Paul has just exhorted the Philippian church to put away their differences. He urged unity, joy in every circumstance, and anxiety in none. He instructed them to look at the good and imitate his example. Now, he goes on to conclude his letter with a call to contentment and thanksgiving.
Notice how Paul begins his instruction on contentment:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. ~Philippians 4:10
Here is a man who has been faithfully preaching and teaching the gospel for the sake of others’ souls and Christ’s call. Each place to which he is called proves his worldly enemies increasingly more hostile. As he sits in prison again, falsely accused and wrongfully punished, he gives thanks to a church who had, for a time, all but forgotten him. Still, he takes no offense, or, most likely, completely overlooks their negligence and offense and instead praises them with his gratitude for what they had now given to him. He even seems to make an excuse for their neglect recognizing that they had had “no opportunity.”
Really? A whole church full of people to whom he had brought the gospel simply had “no opportunity” to care for him as he sit in prison? Perhaps. More likely, as Mr. Henry and I agree, Paul is excusing their neglect towards himself because of his own godliness. He is refusing to take offense, though plenty enough reason for it has been given by those who should have previously loved him well.
Nevertheless, Paul rejoices. He holds no grudge. He dismisses every reason he has for bitterness and discontentment because he has only one goal in mind: the gospel. Paul is not interested in fighting for rightful respect or well-deserved apologies for himself from those who have already “come around.” The reason? He loves them deeply. Love covers a multitude of sin.
Let me just say that again so I don’t miss remembering it when taking offense when willful neglect in the church lands on my doorstep.
Love covers a multitude of sin.
I must choose love. To do so, I must overlook offense. I must assume the best, even when actions seem to speak the worst. This is the beginning of contentment. Dwelling on ill-treatment from brothers and sisters will steal our joy and divide our church faster than worldly persecutors ever could. Paul knows it. Therefore, he disregards their hurtful neglect, chalks it up to a “lack of opportunity” and rejoices that they’ve shown up at all. Better late than never, right?
If anyone had need in the church at this point, it was Paul. He likely needed financial support, food, material things, etc. It’s probable that he was indigent because of his confinement. Most of all, though, I believe he must have needed encouragement. Still, Paul is content. He says he has learned the secret of contentment.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ~Philippians 4:13
Christ is the secret. Christ is the source. Christ is all and that makes him all we need.
So then, the question becomes, “Do we need?” or are we already full?
Paul needed. But he did not beg. He did not complain. He did not take offense at the offensive. He encouraged giving solely for the sake of the givers’ growth – not self indulgence or personal gains.
He ends his letter with grace. Paul treats his imperfect church with remarkable grace.
The moral of this amazing prison-written letter to us? Lead by example. The only way we can ever hope to be joyful in affliction, stop complaining and taking offense, start dwelling on the good and rejoicing even when Christians disappoint and be genuinely content is to, at all costs, find the Source; draw from the Source.
Christ alone is our Source. Be thankful and rejoice because you know him. Some do not have such a privilege.