The practice of giving gifts in Japan is an important form of social communication with far more cultural rules than in the West. For instance, sets of four should never be given, as the word for four is the same as death. Clothing that touches the skin is seen as too intimate and should not be given to the elderly—with the exception of socks. The value of the gift is also important, since a gift that is too inexpensive is offensive, but one that costs too much implies that the recipient is now socially indebted to return a favor.
Gift giving in Greco-Roman culture had a similar set of rules. Long treatises were written detailing the rules about gifts, and it was understood that gifts between friends should not be accompanied by gushing thanks, since that would imply a relationship of obligation rather than friendship.
This helps us to understand why Paul, who clearly viewed the Philippians as his beloved friends, seemed somewhat reserved in his thanks (see v. 1). Paul again seemed to say that he neither needed nor expected this gift (vv. 11, 17). He also said that he did have needs (vv. 14, 16), so we see that Paul was responding in the culturally appropriate way between friends.
Beyond the cultural expectation of his thanks, though, Paul added the spiritual meaning of this gift from the Philippians. He appreciated their generosity not just for his own needs, but for what it meant about their spiritual health (v. 17). Their gifts to him were ultimately a sacrifice to God.
Again, Paul did not hint that he needed more money from the Philippians; he was “amply supplied” (v. 18). He could never be accused of seeking to gain materially from the churches. Knowing their own situation of poverty and persecution, he assured them that God would supply their needs out of His unlimited storehouse (v. 19). He ended his thanks to the Philippians by directing the glory to God, the fitting response to all generosity motivated by God’s grace (v. 20).
Apply the Word
Take a few moments to review this letter to the Philippians and notice how often Paul used the phrase, “in Christ Jesus.” In your journal or other place where you keep notes, make a list of the various contexts in which this phrase appears. When does Paul use it? What does this phrase tell us about different situations? How did “in Christ Jesus” give us perspective on our own circumstances and spiritual life? Choose at least one of these verses to commit to memory, helping you focus on life in Christ.