Honour the text

From time to time I have heard the misquotation uttered in preaching or praying: ‘My God shall supply all my need.’ But what Paul had written in his letter to the church in Philippi is: My God shall supply all your need . . .'(Philippians 4:19). I treasure a favourite expression of the American preacher William Bruggemann: ‘Honour the text’. To do so, for a start we must:

  1. Quote the text accurately.

Ideally that requires a translation from the text’s original language rather than a paraphrase. But what else is needed in order to honour the text fully?

  1. Consider the text in its context.

The immediate context of Philippians 4:19 extends over verses 10 through 20 Philippians 4:10-20 the church in Philippi had just sent a financial gift to Paul. Indeed, this was one of several donations of theirs towards his ministry expenses. In fact, no other church had recently contributed cash support. He didn’t intend to imply that he was suffering hardship; he was well acquainted with times of abundance as well as lean periods of belt tightening – crises that he had always survived ‘through him [Christ] who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:13).

Rather, he wanted to let them know that he was genuinely grateful for their willingness to be God’s generous agents to meet his ‘needs’ (Philippians 4:16). So he was confident that my God will meet all your needs’ in response to their several love offerings – whether their needs were material, physical, emotional or spiritual.

  1. Grasp the message that the text conveyed to the initial recipients.

Here’s the complete passage from the New International Version with the contrasted personal pronouns in bold type:

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 need according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

‘To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’

P.S. We can even consider Paul’s entire letter to them as the context of this his concluding promise, for right at the start he used the phrase ‘my God’ (one he employs only sparingly in his letters – see Romans 1:8 and 1 Corinthians 1:4). So Philippians 1:3 (‘I thank my God every time I remember you’) and Philippians 4:19 (‘my God will meet all your need’) correspond to one another at either end of the letter. Our Lord had already taught: ‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure [of grain], pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap [= the lower half of your cloak held out at waist level]. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you again’ (Luke 6:38).

  1. Open your heart to what God is currently saying to you through the text today.

I must beware of misquoting this text: God is not bound to supply all my need if I am niggardly in my contributing to his work undertaken by others in their ministry. I will reap only if I sow liberally.

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