As we look at this text, I want to remind you of the relationship between the church and the word of God. The church is not a collection of people who happen to gather together to hear some message, and as they are moved by the words they hear, go out deciding in their hearts whether they have heard the word of God. No, the church has no say in determining the word of the Lord. Rather, God says, “Let light shine out of darkness” and light shines in our hearts, and the church is formed (1 Cor 4:6).
So it’s an awesome responsibility I have here, to crack open this text and give you the word of the Lord. It’s not my word. And far be it from me to give you some mixture – two parts clear, sweet, pure water of the word, one part sea brine. It’s almost safer just to read the text and go home!
But no. That wouldn’t be fair. We are always children in this gospel. Our hands are unsteady, and we need some help to hold the steak and cut it with the knife. Regenerate now, we once were dead in trespasses, like Lazarus in the tomb. We hear the word of God, and we come stumbling out, still tangled in the clothes of death. We will need some help remembering how to stand.
So let’s walk through it
Philippi was a large town in Macedonia, just north of Greece. Named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, who conquered the world in the name of Greek philosophy. It was taken over by the Romans in 168 BC.
In 42 BC, Philippi was the site of a battle between Mark Anthony and Octavian on one side, and Brutus and Cassius, who assassinated Julius Caesar, on the other side. Mark Anthony and Octavian won. Later, Octavian took the name Augustus Caesar and reestablished Philippi as a sort of military retirement town. Which is to say that their economy might have looked a bit like Hinesville.
In Acts 16:9, as Paul and Silas are setting out on Paul’s second missionary journey, and being blocked by the Holy Spirit on every side, Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man begging them to come to Macedonia. When they obeyed the vision, Philippi was the city they headed for.
If you look in Acts 16:10, this is the first time that Luke stops referring to the main action of the text in the third person (“he”, “they”), and starts using the first person, “we.” Presumably, this is when Luke joined the mission, and some have gone so far as to speculate that the Macedonian man that they saw actually was Luke.
Some other famous members of the Philippian church:
Lydia, seller of purple, who opened up her home as wide as God had opened her heart. (in Acts 16:15)
The Philippian Jailer where Paul and Silas were imprisoned, who nearly committed suicide when their chains were miraculously thrown off. (That’s Acts 16: 25-34)
Paul’s relationship with this church was characterized by:
An intense, personal feeling of connection, due to the Philippians’ ongoing personal support, or “partnership” (κοινωνέω, Philippians 4:15, 1:3).
The Philippians responded to Paul’s preaching in an out-of-the-ordinary sort of way. They loved not just the message, but also the messenger (how lovely on the mountains are the feet of him…”), and supported him in more than just financial ways. (1:5,7)
The result was an uncommonly tender feeling that Paul had toward the Philippians (v.8), which you can see in the kind of prayers for them that he reports (v. 9), and his conviction that their support was going to result in the growth of an uncommon spiritual maturity (vs. 6, 9-11).
Because of this intensely personal relationship that Paul had with the church at Philippi, Paul’s letter takes on some thing of the character of a rambling, affectionate uncle. He has a specific occasion for writing to them, but since he’s writing, he just goes ahead and drops whatever else happens to be on his mind.
The result is that the letter feels a little disjointed, and all the cracks are filled in with these little nuggets that remind you of the book of proverbs. Or, in another metaphor, the patina of his letter is cracked, and you can see underlying glory of a heart that has labored long in the spirit, shining through like the light behind a tiffany lampshade.
It’s really easy to read the letter by jumping from nugget to nugget, and pretty much ignore what little structure there is. But I want to draw your attention to the structure, because it brings out some themes you’d be likely to miss otherwise. These themes really poke out in the introduction and the closing (which are really very similar) and the middle section where Paul talks about who is being sent to comfort whom. It makes you ask the question, “What really is the meaning of partnership in the gospel?”
So the occasion for Paul’s letter to the Philippians is pretty simple: Paul is in jail. Again. He mentions it in Chapter 1, verses 12-13. The Philippians heard about it, and sent a man named Epaphroditus to bring some kind of support. You see that in 2:25 and 4:18.
There’s been a lot of paper wasted trying to determine which time this was that Paul was in jail, what town he was in, and how long he was there. Frankly, I don’t think it matters. Paul was in jail a lot. He doesn’t seem too worried about it.
At any rate, the practical reason for Paul to be writing this letter is to thank the Philippians for sending Epaphroditus with the gifts he brought. This is sort of like saying that Romans is actually a missionary fundraising letter.
Paul, you’re doing it wrong.
Somewhere in there, Epaphroditus got sick and nearly died, but he’s better now, and he’s been there some time, enough time that word has gotten back to his home church about how sick he is, and word has gotten back to E that his church is worried about him.
So the Philippians know that E was sick, and E knows that the Philippians know he was sick, but the Philippians don’t know that E got better, and E knows that the Philippians don’t know. But Paul knows, and so he writes to tell them.
And so, to the text. We are at the last section of the letter, Philippians 4:10-23, and as Paul is coming to the last “finally,” he drops back to the practical reasons for writing that he was addressing at the beginning and the middle of the text. Let’s read.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
First Point: This passage is about money
Let’s just face it. Verse 18: “I have received full payment,” that is… cash. It was a good thing. Verse 10a: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.” It’s even a good thing that Paul was in jail because, among other things, it gave the Philippians an excuse to give to him. Verse 10b: “You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.”
Christians have weird issues with money.
“Money is the root of all evil;” “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and Money” [Matthew 6:24]. “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” [Jas 5:1-3]
Frankly, we’re right to do so. Being fastidious about money is obedience to Jesus, who said, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21; Luke 12:34). So long as we remember that being fastidious about money is NOT pinching it till it bleeds.
Christian care for money is more like pointing it like a laser sight for your conscience. Send your money down a certain path, and there your heart goes, like a little lost puppy, along with all your idle thoughts and your most earnest prayers.
That’s a feature, not a bug. It means that everybody who has two pennies to rub together has a fairly mechanical way of controlling our affections. Just crack open your savings account, and pull out enough money that it makes you nervous. Then throw it at something that you don’t care about, but you wish you did. Do it three times in a row. Do it every week for a year. Watch your heart grow with the investment. It’s more fun than a chia pet!
But Paul was weird about money coming in, too.
First he teaches that it’s appropriate for churches to pay the guy who gives the sermon. So 1 Timothy 5:18 – “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”
And also 1 Corinthians 9 –
“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?”
I mean, the principle is pretty simple: How you work should be directly related to how you eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 – “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
That’s good economics. Anybody whose livelihood is connected to his labor is naturally going to try to do a better job than somebody who just has a hobby.
At the same time, it seems that Paul usually didn’t take money from the church where he was preaching. The whole point of 1 Corinthians 9:3-18 is that Paul insists on preaching “free of charge.”
In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul talks about his concern that greed could be a pretext for preaching, and how he worked “night and day that we might not be a burden to [them].”
Apparently Paul was well aware of the motive distorting effects of cash.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. And that heart can be as easily divided as the treasure. That’s good economics too: Anyone whose livelihood is connected to his mouth is going to try to talk better.
But then, do you preach toward the money, or to the conversion of souls? How do you make sure nobody could even suggest that of you? How about refusing the cash? On the other end, refusing the money makes it clear that the Gospel is a gift.
There are other dynamics going on. Money is complicated, because sinful hearts are complicated. The two main churches that Paul talks to about money are the Corinthians and the Thessalonians, which appear to have been at two opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of wealth.
The Thessalonian church
was relatively poor. So from the Thessalonians, he refuses to take money, because he knows that they don’t have much. And one of his concerns is that there is so much poverty there, because the men there don’t know how to work.
So Paul sets an example for them in labor by… refusing to take pay for his work, which is hard to perceive as real labor. He then gets a day job (presumably tent making, which is what it says Paul does in Acts 18:3), so that the men there can actually see that hard work really does pay.
In fact, it pays so well that Paul is able to provide care for the people he’s preaching to. Later, Paul is still exhorting them in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 to work with their hands, as he had taught them.
on the other hand, was relatively wealthy. So wealthy, that Paul is concerned that they will think that their wealth had something to do with Paul’s preaching to them. So he refuses to let the Corinthians pay him.
BUT. Now that he’s not in Macedonia anymore, he will accept funds from the Thessalonians and the Philippians to support his work in Corinth. So in 2 Corinthians 11:7-9, Paul says,
“Did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel 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 the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.”
Then, once Paul leaves the Corinthians, he challenges them to give to the Jerusalem famine relief fund. 2 Corinthians 8:1-6,
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace.”
Ok. Back to the Philippians.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. And the key is where the heart is. So when the Philippians hear that Paul is in need, their hearts are moved, and so their wallets are also. Paul tells them he’s rejoicing because, looking at their actions, he can see the condition of their hearts. As soon as they had a chance to show their affection for Paul, they jumped at it.
Now, let’s look at our hearts.
How are you doing with money? You know I don’t mean how much do you have saved up. I don’t care about your retirement account. Are you ready to give? Are you giving regularly at church? Do you tithe, or go beyond a tithe? Are you on the lookout for folks who need some extra support? Do you have a slot in your budget to save up for when you hear about somebody in need?
I only have the vaguest idea about the relative wealth of everybody in this room, but I shouldn’t need to tell you that how poor you are is really irrelevant. Paul used the generosity of the relatively poor Macedonians to spur the Corinthians on to greater giving.
At the same time, I want to commend you not to be silly about the tithe. Tithing is a kind of middle class standard, for people whose income generally matches their needs. If you’re homeless, or have a hard time buying groceries every week, you’re the person that the Old Testament tithe was intended to support. Look at Deuteronomy 14:28-29. If you just won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse, I want to recommend to you giving significantly above the tithe. Because you can.
But where I want to challenge you is to be intentional in your giving. Save up money to give every week. Add a little cushion in your budget for surprise giving opportunities.
I think everyone here knows that I joined the Army because my wife and I ate too much college. When Valerie wanted to stay home and raise the kids, I had to significantly increase my income so we could stay afloat. And ever since then, no matter how rich our income might be, we’ve been broke.
The borrower is slave to the lender, and until that debt is paid down significantly, it appears that I am U.S. Army property. But a few months ago, I got promoted, and for the first time in years, we actually had some money left over at the end of every month, even after accelerated payment on school loans.
So we are now actively looking for ministries to support beyond our weekly tithe to the church. We’ve been busy, so the progress is slow, but it feels good to think that not all of our most interesting giving is going to happen in the reading of our wills.
Remember, giving is a reflection of your heart, and it’s one of the primary ways to glorify God. Verse 18: “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
Second Point: This passage is not about money
Yeah, I did that. But look: Paul keeps emphasizing that it’s not about the money. Verse 11: “Not that I am speaking of being in need.” Verse 17: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” Money is the little needle on the compass of your heart. But it’s also a stand in for something much more vital.
Look at vs. 14-15: “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.”
Let’s key in on this word, “partnership.”
My first experience with home groups was the church my family joined when I was in middle school. They called them “K-groups,” and the “K” was short for κοινωνία, or fellowship. And now you probably know everything you need to know about me.
But this concept of fellowship or partnership is kind of important in the New Testament. It means a whole lot more than hanging out. It’s closer to something like a business partnership, but more like family. Basically κοινωνία is the connectedness that makes church like church, and not just another club.
We have partnership with each other in the gospel; we have partnership with our leaders, in the gospel, and how much more those we send out from us for the sake of the gospel!
So, looking back at Paul’s strange mission financing scheme.
It looks like Paul’s intent was just to take no money, especially since the region of Macedonia was pretty poor. But the Philippians wouldn’t have it. So in Acts 16:15, Lydia is converted, “And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.” She didn’t just give him a room to stay in. She made him family. And from then on, whatever venture Paul and Silas entered into, as far as the Philippians were concerned, that was THEIR mission.
In 2 Samuel 30, while David was out, a group of Amalekites raided his fortress at Ziklag and took everyone’s family and possessions. When the men went to pursue, half of them were too exhausted and opted to stay back with the baggage. After they defeated the Amalekites with only half their forces and got everything back, the scripture says that,
“Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, ‘Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.’ But David said, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us. Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.”
As far as the Philippians were concerned, they were the men who stayed back with the baggage, but it was still their mission. Paul goes to Thesolonica; the Philippians are partnering in the mission to Thesolonica. Paul goes to Corinth: Macedonia is on a mission to Corinth. So Paul says in Philippians 4:15, “You Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.”
Money here is only a stand-in for relationships
Paul’s intent is that money itself should be irrelevant. Having cash isn’t the issue. Connection is the issue. Just take a second to look at these relational terms he keeps sprinkling through this passage: concern in v. 10, need and content in v. 11, kind in v. 14, fruit and credit in v 17, a fragrant offering in v. 18.
There’s a richness here that goes beyond what you might call missionism.
I want to define some terms here so you can understand what I’m trying to say. There’s been a kind of movement in the church lately that says we need to be “radical” and “missional.” And there are a lot of good things those words can mean, but there are also some bad things.
The wrong way to go about being “radical” or “on mission” is to narrow the outlets of your life until everything you do, eat, sleep and breathe, can be defined as directly relating to some effort at pushing Jesus. In this sense, being on mission is closely related to a corporation’s effort to stay “on brand,” or a political team’s effort to stay “on message.”
I’m calling that “missionism.” If I was going to be vulgar, I’d call it “missionalism” or better, “radical missionalism.” Radical, purpose-driven missionicalism.
That’s not what Paul’s pushing.
And I know the people who gave us those buzzwords were good Christian men, trying to promote the gospel and wedge sleepy half-Christians out of their well-padded American pew-shaped easy chairs.
But I think this passage points to a richer, more relational solution: κοινωνία. Partnership. Well-integrated, connected lives lived for Jesus. Seeking, not the gift, but the fruit that increases to the church’s credit.
The problem with missionism (living life 100% for a clearly defined mission) is that it has a ditch on both sides. Either you don’t accomplish the mission, which leads to discouragement, or worse, you actually accomplish your mission, and what do good Christians do next?
One day the last saint will be saved. Jesus Christ will return, and the heavens will be rolled back like a scroll. Is that when we finally start just living like Christians? Don’t be silly! How we will be then is how we need to model our lives now.
As best we are able, we should ever endeavor to live now in such a way that, when He restores all things, there will be no fundamental change to our lifestyle.
Does that mean that we shouldn’t think about missions?
Of course not. The Church has a mission. “How are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” But what I am saying is that the Church will outlast its mission, and that we have a certain character that God is building in us that is even more fundamental than the mission we’ve been given.
So everything should be characterized by compassionate co-partnership. That’s what Christian life means.
We are not a corporation, with a mission and an objective, ever willing to trim the fat in order to get there faster. Read your scripture – the fat of the sacrifice is what was given to the Lord. So also with the fat of our lives – “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
I mean that we offer up not the hard-driven productive parts of our lives, but the excess – the overflow; the cheerful, Christmasy bits.
The Gospel isn’t a political machine, that has to endeavor to stay on message. It’s a cosmos; an ecosystem; a cheerful, happy way of life; full of grace, because Christ has set us free.
A few quick mini-points at the end, and I’m done.
Look at verse 19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” That kind of sounds back like it’s all about money again, doesn’t it?
I’m hearing the number 10, and there is somebody reading this letter who God is calling to give $10,000, and if you will just step out in faith and do that, then God will open up the floodgates over your needs, according to his riches in glory!
Well, no. I just don’t think so. Look back at vs. 12-13: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” These verses are just too close together for Paul to mean them in diametrically opposite ways. I have to believe that God was going to supply all their needs anyway, whether or not they sent Epaphroditus to Paul.
Furthermore, I have to believe that God’s method of supplying all their needs may or may not have involved overwhelming financial resources. It’s much more impressive when God supplies all your needs when you’re flat broke. In fact, supplying all your need when you’re rich may involve making you flat broke, if’n, in God’s wisdom, He determines you need to be broke.
If you look at v. 18, it has to fit together. “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied…And my God will supply every need of yours.”
In other words, as evidenced by the partnership between Paul and the Philippian church, just as sure as God was to supply all of Paul’s needs, so also God will be sure to supply all of their needs, and likely using the same sort of mechanism – the compassionate care of the extended Church.
So. “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”