Our hearts go out to you. Not only have you experienced a great deal of material loss and emotional turmoil. You’ve now hit what we call the “betrayal barrier.” You’ve reached the point where the one Person you thought you could always count on has seemingly let you down. That’s a painful and lonely place to be. We want to be an encouraging friend to you as you work your way through to the other side. At the end of this response we’re going to offer you an opportunity to contact one of our pastoral counselors. We hope you’ll take us up on it. They would consider it a privilege to speak and pray with you.
But what about your question? Can it be answered? We think so. Let’s begin by examining Paul’s statement in context. In the passage leading up to the verse you’ve quoted, the apostle has been commending the Philippians on their past generosity. He encourages them to continue giving freely in the future. Then he says something surprising: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed, I have all and abound …” (Philippians 4:17-18). What does he mean, “I have all and abound?” A clue can be found a few verses earlier:
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)
Paul does something remarkable in this famous section of Scripture. He redefines for Christians the meaning of words like need and abundance. In effect, he says that the believer’s experience of either want or satisfaction is ultimately an internal rather than an external reality. It has less to do with one’s material circumstances than with a certain mental and spiritual attitude. The secret, he explains in verse 11, is contentment (Greek autarkes/ autarkeia). In the original language this word indicates something like “self-sufficiency” or “independence.” It’s the ability to “make do” in all kinds of situations. Paul’s point is that when we have Christ, we have everything. Accordingly, it doesn’t really matter if we’re rich or poor, starving or full, naked or clothed, homeless or sheltered.
This is the revolutionary perspective that stands behind and informs the “promise” of verse 19: “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Paul is not saying that Christians will never go hungry or suffer want. Nor is he claiming that God will protect the believer from every danger. The apostle had personally experienced all these hardships many times, serving the Lord “in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness, often in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (II Corinthians 11:27). What he is asserting is that, if you belong to Christ, God will enable you to bear the burden whatever your lot may be. He has the same thing in mind when he says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
So much for biblical theology. We realize that a correct exegesis of these verses won’t help you feed your family. What’s more, a passage like the one we’ve been discussing should not be understood to mean that God doesn’t care about homeless, hungry, or hurting people. Quite the contrary. That’s why we’d like to invite you to call and explain your immediate needs to a member of our team. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.