When we offer what we have and who we are from a heart changed by Christ, it is an act of service to others and an act of worship to God our Creator and Provider. Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians with encouragement, praise, and thanks, pointing to Christ as the giver of grace and the source of all spiritual riches. (Phil. 4:15-23)
Part 20 of a whole book study series called “Joy in Christ: A Study Through Philippians.”
The Fruit of Faith
14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.
It is evident that although for a time they may have been unable to give, the church at Philippi was faithful in their support of Paul. They were the means by which God provided for his needs on multiple occasions. I don’t take these verses as an accusation or a complaint by Paul; rather, he is commending and showing appreciation to them for their consistency (related: 2 Cor. 8:1-9; 9:1-12).
17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.
Paul is careful to reiterate that his primary focus is not getting his needs met, but that their motivation in giving is right. In addition, he views their support of him as a good work, resulting from their faith in and love for Jesus Christ. The word translated credit (also translated as account) gives the sense of accruing a favorable record, along the lines of what we think of in financial accounting.
As Dr. Thomas Constable writes, Paul was looking toward
“the spiritual reward that would come to the Philippians because of their financial investments in his ministry. They themselves will be Paul’s eschatological ‘reward’ (2:16; 4:1); their gift to him has the effect of accumulating ‘interest’ toward their eschatological ‘reward’” (Constable’s Notes on Philippians)
With the idea of “fruit,” Paul brings to our attention something that we need to keep in mind: we are not saved by our works. The fruit we produce is an effect and evidence of saving faith. It is something that follows, not precedes, trusting Christ, and walks out in daily life a heart that has been regenerated and changed.
Gifts Pleasing to God
18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
Paul emphasizes here that he has an abundance of all he needs for daily subsistence, and describes the gifts in two key ways, both of which make use of Old Testament imagery and concepts:
a fragrant offering. This phrasing is certainly reminiscent of how Israel made offerings to God through the priests and speaks strongly of offering as an act of worship.
The believers at Philippi offer their gifts freely out of hearts moved with love and compassion for Paul, but at the same time, their offering is in reality made to God to support the cause of Christ. They have those kind of hearts because God has changed them and continues to conform them to Christ. James notes:
If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for [their] body, what use is that? [Jas. 2:15-16 NASB]
These believers at Philippi see a need and they meet it, displaying their faith as they offer what they have. Going beyond any mere words of concern, they put their love into tangible action.
a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Note that the words “offering” and “sacrifice” are both similar to and different from each other. They both involve taking something of value to you — perhaps something of great or even irreplaceable worth — and giving it away on behalf of something or someone you strongly believe in. But a “sacrifice” in particular (to me anyway) denotes something that really costs you something to part with, no matter how large or small.
Their sacrifice is pleasing to God because it is done from the motivation to serve others and honor His name. The Philippian believers evidence their true faith, obedience, and worship by this gift. We’re reminded here that giving of money or time is an act that denotes our true following of Christ, that speaks to our love for the body of Christ, and directly worships God with ourselves. We’re also reminded that whatever we may consider a sacrifice, we can never match what Christ sacrificed for us, and this also helps us hold loosely and give freely from grateful hearts.
When We Give
You offer yourself and all that you are to God as a means for Him to use for His glory, service, and support of the gospel, whether that is time, money, or things. It is a sacrifice: giving away what you cannot keep (temporal, material wealth and possessions, earthly time) to gain what cannot be lost (an imperishable, eternal inheritance and eternal rewards). We do this when we trust Christ, by God’s grace, and we continue to do this as we take up our cross each day in self-denial and service to others.
Further it is an act of worship that God looks with favor on as Paul says in Romans:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. [Rom. 12:1 ESV]
What both of these phrases in Philippians 4:18 have in common is the idea that in giving, we don’t merely give to the person or people in need; we give to God. Not in the sense that we write God a check or that God is in any way deficient or dependent upon us, but rather that we acknowledge in giving that what we have came from Him and we are pleased to return it to Him for His glory and use (related: Rom. 12:10-13; 15:16; 2 Cor. 9:6-12; Heb. 13:15-16).
Every Need Met
19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Note the small word and here plays a very important role in connecting Paul’s thoughts. First, he assures them that he is amply supplied as a result of their gifts and in return, he offers encouragement about God’s provision to them. As you do this, he implies, as you have made these gifts of kindness for Christ’s sake, in return God meets your needs.
We see this across scripture as well; for example, Proverbs 11:25 reads:
The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered [NASB].
And in Matthew 6:31-33:
Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you [NASB].
We should be careful to see that Paul has in mind here in Philippians — as do the scriptures above — necessities, not luxuries. God is not a genie, waiting upon our every foolish whim. Constable again:
“…It is needs that He will meet, not “greeds.” God will supply them “all.” He will do so commensurate with (“according to”) “His riches in glory,” not simply out of them. As His riches are lavish, so He will give lavishly.
…the “supply” of our needs comes through “Christ Jesus.” They come through His sovereign control, through His vast resources, through His infinite wisdom, through His loving heart, and through our union with Him” (Constable’s Notes on Philippians).
In some sense, this puts in perspective our anxiety over daily needs. If God, being utterly rich and overflowing in glory and in spiritual abundance, has called us to be His, providing for our daily needs is really a small issue. We ought to also note that often our spiritual needs surpass our material ones and we may be in greater spiritual need than material need. And ultimately, in resurrection glory in the presence of God, our every need will be fulfilled.
Final Words and Grace
20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. 21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Paul concludes his topic of needs being met by praising and looking to God’s eternal glory. All care comes from the Father and is bestowed through and because of the Son. God often uses human means to provide for His saints, as He does in Paul’s case, but ultimately the root and source of the provision is God himself.
There are also times when God chooses not to provide and during such a time, we cannot say that our needs are not met simply because of some sin (although that certainly may be a reason). What we can say is that in all things, God seeks to bring glory to himself and to conform His children to Christ-likeness, which also brings glory to Him.
That may mean for a season we are bereft of that which is necessary and may need to rely upon the kindness of others to survive. In this kind of season, we know that God is shaping and refining our heart, and probably of those around us as well. We can also know that though we may lack materially, we have riches in Christ eternally that can never be lost or taken away (related: 1 Pet. 1:3-5).
Paul’s greetings are to go out to every saint that the saints at Philippi might meet and his greetings are sent from the immediate group he travels with, all the saints (like referring to those in Rome), and a general inclusion of saints, in particular those who are part of (probably domestic servants or those in the praetorian guard) Caesar’s household.
This final round of greetings is a reminder that in Christ Jesus, we are part of a body of believers that extends past our local church or face-to-face friends. We have unity and joy as we hold fast to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and God enables us by His grace to stand firm to the end.