We live in a time when a philosophy of scarcity has taken hold. Yes, we hear preachers talk about abundance, but it's usually a prosperity gospel that asks us to send in money with the promise that we'll reap a large return. I always wonder whether these pleas come with a money back guarantee. But the gospel does offer the promise of abundance, but it does so in a very different way. It invites us to participate in the work of God in the world, where with the strength of God, we can do all things. Paul offers this promise of abundance, not from the a beach on the Riviera but from jail. Bruce Epperly concludes his eight part exploration of Philippians with this posting. I invite you to consider Bruce's meditations as a whole on the Philippian letter, a letter that calls us to be joyful in the midst of difficult times.
Philippians 8 –
Abundance and Scarcity –
Philippians 4:12-13, 19
Bruce G. Epperly
Philippians is an epistle of God’s abundant life. Jesus’ mission statement, as recorded in John 10:10, was “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Paul believes that divine providence is moving through all things, aiming all humankind toward a harvest of righteousness. Even in prison, we can sing praises, because God is with us, giving us everything we need to flourish.
In light of the current global and economic insecurities, including the marginalization of the church, many of us are tempted to live by scarcity. Like the widow of Zarephath, who responded to Elijah’s request for a meal, many church members confess: “I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil; I am now gathering a couple sticks so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, so that we may eat it, and die.” (I Kings 17:12) Like the widow, many of us as we look toward the future, we see nothing but diminishment and death, congregationally and denominationally. Perhaps, the Philippians felt the same way: a small congregation, a religious minority, the object of subtle – if not explicit – persecution, struggling to share its message in a pluralistic culture.
Paul reminds the Philippians of a deeper realism that comes from seeing the world through the eyes of faith. Faith opens us to new dimensions of reality, in which we have all the resources we need to face the challenges of each day. Amid bottom lines and apparent marginalization, faith sees evidence of God’s providence: a mustard seed becomes a great plant, five loaves and two fish can feed a multitude, and persecutors can become proclaimers.
Paul makes two audacious statements in Philippians 4. Grounded in his counsel to “think on these things” – the true, just, and commendable – Paul makes the following affirmations:
- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
- My God will satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Jesus Christ.
This is not magic thinking, or Pollyanna theology. These affirmations were birthed while Paul was in prison. These are not supernatural or unrealistic, but emerge from the interdependence of God’s call and our response. God’s grace is moving in our lives, inspiring, energizing, and empowering. We have more than we can imagine through God’s grace and power.
With God as our companion, we can be actors and creators. We have the insight, courage, and imagination to respond to whatever confronts us. Moreover, we have resources to supply our deepest needs, spiritual, physical, and emotional. We have manna enough for today and the future; manna enough for all provided we look beyond our own needs to care for the greater good.
What does this mean to congregations, like the church at Philippi, and churches today? It means that we are neither alone nor without resources. It also means that despite our current congregational size and future demographics, God is still at work in our churches. God is omnipresent and omni-active: the practical meaning of omnipresence and omni-activity is that God is here and now, alive and inspiring our churches regardless of size. Like the growing mustard seed, God’s gentle provision moves us forward, whether or not our congregation is growing. Small congregations can do great things – they can be faithful, compassionate, loving, and lively. Small is beautiful, and we can do something beautiful for God.
Paul is making a great promise that can transform your life – it inspires action, not passivity and invites us to expect more of God and more of ourselves. With God moving in our lives, we can do great and wonderful things. We don’t need to be afraid, for God is with us.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guideto the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.