26 September 2010

Verse-by-verse through Philippians (4:11-14)

Theological liberals like to make themselves sound as though they are more spiritual or more enlightened than us knuckle-dragging fundamentalists. And one of the ways they try to do that is by saying that Paul preached a different message than Christ. One of the arguments they use goes something like this: “Well, Paul never quoted anything Jesus said in the gospels.” Which is not entirely true. For example, in 1st Corinthians 11, Paul quotes Jesus’ words to His disciples on the night before He was crucified. 1st Corinthians 11:24-25And when He had given thanks, He broke [the bread] and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” Now, these are the only words that Jesus spoke in the gospels that Paul quotes directly, word-for-word, and attributes to Christ.

That is not to say, however, that Paul never repeated any principles that Christ put forth. He didn’t necessarily paint a big huge banner that reads, “Jesus said—QUOTE!” Just a couple examples. And this is going to lead up to our study of Philippians 4:13, so just kinda bear with me. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” Now, Paul does not quote this passage, word-for-word, in its entirety. But listen to how he describes those of us who are in Christ, in Romans 8:4[God] condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. In other words, the Law was not done away with—it was fulfilled in Christ, and if we are in Christ we have fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law.

Another example. Matthew 7:24-25“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” Ephesians 2:20Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. Jesus calls His teachings the rock we are to build our house on—Paul refers to us being built up as a household of God, with Christ being the Rock—the Chief Cornerstone. Make sense? Well, today we’re going to see another example of Paul taking a teaching of Christ, and relaying it to his audience—maybe not word-for-word, but pretty close.

Philippians 4:13 is one of those verses that we tend to pluck off the page and use it as inspiration for tough times. And I would never say it’s wrong to use it in that sense, because it does show us that our external circumstances don’t determine our ultimate joy—our joy comes from Christ, and if we remember that, then we can go through anything that comes our way. But we’re going to see that in its full context, Paul was not only saying that he could endure all things because of the strength given to him by Christ, he was also commending the Philippians because of their sympathy for him.

Philippians 4:11-14 (KJV)11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. 14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.

To summarize where we’ve been, and link to where we’re going: In verse 11, he says it doesn’t matter where he is, how much he has, how little he has, or if he has anything at all. The word he uses that is translated “content” actually comes from a Greek school of philosophy called “Stoicism.” If you hear the word “stoic” it refers to someone who doesn’t show any emotion. In the Broadman Bible Commentary, Frank Stagg puts it this way:
“‘Content’ is a Stoic term, but Paul gives it a Christian meaning. Stoic self-sufficiency was their basic pride, independence of all external circumstances. The Stoics solved the problems of life by renouncing all desire or want.”
Which is basically what Paul was saying. But, not that he was sufficient of himself, rather, he was sufficient in himself. Yes, there is a difference. He was not sufficient of himself—not because of his “strong resolve” or any attribute which he developed by himself. He was sufficient in himself—because of the strength he was given by Christ. Make sense? Because of that strength he had from Christ he could be “abased”—the bottom of the totem pole—and he could “abound”—be at the top of the ladder. He had learned how to conduct himself in both of those positions. Because of that strength he had from Christ he learned to be “well-fed”—dine on steak and lobster—and he learned to be “hungered”—to go without things he didn’t really need, and maybe some things he did need.

If he had to handle large sums of money, he knew how to do it without being ruled by it—and if he had to give his last scrap of bread to someone who was dying, he could do it. And it was because of that strength he had from Christ that he could have everything—or he could have nothing—and he would be just as happy. Now, before we get started on verse 13, let’s break it down real quick. First, let’s look at one little phrase in verse 12. See where he says I am instructed. That phrase is better translated I have learned the secret. And then we’re going to make one little change in punctuation. See that period at the end of verse 12? Take out that period and put in a colon. Then, in verse 13, the word “all”—in the Greek, it’s a tricky little word. Long story short, the form it takes in this verse limits it to the immediate context. He’s not saying “I can leap tall buildings, bend steel with my hands in Christ.” He’s talking about the circumstances mentioned in verse 12—these are the “all things” he can do through Christ.

So, knowing that, we now read verses 12-13 like this: I know both how to be abased, and I know how to be in charge: in anything and everything I have learned the secret, both to be well-fed and to hunger, both to have everything and to have nothing: I am able to do all these things through Christ who strengthens me. He is able to do all these things through Christ—how many of these things do you think he could do without Christ? So you're saying that without Christ, he could do nothing? Does that sound familiar? John 15:5“Without Me you can do nothing.” Took a while but now you see what I was talking about at the beginning, right? Paul is basically giving us the flip side of John 15:5. In John 15:5, Christ says that without Him we can do nothing. Here, Paul says that with Christ we can do all things.

Now, let’s keep it in context. Paul is saying that no matter what his external circumstances, he can be the man God has fashioned him to be, and he can do the work that God has called him to—but there’s only one way he can do it—through Christ who strengthens me. A little Greek lesson here—very little. The word translated “strengthens” is the Greek ένδυναμόω (endunamow). The root of that is δυναμόω (dunamow), which comes from δύναμαι (dunamai). An English word we get from δύναμαι (dunamai) is 'dynamite'. The word δύναμαι (dunamai) means “power” or “strength”; ένδυναμόω (endunamow) means “to increase in strength; to make strong.” Kinda like the English words “power” and “empower.” Paul did not rely on any natural ability of his own to find the strength to endure whatever circumstances he was in.

Paul could do all these things—only because Christ gave him the strength to do them, and only if Christ continued to give him the strength to do them. If Paul had been too strong, he could not have done the work God called him to do. In order to be the man he needed to be to go through everything he went through, he had to totally abandon any strength and hope he had in his own flesh, and rely completely on the strength of Christ. He tells us in 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh…to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Back in chapter 3 of Philippians, he tells us Philippians 3:8-9 (ESV)For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. Listen to how Walter Grundmann says it in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament:
“Paul experienced the fact that the weakness and limitation of human existence are necessary for the operation of the divine power which is made perfect in this weakness and limitation. In Paul’s weakness, Christ was present to him with His power…Because weakness was the pledge of the presence of the power of Christ abiding in him, he could boast in it. For in it he found the freedom from self and reliance on Christ.”
We find this idea if we go even further back in Philippians, to the first chapter, and verse 6. Philippians 1:6 (NASB)He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Who began the good work in you? And who will complete it? You mean we don’t start it? No, He starts it. We have nothing in us that wants to know Christ. We’re dead in sins (Ephesians 2:1), we can do nothing to please Him (Romans 8:7), and it is only by being brought to life by Him that we have life—true life—at all (Ephesians 2:4). Let’s even go back even to his very first words of this epistle, Philippians 1:1 (NET)Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. Does a slave choose their master? Does a slave eat unless his master gives him something? This was the idea Paul was getting across in chapter1/verse 1, and it’s the idea he’s getting at here, giving us the flip side of John 15:5. That apart from Christ, we have nothing. Even what we have will be burned up, and all we will be left with is an eternity of pain, suffering, flames and torment. But with Christ, we have everything. And we have it because it is given to us by Christ.

Listen to how Paul starts out his letter to the Galatians. Galatians 1:1Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead). He didn’t call himself to the apostleship. He was made an apostle by Jesus Christ, and by God the Father. He goes on to say, in Galatians 1:11-12But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through revelation from Jesus Christ. Our friend went over to West Africa recently. You went in your own strength, didn’t you? Depended completely on yourself…right? What would have happened if you had depended on yourself for strength? Either you wouldn’t have gone in the first place or you would have probably been so miserable from the heat and the bugs and everything else that you would have vowed to never go back. And because you didn’t have 8,000 people “give their lives to Christ” you would have said, “What’s the use in going back there?” That’s the difference between the flesh and the Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is leading, when you get done you’ll understand why you went through the heat and the bugs and everything else.

Now, wrapping this verse up, again, Frank Stagg:
“Paul’s contentment was not in himself. It flowed into him from Christ. It was only ‘in Him who strengthens’ that he could ‘do all things’. Verse 13 reads, ‘As to all things I am inwardly strong in the one empowering me’…He had been initiated into Christ’s secret about living triumphantly above changing circumstances.”
Now, to commend them for their generosity, he tells them, Philippians 4:14Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. The KJV is kinda awkward there—it’s pretty dead-on, but listen to the ASV, which is actually the closest, of any other translation. Howbeit ye did well that ye had fellowship with my affliction. Communicated with” is better rendered “had fellowship with” or, “were partakers with.” It’s from a Greek word that means “To come into communion or fellowship with, to become a sharer, be made a partner; to enter into fellowship, join one’s self to an associate, make one’s self a sharer or partner.” Then he puts a little prefix at the beginning of the word to strengthen the word, and to emphasize sharing and participating aspect of the Philippians with Paul in his afflictions.

Listen to how the word is used in some other places. Ephesians 5:11And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. Revelation 18:4 (KJV)And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not her plagues.” If we go back to chapter 1, verse 5 of Philippians, we see Paul make a similar statement to the one he makes here. Philippians 1:3-5I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now. No matter what we go through as a church, we all share in one another’s life.

If a brother is hurting, we hurt with them. If a brother is joyful, then we are joyful with them. 1st Corinthians 12:24-26But God composed the body…the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Romans 12:15-16Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. These Philippians had been sharing with Paul in his afflictions, praying for him, caring for him, and he wanted them to know how much he appreciated it all. He was glad for the gift—but he didn’t focus on the gift. His focus was on their generosity, their care, their love for him.

He could get by on nothing. He didn’t really need anything. And along comes this offering from this church he so dearly loved. Kinda like when you get a card in the mail from someone you haven’t heard from in forever. “Hey! We got a card from the Appleheimers! I thought they’d forgotten about us!” No, they’ve just been busy with job transfers and kids and paying for college and taking care of his mother. They finally sat down one day and wrote just to let you know they never stopped thinking about you. They’ve been meaning to get in touch but time just kinda seemed to get away, and every time they'd try something came up. But they’ve been praying for you. And really, when we’re praying we are sharing in other’s lives—their joy, and their pain.

Jesus Christ is Lord.
Amen.

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