“you lacked opportunity”
Paul is very graciously thanking the Philippians here. He is grateful that their “care for him” is flourishing again. By this he means receiving money from them. The church at Philippi had sent him money when he was in Thessalonica, but had not been able to since then. Paul is assuring them that he knows their care for him never ceases, only their ability. “You surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.”
There are, to me, two ways of looking at this phrasing, both from a historical standpoint, and a “life application” standpoint. Paul could have meant one of two things: either that they had no money, for a time, to send to Paul; or they had money, but no way to get it to him. Either way, their prayer support for him surely had not abated, as Paul confidently attests, “you surely did care.”
It’s a fairly innocuous statement to them. Their lack of “care” is forgiven, for it was out of their control.
For me, however, it’s a rather chilling statement. I have definitely been in a position in my life when I have not had the ability to help ~ especially financially ~ and it can be frustrating and limiting. It is a gift from God to have eyes that see the needs and wants of others, rather than our own. Most parents experience at least a version of this at Christmas, when we’d like to buy our children all that their hearts desire. Or at vacation time, when you wish you could offer them Disney World, Hawaii or Europe, but all you can manage is camping.
But that’s okay… there is growth there. Camping builds lasting memories and limited toys lead to stronger imaginations. And not being able to bail out that struggling family at church can strengthen your prayer life and their trust in Him. And perhaps someone else will be prompted and blessed at the chance to help/
But oh! To not have the opportunity! To have the resources and be stifled! That is so hard. I have friends who live several states away who have spent years dealing with their daughter’s life-threatening birth defect. The most that I could ever offer them is prayer. Now, that’s a lot, and they do have my continued prayer, but sometimes it feels like limited support. I can’t be there to encourage them, to give a hug of consolation on the bad days. I can’t babysit to give them a break, or to enable them to go to church. They know I surely do care, but lack opportunity.
To focus on that, however, is to lose sight of the opportunities I do have. Every update email from them is an opportunity to remind my kids about the power of prayer. And every time the offering basket is passed at church is an opportunity to put in my mite ~ a portion of what He has blessed me with. How many opportunities have I ignored or missed entirely because my focus was somewhere else?
Truly, I am never lacking in opportunities to show I care. The question is, do I care enough to find those opportunities?