All Needs Supplied
When Paul was in prison in Rome, he presumably had many needs. The Church in Philippi, now an organised body with ‘bishops and deacons’, took a special interest in him and sent to him ‘once and again’ what they felt would be useful. In his present circumstances, Paul was not able to repay them; he could not send them anything in return. But he considered their gift to be a sacrifice to God, one with which God was well pleased. And he could assure them that, as they had supplied some of his needs, God would supply all theirs. ‘My God’, he told them, ‘shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:19).
God had already supplied their basic spiritual needs. Their sins – however many and however serious – had been forgiven. God had cast them all behind his back; he had put these sins where, so to speak, he would never look on them again with a view to taking action against those who had committed them. These people were no longer under condemnation; they were now justified; God was reconciled to them for the sake of Christ, who had taken their place and endured the punishment which they deserved.
These Philippians were once far off from God, spiritually dead and without any knowledge of the way that leads to everlasting life. Their needs were indeed great. But God had sent Paul and Silas to bring them the gospel of Jesus Christ – the truth about how sinners may be saved. And he had sent the Holy Spirit to regenerate their dead souls as they heard Paul, Silas and others proclaiming to them the good news about the Son of God becoming man so that he might die for sinners. At once they became spiritually alive and were able to receive the truth about the Saviour, so that they trusted in him and were saved. They now had new hearts; not only was faith planted in their souls but the germ of every grace. They had begun to fear God; they were living godly lives, desiring to be obedient to all his commandments.
That God had supplied these needs was a wonderful blessing. They could not possibly thank him sufficiently for it. Yet they had further needs – needs which would continue throughout their lifetimes. And Paul was assuring them that God would indeed supply all these needs, whatever their nature.
They were still sinners; so they needed continuing forgiveness. But, having been accepted by God, for Christ’s sake, sin cannot be laid to their charge. Thus Paul echoes David: ‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin’ (Rom. 4:8). It is true that guilt attaches to all their sins – for their sins deserve infinite punishment, as much as those of the ungodly – yet Christ took their place and suffered the punishment due to them for all their transgressions.
This doctrine has been maligned as giving believers a licence to sin. This would be true if God granted forgiveness without a change of heart. But with a change of heart, as we have already noted, comes the fear of God, which implies a desire to flee from sin. Yet believers are conscious that they need God to continue his work in their hearts and to subdue sin more and more. Will he do so? Yes, because he will supply all his children’s needs. Although the work of sanctification is not complete at the new birth, God has graciously undertaken to continue that good work which he then began and to bring it on to perfection. No one can enter heaven with the least trace of sin remaining in their hearts, or with the least possibility of sin breaking out in any way. But all believers will be brought to heaven, with no trace of sin. Their great need of holiness – indeed a perfect holiness – will be supplied because the work of Christ for them was designed to lead to the entire eradication of sin. The work of grace will be brought to completion.
As God’s children make their way through life, many difficult situations confront them. They need the grace of faith so that they may look to Christ and not trust in themselves or in any other ‘arm of flesh’. Many temptations will come their way, for Satan is strong and devious and he has many to help him lay snares in their path. They need grace to resist these temptations, to look unto Jesus and not be intimidated, however unlikely a satisfactory deliverance may seem. But Paul saw that there was an abundance of glorious riches from which such needs will be supplied. And it is by obtaining, through faith, a view of the infinite extent of these riches, and the willingness of God to use these riches to supply their needs, that believers will triumph over all the assaults of the wicked one.
When circumstances are difficult, they need patience. When they feel weak in themselves, they need zeal. When everything around them seems dark and dismal, they need hope. When they are disturbed and agitated, they need the peace which only God can give. When they are overcome by self-centredness, they need love for the brethren. And always they need their love for God to be increased. Indeed each of the graces which have been listed, and every other grace also, needs to be increased – and there are times when believers need to exercise a particular grace. No human being can do anything to supply these needs, though preachers, for instance, may be used as instruments to direct believers to the glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Inadequate creatures they are in themselves, but why should they be poor when there are these glorious riches to draw from? Thus Christ asked Peter, after his failure to keep walking on the water: ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ (Matt. 14:31). So Christ’s disciples in every generation would walk safely through many dangers and through many discouraging providences if only their faith was stronger, if only they did not doubt. But, let us remind ourselves, where does that stronger faith come from? From the glorious riches provided by Christ.
What then about temporal needs: arising, for example, from bereavement, old age, redundancy and unemployment, and uncertainty about the supply of food? Certainly we are to ‘seek . . . first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness’ (Matt. 6:33); spiritual things must come first in our list of priorities. But God understands all our needs and he will give to his children whatever he sees is best for them. They should therefore place themselves and all their needs in his kind hand, fully conscious that he understands far better than they possibly can what really is good for them.
God knows that many things which we think essential for our well-being are not really necessary; they may even do us harm. Paul prayed earnestly for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, whatever it may have been. But God did not reject his prayer when he refused to give the Apostle what he asked for. Although Paul did not receive the more comfortable life he was seeking, he was given – out of God’s riches in glory by Christ Jesus – a far more wonderful answer. It was God’s promise: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9). And that promise was recorded in Scripture to encourage God’s children till the end of time to press on, in the face of every difficulty, with the knowledge that his grace is indeed sufficient for them.
As they look at themselves, believers may be discouraged because they deserve nothing. But God’s promise to supply all their need is given in his grace; he knows they deserve nothing. James Fergusson, the godly minister of the Ayrshire town of Kilwinning in the seventeenth century, noted that ‘the Lord, in dealing with his people, doth not look so much at their worth and deserving as what is fitting for his own glory’.1 All God’s dealings with believers result in his glory. He takes glory to himself in fulfilling all his promises and, in particular, in supplying all the needs of his children according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. So they should never think that they can ask for too much; all that God gives them will be for his glory.
- The Epistles of Paul, Banner of Truth reprint, 1978, p. 325 [out of print].
Kenneth D. Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church in Leverburgh on the Isle of Harris. He is the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the April 2010 issue of which the above editorial has been taken with permission.
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