Devotional # 140. 6/8/15. Philippians 4:14-18.
Intro. Last week Paul talked about the faithfulness of the Philippian church in giving him gifts that benefited God’s ministry. Paul said he had learned to get along with nothing and with everything but he still praised the Philippians for giving the gifts. This week we’ll dig into why he did that.
v. 14. As we just mentioned, last week Paul talked about how he had learned that whether he had nothing or everything he was content; then he said that he could ‘do all things through Christ who strengthened him’. So here when he says, “Nevertheless” he is saying “in spite of that” it was a good thing that they shared in his distress.
Have you ever gone through something difficult and you were OK but then a friend came along and comforted you and then you realized that you really needed that? Yesterday I re-connected with a friend that I haven’t seen in a while and I didn’t realize how much I had missed our spiritual conversations. Like a small part of me that I hadn’t realized was empty got filled and it was encouraging. Paul is the same way. And he’s going to explain the different reasons why in the following verses.
vv. 15-16. I’m so glad that Paul shared this even though his intended audience had lived it, because I wasn’t there! He has them remember the beginning of his ministry when he left Macedonia and no one supported him except for this church in Philippi. We can read about this visit in Acts 16. Specifically verses 11-12 tells us about his course and how he got to Philippi. A lot of things happened like getting imprisoned, having an earthquake open the cell doors, the warden and his family getting saved, visiting Lydia and then leaving. Go back to Devotional 56, for more. And, as Paul mentions here in Philippians 4, they then went to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1). So Paul has reminded the church (and us) how long a history of faithfulness they have had, how much he appreciates it but more importantly that it is credited to their account in heaven.
Notice that he says that only the church in Philippi helped in “giving and receiving.” Often when missionaries ask a church for money we think “oh, they’re asking for money again. OK maybe we can scrape some cash together if we can find some extra” But there is also a “receiving” where we get what, at my job, we call ROI (Return On Investment). I think of last summer when my family and a couple of guys from our church went to Hungary to teach English and share Jesus (which is how this Devotional started back in 2012). Well, one of the people who joyfully gave some money for us to go asked if I could send some updates. I sent one and he responded to tell the kids what he had just learned from Romans 8: “We all sin but Jesus gave His life for our sins past present and future. Even Paul was inflicted with sin. Jesus is always on our side, He will never leave us.” So that morning I was ready to share what he had said but then one of the other teachers from England gave his testimony which was amazing. One of the things he said was “what I had to learn was that Jesus forgave me for my sins in the past, present and future.” So I had to stand up with tears in my eyes and share what my friend had emailed me because the Holy Spirit was truly speaking through us to those 60 kids*. When I got to tell my friend about this and the impact he had on these kids, he knew what he had done really mattered. I’m sure there will be people who will thank him in heaven for giving a little money and sending an email. How awesome is it that on earth God lets us see a couple of our Return On Investments!!
*I shared this story in Devotional 96, if you want to go back and read it.
v. 17. I quoted this verse last week because this is the heart of Paul when it comes to church giving. It isn’t that if you don’t give to a missionary God won’t provide for them in another way, but there is a blessing that follows back to the giver. Remember last week (Devotional 139) when I said the only time God asks us to test Him is in Malachi 3:10 when He says that if we tithe to Him and His ministries then He will open the “windows of heaven” and load us up with so much that we won’t be able to hold all of the blessings!?
Paul doesn’t just say that there will be a blessing but it’s “fruit that ABOUNDS to their account.” And it is fruit that ABOUNDS to our account, also. We have talked about bearing fruit” many times, one of the best, most recent ones was from Philippians 2:12 (Devotional # 125). This verse talks about the desire for Christians to “work out their own salvation“, which some think means to do “works” in order to get salvation but by context, the entirety of the Scriptures and even the words Paul uses in this verse we can tell that’s not the case. Paul is saying to “work OUT our salvation” as opposed to “working FOR our salvation and I had used the analogy of working out at the gym. We do not work out at the gym to create muscles, God has given us those, we work out at the gym to build our muscles. This “working it out” means to bear fruit. Again reminiscent of the talents that the master gave to his servants. Now maybe it will click with you…the master gives the talents – the servants don’t even work for them. But they are responsible for what they do with them. Have you been blessed with gifts from the Holy Spirit? Do you use them? So back to what we’re reading in Philippians 4:17, Paul shows us again that when we sacrifice to give a gift we’re actually bearing fruit to the kingdom. You’re actually robbing yourself and God when you reject the Holy Spirit’s conviction on giving.
v. 18. When Paul received the gift they gave, it came from Epaphroditus (who we talked about in Ephesians 2:25, Devotional 128). Remember Epaphroditus got really sick in Rome and Paul said that he was his “brother”, “fellow worker” and “fellow soldier”? But the focus here is on where the gift originated: from the church in Philippi (which, technically, Epaphroditus was a member of).
So Paul confirms that the Philippians gifts to him actually were a “sweet smelling aroma…to God” as well as “an acceptable” and “well pleasing…sacrifice…to God.” Often when we sin we desire to be acceptable to God through doing “works” or punishing ourselves or whatever. Hopefully we’ve learned that it never works because we are using what we consider acceptable (works or punishment) to make ourselves feel better but God doesn’t find those acceptable. However, the one area that we can work for God, and have our works be considered “acceptable” has nothing to do with our salvation but the salvation and edification of others. It’s the old paradigm that when we get our eyes off ourselves and help others, we actually help ourselves.
Conclusion. I hope this Devotional has properly drawn attention towards giving to God. I pray that you will recognize what’s important in this life. One of those things is when our “fruit” can abound in “giving” which “returns” to us in blessing.