those with money. In this way, he could not be charged with fashioning his message according to the whims of the wealthy.
Sixth, he wanted to set an example of the virtue of self-support and the inherent value of manual labor. If any were inclined to think that physical work was beneath the dignity of a Christian, Paul was determined to set them straight (cf. 2 Thess. 3:6-12).
Seventh, he wanted to avoid being a financial parasite or economic burden on others. This was undoubtedly an expression of his deep affection for his converts (see 2 Cor. 11:9-11).
Eighth, “by offering the ‘price-less’ good news totally free of charge, he was dramatizing in his own conduct the very appeal of the gospel as the good news of God’s free grace [in Christ] (cf. 11:7; 1 Cor. 9:12b, 18)” (Murray Harris, 765). What a remarkably effective object lesson of the nature of redemptive mercy!
All this to say that the reason why he waited until now in his letter to the Philippians to speak of their financial support of him was perhaps due to his reluctance to make a big deal of it lest people think he was in the ministry for the money. In any case, we need to look closely at Paul’s perspective on money and material prosperity.
To be continued . . .