Text: Philippians 4:15-23
I have a difficult relationship with the Apostle Paul. I cringe when he says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters” (Eph. 6:5). I scratch my head when he makes the grand pronouncement, “The husband is the head of the wife” (Eph. 5:23). What an odd anatomical image! What remains of what used to be my red hair starts to flair when he announces, “It is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (I Cor. 14:35). Looking around at our music director, pianist, and any number of Session members, and according to Paul, Cove is downright shameful.
My argument with Paul, though, is not as a fierce opponent, but as an often frustrated and perplexed admirer. Because, more often than not, it is the words of this same infuriating Paul that give flight to my soul. When I baptize someone, I stand in awe when I pronounce Paul’s affirmation: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
When we feast at this table, I never tire of hearing words that Jesus spoke to his disciples on the night that he was betrayed, words Paul would not have the church forget: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” (I Cor. 11:26).
When you and I gather by the graveside, I rely on Paul’s words to stare down death: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
While I argue fiercely and frequently with Paul, much of my faith has been formed by the beauty of his language and shaped by the power of his theology. I have learned that many of his writings that make me cringe or blush or get fired up are far more complex than what one catches on a first read. They require careful study in context before we can begin to make sense of them. As with any letter, it is often hard to understand what Paul says without being privy to the letter or situation to which his letter is a response.
So, I try my best to hang in there with Paul, but even when I do, he still has the power to leave me totally baffled. Nowhere does he baffle me more than in his closing comments to his beloved congregation in Philippi. When Paul writes this letter, he is not sitting in a comfortable recliner while he knocks out his powerful prose on a new Mac Notebook. He is in prison. As a Roman citizen, Paul may have been treated well by the Roman guards; I can’t say, but at the end of the day, he was still a prisoner.
It is the closing appeal in his prison letter to the Philippians that baffles me the most. On the surface, it looks like one of a thousand fund-raising appeals that arrives in our mail or email. He expresses appreciation for the money that the Philippian church has already sent him. And, it looks like he is about to make an appeal for them to send him more.
Instead, the prisoner Paul declares: “I have all that I need and more than enough” (Phil. 4:18). And he is serious! That is what baffles me. That is what I find so maddening about Paul. Just when you think he cannot say something more outrageous, he comes up with this line from prison: “I have all that I need and more than enough.”
My gut response to this Pauline prison piety is: “No, you don’t!” You don’t have enough freedom. You aren’t living at home with your family or hanging with your friends; you’re in jail! Others control what you eat and has prison food ever been good? Others tell you when and if you can exercise and what time you must sleep. If you wake up and decide that you want to visit your cherished congregation in Philippi, you can’t. You don’t have enough freedom, Paul.
Paul will have nothing to do with my well-reasoned objection. Again, he declares “I have all that I need and more than enough.” Paul is no idiot and he is anything but naive. He knows what he is lacking in his current situation, but more importantly, he knows what he has. Even in prison, Paul lives with the gospel promise that by God’s grace he will never be alone. And, so, even from prison, he preaches the gospel in letter form; he testifies to the love of Christ that snatched him out of his virulent piety and gave him a new heart. Stuck in prison, Paul sings his gratitude to and affection for the church in Philippi, something even prison confinement cannot take from him.
“I have all that I need and more than enough.” What if Paul was right not only about his life but also right about ours? What if, regardless of our situation in life, the measure of our life is less about our bank balance and more about God’s abundant love that surrounds us and grace that sustains us? What if our life is less about the volume of things we possess and more about the vocation to which God has called each one of us? What if the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is that “You and I have all that we need and more than enough”?
Since the first Sunday of October, Cove has been observing a Season of Thanksgiving and in a few minutes, we will hear from Courtney and give thanks for the work of the Building Goodness Foundation. What would it look like if you and I lived into Paul’s words, “I have all that I need and more than enough” not just in the season of Thanksgiving but in every season?
What would it look like for us to believe, heart, mind, and soul that we have enough, enough at least of all that finally matters. Rather than running a race to see who can accumulate the most, what if we ran the race to see who can give away the most? Rather than always seeing the glass not even half full, what if we joined in Paul’s chorus and celebrated that our glasses are already full to overflowing?
What if you and I stopped arguing with Paul for a moment and got aboard the bus with him, the Enough Bus? Maybe that would turn our hearts outward to those people who really do not have enough – enough money, enough food, enough shelter, enough justice, enough love. Maybe that would turn our hearts outward and our feet walking toward those who do not have enough help, enough time, enough encouragement, enough faith.
Maybe to add “enough” to our daily lives might be the beginning of a whole new life. Poet David Whyte says it with these words:
Enough. These few words are enough. If not these words, this breath. If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to life we have refused again and again until now.
[‘Enough’ by David Whyte]
Or as Paul says, “I have all that I need and more than enough.”
As we approach Thanksgiving, the feast day of abundance in America, followed by Black Friday, the feast day of never-have-enough in America, what if we told Paul, “Move over, friend, we want to sit with you for a while, thankful for the persistent love of God, grateful that we have enough and thankful to the generous grace of God that we are enough.
Now that would be a Thanksgiving that I could celebrate not only this Thursday but on every day of the year.