Sunday, 6 October 2019

Need or Plenty - Philippians 4

We all know that for a tall building to withstand elements and earthquake it needs good foundations. We are told to build our house on the rock, not the sand. Do we translate this knowledge into our desire to ensure we have good spiritual foundations, a depth of relationship with Christ?

Paul writes of his foundations in verse 11 'I have learned to be content whatever - in need or in plenty'. He has done both, and goes on 'I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation'. Listen to his language: 'learned', 'secret'. This is not just fleeting, not something he fell into, but something developed, something shaped and formed in him. It enables the 'whatever', 'any' and 'every', but it is no accident.

These foundations stand him in good stead. Now under arrest he is dependent on aid. We should consider our own foundations and how to develop them, for culture will quite simply not do that for us. Culture wants you to consume ever more, advertising is specifically designed to make you not content with what you currently have!

Contentedness is not a denial of your genuine need, nor is it 'not asking', and certainly it isn't 'not receiving'. Paul was grateful for the aid he received, and received it willingly. Paul still prayed regarding his needs. Yet he had learnt a mood of being content. That meant he could be in need without whingeing, and without the needs dominating his outlook.

The principles behind this are a) to live simple - re-appraise your clothing/gadgets/phone budget! Then b) to freely give and freely receive. There are Christians who give, but are not themselves able to receive - this is wrong! Finally I believe c) no hoarding (of cash). Savings/reserves are okay, as is provision for the future - but within reason.

Maslow is famous for his hierarchy of needs, but whilst at the bottom we do indeed need the basics of food, water etc. the pyramid ignores the fundamental spiritual needs we all have. So I would argue that underneath the base should be spiritual foundations that we attend to along with our basic needs. These foundations, and the fundamental trust in God that goes with them, then enables us to hold in tension accepting what we have for now with asking God for provision. As a church we have to do this all the time - we have need/wishes all over the place, which we pray into in tandem with an acceptance of not having them right now without moaning.

Fundamentally we believe that God's economy is one of abundance rather than scarcity. That doesn't mean we are always dripping with excess, but it does mean we can confidently wait and trust in Him.

This way may seem too hard for some, but remember that people are doing this the world over. Our visits to Zambia and Sierra Leone are reminders of people with literally next to nothing, yet still they give and still they achieve incredible things (running centres for street kids, or the disabled). They literally live the tension I describe, and their faith in God's provision is exemplary. They do this without super theological education - they just know that God can be trusted.

So let us learn to live simply, to freely give & receive, without excessive hoarding. Let us learn to be content whatever the circumstances of need or plenty. Paul returns in v18 to the imagery of offering. Recall Paul talking of lives given being akin to the Old Testament sacrificed animal, with his own life poured as a drink offering on top. Now he likens giving to the incense burned, producing a pleasant aroma in the sanctuary - complementing the main offering. Our ability to live like this all stands on the depth and strength of our spiritual foundations.

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