Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We’re in This Together

Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:15-19)
Paul and the Jesus believers at Philippi are partners in the ministry of the gospel. The language of “giving and receiving” speaks of this partnership in terms of accounting. The Greek words literally refer to credits and debits, or as The New Greek English Interlinear New Testament puts it, “an accounting of expenditures and receipts.” Paul borrows these terms to describe the reciprocal nature, the “give and take,” of their relationship.

He was the one who first brought them the good news about Jesus the Messiah, and trained them up in the faith. In return, they have been very supportive of his ministry, faithful partners with him in it right from the beginning, when he and his team first departed from Philippi to minister the gospel in Thessalonica and other parts of the empire. They are very good examples of what Paul instructed the believers in Galatia, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). In fact, Paul mentions their great generosity in one his letters to the believers at Corinth:
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
They were not only willing to be a part of the good news going out into the world, they begged to be a part of it, such was the intensity of their desire. The secret of their generosity — and the abundance of their joy! — was that they have first given themselves to the Lord.

Paul is not one of those con men who goes around dressed up like a philosopher in order to part fools from their money. Not at all. He has been often severely persecuted for proclaiming that Jesus is Messiah and Lord, and he is quite prepared to die for His sake. He does not hunt for or hint after money. He has already learned the secret of contentment. But what he seeks after is this: that fruit may “abound” to their account. Here again is the metaphor of a business partnership. The word for this “abound” speaks of increase, and the New International Version translates this phrase as, “But I am looking for what may be credited to your account.” Though Paul is out evangelizing abroad while they remain at Philippi, they reap the reward just as Paul does.

“I have all and abound.” The Greek word for “I have all” literally means “I have received” and was commonly used as an accounting term indicating that full receipt has been made. The NIV translates it as “I have received full payment,” and the New Revised Standard Version has, “I have been paid in full.” Paul adds, “and abound.” He considers himself to be “paid in full,” with more besides.

“I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you.” His needs are quite sufficiently met by their gift. Departing from the language of business for a moment and taking up a different metaphor, the Old Testament language of sacrifice, Paul calls their gift, “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” Their offering is certainly pleasing to Paul, but more than that, it is pleasing to God. It is not out of their abundance that they have given — they have needs themselves — but they have given themselves to God and then, out of that, to Paul’s ministry.

Paul goes on to add, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Notice that he does not simply say, “and God,” or “your God,” but he specifically says, “my God.” He is not only in partnership with the Philippians, his entire life and ministry is a partnership with God.

Paul is not presently in a position to supply anyone’s needs, but his God is, and He will more than make up for what is lacking in Paul. The Philippian church gave supply for Paul’s need, and God will make good on it, to supply their own needs as well. As Paul noted to the believers at Corinth, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

Notice that this supply from God is according to His great riches. It is not limited to the dimensions of their own gift to Paul, or to Paul’s obligation. It is not even limited by the size of their own needs. It is according to God’s unlimited wealth, which is now available to us in Jesus the Messiah, who has reconciled us to the Father. The Philippians’ generous, sacrificial gifts to Paul and the ministry of the gospel will not leave them short in any way but are an occasion for the abundance of God to be revealed in their lives.

Focus Questions
  1. Why do you suppose Paul uses accounting terminology in this passage?
  2. What do you suppose is the “fruit” that is credited to the Philippians’ account?
  3. What does all this say about their partnership with Paul?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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