Paul’s Gratefulness for What Little He Had (Philippians 4:10-17)

April 18, 2016 — Leave a comment

A cowboy rode into town and stopped at a saloon for a drink.

Unfortunately, the locals had a habit of picking on strangers. So when he finished his drink, he found his horse had been stolen. He went back into the bar, handily flipped his gun into the air, caught it above his head and fired a shot into the ceiling. ”Which one of you sidewinders stole my hoss?” he yelled.

No one answered.

”All right, I’m gonna have anotha’ beer, and if my hoss ain’t back outside by the time I finish, I’m gonna do what I done in Texas! And I don’t like to have to do what I done in Texas!”

Some of the locals shifted restlessly. The cowboy had another beer, walked outside, and his horse was back! He saddled up and started to ride out of town.

The bartender wandered out of the bar and asked, ”Say partner, before you go. . .what happened in Texas?”

The cowboy turned back and said, ”I had to walk home.” (from http://www.emmitsburg.net/humor/archives/clean/clean_24.htm)

That cowboy was grateful for his horse. In a similar way Paul was grateful for the things he had in his life as he shared in Phil 4:10-17.

10For I rejoiced in the Lord greatly because you showed concern for me again regarding this you were concerned for me even though you had no chance to do something. 11Because I am not spreaking from need, for I have learned in these circumstances to be content. 12I know how to both live in lack and I know how to live in abundance. In every and all circumstances I have learned the secret to be both fully and hungry, to have abundance and lack. 13I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me. 14Nevertheless, you did right by staying connected with me in my troubles. 15As you Philippians already know, in the beginning of the Gospel when I left Macedonia, no one from any church gave to me in this matter of giving and receiving, except you. 16For even in Thessalonica you sent help to me in my lack on several occasions. 17Not that I seek a gift, but I want the fruit which increases your message. Phil 4:10-17

 

I. PAUL’S GRATITUDE (4:10)

10For I rejoiced in the Lord greatly because you showed concern for me again regarding this you were concerned for me even though you had no chance to do something. 

A. Ἐχάρην δὲ ἐν κυρίῳ μεγάλως ὅτι ἤδη ποτὲ ἀνεθάλετε τὸ ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ φρονεῖν, — For I rejoiced in the Lord greatly because you showed concern for me again

The Greek verb, ἀναθαλετε (ἀναθαλλω), is a rare word only used here in the New Testament. In my translation I have chosen to translate it as “again” (as well as the NLT). However, other translations use “renewed” (HCSB, NIV) or “revived” (ASV, ESV, NASB, NRSV). It is used elsewhere to describe a bush or tree putting out fresh shoots or flowers in the spring. With that in mind, Paul is painting a picture of the Philippians’ care for him blossoming again. Because of the Philippians’ actions Paul rejoiced (O’Brien, Philippians, 517).

B. ἐφʼ ᾧ καὶ ἐφρονεῖτε, ἠκαιρεῖσθε δέ. – regarding this you were concerned for me even though you had no chance to do something.

There are a couple of options here. Either the Philippians did not have a messenger that they could send to bring the gift, or Paul had prevented them from giving him a gift. Based on Paul’s own testimony of not accepting aid while in Thessalonica (1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:7-10) nor while in Corinth (1 Cor 9:3-18; 2 Cor 12:13-18), it possible that he had done the same thing with the Philippians.

II. PAUL’S CONTENTMENT (4:11-12)

11Because I am not spreaking from need, for I have learned in these circumstances to be content. 12I know how to both live in lack and I know how to live in abundance. In every and all circumstances I have learned the secret to be both fully and hungry, to have abundance and lack.

A. Contentment in What Paul Had (v. 11)

11Because I am not spreaking from need, for I have learned in these circumstances to be content. 

Philippians 4:111. What Paul Has Learned

Paul has “learned” in these circumstances how to be content. The aorist tense of this verb, ἐμαθον, could be translated in two ways.

  • Consumative, “I have learned” (O’Brien, Philippians, 520).
  • Constative, “I did learn.”

Whichever translation is used, it is should be noted that no specific time frame is seen here. We do not know when Paul learned these things. The best we can assume is that he learned this sometime between his conversion (Acts 9) and the time he wrote this letter.

2. What Paul Is Content About

The Greek word here for “content” is αὐτάρκης  which has connections to Stoic philosophy. It described the attitude that people had when they accepted whatever came their way. It often meant “self-sufficient” or “independent” yet Paul applies the word in a Christian sense here (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Philippians, The Pulpit Commentary [London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909], 158). Comfort comments on Paul’s usage of this word here and its secular application to the Christian life, “One cannot change the circumstances that come one’s way, so fretting is useless. This philosophy fostered a self-sufficiency in which all the resources for coping with life were located within each person. In contrast, Paul claims his sufficiency is in Christ” (Comfort, Philippians, 220).

Furthermore, this Greek word, αὐταρκεια was “regarded as the essence of all virtues. It described the cultivated attitude of the wise person who had become independent of all things and all people, relying on himself, because of his innate resources, or on the lot given to him by the gods” (O’Brien, Philippians, 521). While Paul might not have intentionally borrowed this term, he does quickly transform its usage because here the word expresses Paul’s independence of external circumstances, but only because he is dependent on God (O’Brien, Philippians, 521).

B. Life with Everything or Nothing (v. 12)

12I know how to both live in lack and I know how to live in abundance. In every and all circumstances I have learned the secret to be both fully and hungry, to have abundance and lack.

Philippians 4:12

According to the world’s standards, Paul’s life used to be something, now it is nothing. Prior to being a Christian he had it all. He was a pure-blooded citizen of Israel, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a member of the Pharisees, he persecuted the church, and he obeyed the Law without fault (Phil 3:5-6). However, after Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9 everything changed. He went from being a highly esteemed Pharisee to someone on the outcast of both the Jewish and Roman society. After Paul’s conversion he lived mostly with “nothing.”

1. οἶδα καὶ ταπεινοῦσθαι, οἶδα καὶ περισσεύειν· — I know how to both live in lack and I know how to live in abundance

a) οἶδα – I know how

This verb, οἶδα, is a common word in the New Testament often meaning, “I know, understand.” However, when this verb is followed by an infinitive it often has the meaning of not just knowing something, but knowing how to do something or being able to do something (O’Brien, Philippians, 523). Paul is not just saying that “I experienced lack once in my life for a couple of hours when I was hungry.” No, he is saying that he knows how to persist through and maintain life with lack.

b) ταπεινοῦσθαι – to live in lack

This verb in the middle voice implies the idea of someone disciplining oneself to live on humble means. Here, the idea is economic deprivation (O’Brien, Philippians, 523).

c) περισσεύειν – to live in abundance

This verb conveys the notion of excess and fullness that overflows.

2. ἐν παντὶ καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν μεμύημαι, — In every and all circumstances I have learned the secret

The verb, μεμύημαι, is described in one commentary as a word “adapted from the old Greek mysteries;  . . . St. Paul represents the advanced Christian life as a mystery, the secrets of which are taught by God the Holy Ghost to the soul that longs to prove in its own personal experience ‘what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’ St. Paul frequently uses the word μυστήριον, mystery, for the truths once hidden but now brought to light by the gospel” (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Philippians, 158).

O’Brien further elaborates that this verb was used of the mystery religions to describe the activities that a new devotee did which allowed that new devotee to learn about the secrets and privileges of that mystery religion (O’Brien, Philippians, 525). By using this word Paul is stating that he has learned the “secret” which meant he had learned self-sufficiency in Christ (Comfort, Philippians, 278).

3. καὶ χορτάζεσθαι καὶ πεινᾶν καὶ περισσεύειν καὶ ὑστερεῖσθαι· — to be both full and hungry, to have abundance and lack.

Paul circles back around to describe the circumstances in which he has learned to be content and sustain through. Here he uses περισσεύειν again to describe anything above the minimum requirements of food and clothing. Then he contrasts it with ὑστερεῖσθαι which describes the real needs that he had.

C. Lack in our Culture

This looks very different. Having nothing might be different in other cultures. For example, when Jen and I went to Mexico and Belize this year we were reminded of what “lack” is for some people. I had been to Mexico before and had seen the poverty and lack of material things that they have, but it is always a surprise when I see it. For me, sometimes I catch myself thinking that I have a “lack” of things because I drive a beat up car. A “hooptie!”

However, when going to Mexico and Belize I am reminded that lack there is living in a little concrete hut that doesn’t even have a door and barely has a roof. And by roof, I mean a blue tarp. Yet, that is how people live in the poor parts of Mexico. No air conditioning, no heat, no lock on your door. When you take out your garbage, you just leave it there on the street. And you leave it on the street not because a trashman comes by to pick it up; you leave it on the street because that is where everyone’s trash is.

Furthermore, we could take the illustration further by looking at the Yanomamo people in the Amazon jungle. They live in a small community of people, outside. Sometimes they are able to put up a fence to enclose the people. Then they sleep in hammocks. Nothing else. When they want to eat, they go walk around the jungle and hope to find something. The most important thing a woman seeks is not a good man. She does not care if he is nice or not. What she wants is a man that will be able to hunt and provide for her.

III. PAUL’S LIFE WITHOUT EVERYTHING BECAUSE OF CHRIST (4:13-14)

13I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me. 14Nevertheless, you did right by staying connected with me in my troubles. 

A. Everything through Christ (v. 13)

13I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.

“This was not something that slipped from Paul’s pen in an unguarded moment in which he was caught up with emotion. He genuinely experienced the strength of Christ.’” (2 Cor. 12:9–10)” (Roger Ellsworth, Opening up Philippians, Opening Up Commentary [Leominster: Day One Publications, 2004], 89).

Philippians 4:13

1. πάντα ἰσχύω – I am able to do all things

a) ἰσχύω – I am able to do

The idea that Paul was “able to do” all things means that he was able to handle or cope with all things. He was content living in the midst of the striking different circumstances of not having much during his ministry.

b) πάντα – all things

See “The Context” section below.

2. ἐν τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντί με – through the one who strengthens me.

a) ἐν – through

The Greek preposition here, ἐν, is what Dan Wallace calls the “workhorse” of prepositions in the New Testament. It occurs more frequently and in more variations than any other preposition (yet it is only used in the dative case). Some possible uses of this preposition in this context are spatial/sphere as “in the one,” association as “with the one,” cause as “because of the one,” instrumental as “by the one” or “with the one.” (For a summary of ἐν and its uses see Wallace, Greek Grammar, 372.) For me, I see the instrumental use as the most likely option here along with O’Brien who adds that it is best to understand this phrase as if Paul was saying “in vital union with the one who strengthens me” (O’Brien, Philippians, 527).

b) τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντί – the one who strengthens

Paul is telling the Philippians that Christ is the one who provides an ongoing powerful activity in his life. While Paul was united with Christ in life and death (Rom 6:1-14; Phil 3:10-11), he knew that Christ’s power enabled him to be content in the difficult circumstances he faced.

Paul had already shared about the power that strengthened him in a few of his other letters. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him,” (1 Tim 1:12, NLT). “But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death” (2 Tim 4:17, NLT).

Additionally, Old Testament revelation had already told believers that it was God who would strengthen them through the trials of life, “The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” (Psalm 23:1, NLT). “The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (For the choir director: This prayer is to be accompanied by stringed instruments.)” (Habakkuk 3:19, NLT)

3. A Text Critical Issue in Phil 4:13

When studying “Paul’s Joy about Christ Being Preached (Phil 1:12-18)” I made a note about the textual variant that exists in Phil 1:15-17. The basic thing I showed you was how one of the verses was flipped in some manuscripts, while in other manuscripts the verses were flipped the other direction. Essentially, one group of manuscripts talk about the good guys, the bad guys, the bad guys, then the good guys again.

However, another set of manuscripts talk about the good guys, the bad guys, the good guys, then the bad guys again. The basic conclusion that we made was that some scribes had changed the order of the text either on purpose in order to harmonize the passage or an unintentional error had been made and then recopied. Was there a significant difference in the meaning of the text or the conclusions that we made from it? No!

Here, in Phil 4:13 is another textual variant that deserves a mention. A close look at the Nestle-Aland 28 (NA28) text reads, πάντα ἰσχύω ἐν τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντί με. However, a variant in the NA28 aparatus shows some manuscripts (א2 D2 [F G] K L P Ψ 075. 81. 104. 365. 630. 1175. 1241. 1505. 1881. 2464 𝔪 sy; Hier) adding Χριστω to the very end of the verse. Bruce Metzger provides a great summary of this variant and the reason for it: “In order to identify who it is that strengthened Paul, the Textus Receptus, following several of the later uncials and many miniscules, adds Χριστῷ. If the word had been present in the original text, there would have been no reason to omit it” (Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. [Stuttgart, Germany: United Bible Societies, 1994], 550). Comfort (Philippians, 218), O’Brien (Philippians, 515), and the NET Bible translation notes all provide support that the word “Christ” is a later addition to the text as a way to clarify who strengthens Paul.

4. The Context

The “all things” is restricted here. Two views on the restrictions on “all things” in these verse are worthy of consideration. First, some people have restricted “all things” to tasks and responsibilities that are part of the office of being an apostle and being commissioned to do the work of an apostle. In this view, only Paul can fulfill the things he is supposed to do if he is dependent on God. Second, some people have restricted “all things” further based on the description of extreme lack in Phil 4:12. In Phil 4:12 it described “every and all circumstances” that Paul was able to persist through.

Paul wanted his readers to know the he could live on nothing with the help of Christ. This was God’s help to Paul to sustain his life and allow Paul to continue to live while he was in poor circumstances.  The context was not Paul’s desire to achieve great things. I know that I have been guilty of this when my mom had little Scripture cards in the kitchen that I saw. Sometimes I would flip through them and when I came to the one that had Phil 4:13 printed on it I grabbed that one and kept it. At that time I dreamed of becoming a professional golfer. I wanted to be the best in the world. Reading Phil 4:13 gave me hope that with Jesus Christ I could do anything I wanted. Yet, I don’t think that was the message Paul was trying to convey here. I think he was sharing that this ability do anything was somewhat restricted to the difficult circumstances that we experience in life.

5. Three Who Trusted in Their Own Power to “Do All Things”

Charles Spurgeon provides the following illustration for this verse that I find invaluable. “There have been some men who, puffed up with vanity, have in their hearts said, ‘I can do all things.’ Their destruction has been sure, and near at hand. Nebuchadnezzar walks through the midst of the great city; he sees its stupendous tower threading the clouds. He marks the majestic and colossal size of every erection, and he says in his heart, ‘Is this not the great Babylon which I have built?’ (Dan 4:30). ‘I can do all things.’ A few hours and he can do nothing except that in which the beast excels him. He eats grass like the oxen, until his hair has grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. See, too, the Persian potentate Xerxes. He leads a million men against Greece; he wields a power that he believes to be omnipotent; he lashes the sea, casts chains upon the waves, and bids it be his slave. I can do all things!’ His hosts melt away; the bravery of Greece is too much for him. He returns to his country in dishonor. Or call to mind Napoleon. He marches to Russia; he defies the elements; he marches across the snow and sees the palace of an ancient monarchy in flames. No doubt as he looks at the blazing Kremlin, he thinks, ‘I can do all things.’ But he will come back to his country alone; he will strew the frozen plains with men; he will be utterly wasted and destroyed” (Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Philippians, ed. Elliot Ritzema, 157–158).

B. Paul and the Philippians Share Difficulty (v. 14)

14Nevertheless, you did right by staying connected with me in my troubles. 

1. πλὴν καλῶς ἐποιήσατε – Nevertheless, you did right

While the Philippian church easily could have given up and not helped Paul, they did the right thing by staying committed to helping him in his time of need.

2. συγκοινωνήσαντές μου τῇ θλίψει. – by staying connected with me in my troubles

The troubles Paul refers to here can be afflictions, severe hardships, and burdens. Yet, it is best to interpret this clause as referring to Paul’s current circumstances as a prisoner in Rome (O’Brien, Philippians, 529).

3. The Power of the Church

Paul’s acknowledgement of the church in Philippi supporting him shows the power that a church can have. The church has the power to reach out and support people in the community whether they are doing ministry or not. The church we attended in California had a strong outreach to the local community as a way to bring in the people who were not traditional “church” people. And by not traditional church people I mean people with felony convictions, alcoholics, drug addicts, and the like. For three years I led a men’s Bible study and eighteen months into the group I found out that one of the guys in my small group was doing cocaine (after having been to rehab twice). People never forgot the help that our church provided them. Every spring and fall the church did baptisms. If there were ten people getting baptized about two of them would be people with a difficult and rough background. The church was a loving group of people that reached out to help people when they needed it. And, as a result those people who were not always “traditional” church people got to know Jesus Christ and came into a deep relationship with him. I think that shows the power of the church.

LEADERSHIP MOMENT

Leaders Need Help

If there is anyone that needs help and assistance it is leaders. They are responsible for casting the vision of their organization, ensuring outcomes are met, and making sure the bills are paid. While also having to manage a staff people they normally have to report to a board of directors. Part of being a good “follower” is seeking ways to help your leader. While I worked at United Way I often tried to help my leader by being independent. Anything I could do without her help I tried to accomplish. The less things I asked her for the better I was able to serve her. Likewise, think of some things you can do to help your leader.

IV. THE PHILIPPIANS’ ASSISTANCE AND THEIR REWARD (4:15-17)

15As you Philippians already know, in the beginning of the Gospel when I left Macedonia, no one from any church gave to me in this matter of giving and receiving, except you. 16For even in Thessalonica you sent help to me in my lack on several occasions. 17Not that I seek a gift, but I want the fruit which increases your message.

A. Philippi as Paul’s Only Support (v. 15)

15As you Philippians already know, in the beginning of the Gospel when I left Macedonia, no one from any church gave to me in this matter of giving and receiving, except you. 

1. οἴδατε δὲ καὶ ὑμεῖς, Φιλιππήσιοι, — As you Philippians already know,

2. ὅτι ἐν ἀρχῇ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, — in the beginning of the Gospel

O’Brien outlines some good options for what this “beginning of the Gospel” might reference.

  • First, it could refer to Paul preaching about Jesus Christ in Macedonia in the early 40s. This would have been at the beginning of his ministry. This option is unlikely because Paul likely began his ministry much earlier.
  • Second, another option is that Paul saw his preaching in Macedonia as the “beginning” of his ministry because his work there was so significant. In effect, Paul’s prior ministry was insignificant in his eyes, and as a result he regarded his ministry in Macedonia as the true beginning. However, most commentators reject this.
  • Third, it could refer to a “new phase” of Paul’s ministry when he entered the land of Macedonia. While Barnabas was the main leader (Acts 13-14) Paul was a co-worker and helper. However, when Paul went to Macedonia he was solely responsible for the teaching and spread of the Gospel (due to Paul and Barnabas’ split in Acts 15:36-41). This also is unlikely because it places too much emphasis on Paul being the bearer of Good News.
  • Fourth, the best option is that it represents the Philippians’ acquaintance with the Gospel. In this manner, it describes the Philippians getting involved in hearing the Gospel and starting to follow Jesus Christ (O’Brien, Philippians, 531-532).

3. ὅτε ἐξῆλθον ἀπὸ Μακεδονίας, — when I left Macedonia,

This is a good place to pause and look at Paul’s missionary journeys. Paul’s first missionary is described in Acts 13-15, his second missionary journey is described in Acts 16-18, and this third missionary journey is described in Acts 19-21. Yet, in each journey he traveled through Macedonia. Yet, Paul’s first journey into Philippi was in Acts 16, therefore this reference must be to his second or third missionary journey.

4. οὐδεμία μοι ἐκκλησία ἐκοινώνησεν εἰς λόγον δόσεως καὶ λήμψεως εἰ μὴ ὑμεῖς μόνοι, — no one from any church gave to me in this matter of giving and receiving, except you.

This refers to monetary transactions. There were financial transactions between the Philippians and Paul. No one can doubt that they provided monetary support for his work.

B. Regular Help from the Philippians (v. 16)

16For even in Thessalonica you sent help to me in my lack on several occasions.

Did Paul really need help? Did he have a job? Yes to both. Yes, he did have a job as a tent maker (Acts 18:3; 1 Cor 4:12; 9:3-18). Yet, he still appeared to need help from people even though he had his own way of providing for his needs.

C. A Reward for Their Kindness (v. 17)

17Not that I seek a gift, but I want the fruit which increases your message.

What Type of Reward?

The reward or “fruit” here is not a reward for whether or not someone gets into heaven. It is an early prize that they receive for their good work. O’Brien comments, “The advantage (καρπός) that accrues to them as a result of their generous giving is God’s blessing in their lives by which they continually grow in the graces of Christ until the Parousia” (O’Brien, Philippians, 539).

In other words, it is the idea of compounding interest that they are building up now and will receive when the Lord returns (see Phil 1:11; 2:16).

V. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

How can we give to others? Among the many things and ways that we can give to others is our attention (this is listening). Another is our muscle (this is physical labor). Another are ideas or insights (this is our brain). Another is our finances (this is the fruit of our labor). The idea of giving to others has been a strong theme in this passage. The Philippians took a genuine care and concern in helping their pastor. Paul was the man that first brought the Good News about Jesus Christ to them (Acts 16:11-40). Paul’s original words of Phil 2:4 echo here in the actions of the Philippians, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Phil 2:4, NLT).

In this letter we see the following relationship:

Philippians >>>>>>>> Paul
(they support Paul)

This is how we should represent this letter in our time:

Christians >>>>>>>>> Pastors/Missionaries/the Poor

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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