Shut Your “I”

(Please read Philippians 4:10-20.  My remarks are based on the NIV.)

As we all know, even gifts and other forms of support can be a double-edged sword. It can create some awkward and even bad situations.

1 = A common awkward situation (more common here in the Midwest) is when people argue about who is going to pay a bill. Most of the time these are friendly exchanges, but they are an example of how being on the receiving end of a gift is something we try to avoid.

2 = It becomes awkward when gifts are not appreciated or taken for granted. Being careful to be thankful is important tho’ neglected in our culture.

3 = When a gift results in either the giver or the gifted incurring a sense of obligation or entitlement, the relationship can become tense.

– The worst form of response is when support creates a sense of total obligation. This is what underlies someone complaining and saying, “I pay your salary!” This becomes a parody of a “master/slave” kind of relationship. That attitude is wrong & won’t work.

– An “employer/employee” relationship is good, but not ideal, especially when one party or both feels entitlement they don’t deserve and complain when they don’t receive it. Both employers and employees need to remember they share responsibility and the success of their work depends on a mutual respect.

– A “partnership” is the best for all parties. Because it involves a shared responsibility, combines the strengths of group members, and spreads out the joy of accomplishment, this is the best way for supporters and supported to see each other.

When it works is when givers and receivers of support see themselves as Paul saw the Philippians – as partners.

MESSAGE: Godly living requires our total attention be fixed upon God.

CONTEXT: Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is a celebration of ministry. The key word is joy, which is repeated several times in the text. There are a number of parallels between this passage and chapter one, suggesting Paul is “bookending” his letter. The themes are repeated at beginning and end to make sure they’re communicated

1. Paul could have depended on his own strength and/or the support of the Philippians.

Verse 10 = Paul “rejoiced greatly” because the Philippians had RENEWED their CONCERN for Paul. The source of his joy was not the cash or any other material things that were part of their gift. His joy was much more personal – He was made happy by this demonstration of their love for him. The feeling the gift occasioned was more important to him than the gift.

He already knew the Philippian Christians cared for him: YOU HAVE BEEN CONCERNED. It was a matter of timing and circumstances; they had not yet had OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW IT. Paul understood & was patient. That kind of patience flows from the kind of contentment Paul described in v. 11-12. Discontented people are more likely to be impatient people. People who are content have less reason to fly into impatience. This is human nature.

In verses 14-16 Paul commends their sharing as good. Other Macedonian churches had not shared with Paul, but he did not condemn them for it. Their apathy merely highlights the Philippians’ generosity. Paul had a godly love in his heart for this church. In 1:3-8 he wrote about their PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL. What’s behind this comment is a first century Greco-Roman social structure of friendship and patronage that is too complicated to even highlight here. For our purpose, it’s sufficient to say that Paul did not want there to be any sense of obligation between him and the Philippian church members, that duty and honor had been given and received both ways. Instead, he wanted them to see themselves as his partners in ministry, with the mutual responsibility to love and support each other in all ways; materially, spiritually, and socially with loyalty.

IT WAS GOOD OF YOU TO SHARE IN MY TROUBLES (14) is another very personal statement. While the material support was needed & appreciated, it was the love behind the gift that gave Paul the deepest reason for joy.

Verses 17-18 are Paul’s statement of intent: he wanted to give credit where it was due. He wanted them to know he was aware of their generosity. FULL PAYMENT AND EVEN MORE… AMPLY SUPPLIED both convey a fullness of provision. While there may have been room for more or better, the fact was, all Paul’s needs were met by their generous gift. Thanks to them, Paul did not want.

But more to the point, all credit is due to God, who supplies everything, including our acts of generosity. Paul is directing attention back to God; what all disciples are to do. He described their gift in terms of God’s perspective:

– A FRAGRANT OFFERING: Like incense

– AN ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE = or the smoke of a burnt offering,

– PLEASING TO GOD = acts of love and worship rise up to God like a pleasing aroma.

This also implies that gifts to a Gospel ministry are, in reality, gifts to God. (Similarly, gifts withheld are an act of disobedience against God.)

  1. Instead, Paul chose to depend on God.

In vs. 11 and 12, Paul made a tremendous claim, that he had learned to be CONTENT. I AM NOT SAYING THIS BECAUSE I AM IN NEED is Paul’s verification of the statement. He is not writing this thank you note as a hint for more support. The principle being demonstrated here is one of the key truths of this passage. Our sense of well-being is based on who God is, not on what’s going on around us. Paul’s joy was not based on the necessity of the gift or its’ timely arrival.

I HAVE LEARNED TO BE CONTENT…I HAVE LEARNED THE SECRET OF BEING CONTENT. The important word here is LEARNED. It’s safe to assume Paul learned this by experience, and from all he experienced. Paul not only attended the “school of hard knocks,” he was it’s president (see 2 Corinthians 11:16-33)!

I KNOW WHAT IT IS TO BE IN NEED, AND I KNOW WHAT IT IS TO HAVE PLENTY…WELL FED OR HUNGRY. Part of Paul’s learning was in prison! At this time, prisoners were completely dependent on outside sources for survival. The jailer did not feed or clothe his prisoners. So the support he received was essential for survival, not just paying ministry expenses. I believe it needs to be added that contentment persists in all kinds of emotional states as well – even though Paul refers only to material states here. He adds the emotional element in Galatians 6:9.

The phrases WHATEVER THE CIRCUMSTANCES…IN EACH AND EVERY SITUATION reveal that true contentment is not based on satisfaction of needs but exists regardless of one’s circumstance. This is similar to peace not being merely the absence of conflict, but a sense of well-being that exists regardless of one’s surroundings.

Various religions and worldly philosophies attempt to achieve contentment by withdrawing from struggles, avoiding desire, detaching from relationships, and/or not engaging with life in its fullness. God’s standard is higher: be fully involved and fully content.

In verse 13 Paul reported that he had been strengthened for all contests of faith. This verse is lifted out of context almost as often as John 3:16. Remember, Paul is writing here about contentment. Paul is saying that the SECRET of contentment is in being focused on Jesus. Philippians 4:13 should never be quoted without quoting verse 12 first.

The other mistake we typically make in this verse is to focus on the word “I.” The purpose of the verse is to focus on HIM. Jesus is the source of our strength, the fountain of contentment that wells up in our lives to the degree that we truly focus on HIM. Contentment with ALL THINGS is possible because of HIM, not because of self. This is the “I” we need to “shut.” This is the truth behind the title of this message. We need to stop putting first person singular in the center of our vision and focus attention on Jesus. Take a look at 2 Corinthians 12:9. The word SUFFICIENT you’ll find there is a similar Greek word to the word “contentment” here.

In verse 19 Paul promised that his God WILL meet ALL the NEEDS of the Philippian Christians (and by extension, all of His people). True sacrifice is never the leftovers, but the first-fruits of our labors. Our human nature rebels against this, because our nature tends to put self 1st. So Paul writes to assure them that acts of sacrificial giving may appear to involve risk, may seem to require deprivation, but the fact is that God’s SUPPLY is so much greater than our gifts, that we are always much better off. This means we can always afford to be generous, we can always courageously err on the side of grace, because God is trustworthy.

Hear and act upon Paul’s reassuring words: MY GOD WILL MEET ALL YOUR NEEDS. This verse is essentially saying the same thing as v. 13. ALL THINGS can be done in the Lord’s STRENGTH because He meets ALL our NEEDS!

The phrase HIS GLORIOUS RICHES directs our attention to heaven. There is no chance of god failing to notice our NEEDS, no chance of Him failing to meet our NEEDS. Relax. God has got this.

In conclusion, verse 20 direct our attention where it should be, noting that OUR GOD is worthy of worship. While you’re relaxed, in a trusting and content state, remember the ONE who got you there. Worship the ONE who made this possible His great grace. Here too, the temptation is to allow our focus to shift to self and congratulate ourselves and think that we’ve “earned” this somehow. DTY 8 ought to remove any lingering trace of that foolishness! Instead, we ought to follow the example of the Apostle Paul who, after reflecting on all these things, paused to praise because God is worthy of worship.

Material things consume our waking hours. We busy ourselves with activity at an unsustainable pace. We must PLAN to PAUSE to PRAISE God.

Now that we have discussed what this passage means, let me tell you what it does NOT mean. to do this, I want to share with you some very apt words by Dr. Lynn Cohick, who wrote a commentary on Philippians:

“Paul does not imply that God promises health and wealth, as though God is a great vending machine that dumps out blessings if we put in a few coins. This (admittedly crass) description of God’s character has been called the ‘health and wealth gospel’ or ‘the prosperity gospel,’ which I believe is one of the greatest dangers to the Christian faith today. This ‘gospel’ holds that God will bless his followers with wealth and health as they give payments of tithes and offerings. Because it promotes that every believer should be healthy and wealthy, if a believer is not, then one of two options is left: either God has failed them, or they have failed God. Yet God never fails to love us, and we can never fall so far that God cannot reach us, (RMS 8:31-39), for his love operates now and extends into eternity.” (The Story of God Bible Commentary, Philippians, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2013, p. 255, emphasis hers.)

I agree.  If we understand that gifting is not supposed to create an obligation but a partnership in HUMAN relationships, then it makes sense to know that it will not create a partnership in our DIVINE relationship either!!

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