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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: December 2, 2019
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Welcome to HBS.
I continue to thank God for each one of you, your faithful attendance and your earnest desire to grow in faith and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.
“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be
content. 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. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (4:10-13).
The statement, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” suggests there was a time in Paul’s life when he was discontented in spite of all his earthly gains. He came from a family that was privileged financially, religiously, and socially, which means he was no different than the majority of people today who equate contentment with the size of their bank balance, their careers, the car they drive, the affluent home in which they live, and their standing in the church and community. But now Paul considered his worldly assets inconsequential saying, “…what things were gain to me, those I counted but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord:” (Philippians 3:7).
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 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… I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (4:11-13).
The alarming thing is churched people are misinterpreting verse 4:13. They ignore verses 4:11-12 while over emphasizing the first part of 4:13 that reads, “I can do all things.” Paul clearly said Christ Jesus provides the strength we need, not to go out and get whatsoever our heart desires, but to be content in whatsoever state we might be in for when we are weak He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;” (Ephesians 3:16)
“Finally, my brethren, be strong (how) in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).
“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;” (Colossians 1:9-11).
(Continued from L 38)
Please open your Bible at Philippians 4:13. I want to park here awhile longer.
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
This was one of the first Bible verses I memorized and there are plenty of churched people who can say the same thing. Without a doubt Philippians 4:13 is one of the most popular verses in all the Bible. It can be found printed on millions of ball caps, banners, key chains, t-shirts, cellphone cases, and coffee mugs. But it also one of the most misunderstood, misused, and misinterpreted verses in the Bible. Permit me to illustrate: on July 27, 2009, the cover of “Sports Illustrated” featured the image of Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow. The headline read, “Tim Tebow: Man of Many Missions.” Coinciding with that headline, underneath his eyes he used black grease to write “Phil 4:13.” His many fans picked up on his message with little difficulty, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
For many Christians Philippians 4:13 functions as a kind of mystical prayer. They pull the Philippian 4:13 card whenever they need to draw power from another source to defeat whatever opposition stands before them or to obtain one or more of life’s dreams. Where do people get such notions? Finding an example was not difficult.
Joel Osteen preaches the prosperity gospel to an evangelical mega-church located in Houston, TX. He provided the following commentary on Philippians 4:13 in the January 21, 2013 edition of his “Today’s Word” devotional and I quote:
“Most people tend to magnify their limitations. They focus on their shortcomings. But scripture makes it plain: all things are possible to those who believe. That’s right! It is possible to see your dreams fulfilled. It is possible to overcome that obstacle. It is possible to climb to new heights. It is possible to embrace your destiny. You may not know how it will all take place. You may not have a plan, but all you have to know is that if God said you can…you can!”
Because of Mr. Osteen’s preaching, and others, many churched Christians today understand and interpret this verse as meaning if they want something, they can have it. For them, the “all things” that Christ empowers them to accomplish includes “fulfilling their dreams, climbing to new heights, and embracing their destinies.”
Do you want: that promotion, to find your soul mate, to make more money, to break the bank at the Hard Rock Casino? No problem. You can accomplish “all things.” Sadly, this popular way of interpreting and applying Philippians 4:13 couldn’t be further from its actual meaning. To understand the meaning we have to read the verse in context.
Philippians is one of Paul’s “prison epistles,” so it isn’t surprising the book draws heavily on the themes of humility and self-sacrifice or taking on the mind of Christ. When you imagine Paul penning this letter while chained to a member of the Pretorian guard around the clock and facing a possible death sentence (not exactly the new heights and destiny imagined above) you begin to realize those prevalent interpretations of this verse fall well short of its intended meaning. When you add verses 4:11-12 to verse 4:13, or keep the passage in context, you recognize Paul’s expressing a broader concept:
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 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.”
Paul isn’t telling the Philippians (and us) no dream is too big; he is reminding them that they can endure the agony of defeat if their dreams go unrealized. He’s not encouraging these Believers to go out and get whatever they desire; he’s reminding them to keep on keeping on, “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (3:14) even though their heart’s desire is not realized.
Let’s revisit Paul’s statement in verse 4:11b and combine it with Philippians 4:13.
“…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content… I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Paul was able to say, “… no matter what state I am;” “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Paul’s saying whether “I am” free or in prison,
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
He had been “instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” by going through life’s ups and downs. Christ Jesus provides the strength we need not only to endure whatever crisis might be on our doorstep, but also the ability to be content while going through it. So here’s the thing, the Philippians (and us) are instructed to live their lives through Christ and in order to do this they have to have the mind of Christ, which means they have to know Christ, dispensationaly speaking. This is achieved by studying the Word of God rightly divided or that portion of scripture written to and for the Body of Christ. (See Romans thru Philemon)
So, contrary to popular opinion, this scripture passage is not teaching us “God will give you the strength to do whatever you want.” By the by, anytime someone tells you or you read something that begins with the phrase “God will give you…” it should cause you to think twice. God is not a divine genie in the bottle or cosmic powerplant to fuel your carnal desires. Instead, and in keeping with Paul’s meaning, God is a sustainer when life becomes unsustainable... “when we are weak He is strong!” So then, the God of the Bible promises to give us exactly what we need in our time of need, especially when we encounter one of life’s many obstacles (2 Timothy3:12). He gives us the strength to go through them. Remember, Christ Jesus’ path to glory led through a Roman Cross!
“Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But 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, wellpleasing to God. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
There’s a lot going on here but we’ll take it one verse at a time starting with verse 4:14:
“Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.”
The word communicate means the Philippians took part in Paul’s affliction or they sympathized with his current situation and assisted him in his time of need.
“Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.”
What does “the beginning of the gospel” mean? First, the gospel Paul is referring to is his gospel of grace (Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4) and not the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God found in Mark 1:1. These are two separate gospels, given under different situations, to two different groups of people. One is the circumcison (the nation of Israel) and the other is the uncircumcision, i.e. the gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-12). Mark 1:1 or the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ is in relation to God’s prophetic program. It’s known as such because the LORD God (Jehovah) revealed prophecy (or things to come) to the Jews through the major and minor prophets of Israel (Hebrews 1:1-2). So, Mark’s announcement marked the start of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry to the nation of Israel. This gospel is also known as the kingdom gospel. It presents Jesus Christ as Israel’s king and Messiah who came to redeem the lost sheep of the whole house of Israel (Matthew 15:24; Luke 19:10). Paul does not refer to the Lord Jesus Christ as either our king or Messiah; He is the Head of the Church, i.e. the Body of Christ and we are all members of His body (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:30; Colossians 1:18).
Many people disagree with what I just said, but those folks aren’t rightly dividing their Bible. The disagreement continues over the phrase, “in the beginning.” However, it’s clear to me this phrase takes us back to one of his opening comments in chapter 1:
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;” (Philippians 1:3).
The first time Paul shared the gospel in the Roman colony of Philippi is recorded for us in Acts 16:11-14. There was no synagogue in this community, so on the Sabbath he and Silas went out of the city by a river side and shared the gospel with the Jewish women he found there, one of which was Lydia. The Lord opened her heart to receive it. So, in reference to Paul’s comment “in the beginning” he means to say, “When I first preached the gospel to you or when the gospel took root influencing minds and hearts” (Acts 16):
“For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is
rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:11-15).
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
“…no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.”
After Paul left Macedonia no grace church partnered (communicated) with him in the cause of Christ (the furtherance of the gospel of grace) except the Philippians. They alone were willing to step up to the plate, no pun intended, to support Paul and his ministry.
Paul told the Philippians they had “done well’ (4:14), and described their gift as “fruit that abounds to your account” (4:17). What does this mean? First, every Believer has a running account with the Lord; a record of the good things and the bad things done in the flesh. The day is coming when there will be an accounting:
“Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13).
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Second, their gift served Paul and his apostolic ministry or the cause of Christ Jesus. Therefore, Paul described it as spiritual fruit that abounds to their account. Not every good deed we perform is credited to our account. Permit me to explain. I have partnered with ministries in the past that helped the poor and homeless veterans. We gave them hot food, clothing, winter wear, and temporary shelter along with empathy. One group provided both dental and medical care. But here’s the thing, not one of these groups shared the gospel of grace with these folks. Arguably, their greatest need. So, although helping the poor and the homeless is certainly a good thing, in reality, if you only provide material things, leaving the gospel that saves out, then all you’ve done is help their outer man you’ve done nothing to feed their inner man, spiritually speaking. So, only one of these good works quantifies as spiritual fruit - “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God” (4:18b). It’s the one that supports the cause of Christ in the Dispensation of God’s Grace:
Adding to this, over the years I’ve also partnered with several denominational churches and supported their ministry with my “tithes,” but to be honest; I didn’t hear the gospel of grace once. So, although my gift was a tax deduction that benefited me on April 15 it did not count as spiritual fruit abounding to my account!
“For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.”
The assembly at Philippi had truly touched the heart of Paul with their sacrificial giving. I think the reason for this lies in the fact they decided in their heart what they should give and then gave above that amount (2 Corinthians 8:1-5, 9:7), and “They gave from their poverty.” Since no other church chose to partner with Paul’s ministry, I’m sure he was pleasantly surprised when the Philippians came to his aid at Thessalonica, not once, but twice, in support of his ministry, which demonstrated their love for Paul and the level of their commitment:
But this would not be the last time this assembly would offer financial assistance to the Lord’s work. The Jews at Jerusalem who had practiced the “all things common” program (Acts 2:44-45), believing Jesus Christ’s return to set up the kingdom was just over the horizon. But that didn’t happen so they found themselves without means when the supplies ran out. Until they were able to provide for themselves, as before, God supplied their material needs through the gentile’s gifts, which had to be a humbling experience to say the least (Acts 20:1-5; Romans 15:25-26; Galatians 2:10).
To encourage the Philippians they weren’t the only assembly supporting the effort to help the poor Believers at Jerusalem, Paul praised the Corinthians who had promised they would give a generous gift. However, a year had passed and they had not honored that promise. Their carnality short circuited the fulfillment of it. The saints at Corinth were in a position to help the most, but had done the least to support the cause of Christ. So, Paul challenged them to keep their promise (2 Corinthians 9:3-4).
Applying these truths to our lives, the purpose of our giving should mimic the Philippians, that is, to see the cause of Christ advanced, according to the revelation of the mystery of God’s Grace. If God has opened the eyes of your understanding to the Word, rightly divided, then you have an obligation to support those ministries that stand with us in the faith. Plainly said, grace people need to support grace works. If we fail to do this, then the grace message, as we know it, will eventually be lost. Now it’s also true people want to give to the grace ministry but are in a tight spot financially. This is where God’s grace program shines because those who are able to give make up the deficit.
Please note I didn’t not mention the word “tithe” once and that’s because our Apostle Paul does not. Instead he encourages us to give in this manner:
“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (1 Corinthians 9:7).
“On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper,” (1 Corinthians 16:2).
“Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.”
Paul’s not dropping a direct hint to the saints at Philippi for more money. I base this on what he wrote, “…But I have all, and abound: I am full…” Instead, he pointed out “the things which were sent from you” counted as spiritual fruit “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.”
Every time a Believer gives to further the gospel of grace they are making a spiritual investment, which in time will bear eternal dividends (reward) at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Paul acknowledged he was both grateful and content with what he had received from their assembly. He also wanted them to be aware their thoughtfulness and generosity “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable” had touched the very heart of God.
Paul borrows this particular phraseology from the Old Testament. There were five Levitical offerings that were practiced under the Mosaic system, three of which were sweet smelling savor offerings. They are: the burnt offering which typified Christ offering Himself to the Father as the sinless spotless Lamb of God (Leviticus 1:3-4); the meal offering which typified the flawless humanity of Christ who endured suffering on behalf of the sinner (Leviticus 2:1-3); and the peace offering which typified Christ as the peacemaker who brings the Believer into fellowship with God and other Believers through His finished work of the cross (Leviticus 3:1-3).
These three offerings were well pleasing to God, illustrating Christ’s affectionate devotion to His Father’s will. They were also acts of worship! In like manner, the Philippians’ faithful support of Paul’s apostleship and message of God’s grace to all demonstrated their devotion to God and His will. This too is an act of worship.
“But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
Like Philippians 4:13, Philippians 4:19 is a popular verse that’s often misused. After thanking the Philippians for generously supporting his apostolic ministry, Paul wrote: “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Some people use this verse to suggest God wants us to be healthy and wealthy or He will make us healthy and wealthy on the condition we give our money to a particular cause or person. One such group would be the people who preach and teach the prosperity gospel; one of the most dangerous heretical doctrines in operation today. But Paul is not promising God intends to make us wealthy or healthy at least not in the way people typically think. Paul knows something about physical healing having healed people early on in his ministry (see Acts 19:11-12, 28:9). He also knows what it’s like to have all he needs and be in need (4:12). It’s important to point out I don’t put God in a box by saying He can’t or won’t respond to an individual’s need. The difference is Paul’s not saying these things are connected in some way to our sacrificial giving. In other words, your money cannot purchase God’s love!
To understand what verse 4:19 means we need to examine the Philippians motives for giving in support of Paul’s ministry of grace or the cause of Christ. Paul is expressing his heartfelt gratitude to the Philippians for their sacrificial gifts. These saints were known for the poverty as the Corinthians were known for their prosperity. They supported Paul willingly out of their poverty. So, the question before us is, “Why would they give so generously if they had so little?” It wasn’t because they believed their gifts would somehow generate a cash flow, but because they were spiritually invested in the gospel and the ministry Paul was doing in Rome. They believed in Paul and his ministry, and they could see and hear about the spiritual fruit it was producing. Paul talked about how the gospel is spreading throughout Rome and Caesar’s palace in the first chapter of Philippians (1:12-13).
Supporting Paul and his labor for the Lord wasn’t a formula for the church or individual to make more money. If anything, it was a strategy, divine in nature, to keep the gospel of grace in play throughout the known world. And the Philippians were on board with that program, despite having very little. In Philippians 4:19, Paul is saying God meets all of our needs according to the riches in Christ Jesus, that is, God promises as we participate and partner in the ministry of the gospel we'll be blessed.
Verses 4:20-23 bring this letter to a close.
“Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
I’ll take the time to point out in verse 19 Paul stated, “My God....” You see, Paul had a personal relationship with God, as all Believers in Christ do. He cherished this relationship, unlike some people today who simply believe God is far off, if He exists at all, and unconcerned about them and their circumstances. But Paul knew better. He understood God was an ever-present help in time of need (Psalm 46:1) and interested in every aspect of his life and ministry. And when he considered all that God had done for him through Christ, and was presently doing, he closed this epistle with a doxology, “Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
“Salute every saint in Christ Jesus” (4:21a) - here Paul sends greetings to “every saint” at Philippi. Their hearts and names were forever attached to the Lord’s work, proof of this is here we are in the year of our Lord 2019 studying the letter Paul wrote to them, even those who were misbehaving at Philippi, namely, Eurodias and Syntyche and their followers.
“The brethren which are with me greet you” (4:21b) - Paul’s companions in travel were very dedicated to the Lord’s work and to Paul. While there were many such workers Paul is undoubtedly referring to Luke and Aristarchus (Acts 27:1-3; Colossians 4:10-14).
Aristarchus (“a Greek Macedonian of Thessalonica” (Acts 27:2) was a Believer mentioned in a few passages of the N. T. He accompanied Paul on his journey to Rome. Along with Gaius, another Macedonian, Aristarchus was seized by the mob at Ephesus and taken into the theater (Acts 19:29). Later, he returned with Paul from Greece to Asia (Acts 20:4). At Caesarea, he embarked with Paul on a ship of Edremit bound for Myra in Lycia (Acts 27:2); whether he traveled with him from there to Rome is not recorded. Aristarchus is described as Paul's "fellow prisoner" and "fellow laborer" in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 1:24.
Luke is the Apostle Luke. He wrote both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.
“All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household” (4:22) - Although Paul suffered dearly for his gospel and in trying to reach his countrymen at Jerusalem with it, thankfully, in the end it all worked out for the furtherance of the gospel. Here, again, we witness the risen Lord’s prophecy re: Saul of Tarsus being fulfilled:
“But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).
Paul was able to reach many people in Caesar’s household and the city of Rome itself with his gospel that in all probability might not have been reached otherwise. Those added to the household of faith included servants, slaves, Roman soldiers, and perhaps even some of Nero’s family members.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (4:23) - The theme of all of Paul’s epistles is God’s amazing grace; therefore Philippians begins with grace (4:2) and now ends with grace (4:23). It also begins and ends with our first love (Luke 10:27). As the song says, “Christ is all that He claimed to be,” and so much more! Praise God!
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