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Thanks and Final Greetings
Joyful thanks for a gift of love
Philippians, Chapter 4, verses 10-20
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Too many people in our busy society do not take the time to practice the courtesy of acknowledging gifts. The apostle Paul was not like that. Although it was not his chief purpose, part of his purpose in writing to the Philippians was to acknowledge a gift, probably a gift of money, that they had sent to him at Rome and to thank them for it. No doubt the apostle had sent the Philippians a verbal acknowledgement, perhaps with someone who was traveling from Rome to Philippi, as soon as he had received the gift. Now he takes the time to write his thanks. He states what the gift really means to him, and he tells of the uniquely Christian reason he appreciates it.
From the time they had first become acquainted with Paul, the Philippians, more than any other congregation of Christians, had shown a special, personal interest in the apostle’s physical welfare. Now once more, like a tree that puts forth new shoots each spring, the Philippians’ concern for him had found a way of expressing itself. As soon as they had learned about his imprisonment, the Philippians had wanted to do something to help the apostle.
For a time, however, they were unable to carry out their resolve. Something had hindered them. Perhaps the grinding poverty that had affected the entire region some years earlier (see 2nd Corinthians 8:1-2) was still making life economically difficult for the Philippians, or perhaps no messenger was immediately available to make the long journey to Rome. At any rate, the obstacles that had previously prevented the Philippians from expressing their generosity had now been removed, and Epaphroditus had brought a generous gift to the apostle on the Philippians’ behalf. He was now returning to Philippi with this letter and with the apostle’s warm thanks.
When Paul received the gift from the Philippians, he “rejoice[d] greatly in the Lord.” Here Paul uses that key word “rejoice” for the last time in the epistle. We can well imagine what special joy receiving this gift brought to Paul. After a long and dangerous sea voyage, he had arrived at Rome as a prisoner. In a huge city he had never visited before, he had to go about the task of preparing a legal defense to present to the highest court in the empire. He knew that if that defense failed, it could cost him his life.
What a joyful surprise it must have been when a trusted friend, Epaphroditus, arrived from his beloved Philippian congregation to serve as his personal attendant in Rome, to bring a gift from the congregation and, most important of all, to cheer the apostle with the assurance that his friends in Philippi had not forgotten him. Paul was an emotional man, and he was deeply moved by the Philippians’ kind gesture.
Paul was deeply grateful to the Philippians for their thoughts of him and for their gift, and he was lavish in his thanks. Still, always the teacher, he did not want to give the Philippians a wrong impression. He did not want them to think that earthly things had suddenly become overwhelmingly important to him. Nor did he want them to think that the Lord had left him in desperate physical straits or that his warm thanks was nothing more than a veiled plea for another gift. He wanted the Philippians to pause with him and see this gift of theirs in its proper perspective. He wanted them to know that there were certain things about their giving of the gift that were even more important than the gift itself.
Regardless of his physical circumstances, Paul tells his readers, he had learned to always be content. Throughout his lifetime, and especially during his years as an apostle, Paul experienced earthly circumstances that varied from great need to great fortune. At times the Lord granted him periods of rest and refreshment, even relative prosperity, but more often the apostle had lived in less than prosperous circumstances. As he served the Lord—often, in fact, because he served the Lord—he suffered hunger, cold, nakedness, beatings, imprisonment, and lack of the physical comforts many others would have considered necessities.
No matter what physical circumstances he faced, Paul had learned the secret of being truly satisfied. He had found that secret in Christ. Daily, as Christ came to him in God’s Word and as he came to Christ in prayer, the apostle found a source of strength and a never-failing fountain of contentment that could lead him to confidently declare, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength [namely, Christ].”
Whatever needed to be faced or done or accomplished or suffered, Paul was confident that he could meet the challenge because by faith he was “in Christ.” Christ’s grace was sufficient for him. Christ’s power rested on him. Christ himself stood by Paul, supplying his every need. Whatever physical things the Lord chose to give to him or withhold from him, no matter how the Lord worked in his life, Paul was content because he knew the Lord Jesus was on his side.
We too can be content with whatever the Lord gives us, be it little or much. We too have the assurance that because we are in Christ by faith, he is always there beside us to give us the strength he knows we need to cope with life in the world and to live our lives for him. Many Christian families have attractive plaques hanging in their homes inscribed with the words “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” There was one in this author’s boyhood home. What a good reminder those words are for each Christian every day. What a wonderful assurance they provide, an assurance that grows more precious and meaningful with every passing year.
Having taught the lesson, Paul now returns to his thankyou. He wants the Philippians to know that he was pleased with the gift and that he appreciated it. Note how he does it. He does not just say, “Thanks for the gift. I am glad about it because I can surely use it.” He says, “Thank you for the gift. I am glad about it because of what it says to me about you.”
Their giving him this gift, the apostle tells the Philippians, was a beautiful deed. In deciding to give the gift, the Philippians had felt the apostle’s affliction as if it were their own. This was not the first time the Philippians had shown such extraordinary generosity. Paul vividly remembered that, soon after their congregation was founded, they had sent him a gift to assist him in his ministry at Thessalonica, the very next stop on his second mission journey. The congregation had been, and still was, a particularly generous congregation.
As generous as their gifts to him were, however, Paul reminds the Philippians that the truly important thing about any gift is not the gift itself but the heart of the giver. Above all, it was because they had given their gift in the right spirit that Paul was overjoyed. The Philippians enjoyed a blessed giving and receiving relationship with the apostle Paul. He had given them the gospel, and they had gladly received it. They, on their part, had shown their gratitude for the gospel by providing the apostle with material gifts that the Lord used to support and sustain him in his ministry. On their side of the giving and receiving ledger stood a clear and beautiful testimony to their generosity. Paul knew that the Lord would graciously reward that generosity, as he always does, even though believers don’t give for the sake of a reward (see Proverbs 11:17; Malachi 3:10-12; 2nd Corinthians 9:7; Luke 6:38).
As for himself, Paul says, his needs have been amply supplied. He rejoiced because he recognized the Philippians’ generosity as a fruit of their faith. The Lord was also pleased with their gifts. He regarded them like the sweet-smelling incense offered to him by the Old Testament believers. Our gifts also are like sweet-smelling offerings to the Lord if—but only if—they are given out of hearts filled with genuine faith and love for him.
Just as they have so generously given to supply his needs, Paul assures the Philippians that God, who used their generosity to bless him, would in turn bless them by satisfying all their needs. He will do it “according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Those who are his children in Christ Jesus are the special objects of God’s providence and loving care. They have the promise that he will never leave them or forsake them. He will supply their needs, not simply out of his glorious riches, as a millionaire throws coins to a beggar, but richly and daily in accord with the all-surpassing riches of the one to whom the whole universe belongs.
Reflecting on all of the things for which he himself can thank the Lord, as well as on the blessings and the care that the Lord bestows on all his children, Paul breaks forth in a final song of praise, glorifying God. To this great God, who in Christ Jesus is the believers’ Father in a special way, the apostle ascribes adoration and praise. He calls for all believers to join him in a constant, never-ending song of praise. And his solemn “Amen” underscores the truth that this song of praise is a spontaneous expression of a heart redeemed by grace.
Philippians, Chapter 4, verses 21-23
Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
With the song of praise in verse 20, Paul closes the body of his letter. All that remains now are the greetings. It is quite possible that Paul wrote these last verses with his own hand; a secretary probably had written the rest. All the saints—that is, all the people who by grace have been set apart as God’s children in Philippi—are given greetings, both from Paul and from the coworkers who were with him in Rome. Even though Paul has expressed disappointment with some of those coworkers (2:20,21), he does not exclude them from this greeting.
The circle of greeters widens to include all the believers in Rome. They all want to send their good wishes and express their unity in Christ. Those who belong to Caesar’s household receive special mention. These Christians may have been government officials, perhaps even some members of the palace guard (1:13). The reason for their special mention here may be that since Paul was involved in an imperial court case, these were the Christians with whom he had the closest contact at the time he wrote this epistle. Or perhaps since Philippi was a Roman colony, some of these officials personally knew or were even related to some of the Philippian believers. What is important to note once more is that Christianity had entered even the ranks of the highest Roman officials. Those believers also wanted to encourage the Philippians with their greetings.
Paul closes with a benediction, pronouncing the grace of God on his readers. We can picture to ourselves the scene in which the letter, brought by Epaphroditus to the overseers and deacons at Philippi, was read to the congregation assembled for worship. On them—and on all who might read this letter in the future—Paul, the Lord’s apostle, pronounces the blessing of God’s grace. Thus he once more reminds us that what makes us Christians is the undeserved love of God to us poor sinners through Jesus the Savior. On that blessing hinge all our other blessings as Christians and all the things the apostle has written about in this wonderful epistle of joy. Through that grace of God we too have an unshakable peace and joy.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with your spirit.