Final Farewell

Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

Read and study Philippians 4:10-23

We turn to the final verses of the letter to the Philippians. Paul tenderly recalls the kindness of that church and expresses to them his greetings and farewell. 

In Philippians 4:10, 14-15 the apostle recalls the gifts which the church of Philippi had repeatedly sent to him. Paul was still in prison. But even here, the church of Philippi had provided for his care. Their care had "flourished again." There was, evidently, a time in which that church was unable to assist the apostle. The reasons are not mentioned. It was not that these had for a period forgotten the apostle. Rather, they "lacked opportunity." Perhaps there were no means to bring the gifts to the apostle. Now Paul had received of their generosity once again. 

For this kindness, Paul rejoices greatly "in the Lord." He saw this both as God's grace to him while in prison, and also as the fruit of God's work in the Philippians. The glory for it all is ascribed to God. 

In verse 14 the apostle commends the Philippians for doing this in his affliction. To receive of them this thoughtful assistance while he remains in bonds was of great encouragement. 

But Philippi had always been known for this sort of generosity. From the very beginning, probably about ten years before, this church had assisted the apostle financially and, doubtless, prayerfully as well. It was "from the beginning of the gospel," that is, from the time that the gospel first was brought to them. Other churches had failed in this regard. Only Philippi freely gave to assist the apostle. 

Still, Paul does not state all of this in order to flatter the Philippians. Nor does he seek to induce them to provide still more for him. Though he rejoices in their gifts, it is not first because of the gifts, but because of God's work which became evident in their giving.

Verses 11-13 point out the blessed truth that Paul was content in whatsoever state he was. It was a confession of faith, a confession of absolute trust in God who provides according to every need. 

Paul did not have to speak with respect to "want." He had enough—for God surely always provided enough. He was content with what he received as well. This is not to say that the apostle was always filled. He had learned to endure hunger. He knew how to be "abased" (humbled). Some of the afflictions which the apostle faced he records in II Corinthians 6:4, 5 and II Corinthians 11:23-28. Read these passages and consider the great adversities this saint of Christ willingly bore. 

There were those times too when Paul had enough (he "abounded") and was full. He did not reject that plenty as something which no Christian ought to enjoy. On the contrary, whatever he received, for this he gave God thanks. 

He learned his lesson well: "In whatsoever state I am, I have learned therewith to be content." Much has been written on Christian contentment. Contentment is the conviction that God knows what one needs, and that He gives in His mercy and grace. Therefore, whatever that might be, one acknowledges that God in His wisdom knows what is best for us. Paul did not complain. Paul was not envious of others who might have more than did he. Paul did not grieve that often he had to suffer. Because God directs this all, he was satisfied. That was true in "whatever state he was." I wonder how hard it was for Paul to learn such a lesson. How long did it take to impress this truth on the apostle? Now he knew and confessed: I am content. 

The heart of that contentment is presented in verse 13: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Christ gave him the power to do that which was required. Christ had bestowed His Spirit and directed through His Word so that Paul could carry out his missionary labors. There was no task impossible for the apostle with that kind of "backing." What confidence, what assurance, this man of God has, though even now he is imprisoned! Christ sustains him. Christ directs him. What more could he ask? 

Nevertheless, in speaking thus, Paul does not want to minimize .the gift he had received of the Philippians. They had freely given again and again, years before, while Paul was in Thessalonica (vs. 16). And Paul rejoices in the willingness of the church to provide for his need. 

Paul sees in the gift the fruit of the work of God in the Philippians. He was not concerned first about receiving gifts, but in beholding fruits of righteousness. That is what he now saw in the Philippians. There was fruit which abounded "to their account." Paul presents the picture of a bank account. The gift from Philippi "added up" in their ledger. But that was "fruit"—it surely was not a work which merited salvation or reward. One could see the evidence of the Spirit's presence there in Philippi. That warmed the heart of the apostle. 

The gift was as an odor with its sweet smell that served as sacrifice which was acceptable to God. The gift was as the incense which was burned in the temple before the veil which hid the holiest place. The smell ascended to God and was pleasing to Him. And, after all, that is the only thing which counts. God "smells" the fruit of His own grace in His people. This is what He desires and what satisfies Him. 

Now the apostle in verse 19 expresses assurance that God will also provide for His church at Philippi. "My God," he says, "shall provide all your need." God provides for the need, not what one might want. Philippi will be cared for by God Almighty. This will be "according to His riches. . . ." One notes that God does not merely provide "out of" His riches—which is true, of course. Rather, He provides "according to" His riches. His gifts are in harmony with His eternal greatness and glory. A man who owns but $10 would not be able to provide another with very much. A millionaire, who provided according to his riches, would give abundantly. So God, who is infinite and who possesses all things, can provide according to those riches so that His church will not lack anything. 

But these provisions are always and only "in Jesus Christ." Within the sphere of His work and His love, God provides for His church. No wonder the church glories in Christ's cross! 

What a blessing for the church at Philippi! They freely gave—but also abundantly they receive from God's hands. 

Verse 20 presents the common doxology. To God our Father must be glory for ever and ever. That glory is God's because of all His work in the church i work of which the apostle has spoken throughout the epistle. He could not but acknowledge that God must be glorified for all things and forevermore. And the "Amen" resounds the assurance, the positive assertion: it surely is so. 

Verses 21 and 22 present the final salutations from the apostle and those who are with him to the saints at Philippi. He remembers each "saint in Christ Jesus." The brethren with him join in this salutation. Some of these were of "Caesar's household." There were converts, perhaps not a few, who were workers, possibly slaves, within the very house of Caesar. The gospel had gone far and wide. It had penetrated even the house of the ruler of this world. Those saints also would express greetings through the apostle. 

Then Paul expresses the beautiful benediction: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. This is not simply his wish, but it is a statement of fact. God's grace revealed through Jesus Christ is on His people. These must hear that also. Where that grace of God is, there is a people fashioned unto Himself. 

That benediction is ours also as we conclude our study of this short book. If it has been a study which merely involved intellectual activity without heartfelt conviction, it would be to our condemnation. But this Word, applied to our hearts as well, must cause us to experience anew the riches of the grace of our God to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Questions:

1. What was particularly noteworthy concerning the attitude of the church at Philippi towards Paul? 

2. Explain the reasons why Paul was grateful for the gift received. 

3. What can we learn about our own giving from this account? 

4. What is Christian contentment? How does this differ from a form of contentment sometimes seen in the unbeliever? 

5. What is the basis for Christian contentment? 

6. Are we content also in adversity? What would be your reaction to deprivation?

7. Is the gift of the Philippians a "good work"? Explain. Does it merit anything of the Lord? 

8. Why ought we to do good works? 

9. How would we evaluate "need"? Does it in any way differ from God's evaluation? Why or why not? 

10. What need would God supply for the Philippians? What does He provide for us?

11. Why is it appropriate to conclude the letter with a doxology (vs. 20)? 

12. The various "salutations" at the end indicate the deep interest of the saints in the affairs of fellow saints. How do we show this? 

13. What is "grace" and why is it identified with Christ (vs. 23)?