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This article considers Philippians 4:14–16 and its background and meaning.
A casual reader might come to think that verses 14–16 in Philippians 4 mean that the saints in Philippi paid a part of the apostle Paul’s normal daily needs. But, those who have studied the book of Acts and Paul’s letters, may have noticed that as long as Paul was a free man and in health, he supported himself through manual work. Thus, the question is, really what do those three verses refer to?
Philippians 4:14 But ye have done well in taking part in my affliction. 15 And know also ye, O Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I came out of Macedonia, no assembly communicated anything to me in the way of giving and receiving [a] save ye alone; 16 for also in Thessalonica once and even twice ye sent to me for my need. (DBY, note sign added)
a This with the “giving and receiving” that verse 15 mentions, is discussed later in this article.
Note the words “taking part in my affliction”, verse 14, and “you sent to me for my need”, verse 16. Those verses refer to two different situations where the saints in Philippi sent aid to Paul.
When Paul wrote that letter, he was “in bonds”, that is, in prison, see Philippians 1:13–14. Apparently, that was in Rome (see even Philippians 4:22). So, regarding verse 14 which was quoted above: Paul thanked the saints in Philippi, for sending him aid when he was in prison in Rome.
But, what does verse 16 refer to, the words “for also in Thessalonica once and even twice you sent to me for my need”? If we look for a connection between Philippi and Thessalonica, we find it in Acts 16. Here is some of the background of this matter: In Philippi, Paul had freed a certain slave-girl from a demon, Acts 16:16–18. Her masters complained about this, to the town magistrates, verses 19–21. The following verses record that Paul and Silas (Silvanus) were then arrested, and scourged and imprisoned. We read:
Acts 16:22 And the crowd rose up too against them; and the praetors, having torn off their clothes, commanded to scourge them. 23 And having laid many stripes upon them they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely; 24 who, having received such a charge, cast them into the inner prison, and secured their feet to the stocks. (DBY)
Paul and Silas were freed the next day. After those events, they left Philippi and went to Thessalonica.
So, there was a connection between Philippi and Thessalonica, in the case of Paul and Silas. Now, why did the saints in Philippi send aid to Paul in Thessalonica? (“Even in Thessalonica you sent me help when I was in need, not once but twice”, Philippians 4:16, PH72.) That is not fully clear, but one possibility is that since Paul had just been scourged, he could not work and support himself as he normally did, and that while he was recovering from the scourging, he indeed was in need. And, that the saints in Philippi, who knew what had happened to him, then sent aid to him. But, it could also be that there were some other, similar circumstances.
Paul was a tentmaker. That was his occupation. When he was in Corinth, he made tents. We read:
Acts 18:1 After these things, Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; 2 and finding a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had lately come from Italy, with Priscilla his wife, because Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome, he went to them; 3 and because he was of the same trade, he made his home with them, and worked: for by trade they were tent-makers. (AND)
Indeed, Paul worked and supported himself. 1 Corinthians 9:14–15 shows that he had not lived at the cost of others, and that he did not intend to do that, either (the article rma052.htm has more on this). Likewise, we have 2 Corinthians 11:7, “I proclaimed God’s good news to you free of charge” (NRSV). Also, we know that when Paul was in Thessalonica, he supported himself through manual work, and so did his companions: 1 Thessalonians 2:9, “For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for, laboring night and day, that we might not be burdensome to any one of you, we preached to you the gospel of God” (AND), 2 Thessalonians 3:7–8, “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us: for we did not behave in a disorderly manner among you, nor did we eat any one’s bread for nothing: but worked with labor and toil, night and day, that we might not burden any one of you” (AND).
Further, Acts 20 shows that it was the same when Paul was in Ephesus. That chapter records how Paul, when he was on his way to Jerusalem, made a stop in Miletus and sent for the elders in Ephesus and asked them to come to meet him. He reminded those elders that they knew that he had supported himself through manual work. (He had lived in Ephesus for around three years.)
Acts 20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the assembly. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, You are familiar with, from the day when I arrived in Asia, after what manner I lived among you all the time […] 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothes – 34 rather, as you yourselves know, these hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in everything, that by working hard like this, we must support the infirm and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. (BPT)
As you can see, verses 33–35, Paul had been on the giving side. He had supported, not only himself but even others. He told the elders whom he was addressing, to copy his example in that regard. (The article rma023.htm has more on Acts 20.)
Philippians 4:14 But ye have done well in taking part in my affliction. 15 And know also ye, O Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I came out of Macedonia, no assembly communicated anything to me in the way of giving and receiving save ye alone; 16 for also in Thessalonica once and even twice ye sent to me for my need. (DBY)
Verse 15 mentions “giving and receiving”. Some preachers have quoted certain New Testament passages out of their context, and caused people to believe that they ought to give money to the preacher. The earlier quoted Acts 20:35 is one of those passages. It does mention giving – the apostle reminded the elders from Ephesus that Jesus had said that it is more blessed (or richer, or happier) to give than to receive, but please note that the context shows that Paul had been on the giving side, and that he told those elders to copy his example in that regard.
Another passage which some preachers have quoted, is 2 Corinthians 9:7. But, those who check the wider context and dig a bit deeper into that matter, will see that the words “God loves a cheerful giver” in that verse refer to collection of relief aid to poor saints in Jerusalem. (The article rma023.htm has some notes on this.)
Some preachers might even quote Matthew 10:8, the words “freely you have received, freely give”. Those who check the context, will find that that is something Jesus said to the apostles. It was they who were to “freely give”. Jesus had given them the Good Tidings, and the power to heal the sick and cast out demons. The apostles were to give the Good Tidings further to others, freely, and they were also to heal the sick and free possessed people, without cost.
But yes, on some occasions, such as when for instance Paul was imprisoned, or sick or recovering from beatings or stoning (see 2 Corinthians 11:24–25 et cetera), in those cases the giving could go in the other direction. Philippians 4:15 is an example of that.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
Please send or mention the address to this site to others. Please also link to this site. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/contents.htm
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm
On the King James version. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa032.htm
2 Corinthians 11:8, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them” – is that a correct translation? Was the apostle Paul paid for his proclaiming work? → rma092.htm
On Acts 20:35 and its meaning. The apostle Paul reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and he told them to follow his own example in that regard. → rma023.htm
Some notes on 1 Corinthians 9:14–18. The apostle Paul made a special point of the fact that he had not lived at the cost of others and that he was not about to do that either. → rma052.htm
On the example the apostle Paul set, for others to imitate. → rma032.htm
On Galatians 6:6 and its translation and meaning. Does that verse refer to joining in in doing good, as the Greek text indicates, or to sharing one’s goods with a preacher, as some translations make it seem? → rma042.htm
What is the truth about tithing, the concept of giving “tithes” to a church? Also, what about “offerings”? → rma012.htm
For other articles on the matter of money in connection with religion, look under the heading “Money” on the page rkw431.htm.
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