We had an interesting study in Sunday school, on the end of Philippians – 4:19 through 4:23.
The class focused on 4:19:
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
The teacher asserted that this verse was used to justify a “prosperity gospel,” in that people asserted that “all your needs” was the same as “all your wants.” I never really thought of this verse in terms of a prosperity gospel, so I was arriving at it with what I thought were neutral biases – and wanted to find out more about what the words being used were, since translations seem odd to me when they’re so easily misapplied.
First off, I’m definitely not a student of Greek – go figure – so I’m more or less trying to build an understanding out of nothing.
I zeroed in on the word “riches” – or “wealth,” as it was in my NT – as the focal word. What got me thinking was that “riches” and “wealth” were underspecific in terms of the verse, because wealth is such a simple concept compared to what we were talking about.
Yet the word used is plouton – which is accurately translated as “riches” or “wealth,” specifically worldly riches and wealth. “An abundance of worldly possessions” is one definition, even, and this fits with the usage in Greek and Roman myth, too, as the god Pluto (Hades in Greek) is a god of wealth along with the similarly-named Ploutos. (Apparently Ploutos was the god of wealth, but Hades – as a cthonic god, a god associated with things under the earth – became associated with wealth as well, as gold and other valuable minerals were found under the earth.)
Anyway, with “plouton” in mind, apparently there isn’t a key word as much as the entire phrase needs to be understood as a whole: ‘according to his riches in Christ Jesus’ is a concept that isn’t simply expressed. The evaluation I expressed was that “riches” was contextual, and what God values is not worldly riches, but those things He values (i.e., obedience), but the word study itself doesn’t expose that. The contextual study does, but not the word study.
As a corollary, the rendering of “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with your spirit” doesn’t show up well in the word study either – although, again, remember my understanding of Greek, which is beyond laughable and well into “moronic.”
The phrase ‘with your spirit’ is meta pantOn in the Greek (and one thing I do appreciate about Greek is that it’s generally read left-to-right.) pantOn is “all things,” so perhaps “with all things about you” would be a good rendering as well.
I don’t know.
I don’t usually enjoy zeroing in on word studies, because there’s a cultural transition that doesn’t get communicated well with them. You can’t just study words, you have to consider all of the context – which means “with your spirit” and “according to his riches” becomes a history lesson of Roman culture, Hebrew culture (esp. as applied to a diasporic Hebrew mindset), and regional history around Philippi.
That said, that doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile – they just tend to yield an opened can of worms!
Wait, all that and no explanation of Phi 4:19?
Argh! Okay, here’s a quick rundown of what the verse actually means: it means that God does, in fact, supply all that is needed by the believer according to His will. The concern is in what “all that is needed” means.
The prosperity gospel focuses on what is wanted; “I need new shoes, I need to eat the finest foods, I need a large house, I need a nice car…” and none of those are needs. They’re not even physical needs, much less spiritual needs.
God fills those needs in accordance with His riches.
What does God consider wealth?
Well… wealth is created by a shortage of an item. Gold is rare, so it is a measure of wealth, for example, if you don’t mind a very simple example.
This may surprise you, but God doesn’t lack much gold. Or silver. Or livestock. Or land. Or anything else which we can measure in material goods.
What God desires more of is not livestock or land or precious metals, but fulfillment of His inestimable Will.
So fulfilling a need, in accordance with His wealth and not our pitiable measures of it, means that God fulfills our need to be able to fulfill our lives in Him.
This may mean we get food – perhaps fine food. It may mean we receive the ability to acquire shoes, or shelter, or cars. However, these things are secondary to His desire.
God works to the fulfillment of His will, through us. (We’re not necessary for this process, but God does as He will.) This is what this verse is telling us will be supplied, not material wealth.
(Originally published on January 24, 2012)