For those who don’t know this, I am bilingual. My family comes from Cuba, and my parents don’t speak a lot of English. In fact, Spanish was my first language, and I even spent a year as a Spanish teacher. One thing I’ve noticed as a bilingual person is just how much gets lost in translation. It’s crazy how often I try to translate something for my parents and get stuck because a certain phrase or word simply does not have a Spanish counterpart. It’s terribly frustrating when it happens, but it does indeed happen . . . pretty often, too!
Usually, when I encounter a situation like this, I try my best to explain the heart behind the expression, or throw out some synonyms that translate a little easier in Spanish, but something is still lost. I remember one time being asked to deliver a sermon I’d taught in Spanish. It was about going through the motions, but for the life of me I couldn’t find an equivalent expression for this concept. Needless to say, that was a long night.
Today, I bring you the latest edition of our “Context is Key” blog series where we explore commonly misinterpreted Bible verses; passages of Scripture where things simply get misquoted and misused often because the true context and heart behind the words is lost in translation. And today’s verse is a good example of that:
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:19 (ESV)
Paul’s closing statements to the Philippian church are among the most powerful and wisest sections of Scripture you’ll ever read. From “do not be anxious about anything” (4:6), to “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (4:7), to “if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8), to “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13), to “And my God will supply every need of yours” (4:19), this chapter packs a punch that, if heeded properly, can completely change the way you live! Sadly, it’s also one of the only passages I can think of with so many misinterpreted verses in such a short span. And of those verses, Philippians 4:19 is, in my estimation, the most dangerous misinterpretation there is!
Today, we’re going to examine what this verse means, what it doesn’t mean, and why misinterpreting it is so dangerous.
A GENEROUS PROMISE
There are two key Greek words in this verse. The first is plērōsei, which means “to supply; to fill to the maximum (full extent), to the limit of one’s capacity.” The root word (plē) describes fullness and totality; it implies full quantity (“to the brim”). The second word is ploutos, a word that describes “riches, wealth, abundance (materially or spiritually); much in number, quantity; to flow.” Of significant note is this word also comes from the root plē. These two Greek words, derived from the same root word, are closely interwoven in this verse. Both words speak of abundance and fullness.
You see, this passage is a powerful encouragement from the apostle Paul as he wraps up his letter to the Philippians. Here, his tone is emphatic. The context behind him writing these words was that Paul had accepted a generous gift from the Philippians with gratitude and joy. He viewed their generosity as a sacrifice, an offering to the Lord. And because of their sacrifice and service, Paul was certain the Lord would fill them to the brim, that He’d overflow their lives with blessing and would take care of all their needs, both spiritual and physical, from the immense abundance and riches of His mercy and love. From His inexhaustible supply, God would provide for them, because God provides for those who provide for others.
That’s where the true heart of this verse lies: It’s not an unconditional promise, but a conditional one. God’s promise to supply our needs (4:16) is rooted in the context of faithful, generous, sacrificial giving. God meets our needs to express His approval of our giving. This may sound harsh, but God does not promise to supply the needs of stingy, lazy, selfish, and irresponsible believers. Consider the Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Jesus’ words were warnings for His followers to be faithful, generous, compassionate stewards of that which God entrusts us with.
Lemuel Baker put it this way: “God has a system which has an unlimited supply while the world has a system with a limited supply. By faith and by tithing we select to live from God’s riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” The idea harkens us back to Malachi 3:10 (NASB), which says, “’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’” It’s a conditional promise based on our obedience and reflection of His generosity towards those in need—like Paul was during his imprisonment in Caesarea. Essentially, it’s telling us that as we step out in generous faith, God promises to step in with His generous provision.
The phrase “in glory,” is linked to “in Christ Jesus,” meaning that God’s tried and true method of supplying His people was through Jesus—the most powerful method that produces the best results in our lives. You see, it is clear from a full, in context reading of Paul’s letters that he expected all blessings, all provisions, and all that the Lord supplies to believers to come through Christ Jesus. And he’s absolutely right! Consider that apart from our atonement through Christ, man is subject to the justice and judgment of the Lord. Apart from the redemption that comes through Jesus, we are completely and utterly undeserving of blessings and the riches of His grace. But through our Messiah, we are made righteous and worthy in the sight of God.
The Jamieson-Fauset-Brown Bible Commentary states, “These words belong to the whole sentence. ‘Glory’ is the element in which His rich grace operates; and it will be the element IN which He will ‘supply fully all your need’ by virtue of your being ‘IN’ (so Greek, not ‘by’) Christ Jesus, the Giver and Mediator of all spiritual blessings.”
This is one of the most grossly misunderstood aspects of the verse, because so often people believe this is a reference to material blessing, when it is more so than anything else, speaking of spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). While material provision for our needs is implied—not only here but in countless passages throughout the Bible as it pertains to our generosity and sacrificial giving to meet the needs of others—the supply Paul is actually referring to is “the profit that is increasing to your account” (Philippians 4:17 HCSB). In essence, the apostle is saying that the supply that overflows is what they are receiving from Christ, and what Christ is accomplishing in and through them.
There is some serious danger in the misinterpretation of this verse. First, note Paul’s words carefully: God promises to meet needs, not wants. His supply of our physical needs as we meet the needs of others, and His overflowing spiritual blessings likely will not include our Amazon wish list or everything we asked Santa for. Wants are definitely not needs, and often our wants do nothing but keep us from God, hindering our relationship with Him, and distracting us from His will and purposes for us. So, please do not read this verse expecting that a red Corvette will supernaturally appear in your driveway because you demonstrated generosity. I’d even go as far as to challenge the motivation of our giving if we are expecting anything other than the riches that come from being in Christ in return.
Of even greater danger is the manner in which some have used this verse—and others like it—to espouse a false, unbiblical gospel. It’s what we call the prosperity—or health and wealth—gospel. Sadly, this brand of Christianity, which found its roots in the United States, has spread throughout the world, infecting and enslaving people around the world in places like Africa, India, and Central and South America. The “name it and claim it” confession philosophies, which spring out of televangelism and other forms of media have flipped the script and placed an emphasis on the material, on financial and self-centered needs in favor of the spiritual blessings in Christ. This type of gospel is no gospel at all and does nothing but deceive and disappoint those who buy into it while primarily serving those who preach and profit from it.
What should you do with this knowledge? For me, knowing this puts God’s heart in clear view for me. God is generous, He is a giver. He gave His only Son to pay our insurmountable and unpayable debt. He gave us the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus. He gave us a treasure beyond compare, one that overflows and exceeds our wildest dreams. And daily, He gives us fullness, satisfaction, contentment, purpose, love, grace, and the power of His Spirit in us!
As His child, as a recipient of this marvelous gift, I am compelled to be generous as He is generous, to give of myself as He gave Himself fully for me. I desire this, not because I want anything in return, but because I want to be able to experience the riches of knowing Him and being in His presence.
I hope this verse, in its proper context, can motivate you to give generously as Christ gives to us and help you avoid the dangers of this verse.
If you have any further questions regarding this topic, please feel free to e-mail me!