Philippians 4:10-19

Faithful Generosity

So Christmas has come and gone, most of the decorations are down and homes have been found for the presents we have been given and, if we’re really organised, we’ve written the thank you letters. It can be a bit of a challenge that, can’t it. I have to confess that in our house we’ve lost one of the bits of paper that we’d written on to remind us who had sent us what. So some people might get a letter saying, “thank you for the lovely Christmas present”. Then sometimes we have to write and say thank you for something that we would never wear in a million years, but we know that the person who gave it to us did so in love, and we want to thank them for that.

As we’re coming to the end of our series reading through Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi we have come to the “thank you letter” bit of the letter. As we do this it is worth reminding ourselves of the situation that Paul is in now and a bit of the history to the relationship with this church.  This letter is probably one of the last the Paul wrote, from Rome, where he was under house arrest. He’d completed all the mission trips that are described in the book of Acts, which had included two visits to Philippi, on the first of which he’d founded the church there. Whilst he was on these trips, as well as preaching and teaching, he had also written letters to other churches. One of these letters, a letter he wrote about 10 years earlier, to the church in another city, Corinth, gives us some really helpful background information about what was happening at the time.

In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul writes this:

“We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints”

Now Philippi was one of the major cities in the region of Macedonia, and so here we have evidence that the people of Philippi had been very generous from early in their life as a church. The “ministry to the saints” that Paul is referring to here is a collection that he had organised amongst the churches for the church in Jerusalem. He is holding the Macedonian Christians up as a positive example of generosity to encourage the Corinthian Christians to be generous. All the way through the accounts of Paul’s adventures in Acts and ins his letters he keeps on going on about how important it is for Christians to provide financial support for the poor, and not just the poor in their own city but the poor all over the known world.

In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul writes this:

“Did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I proclaimed God’s good news to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for my needs were supplied by the friends who came from Macedonia. So I refrained and will continue to refrain from burdening you in any way.”

In these verses Paul is also holding up the Macedonian Christians as an example of generosity, but the kind of support that they provided in this case is different. This was financial support that they had given to Paul so that he could be supported personally whilst he concentrated on mission. They gave so that he could focus on preaching and taking the good news of Jesus to new places. To be honest this generosity seems to have been a mixed blessing for Paul.

It was helpful because it meant that he could get on with the mission that God had called him to, but it also caused problems. At times he was accused of only being in ministry for the money, and he tried to head this off by being a self-supporting minister, working as a tent-maker, and earning his way as well as leading churches. At other times, as seems likely in Corinth, other preachers coming later had expected the churches to provide a financial return for their preaching and had implied that if Paul had made no such demands then it was because his teaching wasn’t worth anything.

In short, as far as personal financial support Paul, throughout his ministry, had been between a rock and a hard place, he couldn’t win when it came to accepting money for his own personal support. If he did then he was a scrounger and if he didn’t then he wasn’t taken seriously.

So, bearing those things in mind, we zip back forward 10 years to Rome where Paul is composing this letter to his friends in Philippi, focussed on the theme of rejoicing, and he’s reached the bit where he’s going to talk about money.

Paul starts by saying that he rejoices that in the generosity of the Philippians, and that they have found yet another opportunity to show that generosity. Remember the history, this church has a reputation for generosity from it’s very earliest days. It has sent gifts to other churches who needed them, even though they were poor themselves. They have been at the forefront of supporting Paul personally. The lack of opportunity the Paul mentions is quite likely to have been him saying “please don’t send any more money for my support- it’s causing more problems than its solving”. But now, Paul is not on mission, he’s under house arrest in Rome and the Philippians have decided that it is time to support him financially again.
But why has it made him happy?

Is it going to be the equivalent of,
“Dear Granny, thank you for the money you sent me for Christmas, I am really happy that I can buy a new game for my Xbox.”

Something like:

“Dear Philippians, thank you for the money you sent me. I’m really happy that I can buy a new blanket and have meat to eat once a week?”

No. The first thing that Paul does is make it clear that these kind of things are not the reason that the gift that they have sent has made him rejoice. He makes it clear that he does not need the money. He has learned to be content with whatever he has.

So if Paul didn’t need the money, why is he rejoicing that the Philippians have sent it? He gives three reasons.

Firstly he’s rejoicing because the Philippians generosity will actually benefit them. In verse 17 he writes:

“17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account.”

Now we have to be a little bit careful in understanding this. There is a very clear theme throughout Scripture that people who are generous will experience blessing, and that those who are not will miss out on good things that God has for them.

One of God’s prophets in the Old Testament, Malachi, wrote this:

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”

In that letter to the church at Corinth Paul wrote:

“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

And Jesus, when he was talking to a rich young man who wanted to know how to live well said this:

“ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

In all this teaching there is a clear link between generosity with money and the blessings that we receive from God. But, as I said we do have to be careful to understand this clearly as it is easy to misunderstand.

The first thing to make clear is that there is no indication that the returns will be financial. Giving to God is not like investing our money in a sure return pension fund. It does not guarantee us financial security or success in our business or work.

The second thing to be clear about is that the blessings are the gift of God. We cannot buy them.

The third thing to be clear about is that sometimes there can be quite a time gap between the generosity and us seeing the blessing. Jesus talked about treasure in heaven rather than treasure on earth. It may not be until we are in heaven that we experience the blessings that are being given to us now.

Having said all that, there is no doubt that there is a strong link between generosity and blessing, and so we rejoice when we see generosity in others because we know that they will be blessed for it, and it causes us pain when we see people who are unable to be generous because we know that they are robbing themselves of the good things that God wants to give them.
Perhaps you can imagine a young child who sees a sweet in a jar. They reach in and close their fist round it. But then they can’t get their hand out. They start to cry. Mum comes along and tells them to let go of the sweet and then they’ll be able to get their hand out and she’ll give them a packet of sweets for themselves. But the child won’t let go of the sweet they’ve got, and so remains trapped. Sometimes we can be like this. We’re so busy holding on to what we’ve got that are trapped and are unable to receive that our loving parent wants to give us.

Secondly, Paul rejoiced because the Philippian’s generosity is an expression of their worship. In verse 18 he writes,

“I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

Paul is encouraged by this practical expression of the worship of the Christians in Philippi. This is another theme that we see through the Bible – that the aspect of our worship that God is most interested in is how it works out in practice. Worshipping God is all about showing how much God is worth to us.

We see how much this means to God in what he says through his messenger, Isaiah:
“When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.”

God is angry with his people because, although they are having their worship services – the things that they are doing, or failing to do, for the vulnerable in their society show that their worship is only skin deep – it isn’t rooted in their hearts and doesn’t show in their lives.

Jesus said that “true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’”

That is, there is an integrity running through the lives of true worshippers. For a true worshipper what is sung on Sunday is heard in the echoes of the way life is lived through the week.

So Paul rejoiced because he could hear the echoes of the worship of true worshippers in the generosity of the Philippians. Their gift showed him that the church that he planted years ago was still a worshipping church that was focussed on Jesus, and this filled him with joy.

Thirdly, Paul rejoices because he knows that God will meet all the needs of the Philippians. In verse 19 he writes:

“And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Everything that Paul has written in this letter, all that he has written about the importance of rejoicing, and all the examples he has given of what makes him rejoice, are all rooted in the fact that God is generous and God is faithful, and this gives Paul great joy.

He has experienced God’s generosity and faithfulness in his own life and ministry. He has seen it in the way people in Philippi first came to faith. He has seen it in their growth to maturity as followers of Jesus. He has experienced the contentment of trusting God’s provision and knowing that he can do all that he needs to do in the strength of God. Based on all these experiences, Paul rejoices because he knows that just as God has satisfied his needs, so God will satisfy the needs of his friends in Philippi, because God is generous and faithful and there is no end to the riches of the glory of Jesus.

So, maybe Paul’s thank you letter would have gone a bit like this:

Dear Philippians,

Thank you for the money you sent for Christmas. I’m glad to say that I got all the presents I wanted, so I didn’t really need it, but I was still really happy you sent it. It gives me joy because I know that good things will happen for you because of your generosity, because it shows me that you really love God, and because I know that God will provide everything you need just as He has provided for me.



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