I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 10-19)
In most Bibles the heading for this passage is “Thanks for the Gift.” But I am hard pressed to find straight out thanks in this passage. In fact, if I got a thank you note telling me the recipient of my gift didn’t really need it I think I would be somewhat bummed or maybe angry. This passage makes much more sense when seen in light of the conflict that has been raging at Philippi and when we assume that the conflict involves the very money given to Paul.
We know from chapter 1 that Paul has had to correct the impression some of the Philippians had that his imprisonment meant the possible death of the gospel. He has prayed that their love would show an increase in knowledge and discernment. If we suppose that one faction in the church (led, let’s suppose, by Euodia) felt it was crucial to send Paul money in order to preserve the gospel, then we could suppose that the other faction (led, we’ll say, by Syntyche) was opposed to sending a gift. We know from 2 Corinthians 8 that the Macedonians (of which the Philippians were a part) were experiencing poverty. It would have been easy for Syntyche’s group to argue that a gift for Paul was unreasonable at the moment because their own needs were so great. It would have been easy for Euodia’s group to argue that this was selfish.
When we look at the conflict with this paradigm, the remarks Paul makes here in this passage take on the air of a brilliant third way between the two conflicting views. To the group who wanted to send the gift (and won, in a sense, the conflict), Paul says he didn’t need it, because he has learned to be content in any situation and can handle all times of plenty or want in Christ’s power. The other group might be congratulating themselves at this point as they hear the letter read. But Paul’s next comments silence their congratulations. He says it was good for them to send it, not because he needed it but because of the blessing that returned to them from God. And God’s pleasure in their fragrant offering is only exceeded by His riches in Christ Jesus that are able to supply all their needs. Both groups are wrong in their view.
In other words, Paul is not landing on either side of this conflict, but on a different side, the side that rejects the selfish agendas of each warring party and argues for a third view, the view of unity. Both sides have legitimate concerns but need to see that the concern for unity is paramount. When two people or two groups have competing views a third view is usually the right one. It is the view that seeks to see the good in both views and see the best in finding ways to love each other despite the conflict.