But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me has flourished again; wherein you were also careful…
There is noticeable throughout mingled dignity and delicacy. He is careful on the one hand to maintain his independence, and on the other hand to show his sense of their kindness.
I. THE REVIVED THOUGHT SHOWN IN THEIR CONTRIBUTION. "But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at length ye have revived your thought for me; wherein ye did indeed take thought, but ye lacked opportunity." The occurrence was associated in his mind with joy. He verily thought that the Lord had put it into the hearts of the Philippians to scud that contribution to him. His joy rose to a great height. What made him rejoice so greatly was that then at length (an indefinite period, which went back at least to the coming of Epaphroditus) their thought for him was putting forth new shoots as trees do in spring. This was a revival which by no means reflected on their past. It had been winter with them, and, while winter lasts, no one expects nature to revive. But as soon as the proper season came round the fresh shoots appeared.
II. STATEMENT REGARDING CONTENTMENT.
1. Introduced. "Not that I speak in respect of want." He was not to be understood as thinking merely of want. He was in such a relation to a state of want that the mere escape from it could not make him jubilant.
2. His state generally. "For I have learned, in whatsoever state i am, therein to be content." To be content is, literal]y, to be self-sufficient, independent. He was thus content relatively to his being in one state or another. He had learned to be content. "These words signify how contentedness may be attained, or how it is produced; it is not an endowment innate to us; it doth not arrive by chance into us; it is not to be purchased by any price; it springeth not up of itself, nor ariseth from the quality of any state; but it is a product of discipline - 'I have learned.' It is an art which cannot be acquired without studious application of mind and industrious exercise; no art, indeed, requireth more hard study and pain toward the acquiry of it, there being so many obstacles in the way thereto; we have no great capacity, no towardly disposition to learn it; we must, in doing it, deny our carnal sense, we must settle our wild fancy and suppress fond conceits; we must bend our stiff and stubborn inclinations; we must repress and restrain wanton desires; we must allay and still tumultuous passions; we must cross our humor and curb our temper: which to do is a hard chapter to learn; much consideration, much practice, much contention and diligence are required thereto. Here it is an art which we may observe few do much study, and of the students thereof few are great proficients; so that 'Qui fit, Mecaenas?' Horace's question, 'How comes it to pass that nobody liveth content with the lot assigned by God?' wanted not sufficient ground. However, it is not like the quadrature of the circle, or the philosopher's stone, an art impossible to be learned, and which will baffle all study; there are examples which show it to be obtainable; there are rules and precepts by observing which we may arrive to it" (Barrow). The apostle for one had learned. The force of the language is, "I for my part, have learned." "With noble self-consciousness," is the remark of Meyer. He had been exceptionally placed for learning this lesson. There were few, if any, who could compare with him in the changes he had seen in providence, in the states through which he had been made to pass. And he had rightly improved his experiences. He had learned to be independent of his outward state, in looking to the sufficiency of his inward enjoyments in God's favor and love and the prospects of everlasting bliss. He had learned farther to be independent by looking to his outward state, whatsoever it was for the time being, as appointed him by God, as therefore better than he could choose for himself, as the best possible for him in view of his discipline and usefulness.
3. Contrasted states. "I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want." He condescends and dwells on particular states with variety of expression. As the result of his learning, he knew how to be abased, i.e. by any adverse state, and not merely by want. And he knew also how to abound, which is more specific, being the opposite of being in want. The knowing is next amplified, being made to extend to everything and all things (distributively and collectively). It is further amplified in being made to refer to acquired knowledge which is hidden from the uninitiated. He had learned the secret. The two states are now plainly described as a being filled and a being hungry, an abounding (in the means of subsistence) and a being in want (of the means of subsistence). We do not know so much about Paul being in the former state, but about the latter state there are affecting notices. "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place" (1 Corinthians 4:11); "In hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness' (2 Corinthians 11:27). He knew how to maintain the right attitude to both states, and we are to understand the right attitude to be independence. He was so independent that he was "neither exalted by abundance nor crushed by want," as Pelagius properly remarks. There is a contentment (to use the narrower word) which extends even to a state of abundance. For in a state of abundance men are apt to make themselves poor by enlarging their desires. The apostle had "stayed affections," and that was the secret of his contentment in both states.
4. Source of support generally. "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me." The apostle rises from the special to the general, and points triumphantly, but humbly, to what supported him, not only in want, but in every state. The Strengthener here is the same who is said to make us more than conquerors, viz. Christ.
(1) How Christ comes to have strength to give to his people. We are not to conceive of this strength as that belonging to him by original right as the Son of God. If we had not fallen from our original condition that would have been the source of strength to us, as it is to unfallen angels. The creature naturally finds strength in the Creator, and we should have found unfailing strength in him by whom God made the heavens and the earth, by whom also he made us. But Christ, as the Savior, had no blessing for his people until he had acquired it. All the strength that we need for our being raised out of sin into holiness had to be labored for, struggled for, bled for. The work for which Christ was set apart needed strength for its accomplishment. And this he was constantly augmenting until, at the last, in the depths of suffering, in conflict with all the powers of darkness, under the eclipse of the Divine countenance, he struggled out into perfect spiritual strength. He became strong, not by ease, but by "resisting unto blood, striving against sin." His own strength was not the result of his atoning work; it was rather that which accomplished it. But that he should give strength to his people, that follows on his atoning work, and does not go before it. We are taught to think of it as part of the reward which the Father gave him for finishing his appointed work. Raised to the right hand of God, he received gifts for men, even for the rebellious; and one of these gifts is strength to support us in the doing of God's will. He has acquired for us that strength in which he himself overcame. That, then, is the hard-won manner in which Christ has become the Source of strength. He has risen out of the great glorious work of redemption to be strength to his people. He is our Strength, because our Redeemer.
(2) What the nature of the strength is which Christ gives to his people. There is ascribed to the holy a kind of omniscience: "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things. That does not mean that we know all things in the sense in which God knows them, but that we know them so far as our duties are concerned, and are delivered from all that would obscure our vision. There is, in the same way, ascribed to us here a kind of omnipotence: I can do all things." That does not mean that we can
"Rift the hills or roll the waters,
Flash the lightning, weigh the sun." Such an omnipotence is not like us; it is only like One, and such glory he cannot give to another. Besides, it would not make us better beings that we possessed this power, while the possession of it would be accompanied with tremendous peril. It must mean that we can do all things such as are like us or can be expected of us. We have omnipotence within the range of our duties. We can feel out all round where our duties lie, and realize that we are perfectly equal to them. "'Impossible' is not a French word," said a warrior of that brave nation; with much more truth may we say that "impossible" is not a Christian word. We have strength equal to our believing on Christ at the first, even in the inability of our will. We have strength equal to the most difficult duty to which we can be called. We have strength equal to the most trying position in which God may see fit to place us, which is the special application in the context.
(3) How Christ strengthens his people. He does not do it miraculously, as though we should retire at night in an ordinary state of mind, and rise in the morning miraculously strengthened in spirit. The Spirit may come as he does at first, without seeking; but he who would sit still and wait for a miracle shall never be strengthened. Where the Spirit is, there will be a seeking spirit. We are to seek strength in prayer, according to the direction, "Seek, and ye shall find." We are to seek it in the Word. Such a word as this before us, appropriated by faith, is fitted to strengthen us for duty and trial. But we are also to seek it in connection with providences. Prepared beforehand, we are, in the actual doing or bearing, to have a habit of reliance upon Christ. That is the secret of strength in working and in suffering. We are only promised strength according to our day, and not beyond the present day, in order that we may have a habit of reliance upon Christ for each day's strength. At the same time, it should be true that we are ever, in holy habit, acquiring strength against the future. The way to be prepared for the future is to live well in the present. The way to be prepared for the more important duties of life is to do well the humble everyday duties. The way to be prepared for the great emergencies of life and especially for the last emergency is to bear well our lesser trials and annoyances.
III. ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THEIR KINDNESS.
1. Kindness to him at Rome. "Howbeit ye did well, that ye had fellowship with my affliction." Having so carefully guarded himself, he feels that he must now guard against any appearance of slighting their kindness. Having already excluded the idea of mere pecuniary relief, in his acknowledgment he looks to the moral excellence which they had displayed in their contribution. They had done well in that they had shown sympathy with him, not in his poverty (for he does not admit the existence of that), but in his affliction, i.e. in the sufferings generally to which he was subjected for the gospel in Rome. They had fellowship with him in the gospel. Having fellowship with him in greater matters, they had also fellowship with him in lesser matters. Their heart was open to all that the Christian preacher, to whom they as well as others had been so much indebted, might need in his prison in Rome. And that was the aspect of the contribution which made it peculiarly acceptable to the afflicted apostle.
2. Early kindness.
(1) When he was going forth from Macedonia. "And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no Church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving, but ye only." He had dwelt upon his own independence; he must now dwell upon their kindness. They, the Philippians, whom he mentions affectionately by name, knew as well as he that their kindness had not been of late growth. It had dated from the beginning of the gospel. For "he places himself in their situation, dates from (so to speak) their Christian era." It had dated from the time when he was going forth from Macedonia. Then they alone of the Churches had fellowship with hint in the matter of giving and receiving. We are here supplied with a general name for finance, from the two sides of the ledger - credit and debit. In the Philippian ledger there was an account opened with Paul, in which there were only entries under the head of giving; nevertheless (to keep purely to finance, and not to complicate the thought by bringing in spiritual benefit received by the Philippians), it was categorically an account of giving and receiving. In our ledger (for business ideas ought to be carried into our whole income and expenditure) there should never be wanting a missionary account, an account opened with those who are in need of the gospel of Christ, or are our suffering fellow-Christians.
(2) When he was still in Thessalonica. "For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need." Before the going forth from Macedonia, while he was still laboring in Thessalonica (within the bounds of Macedonia), they had sent once and again unto his need. The exceptional character of this proceeding is to be explained, on the one hand by the intensity of their affection for the apostle, and on the other hand by his consciousness that he was so well understood by them that, without misinterpretation, he could accept of their gifts.
IV. UNSELFISHNESS OF THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT.
1. He did not seek gifts. "Not that I seek for the gift: but I seek for the fruit that increaseth to your account." By enlarging on their liberality he might be thought to be coveting their gifts. To guard himself he would have them understand that he did not seek for the gift, i.e. gifts of that kind. But he sought for the fruit corresponding to the gifts. Every time that they gave they were sowing; and the fruit would grow up for them in the next world. Every time that they gave there was an entry made in their name and to their account in the ledger of God, increasing the amount which God, as Debtor, would yet make good to them.
2. He did not need their gifts. "But I have all things, and abound: I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God." There is a climax. He had all things he needed; he had more than he needed; he was filled to abundance beyond what he needed. It was the contribution of the Philippians sent by Epaphro-ditus that had put him in this position. The contribution was pleasing to him; but what was he to be thought of in the matter? It was rather pleasing to God. Given to God in him, the servant, it was pleasing to God; nay, it was peculiarly pleasing. Every morning and evening incense was burned in the Jewish temple. Every morning and evening an animal was slain. That symbolized the offering and sacrifice of Christ. The apostle makes bold to say that the contribution of the Philippians, savouring so much of Christ, was "an odour of a sweet smells a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God." Let us take encouragement from such an example. "But to do good and to communicate, forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
V. PROMISE. "And my God shall fulfill every, need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." He makes the promise, not in his own name, but in the name of his God. The Philippians had supplied Paul's need; Paul's God, in turn, would, for him, supply their need. He would supply the whole extent of their need, temporal and spiritual. He would do this according to his riches. A rich God, he would, with no stintedness, supply their need. The mark up to which he would supply it, and which would best manifest his wealth, would be their glorification. And all this, as he is always careful to note, was only to be realized within Christ as the ever-blessed sphere. Let us, then, fulfill the condition of the promise. In Old Testament form, condition and promise thus run: "Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness."
VI. Doxology, "Now unto our God and Father be the glory for ever and ever. Amen" The thought of the rich God glorifying his people, coincident with the close of the Epistle, calls forth an ascription of glory. It is an ascription of glory to him as our God and Father, the God of whom the brightest feature is his fatherhood, and to whom we are brought into the closest relation by adoption. The glory would be ascribed to him for the ages and ages that would roll on after his people were glorified. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.