Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sunday Explanatory Notes: Philippians 4:10-23

And now, the rest of Philippians:
4:10 Now I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that you at this time at last renewed to think about me, in that also you were thinking [about me], but you were without opportunity.As the letter begins to close, Paul becomes more personal. We get the impression that the Philippian church has not sent him assistance for some time. Paul rejoices at the connection that his current circumstances have facilitated. Again, in our reconstruction, Paul writes this letter from Ephesus, only a moderate distance from Philippi (about a week's journey). Traditionally, of course, Paul writes from Rome, in which case the aid would come from a significant distance (about 800 miles).

4:11-13 Not that I speak according to lacking, for I have learned to be sufficient in those [situations] that I am. I know both to be humbled; I know also to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the mystery both to be fed and to be hungry and to abound and to lack. I am strong in all things by the One who empowers me.
Paul wants to make it clear that he is dependent only on God. He is grateful for the assistance from the Philippians, remembering again that you could only survive in prison if you had help from someone on the outside. But he does not want the Philippians to think that he had to have their help. He shifts the focus on to the strength that comes from God's empowerment.

Paul's approach here is a little "Stoic" in character. The Stoics were one of the dominant philosophical schools at the time of Christ, along with Epicureanism--indeed, more influential than either Platonism or Aristotelian philosophy. The Stoics taught that you should "love your fate" and not struggle against God's will, the will of the divine Logos or mind behind the unfolding events of the world.

At the same time, the Stoics believed that one could be "happy" regardless of one's situation. If you are full, if you are hungry, you should love your fate. If you are prospering, if you are in hard times, you should love your fate. Paul of course subsumes this approach within his faith in God and does not come off quite so fatalistic. He is able to endure regardless of his circumstances because of God's empowerment.

4:14 However, you did well, since you were fellow partakers in my trouble.
The tightrope continues, as Paul returns to praising the Philippians for their assistance. While God's help was sufficient for Paul, the Philippians have done well. They have done what those in Christ should do, share in each other's troubles and burdens

4:15-16 Now you also know, Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you only,
We now hear about the history of Philippian giving to Paul. In 1 Corinthians 9:12-18 and 2 Corinthians 11:7-8, Paul makes it clear that he did not accept patronage from the church of Corinth while he was there, but he did receive support from believers in other locations. The reason likely had to do with his desire not to get entangled with the informal obligations taking such patronage entailed. The Philippians in particular seem to have supported Paul as he left the area of Philippi, while other churches did not.

... because even in Thessalonica again and again you sent to me for my need.
The impression we get from Acts 17 is that Paul might have only spent a little more than three weeks in the city of Thessalonica before he was forced to move on. But it would seem likely from this comment that Paul was there a little longer. Indeed, while Acts focuses on three weeks primarily aimed at Jews in Thessalonica, 1 Thessalonians itself presupposes a mostly Gentile audience. We might therefore imagine a fairly short visit of a couple months during which the Philippians sent support to Paul the some hundred mile distance at least two times.

4:17 Not that I am seeking the gift, but I am seeking the fruit that multiplies to your account.
Again, Paul keeps the lines of patronage free by reiterating his independence. He is not seeking help from them, not seeking their patronage. He is seeking the spiritual benefit his churches get when they act virtuously and godly. Their generosity adds to their honor and reward on the Day of Judgment, and this is something Paul finds worthy of seeking.

4:18 I both lack all things and I abound. I have been fulfilled having received from Epaphroditus things from you, a smell of fragrance, a pleasing sacrifice, pleasing to God.
Although he is in prison and thus lacks, he abounds personally because of their generosity. Epaphroditus, as we have said of 2:25-30, was the one who brought the aid to Paul, who subsequently became sick, and who was now likely the one who would take the letter we call Philippians back to them. Timothy would then come later once Paul's fate was decided. This scenario, as we have said, fits an imprisonment in Ephesus much better than one in Rome.

Paul uses sacrificial language of the gift from the Philippians to Paul as a sacrifice to God. Like a sacrifice in the temple, the aroma of the sacrifice on the altar is pleasing to God, fragrant. And like an offering to God, both Paul and the Philippians get to partake of the meal after the sacrifice.

4:19-20 And my God will fulfill your every need according to His wealth in glory in Christ Jesus, and to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul returns to the ultimate Giver, God as the one who has all the resources of the world at His disposal. In a familiar benediction Paul gives all the glory and honor as the supreme Patron and closes the letter body.

4:21-23 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers with me greet you. All the saints greet you, and especially those from the house of Caesar. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ [be] with your spirit.
Philippians has a brief, three verse postscript. He greets all the "saints," all the holy ones in Philippi. Paul of course has no sense of a special class of Christians who are saints. All Christians are saints. All Christians are holy because they are set apart as God's property. The brothers and sisters, the holy ones where Paul is at, whether Ephesus or Rome, also send their greetings.

Mention of the house of Caesar has served as the primary basis for a Roman origin for Philippians. However, we should not think of Caesar's household merely in terms of Nero's family. The household included slaves and others who worked for Caesar. In a very real sense, the entire Roman imperial system was Caesar's household. Ephesus had such a Roman governor, and the Roman soldiers who guarded Paul were part of Caesar's household. Quite possibly, some of that Roman infrastructure had come to faith under Paul's influence, whether in Ephesus or in Rome.

And with a customary wish of God's grace, Paul closes this most excellent letter of friendship and love to perhaps his most beloved Christian assembly.

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