Needs Met and Not Met – Phil. 4.10-19

10 I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

15 You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. 16 For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. 18 I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.     (NRSV)

Here Paul thanks the Philippians both for the material support they gave him in the past when he was in need, and for their present gifts. Here’s what I’ve been thinking.

How do we relate what Paul says about being ‘content with whatever he has’, whether having plenty or being in need (vv.11-13), with his confidence that God will meet ‘every need’ that the Philippians have (v19)? In recounting his experience of need and plenty he implies that he did not always have his needs met. It appears that he did not believe that God always met his every need through material provision, but rather God both gives him the strength to endure this lack (v.13) and also has formed his character so that he has ‘learned the secret of being content in any and every situation’ (v.12).

Could it be that Paul understands God’s provision as primarily operating through the ‘giving and receiving’ that had characterized the relationship between Paul and those in Philippi (v.15)? Is it this reciprocity that Paul understands as God’s provision? It certainly grows out of the love which God forms in them by his Spirit, and as such is the work of God in and through them.

If this is the case, is Paul’s confidence that any need they may experience in the future will be met based on how they have shown such love for others and in turn would receive it when they were in need (reciprocity)? Is God’s provision often reliant upon the faithfulness and love of his people through whom he wishes to provide? And we to trust that God will provide for our every need, even though the needs of Paul himself sometimes went unmet?