What Do We Need…Really? by Brad Warkentin
As we have begun this series on “The Path of Life”, we have chosen to explore the question of our human need. So far, we have looked at how God created mankind with legitimate needs and have explored how he supplies those needs.
In the Scriptures, it says, “The Lord will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:10) And yet, there are many stories throughout the scriptures in which it seems that people went without their basic needs met. Can you think of examples in scripture in which peoples’ needs were not met? (ei. Paul’s thorn in the flesh; the Stoning of Stephen; the martyrdom of James; Paul and Silas being flogged and jailed; the confiscation of believers homes- Hebrews 10:34)
So, is this a case of God not delivering on his promises? Or, perhaps God’s perspective of what we need is different than ours?! When we read the “Beatitudes” that Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-12, we get some important clues that help answer these questions (take a moment and read through the passage). What we don’t realize as English speakers is that there is no good way to translate what Jesus was trying to get at in this teaching. The word we translate “blessed” is the Greek word “makarios”. “Makarios” is a feeling word. It means that one is feeling happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate. The English word “happy” is probably our closest emotion word but it seems too superficial and fleeting in our context to use it for what in Greek is a feeling of deep and lasting contentment.
What is amazing about this teaching is that someone can be “poor in spirit” (that means being in touch with their need), at the same time as being happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate (Matt.5:3). How can a needy person be content or feel harmonious or fortunate? Jesus then goes on to suggest that someone who is “mourning” can, at the same time, be happy, content… etc.(vs4) How can someone who is mourning, at the same time feel deeply happy? In verse 10 Jesus even tells us that someone who is being persecuted (slandered, jailed, flogged or even killed) can experience deep contentment and feel fortunate…etc. In this passage, Jesus doesn’t say that he will take away our neediness, our sorrows or our trials (persecution) but rather he will make us “blessed” in the midst of them.
This just seems to fly in the face of how we view needs. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, what Jesus is suggesting should be impossible. It is only after those primary needs are met that we should be able to experience a state of “blessedness”. How do we resolve these apparent contradictions?
Perhaps our perspective regarding what we need is different than Jesus’ perspective. Read Philippians 4:10-19. What do you notice about the needs mentioned in this passage? Perhaps you noticed that Paul acknowledges that he has experienced great need in verse 12. Then in verses 15-18 Paul connects his needs to his calling to serve the Lord. It seems that Paul accepts that having needs is a real part of following and serving God in “Kingdom” work. In fact, despite working for God, he has still experienced “need” and “hunger” (vs. 12). It is in this context that Paul says two very interesting things: First, he says that he has learned to be content in the midst of his neediness (vs. 12) and second, that… “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (vs. 13). In other words, Paul is telling the Philippians that it is the Lord who meets his needs as he walks the Path to which God has called him; and one of his biggest needs is to be content in his neediness!
I believe that Paul is saying something to the Philippians that we might not want to hear: That when God promises to supply our needs, He does it in the context of His will and in the midst of His work. At the end of this, Paul says to the Philippians, “And my God will supply your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (vs. 19) In the context of Paul’s earlier words, we can now put these words in the right perspective. Paul is definitely not saying that God is not promising to meet ALL their needs. Rather, Paul is saying to them: “expect that you will experience need in your service, but, you can expect that God will a) help you to be content in want and b) supply what is needed for accomplishing his will!