The joy of Jesus’s enough-ness.
How Paul’s confession of contentedness directs the church to the joy of Christ.
As you approach the concluding words to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a familiar pattern emerges, which sees the apostle dive into very pragmatic matters in nearly bulleted fashion. What makes the closing verses of Philippians so trenchant, though, isn’t merely their practicality but their congruity with all that Paul has written in previous chapters. It’s no secret that his earnest desire is to set forth Christ alone as this church’s (and every church’s) joy. Indeed, it is almost without question among commentators that joy serves as the abiding word that’s definitive of Paul’s endeavor throughout this epistle. Nothing and no one can hold a candle to the joy that’s found in Christ Jesus. And after spending three chapter unpacking that idea, it is fitting that as he draws this letter to a close that he’d bring to bear that truth once more, in very empirical fashion.
Verses 10–21 of Philippians 4 contains the apostle’s grateful testimony for the support he’s received from these Philippian believers. He is overcome with thanksgiving for their years of ongoing provision and care, partnering with him in his “affliction” and “necessity” (Phil. 4:14, 16). Even as he writes these lines, he reflects on the ways in which they’ve met his needs as he sits in Roman bondage (Phil. 4:18). This, to be sure, was no small thing, considering, as Paul insists, that no other assembly “communicated,” or shared, in his sufferings for the sake of the gospel (Phil. 4:15). It was easier, perhaps, for congregations to distance themselves from such as Paul, who now finds himself incarcerated, awaiting trial and, perhaps, execution. But the deep affection shared by the Philippians and the apostle Paul is evidenced, here, in their tender and unwavering support of his cause. Indeed, as he suggests, they were the lone church actually acted as “the church.” The word “communicated” in verse 15 is the familiar Greek word, “koinōneō,” or “fellowship.” Therefore, we could render Paul’s words: “No fellowship fellowshipped with me in my affliction, except for you.”
This, certainly, wasn’t meant to be a badge of honor that the Philippians could hold over others. This testimony wasn’t given so that their hubris could swell. Rather, it was meant to be a word that witnessed to the untiring faithfulness of God who meets the needs of his children. He attests to this, writing, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). “You can always count on God to meet every one of your needs,” he says in effect. Indeed, God has already done in Christ. In his only begotten Son, God the Father demonstrates his enduring interest in the welfare of those he calls his own. He’s no disillusioned deity. He’s no unconcerned or uncaring spectator, especially when it comes to the sufferings his children. This was surely something Paul knew firsthand. He was familiar with life on the margins. He been to the brink of starvation and death, and back again.
“I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound,” Paul writes, “every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil. 4:12). “I’ve been through it all, and everything in between,” he says. “I’ve been through thick and thin, and then some.” And yet, what has he found? Well, in short, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). The ebbs and flows of Paul’s life haven’t clouded his vision of the joy available in Christ. Instead, it has made that all the clearer. The empowering grace of Christ is what geared Paul up to face the unknown and the uncertain. His faith wasn’t “fair-weathered” because neither was his God (Prov. 18:24). “The Lord Jesus is no fair-weather friend,” Charles Spurgeon declares, “but one who loveth at all times — a brother born for adversity” (357).
Paul’s testimony of the “abundant supply” offered in Christ Jesus was, therefore, not one of mere rhetoric but of reality. He himself was living, breathing proof that God watches over and intimately cares for his children. Indeed, it was Christ himself who was (and is) that “supply” by which God makes his children full. Paul testifies to that, too, writing, “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, well-pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18). God’s supply of Christ didn’t just all Paul to “get by,” he was “full.” He was brimming with the confidence and consolation offered to him in the Lord Jesus, made effectual through this recent boon laid at his feet by Epaphroditus on behalf of the Philippian congregation. By relaying this, he means to bless them, so that they might reap the blessings of “giving and receiving” (Phil. 4:15), and so that they might obtain an experiential knowledge of how much more blessed it is “to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Again, Paul wasn’t sharing these words in order to puff up the egos of the Philippian Christians. Nor, as he himself says, was this epistle a low-key solicitation for more “gifts” of support (Phil. 4:17). “Not that I speak in respect of want,” he affirms, “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11). His sincerest confession is that Christ is enough, which is the truest sense of the word “content,” there. He is full because Christ is his joy. The Son of God is his and he is God’s, and that is more than enough. “The Lord was his portion,” notes H. A. Ironside, “and he could rest in the knowledge of His unchanging love and care” (120). With Christ as his joy and his supply, Paul was furnished with the infinite and unchanging resources of the Godhead. “God Himself,” Alexander Maclaren comments, “is the filler and the only filler of a human heart, and it is by this impartation of Himself and by nothing else that He bestows upon us the supply of our needs” (14:2.72). The riches of God’s provision were his in Christ (Phil. 4:19). And that provision wasn’t different in times of scarcity or in times of abundance. Through it all, he could rejoice because he had Christ.
H. A. Ironside, Notes on Philippians (New York: Loizeaux Bros., 1954).
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944).
Charles Spurgeon, The Saint and His Saviour: The Progress of the Soul the Knowledge of Jesus (Houston: Christian Focus, 1989).