Philippians 4.10-20 - Thanks for your Generous Gift
Last week we heard a letter from Jesus to a rich church who were needed rebuking. That church – in Laodicea – was deceived by their wealth and alienated from Jesus – they trusted money rather than Jesus; they were content with lots of money when they should have been striving for what they didn't have – heavenly riches. So Jesus declared he was about to spit them out of his mouth! And he called on them to repent and – exchanging their money for true, heavenly riches.
I hope that like me you're still feeling the sting of challenge to delight in Jesus and love and trust him with your money.
This morning we're going to hear the opposite, a letter to a poor church who were astonishingly generous and needed praise. This church – in Philippi – wasn't rich, but they were quick to share what they had – and today we'll hear how their generosity delighted not just Paul, but God himself.
We've heard the passage already; it's that passage from Philippians 4v10-20 and it's on page 831, please open that up if you've closed it so you can follow along with me there.
By way of giving a very brief bit of context this is a letter from Prison (1v13 'I am in chains for Christ') – Paul's probably in Rome, and is facing execution. Enemies are stirring up trouble and he's been in dire need – Roman prisons didn't include meals, he had to fend for himself. The Philippians they're poor too, desperately poor, and they're beginning to suffer persecution (1v29-30). Yet this isn't a sad letter, there's no moping or complaining, far from it. Paul overflows with joy in this letter and delight in the Philippians. And his big message to them is to press on, to keep going, to keep loving and trusting Jesus and to pursue him above all else, whatever the cost, because he's worth it (esp. ch 3).
In our passage Paul turns to thank them for sending money to help him.
Paul writes to thank and spur on the Philippians, and we can see three things to learn:
1) Paul's grateful, but not greedy
2) They're generous because they're partners with Paul
3) God is also a Partner
So press on!
Paul writes to thank and spur on the Philippians:
He's Grateful, but not Greedy
Have a look with me at verse 10:
2I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
You can see that Paul is treading a fine line – he wants to be clear that he's really grateful for the things they've sent, and they've helped… but he also wants to be clear that money or not he is joyful in Jesus, and his love for them is not dependant on money …
So he says: I'm rejoicing that you're still so generous towards me after all these years – and he's very careful to make sure they don't hear any suggestion of criticism he's really grateful.
But more importantly his gratitude might suggest that he's been struggling to keep his spirits up in prison (and to be fair that's what we'd expect isn't it?). But that's not the case – he's been at pains in this letter to say that he doesn't care what happens to him so long as it serves the gospel. In chapter one he didn't mind people trying to stir up trouble, he didn't mind dying and he didn't mind delaying death, even in prison, if it meant productive service of others – Paul is profoundly gospel focused. In chapter two he told them to follow Jesus example of living and dying to serve others. And in chapter three he told them that to stand firm in the Lord required giving up everything in order to pursue Jesus alone.
How serious was he about that? Well look at verse 11 and 12: he's this serious – he's content to receive from God's hand whatever God sends – whether well fed or hungry, whether riches or poverty. He's content in prison facing execution and he's equally content staying with rich benefactors. Poverty and riches, feast and famine, none of them matter overly to Paul, because he can see God's hand behind them both. He's not a stoic, he feels the pain, he's familiar with anxiety and cold and hunger and all the rest. But because he knows God will supply whatever he needs to serve God in every situation he can say verse 13: 'I can do everything through him who strengthens me'. This doesn't mean he can bust out of the prison, he's not claiming superpowers. This would be a very different letter if he was! And it doesn't mean he can survive on air. It means that he knows that God supplies whatever he needs, that God gives him the strength to endure whatever he faces – whether that be hunger in a prison cell or wealth in luxury.
This sort of contentment is a particularly Christian experience. It follows from ch3 Paul pursues Jesus above everything else. He knows Jesus, he walks with him, delights in him. Because of that he knows he can trust Jesus in everything. Even suffering can't get him down, because Jesus suffered for him – and then rose to glory. For him to suffer now with Jesus simply draws him closer to Jesus.
So do you see what Paul is saying here: he's grateful, but he's not greedy – he really appreciates the gift, but not because he needed it so much as because it reveals their love for him, their concern for him. He's confident that God would have provided whether they sent it or not, but how sweet it is to have God provide for him through them!
Three and a bit years ago our Ed – 6 weeks old – was in the hospital with Meningitis and it was absolutely horrible, horrible. But we experienced just what Paul is talking about here – an enormous sense of God's love expressed for us through his people as so many of you sent cards or cooked meals or let us know that you were praying for us… God could have done it otherwise, but how wonderful it was to have his love expressed through his people. Over the last couple of years here I've heard many of you saying much the same. What a blessing to see God's love in tangible ways, to know our love for one another in the tough times.
And on the other side of that equation – when we're the ones who aren't in trouble, but who can help – don't we often find ourselves thinking of generosity as a burden, something heavy, something demanded of us that we'd rather not? But if we can get our heads around this we can learn to see giving in a whole new light – as a wonderful opportunity to be part of God's work.
That's why I had us read Esther chapter 4 earlier – Esther's put in a terrible position – to save the Jews she has to risk her own life. No small thing, a horrible, horrible choice. But Mordecai challenges her to see her predicament as an opportunity to be involved with God in his work of salvation. God can save without you, he says, but you'll miss out on the blessing of being involved. And so it is with us – God can look after the needy, God can fund the work of this church, God can look after the Syrian refugees, God can raise up leaders for the next generation – he can do it without us, no doubt. But if we choose not to be involved, well the loss is all ours. God will provide, but we miss out on the joy of joining in God's work.
And this idea brings us to our second point – they were generous because they were partners. They're generous because they're partners
Have a look at verse 14:
"Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need."
That word 'share' in verse 14 is the same word translated throughout Philippians as partners, partnership or fellowship. From the day they were converted, even when he was just 70 miles away in Thessalonica and they were new Christians they've given him aid again and again. And that aid is an expression, a concrete, physical expression of their partnership with him in the gospel.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 8 Paul tells us this was a poor church – 'extreme poverty' is the phrase Paul uses. But, despite their poverty they were the ones, the only ones, who shared with Paul in giving and receiving. Famously Paul refused payment for preaching the gospel. In other places – such as Corinth and Ephesus he deliberately, explicitly refused to accept money for preaching to them. He didn't want them to think they could buy the blessings of the gospel, he wanted them to understand it was not for sale.
But with the Philippians he made an exception, from them he accepted money. What's the difference? It seems to come down to this – they understood that they were not purchasing the gospel, but becoming partners with Paul in it. They gave simply because they wanted the gospel to go out and they could see that supporting Paul freed him to preach. They cared about the progress of the gospel, they were personally invested in Paul and his mission.
Same now, in their giving they share Paul's suffering. He'd been going without in prison, now they go without in his place. Now he's well fed and they're going hungry. They literally relieved him of his suffering by taking it on themselves. Their extreme poverty welled up into rich generosity and they suffered loss so the gospel wouldn't. What a wonderful expression of their partnership with Paul.
And Paul is deliberately using a commercial word here with commercial overtones. Partnership is matched with talk of giving and receiving, with talk of credits to accounts and with payment in full. So what does it mean to be a partner? The difference between a partner and an employee is that a Partner shares in the cost, and in the reward. An employee does his job, gets paid and goes home. But partners are tied up in the success of the business. They invest more than time, more than money – they invest themselves. And if there's a return, they share in that too. The Philippians were true gospel partners – they were true brothers in arms with Paul in the gospel. They shared in the cost because they cared about the success of the gospel.
So Paul rejoices greatly in their gift, not because he gains from it – he does appreciate that, verse 18 'I have received full payment, I'm amply supplied'. But it's about much more than that – he rejoices greatly in the Lord because of their partnership: their giving expresses their true concern for Paul and the work of the gospel. As they enter into his suffering they also participate in the sufferings of Christ. They are becoming more and more like Jesus, growing in grace and in love for Jesus and compassion for the lost. That's what makes Paul's heart sing for joy, because that is his heart for them.
So can hear the question coming? Have you bought into the gospel? Are you a partner with God in his work, or a spectator, or a consumer, or an employee? Ddo you give like someone who has no personal stake in the gospel, or like an actual stake holder with all the world to gain from the success of the gospel? Do you give as if to brothers and sisters in trouble, or as someone with nothing to gain, but a bit of extra cash that you're not quite sure what to do with?
Hear the challenge and give like a partner, because we are all included in Christ, the success of the Kingdom is our success, the needs of brothers and sisters are ours to be concerned for (cf. Rom 12 the body imagery – we are all members of one another, therefore if anyone has the gifts to use, let him use them for the building up of the church, and in 12v8 we have this gift – if a man's gift is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; what do you need in order to have the gift of giving – just something – anything – to give!
So Paul rejoiced at their generosity, not because he is greedy, but because it shows that they are partners with him in the gospel. And that's wonderful, and we can be partners in the gospel too. But far more wonderful still is the reminder that Paul and the Philippians are not the only partners in this venture – God is a partner too. This is point three, and we're going to have to be fairly brief:
God is also a Partner –and he's keeping score, he's pleased and he will provide
Look at verse 17 with me:
"Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Paul's not concerned for himself, but for them, just as he encouraged them to follow Jesus and be more concerned about others. And the brilliant thing about their partnership in the gospel is that investment in the gospel produces immeasurable rewards.
Paul says three remarkable things about their giving that at first seem almost a little bit wrong:
1) Verse 17. God is keeping score and our giving leads to credit in our account! Sounds like we're to be motivated by our bank balance after all, just now we're interested in the bank balance in heaven, not on earth. Keep in mind that riches in heaven are much, much more than just a heavenly bank account – the greatest blessings of heaven are relationship with God. But don't miss how we will be rewarded for our work for Jesus. Just as Jesus himself said no deed done for him will go unrewarded – God is keeping score, and in eternity we will not regret for one second anything we invested for him; we will be richly rewarded for all our sacrifice and service. The cost may seem high, but the greater the cost, the greater the reward, not because we earn it, but because he's so very kind, loving and generous (Luke 6v38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Luke 18v29,30)
2) Verse 18. The gifts they sent – money and probably food and clothes – are spoken of here in the very same language as the OT language of sacrifices – they are a sacrifice acceptable to the LORD, a pleasing aroma. This is the language of the burnt offerings given in the temple for cleansing of the people. This is the language of Jesus who gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5v2)! This is the language of 2v17 their suffering persecution for the sake of the gospel. God takes our discomfort for him very seriously, it is pleasing to him, he loves it. Not because he loves to see us suffer, but because he loves to see us putting our faith into practice, and because he knows that is the way to follow Jesus. Jesus did not enter into glory before he had suffered, but suffered for us and then went up into glory. In some wonderful way God accounts our sacrifices for him, however unspectacular, as true sacrifices, pleasing to him. Jesus sacrifice paid for sin, there's no sense of our giving paying for sin – but because it is faith in action, because it is partnership in the gospel, it is pleasing to him just like Jesus was.
3) Vaerse19. God meeting all of our needs – does this follow from their generosity, or is this just a fact, that God always provides for all of our needs? I think its both – it's always the case that God provides for all of our needs; and the promise here is that God provides according to his riches, not according to our doing – we have a wonderful God who delights to give his children good gifts, all that we have comes from his hand. But we wonderfully we can expect blessing from God when we obey him – blessing might mean hardship, the blessing that teaches us to rely on God; or it might mean great wealth, a blessing that enables us to give to others in their hardship… but when we do what is right we can be sure that God is pleased with us and will bless us according to his great riches. (cf. Deut 15 – God will bless you when you give to others so that there will be no poor in Israel).
There's so much more here that I'd love to share with you. But we're going to have to leave it here.
What have we seen? Paul, and in fact God, delights in the Philippians generous giving because it reflect their true partnership in the gospel. They have bought into the gospel completely and are willing to suffer loss so that the gospel can be preached. And Paul wants to see them go on in that same generosity – not so that he can become rich at their expense, but so that they can become rich as God blesses them with eternal riches that can never be taken away from them.
What an example they leave for us to follow. What an opportunity we have to invest in God's kingdom, what a privilege to be partners with him in his work of salvation. Let's pray that God will help us to give and to live like gospel partners too.