Financial Contentment (Philippians 4:4-19)

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Over our past few studies we have been considering the matter of biblical mental health, most recently focusing on the issue of contentment. I am sure you would agree that one area in which many lose their joy, their contentment and, yes, their mind, is in the area of finances. During the Great Depression in the United States, elevator operators would often ask passengers travelling to the roof of high rise buildings whether they were going to their room or to jump. Suicide rates soared during that time of financial crisis.

Many people crumble under the pressure of life’s financial pressures. They worry about how they will pay their bills and are concerned about their employment status. Many display a grave concern about financing their children’s education, and their financial future. There is concern over food and petrol prices. Concerns about interest rates and pensions loom large in our minds.

The apostle Paul offers us, in Philippians 4:14-19, an inspired cure for financial worries, which is faithful stewardship of what God has entrusted to us. Simply put, if we invest in God’s people and purpose, and in His pleasure, then we can expect His profits and provision in our lives.

A proper grasp of Philippians 4:14-19 will go a long way to helping us to live with financial contentment.

I recently read a rather humorous anecdote—entitled “For Cure of Cirrhosis of the Giver”—concerning the issue of giving:

The disease of cirrhosis of the giver was discovered in A.D. 34 by the husband-wife team of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). It is an acute condition that renders the patient’s hands immobile when he is called on to move them in the direction of his wallet or her purse, and from thence to the offering plate. This strange malady is clinically unobservable in such surroundings as the golf club, supermarket, clothing store, or restaurant. Some try to use a fake remedy, pointing out to the patients that income tax deductions can be claimed for giving. The best therapy, and that which leads to a sure and lasting cure, is to get the individual’s heart right with God. This affliction is actually a symptom of a more basic need of the soul.

Prescribed Medication: Frequent doses of Romans 12:1 and Luke 9:23, accompanied by a dash of 2 Corinthians 9:7. This dosage will become quite pleasant if swallowed with a heaping tablespoon of Philippians 4:19!

As we study this passage of Scripture together, may we be so cured and learn to be content about money as we learn how to give it away.

Investing in God’s People

Biblical financial freedom and contentment begins with proper investments. If we will be content financially, we must give where there is the greatest return. Paul speaks of investing in God’s people in vv. 14-16.

Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

(Philippians 4:14-16)

In the preceding verses, Paul has spoken about the fact that he had learned contentment. He had learned to be content in Christ despite his circumstances, for he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. But having stated that, he did not want to give the wrong impression. The Philippians had sent support to Paul, and he did not want them to think that he was indifferent to their sacrifice. He was not so content in his circumstances that he was ungrateful for their support. And so he commends them, expressing his appreciation for their sacrifice. He could handle being in need, but thanks to the Philippians, he didn’t have to.

The word translated “communicate” in the KJV means “to share with,” “to fellowship with” or “to partake with.” “Affliction” speaks of “trouble,” “pressure” or “distress.” Most likely, he is speaking of the affliction of imprisonment. As noted in a previous study, there was no such thing as state support in Roman prisons, and thus Paul was grateful that his friends had come to his material aid.

Biblical fellowship is more than simply sharing a cup of tea and some cake with another believer. Fellowship is practical, and these believers practically helped Paul in his affliction. They did more than express their love for him with their words, they actually did something to assist him.

As a point of application, we should note that that is precisely what we do when we support missionaries sent by our local churches. The missionary leaves his homeland to travel to another culture with the gospel, and he has much to which he must adjust. In a very real sense, to support missionaries is to support fellow saints in their affliction. It is to invest in those who are investing in God’s purposes.

But Paul not only thanks them for their support in the present; he also acknowledges their support in the past. This was not the first time that they had supported him, and he recalls now their support “in the beginning of the gospel.” By “the beginning of the gospel” he means the beginning of his gospel ministry in Philippi, which was about ten years prior to his writing to them.

Some ten years previously, they were the “only” church that had “communicated with [Paul] as concerning giving and receiving.” They did so “once and again.” This does not mean that they had supported him only on two occasions, but that their support to him was consistent. Over and over they had sacrificed in order to meet Paul’s material needs. The apostle highlights this support elsewhere in the New Testament.

Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely? I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia.

(2 Corinthians 11:7-10)

The Philippians had come to Paul’s aid over and over again, and far from being indifferent to their display of love, he was greatly appreciative of it. Missionaries understand that it is God who meets their need, and they look to Him in faith for their needs to be met. And yet, at the same time, they are grateful for those whom God uses to meet their needs.

Throughout this passage, Paul employs technical accounting terms to make his point. For example, the phrase “giving and receiving” in v. 15 was used of accountants in Paul’s day to describe their accounting ledger, which had credit and debit columns. Though the Philippians had created a debit on their own account by giving to meet Paul’s need, God would soon credit their account in honour of their sacrifice.

God had not called the members of the Philippian church as missionaries, and the vast majority of our own local church membership will likewise not be called to leave their surroundings for the mission field. But in the same way that God expected the members in Philippi to sacrifice for those whom He had called to the mission field, so God today builds the church at home in order that that church might sacrifice to meet the needs of missionaries on the field.

“No church,” apart from the Philippian assembly, sacrificed to meet Paul’s material needs. The phrase “no church” is emphatic in the Greek, and it indicates that no other church whatsoever met the apostle’s needs as the Philippians did. He is not complaining; on the contrary, he is highlighting the faithfulness of the believers in Philippi. Macedonia, the area in which Philippi was located, was not a wealthy region. Specifically, the churches in Macedonia were amongst the poorest churches in the New Testament world. And yet it was a church from the Macedonian region that God used to meet Paul’s needs. One key to financial contentment is to take whatever God gives us, whether little or much, and to invest it in His work, trusting Him to credit it to our account. John Wesley exhorted us to make all the money we can, to save all the money we can, and to give all the money we can. This is no contradiction; it is what God expects of us: to invest what He has given to us in His kingdom for His glory.

Expecting God’s Profits

Since the investment described above is of a spiritual nature, we can quite rightly expect spiritual dividends. What kind of spiritual dividends? Paul writes, “Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account” (v. 17).

Paul has just expressed his appreciation to the Philippians for their love gift to him, but now he is quick to add that his appreciation is not for the gift alone. “Not because I desire a gift.” There was a desire far greater on his heart than mere financial support, and that gift was “fruit that may abound to your account.” Because they had invested in God’s purpose, they could expect profit.

This may make us somewhat nervous, at least those of us who live in a Western culture. We are accustomed to hearing such doctrine from proponents of the prosperity gospel. We will return below to the issue of financial supply; for now, let us note that the word “fruit”—in the sense of return—is used in at least three ways in the New Testament.

First, “fruit” sometimes speaks of souls. For example, speaking of evangelism, Jesus said, “And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal” (John 4:36). Paul himself described evangelism in terms of a harvest of fruit (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Souls reaped through evangelism are further spoken of as fruit in passages such as John 12:24, Romans 1:13 and 2 Timothy 2:6. Whilst we may never meet this side of eternity with the “fruit” of our missionaries’ labour, it is nevertheless fruit that abounds to our account if we are faithful in our stewardship. In some way, God credits our account for the sacrifice that was necessary to reach the lost with the gospel of Christ.

Second, “fruit” in the New Testament sometimes refers to spiritual graces. For example, Ephesians 5:9 says that “the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth,” and in some of the most well-known verses in all of Scripture we read, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus described Christlike character as “fruit” in John 15.

Third, “fruit” sometimes describes grace giving. For example, Paul speaks of “a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem” as “fruit” in Romans 15:25-28. In other words, the financial contribution that the churches in Achaia and Macedonia made to meet the needs of the Jerusalem saints was viewed by Paul as “fruit.”

In sum, Paul was thrilled about the Philippians’ gift, not primarily because it aided him materially, but because it proved that they were growing spiritually. They were investing in God’s work, and their investment could only be explained by a work of grace in their lives by God Himself. Giving is a spiritual issue, and thus their willingness to let go of earthly possessions was a clear indication that they were growing in grace.

But we should note that, whilst giving is a fruit of spiritual growth, it is also a means of spiritual growth. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). And thus as you give to the work of God, your heart will be increasingly inclined toward the work of God in which you are investing. And, as we shall see below, as we give to the work of God, we put ourselves in a position in which we must trust God to meet our needs. This aids spiritual growth.

We should note in passing that giving to missions is not the only way we can invest in God’s kingdom. Paul spoke in Galatians 6 of meeting the needs of those in the household of faith (Galatians 6:7-10). Sacrificing to meet the needs of those in the local church is just as important as sacrificing to meet the needs of missionaries who are investing in God’s kingdom for His glory. And in both cases, there is fruit that abounds to our account.

Investing for God’s Pleasure

Paul goes on to describe the gift of the Philippians in a most powerful way: “But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God” (v. 18). Earlier, Paul had noted that he was content even when he had nothing (vv. 11-12), but now he notes that he was blessed, thanks to the Philippians, to not be in a position in which he had nothing. And he speaks of their gift as a sweet smelling savour to God.

The language of a sweet smelling savour is used frequently in the Old Testament to describe an acceptable sacrifice to God. Noah, for instance, made a sacrifice to God after the flood, who “smelled a sweet savour; and … said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake” (Genesis 8:21). The sacrifices that the Lord commanded, when properly offered, were “a sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto the LORD” (Exodus 29:18; see also Leviticus 1:9, 13; Ezekiel 20:41).

The terminology, however, is far rarer in the New Testament. In fact, outside of this passage, it is used but once, when Christ’s sacrifice of Himself is described as “an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Ephesians 5:2). That is an astounding comparison: Our sacrifice to meet the needs of those who are investing in the work of God is here likened to God’s pleasure at Christ’s own sacrifice!

The Philippians were giving to Paul, but their motive—like that of Christ’s commitment on the cross—was one of love for God. Ultimately, though Paul would benefit materially, they saw their offering as a gift to God. It was to them an act of worship. And so, incidentally, it ought to be with the local church today. If we see our giving as an act of worship, the needs of the church will be met without having to resort to outside aid. God has given to the church everything she needs, and if we will remain God-centred in our stewardship, the church will lack nothing.

The Macedonian churches, including the one at Philippi, gave first “of themselves,” and that flowed naturally into their stewardship (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). When they gave of themselves to God, their wallets were His as well. And whilst some believers seem to be baptised holding their wallets aloft above the waterline, those who truly worship God have no problem whatsoever with their stewardship. Though the sacrifice of the Philippians was a great blessing to Paul, it was in reality an even greater blessing to God.

The giving of the Philippians was Christlike (a sweet smelling savour), and our giving is Christlike when it is given in faith to God. Your giving is an act of worship, and regardless of the specific mechanisms employed as you give, when you give in faith it is a sweet smelling savour to God.

Expecting God’s Provision

The Philippians invested in God’s people and purpose for His pleasure, and the result would be divine provision. “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (v. 19).

God will be no man’s debtor. Paul has already promised that the Philippians would have fruit abounding to their account; now he specifically promises that their financial needs would be met because they were faithful in their stewardship. Their worshipful stewardship was a sure and sound investment program. There was no cause for them to fear, for God would fill to the full every need they had.

I often tell young couples who come to me for premarital counselling that the surest investment for financial security can make is biblical stewardship. The Bible promises us that if we are faithful in our stewardship then God will meet our needs. There is a very simple reason for this: As we are faithful stewards, we create needs in our lives. We give money—with the motive of worship—that could be used for something else, and suddenly a financial need has arisen. But, since God will be no man’s debtor, He will meet our need.

Paul speaks here of “my God” (cf. Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; 14:18; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Philippians 1:3; Philemon 4), but he does not mean to suggest by this that God was only his God. Paul’s God was the Philippians’ God as well. And Paul’s God—their God—would “supply” (“fill up to the full”) every need created by their stewardship.

It is sometimes mistakenly said that believers are never in need. According to v. 19, believers are sometimes in need. But when we are in need, which is created by faithful, worshipful stewardship, God will supply. And He will do so “according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

The phrase “according to” has the idea of “commensurate with” or “proportionate to.” And  thus the supply in this verse is proportionate to God’s “riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” It is not out of what God has, but in proportion to what He has. In other words, all that Christ is is available, by the grace of God, to those who are faithful in worshipful stewardship. God’s “treasure house,” notes William Erdman “is inexhaustible.” He owns everything, and thus those who faithfully and worshipfully sacrifice for His people and purpose will lack nothing.

But we should notice that there is a clear condition to this supply: It is “by Christ Jesus.” Simply stated, this is a promise for believers (those who are in Christ), not for unbelievers. If you are in Christ Jesus, you have God’s promise that He will supply your need. Not that you will never experience periods of need; indeed, you must have times of need if God will meet your need. “I have been young, and now am old,” wrote David, “yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). Or to put it in the words of Jesus:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

(Matthew 6:19-34)

Those who are in Christ Jesus can have absolute financial contentment. Often there seems to be more month than money, but believers have the promise of God’s provision. He will meet our needs. Interest rates may soar and petrol prices may increase. The doomsayers who predict a bleak financial future may well be correct. But believers in Christ ought to have a hope within them that is unmistakable. We ought to believe that our God will take care of our needs because we are in Christ Jesus. “The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself” (Proverbs 11:25). Again, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again” (Proverbs 19:17).

God will be no man’s debtor, and we can rest assured that He will amply meet the need that we create out of our love for Him. Let us keep loving Him; let us keep giving to Him; let us seek to worship Him and to be a blessing to Him; and let us then rest financially content, believing fully that our God will supply all our need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.