Text: Philippians 4:6-20
“Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. The Lord builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:1-3, English Standard Version) We gather tonight separate from our normal Sunday assemblies to especially and specifically mark our thankfulness toward God. He has blessed and does bless us richly in both body and soul; words fail to describe His great love toward us. Though we often think of Thanksgiving as a purely civic holiday, yet it is fitting for us to praise the One from whom all blessings truly do flow.
St. Paul wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit near the end of the Epistle reading, “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19) These words serve as our text.
This passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one that is familiar to us. We hear from this chapter every year on the Fourth Sunday in Advent, and it is a well-used passage for comforting ourselves in our distress – both in life and in death. As to the occasion of the letter, we know that Paul wrote this during his imprisonment in Rome while he was awaiting trial. That trial would end in his acquittal, but that was unknown to him at the time. Just the same, he wrote with full confidence in Christ. He said, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” and, “rejoice in the Lord always.” (Phil. 4:13, 4)
The challenge with a passage that is so well-known is that we get so used to it and we sometimes miss the details. For example, we tend to focus on the first part of this text and not usually these words: “God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” God will supply our every need according to His glory in Christ. What does that mean? And, deeper down, what does it mean that our needs are provided for according to God’s glory in Christ? Maybe the first step toward understanding is to confess that often times, when we use the word “need,” what follows after doesn’t exactly fit the definition. If we take mental inventory of things we consider needs, how many of them might be things invented within the last 100 years? A little while ago the internet went out at the parsonage, and oh, how I paced. What makes you pace when you go without?
When St. Paul said that God will provide for our needs according to Christ, he’s talking about our true need – our need for forgiveness and salvation. When we make mental lists of the things we need, they’re almost always things for the body – and that betrays our fleshly state of mind. St. Paul said to the Romans that, “to set the mind on the flesh is death.” (8:6) By this, he meant how all mankind since the Fall, and ourselves included, have minds set only on ourselves. We are concerned above all things with our own peace and security and, really, fleshly comfort. What we truly need, though, is forgiveness. Because of the Fall we are by nature sinful and unclean. We are born, shovels in hand, digging not to China but to hell with our many sins. But the Father, rich in grace and mercy, has had mercy on us. He sent forth His Son into the flesh to bear our sins on the cross. By His death, He made atonement for our sins and brings us life through His Word. In this, our God provides for our true need. He provides forgiveness and salvation for us through the sacrifice of His Son.
Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mt. 6:31-33) Our good and gracious God provides for what we truly need and more in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. Yet, when we confess the First Article of the Creed, we confess that God made us to have both soul and body. And, when we say that God is the maker of heaven and earth, we also mean that He is the sustainer and the one who provides, who provides for us.
Jesus comforts us, then, with these words: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need.” Beyond our need for salvation, because we are in the flesh there are other needs we have, such as, food and drink and house and home, and so on. These things, our God truly and abundantly has provided for us. We all have beds to sleep in tonight and food to eat tomorrow. We came here in cars or on our own two feet. We have these things, and all of what we consider to be ours, by God’s gracious hand. He knows what we need and well supplies.
It is true that, sometimes, what we think we need and what God knows we need are two different things. There are times that we are unsatisfied with how the Lord has ordered our earthly lives. If we should find ourselves thinking these things, let us not be deceived by the old tricks of Satan but instead, repent. Let us remember, as we have already noted tonight, and will tomorrow, that our God has all things in His keeping. He knows well how to bless us, most especially with the eternal life that awaits us in Christ. St. Paul said, “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” This is true. Thanks be to God. Amen.