A Call to Celebration

Grounded in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

Session Thirteen

  • Last time you met you were asked to make a special effort, with God’s help, to develop some virtue or to conquer some vice. How did you go?
  • If money were no object, make a list of the gifts you would like to give to each other person in the room, then read them out explaining why you chose the particular gift you did for each one.
  • Show or talk about some gift which has been particularly significant for you.
  • Talk about times when God enabled you to do something which you could not have done out of your own resources alone.
  • Read Philippians 4: 10 – 13 and the accompanying comment.

Philippians 4: 10 – 13

v.10 : Paul is here referring to the gift he received from the church in Philippi. The important thing, he says, is not the gift itself, but what it symbolizes. He appreciates it as a sign of their concern for him in his imprisonment. It says something to him about their life in Christ. For this he rejoices, and describes his rejoicing as being “in the Lord”. His response arose out of his relationship to Christ, just as their giving arose out of their relationship with Christ.Whether it be a birthday present or any other sort of gift, there can be something almost sacramental about a gift. The physical object conveys something which is immaterial, spiritual. It might be an expression of care and concern, it might give voice to appreciation, thankfulness, delight or repentance. It acknowledges the worth of the person to whom it is given.An inexpensive, hand-made gift might say more than an expensive gift bought off the showroom floor. The care taken to purchase a gift which will be appreciated by the recipient speaks volumes. But the giving of gifts can be a substitute for giving time and attention. It can be an attempt at buying favours.It is because of the spiritual nature of gift-giving that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). It is because God looks into the heart and motive that Jesus could say of the poor woman in the temple that she gave more than the wealthy contributors did (Mark 12: 41-44). It is because of the symbolic nature of giving that the level of a person’s generosity can be an indication of how they stand in their relationship with God..

v. 11-12 : Paul says that he had learnt to be content with what he had. That’s a great gift, a gift we should ask God to give us. Instead of asking God to give us more and more things, it would be more in keeping with the mind of Christ to ask God to give us contentment with what we have.Paul learnt this lesson through hard experience. There had been times when he had gone hungry, but there were other times when there had been plenty to eat. Through this, he had learnt to be content in whatever circumstance he found himself.Contentment cannot be bought. It is never attained by getting. It is a mistake to think that if we just had a bit more money we would be satisfied, for if we have that approach we are never satisfied for long.v. 13: True contentment of the spirit comes out of our relationship with Jesus Christ. It comes from our inner resources, not from our outward resources.

Verse 13 has often been quoted out of its context. Paul was talking about his ability to take it or leave it as far as material goods are concerned. The strength to do this, he says, comes out of his relationship with Christ. The power to live the Christian life in all its aspects comes from Christ.

Paul is not dismissing material things as evil, he is simply placing a greater weight on their spiritual significance than we usually do. He does not attack wealth or possessions, but he places them in an entirely new light by stressing the superior value of his relationship with Christ. He doesn’t say that the way we handle our money, wealth or possessions is unimportant. Through them indeed we express our faith and discipleship.

Money and possessions seem to have the power to dominate us, but really the power does not lie in the money and possessions themselves; it lies rather somewhere deep within us. It is up to us whether we fall into this kind of idolatry or live with that sort of contentment that Paul was talking about. It’s up to us, but it’s not just up to us. It comes from within ourselves, but the desire and power to do it comes from elsewhere – from Christ.

For discussion:

1. Paul saw the Philippian gift as an indication of care and concernfor him.

(a) Have you received a gift which indicated care and concern for you? Share any such experiences.

(b) What other feelings find expression in gifts?

2. Generosity.

(a) How useful is the level of a person’s generosity as an indication of how that person stands in relationship with God?

(b) Why should a Christian be generous?

3. Paul says that he had learned to be content with whatever he had.

(a) What works against us having this same kind of contentment?

(b) What are some of the false ways in which we try to find contentment?

4. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

(a) What is included in the “all things”?

(b) What is excluded in the “all things”?

  • Pray for a spirit of generosity both for yourself and for your church.
  • Pray for each other that each might have inner contentment in the face of whatever it might be that threatens that contentment.