In 1987 some other Americans and I were worshiping with some Mexicans in their church in a poor area of Ensenada. The church was no more than a shack with a few splintered benches inside. A bare light bulb dangled from a chord that was hanging from the ceiling. This church took its offerings by placing a plate on a chair to the side and inviting people to come forward during an extended time of signing. One by one people got up from their seats and made their way over to the offering plate. Within a few minutes, they had all completed their offerings and had retaken their seats. All of them except one man, that is.
This man got up at the same time as the others, but it took him much longer to complete the task. He was an old man, in his 80s, I think, and he could do more than shuffle his way to the offering plate. Long after everyone else had retaken his or her seat, he was still moving toward the offering plate, as quickly as he could. When he arrived, he leaned over and dropped a few coins into the plate; then he turned around and headed back toward his seat. The entire operation took about 10 minutes.
I’ve thought about the man often. I think about him when I read or hear about the story of the widow who gave two small copper coins out of her poverty (Luke 21:1-4). And I think about him when I come upon a passage such as Philippians 4:14-20, where Paul commends his friends and partners for supporting him in his efforts to advance the gospel. I get the impression from both the old man in Mexico and Paul’s words in Philippians that the gospel is worth everything you can give it.
In Philippians 4:10, Paul began responding to the Philippians’ recent contribution to the work of the gospel. In verse 14, he continues.
 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.  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;  for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.  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.
Verse 14 offers clarification for what Paul has said in verses 10 through 13, which could be interpreted to mean that he is indifferent toward their gift. Such is not the case. He says they have done a good, or beautiful, thing. The verb translated “share” (sunkoinoneo) is related to the noun translated “partnership” (koinonia) in Phillipians 1:5, as is the slightly different verb translated “share” (koinoneo) in verse 15. The noun was used of a business partnership. The enterprise Paul has in mind here is the gospel. The Philippians have partnered with Paul to advance the gospel. One of the ways they have done this is to support Paul financially. His efforts to advance the gospel have landed him in prison. The Philippians have sent a gift to him in his imprisonment. Thus, they have supported him in his “troubles.” The Philippians are enduring the similar “struggle” of Roman persecution (Philippians 1:29-30).
The Philippians share with Paul in his suffering. When you’re suffering, you want to know that you’re not going through it alone. Paul is suffering, but he’s not alone. His dear friends from Philippi are, in a sense, with him. Although the Philippians are not in prison, they are facing similar opposition because of the gospel. When you’re suffering, you want a friend who knows what you’re going through. To some extent, Paul’s dear friends from Philippi know what he’s going through. It is, indeed, a beautiful thing that the Philippians have done in supporting Paul. The gospel has created this beautiful friendship and partnership.
It is a good thing, even a beautiful thing, to give to the work of the gospel. Those who are seeking to advance the gospel, both near and far, often endure great hardship. When we support these people with our prayers and with our finances, we become partners with them. We share in their troubles. If you are a follower of Jesus, I suggest that you consider supporting missionaries with your money and your prayers. Each and every supporter becomes an important person to a missionary. The missionary feels that others are sharing in their troubles. Information on all the PBC missionaries is available in the racks at the back of the main auditorium.
Paul now recounts for the Philippians the history of their partnership. In doing so, he acknowledges that he is telling them what they already know. Why would he tell them something they already know? First, Paul delights in sharing with the Philippians how they have helped him. One friend delights in recounting how another friend has contributed to his life. Second, he is telling them what he sees in them. Many times people don’t see their good desires and good actions; they only see their bad desires and bad actions. It takes a friend to say, “I see this in you.” Paul tells the Philippians what he sees in them. He sees good, for it was “good” of them to share with him. He tells them he has seen devotion to the gospel in them right from the beginning.
Philippi was in the region of Macedonia, where Paul also established other churches. Yet in the early days no other church from that region made a contribution to Paul’s gospel work aside from the Philippian church. In fact, Paul refused gifts from other churches in order not to be a burden to them and to offer the gospel free of charge (1 Corinthians 9:18; 2 Corinthians 11:8-9, 12:14; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10). Yet he accepted gifts from the Philippians. The reason for his acceptance of their gifts is probably tied to his unique relationship with them. In other cases, Paul refused gifts so that the gospel could be clearly and freely presented, no strings attached. Perhaps his relationship with the Philippians is such that he knows they will not misunderstand him. In their case, he believes his acceptance of their gift will not pollute the presentation of the gospel. Even so, he is extra careful to make sure they understand his motives.
With the words “the matter of giving and receiving,” Paul is using the language of commerce. In a sense, they have opened an account with Paul. But this is an equal relationship, not a patron-client relationship, because this language was also used in friendship. Friends would “give” to each other and “receive” from each other. In this relationship, Paul would be expected to reciprocate. In a sense, he promises as much in verse 19.
The Philippians “even” gave to him when he was in Thessalonica, and they did so more than once. Thessalonica was the first place Paul visited after he founded the church in Philippi (Acts 17:1-9). Very quickly after coming to Christ, they began their pattern of contributing to Paul.
Earlier, Paul wrote that he was not rejoicing in the Lord because they met his “need” (verse 11); now he acknowledges that he was in “need.” Paul is not dependent on them; he’s dependent on the Lord (verses 11 and 12). Here, the Lord has chosen to provide for him through the Philippians. Paul is communicating to them that they have met his need while at the same time saying that he is not dependent on them to meet his need. He does two things for them at the same time: He values them and he liberates them. He will not be a burden to them, yet he will let them know that they have helped him.
It’s important to tell others what they mean to you. If someone has been in your life for a long time, it can be a delightful experience to share with that person how he has helped you over the years. You’ll enjoy doing so, and you’ll bless your friend. It’s important to tell people the vibrancy of Christ you see in them. Many times, they can’t see it for themselves. It’s important not only to value people but to liberate them. If someone does meet our needs, it’s easy to think we are dependent on that person, not the Lord. Then we become clingy. We must be appreciative but not clingy.
Evidence of vibrancy
In verse 17, Paul yet again adds a word of clarification. When it comes to the matter of giving and receiving money, words of clarification are important.
He says, “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.” What he’s most excited about is not what he’s receiving from them but what’s happening with them. He expresses the same sentiment in 2 Corinthians 12:14, where he tells the Corinthians that “what I want is not your possessions but you.”
The word translated “account” (logos) is the same word translated “matter” in verse 15. The language of commerce is again in play. The entire phrase translated “what may be credited to your account” is a reference to interest. The word translated “what” would literally be translated “fruit.” Paul prayed in Philippians 1:11 that the Philippians would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” Paul sees them as making an investment that bears interest. He sees them as fruitful. He’s “looking for” evidence of a vibrant relationship with Christ, and he’s finding it in their eagerness to contribute to the gospel. The commercial metaphor implies that the Philippians, after contributing to Paul, are richer spiritually, though they may be poorer materially.
If someone came looking at your life for evidence of a vibrant relationship with Christ, one place she might look is your checkbook. You can tell a lot about a person by the way he handles money. The way we spend our money probably says something about our relationship with Christ and our attitude toward the gospel. It may be a sign of spiritual fruitfulness, or lack thereof.
In verse 18, Paul says the Philippians have more than fulfilled their obligations in the matter of giving and receiving. Because of their gift, which was carried to him by Epaphroditus, he is amply supplied.
Paul switches from the language of commerce to the language of worship. He sees their gift not only as payment in a reciprocal arrangement and as an interest-bearing investment, he sees it as an act of worship. The Israelites were to offer up animals that they owned as whole burnt offerings that produced “an aroma pleasing to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17). The whole burnt offerings represented complete surrender to God. Such dedication was pleasing to God.
The Philippians parted not with animals but with money, and it was a costly sacrifice. They would no doubt be among the churches Paul commended for contributing to help believers: “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:1-4). If it was good, or beautiful, for the Philippians to contribute to the work of the gospel, it was also a fragrant offering pleasing to God.
When one sees her possessions as belonging to God and is willing to part with them so that the gospel of God can advance, she has surrendered his life to God, and God is pleased. To part with money is a costly sacrifice, but when we do so for the sake of the gospel, it is an acceptable one that is pleasing to God.
Evidently the Philippians’ giving to Paul created for them a “need.” In this arrangement, Paul would now be expected to reciprocate. They met his “need” (verse 16); and it would be his turn to give to them, and their turn to receive. But Paul is in no position to meet their need. He envisions God holding up his end of the deal, so Paul calls him “my God.” Paul had learned that his God meets needs. In verse 18, Paul said, literally, that he had been “filled” by their gifts. Now he says that God will, literally, “fill” every need of theirs. Contextually, the primary reference to need is a material one, but the word “all” means that other needs are in view as well.
God will meet these needs, literally, “according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” “Glory” is a reference to God’s sovereignty. He is the King with an abundant supply of riches. These riches are made available in Christ. The Philippians have already received God’s greatest riches in Christ: salvation. Paul says that God is not only able to meet needs but that he does so in a way that is commensurate with his riches in Christ. In other words, he is lavish.
Paul seems to be promising, at the least, that God will meet the needs of the Philippians because they have contributed to the gospel in a way that created a need for them. He doesn’t specify what constitutes a “need” in the Philippians’ case, nor does he say how God will meet their needs or when he will do so. God knows what constitutes the Philippians’ needs, and we are left to believe that he will meet those needs in his perfect timing in a lavish way.
Throughout my 30s and into my 40s, I felt I was giving my life to the gospel. As I got older, I wanted a wife. Despite what I thought were reasonable efforts on my part (!), I couldn’t find one. Evidently, in God’s view, I didn’t need a wife. On Aug. 19, 2000, when I was 42 years old, God gave me a wife. That’s when I needed a wife, I presume. And with Karen, I must say that God has met a need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. He’s been lavish.
There’s nothing in this passage to suggest that God will meet what we think our needs are when we think he should meet them. Neither is there anything to suggest that God will necessarily meet every need before we see Jesus face to face. Some day, he will meet every need.
Devote yourself to the Lord. Give your life to him. See all of your life as belonging to him, including your financial resources. Seek him on how to contribute to the work of the gospel. Seek to be generous. Trust God to know your needs and meet them in his perfect timing and in his lavish way.
When Paul talks about riches in glory in Christ Jesus, it seems as if he’s inspired to worship. That’s what he does in verse 20. In this arrangement of giving and receiving, we might ask, “What does God get out of the deal?” God gets glory. When people devote themselves to Christ and partner with others who seek to advance the gospel, and when God meets needs lavishly, he is glorified. In this all creation will see what he is like and glorify him forever.
During my trip to Ensenada in 1987, I met a man there named Shaun. He was an American missionary who was committed to loving the Mexican people and sharing the gospel with them in word and deed. I began supporting him, at this time, sending him a check each month. I’ve read his monthly support letters through the years, and he’s had more than his share of troubles. Supporters have dropped out, he’s run out of funds and he’s had an excruciating array of health problems. All the while he’s continued in ministry, faithfully loving the Mexican people. In the mid-1990s he got married in Ensendada to a Mexican woman he had met there. At the last minute, I decided to attend his wedding. I never had a chance to talk to him at the reception, but right before the wedding started we saw each other. Our eyes met for a brief moment, and he shook his head as he moved away. We weren’t able to speak, but in the look of his eyes and the shake of his head, I understood how much I meant to him. I understood how much it meant to him to have a friend and partner write him a check each month.
I haven’t seen Shaun since his wedding day. In 1996 I went to Brazil on a short-term missions trip. Because he lives and serves in Latin America, I thought Shaun would be interested, so I sent him a letter describing plans for the trip. Several days later I received in the mail a note from Shaun. And a check. The note read: “Brazil: We’re with you!” The last thing I expected my letter to generate was a support check from this man, who was barely scraping by each month on the funds that people gave him for his labor of love. But I guess I should have known better. This is a man who has given his life to the work of the gospel. He has a vibrant relationship with Christ. And the gospel is worth everything you can give it.
In verses 21 through 23, Paul concludes his letter.
 Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings.  All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
The important thing to note in Paul’s conclusion, and what sets it apart, is his reference to Caesar’s household. People who were in “Caesar’s household” would have been in the Roman civil service. The “palace guard” that Paul referred to in Philippians 1:13 would be among Caesar’s household, and these are the people Paul may have in mind. The palace guard became aware that Paul’s imprisonment was for the cause of Christ. Those who belong to Caesar’s household in this case are followers of Jesus, inasmuch as they send their greetings to the Philippian believers. Perhaps those guarding Paul had converted to Christ. At any rate, the gospel has penetrated the heart of Rome’s power structure: the household of Caesar. This would be a great encouragement to the Philippian believers, who are being oppressed by Caesar. Some of the Romans are with the Philippians in their efforts to proclaim Jesus, not Caesar, as Lord.
No matter how powerful the opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel is more powerful. It can penetrate the household of the fiercest tyrant or the heart of the most stalwart atheist. Where might you go with the powerful proclamation that Jesus is Lord?
SCG / 6-30-02
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