The Occasion For Witting Philippians
The partnership between a missionary and a church is one of the main themes in the Epistle to the Philippians. Paul writes this letter in order to express his gratitude to the members of the church in Philippi for the financial support they have sent to him. From Philippians 2:25-30 we understand that the courier who brought their gift, and on his way back to Philippi took Paul’s thanksgiving letter to the Philippians was Epaphroditus.
25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
We do not know the exact circumstances around Epaphroditus’ illness, but we know that in order to come and minister to Paul, Epaphroditus got sick and even put at risk his own life. This shows how important was for him to partner with Paul whom he considered to be a servant of God.
In Philippians 4:10-19 Paul is even more outspoken.
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.
Paul is a man of tact. From one side he thanks them for their gift. In the same time he is careful not to touch them on the matter that they could take care of him even earlier. And then he is careful with his tongue lest he thanks them in such a way that his gratitude would be misinterpreted as mendicancy for more. At the same time he encourages Philippians fixing their focus on Jesus.
The Secret Of Contentment
It is very important for us to know the secret of contentment because very often the main obstacle to being partners with God’s servants is that we are afraid that if we support them we will lose the opportunity to live the luxurious life we see on TV commercials. But listen to Apostle Paul. In vs.11 he says:
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.
The secret of happiness doesn’t rest in material possessions. It is found in Jesus and the abundant life that only He can give us. One of our songs that might have been inspired by this text says:
I’m satisfied with just a cottage below,
A little silver and a little gold;
But in that city where the ransomed will shine,
I want a gold one that’s silver-lined.
Tho’ often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone,
And tho’ I find here no permanent dwelling,
I know He’ll give me a mansion my own.
Don’t think me poor or deserted or lonely,
I’m not discouraged, I’m heaven bound;
I’m just a pilgrim in search of a city,
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown.
The contentment is very important in Christian life. It does not mean to be conciliatory in the face of want and insufficiency, but an attitude of thankfulness and life without murmuring and grumbling. God hates murmuring. He brought the Israelites out of Egypt and he fed them with manna in the desert, but they were discontent with it and wanted quails. Aren’t we like them very often? God gives us what is necessary for our lives, but we are unhappy with it – we want something more – we want “quails”. But we should remember that because of their voracity many of the Israelites perished! And if we do not want to have the same destiny, we must be thankful. Thankfulness is the antidote against murmuring (Philippians 4:12-13).
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.
Poor People Rich In Generosity
The believers in Philippi were especially dear to Paul because they were the only church that systematically supported his ministry (Philippians 4:15-16).
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.
Notice what Paul says in vs. 17:
17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.
For what credit is he talking about? I believe that this is the credit and the fruit of sharing the gospel that Paul did through their partnership. This activity resulted in salvation of human souls. And the apostle is also talking about the reward that is prepared in heaven for their faithfulness. Although they were not rich in money the Philippians were rich in their generosity. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 Paul boasts with them in front of the Corinthians:
8 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 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. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
Notice that the Philippians were generous not only in their giving for the missions and in particular to Apostle Paul. With great desire they also participated in the fundraising for their poor brothers from the church in Jerusalem. The believers in Philippi are a great example to us, because they show us that the matter of giving is not a matter of having, but a matter of generosity. Their “extreme poverty” was not an excuse for them to keep what they have for themselves. On the contrary, Apostle Paul testifies about them that by the grace of God they gave “even beyond their ability”. That’s why I am not surprised that God really fulfilled for them Paul’s blessing that “God will meet all their needs” (Philippians 4:19).
The True Character Of Giving
The support for the poor churches and partnership with the ministers of the Gospel is not just giving of money. It is a spiritual sacrifice, a most pleasing aroma-offering to the Lord (Philippians 4:18).
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.
At the end Apostle Paul bless them for their gesture of love (Philippians 4:19):
19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Many people may say to us that they love us, but those who really love us are those who do not just say it but show it through their support and care for us.
My Brethren Dearly Beloved And Longed For, My Joy And Crown
Now, that we know all this – the nature of the relationship between the Apostle Paul and the Philippians – the connection of “giving and receiving” as vs.15 states it, we can understand why out of all the churches he knows he calls only them “my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1). What a beautiful address! What titles he is giving them – “joy” and “crown”! And it was deserved. I also know some people to whom I can say the same excellent words. These are the people who give regularly, people who sacrifice for the missions and for the kingdom of God. And this is wonderful!
What is “Partnership” In The Gospel?
Now, when we know the occasion for writing the Letter to the Philippians and what was the relationship between the Apostle Paul and them, we can better understand the beginning of this epistle. Paul starts his letter with outburst of gratitude (Philippians 1:3-5):
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
Apostle Paul was giving thanks every time he remembered the Philippians, because the memories he had of them were really marvelous. And these happy memories influenced his prayers. The reason for Paul’s deep feelings toward the Philippians was their “partnership in the gospel” from the first day of their acquaintance. The Greek word for “partnership” in vs. 5 is “koinonia” and it means participation or fellowship, and expresses a two-sided relation. How the Philippians participated in the gospel? For about ten years they have supported Paul with their giving. And this started “from the first day” he had preached the gospel in Philippi. From Acts 16 we learn that through his ministry God had founded their church. Literally from that moment on he could enjoy the hospitality of Lydia, and the Jailer and his family. In Acts 16:15 Luke describes this in a quite picturesque way:
15 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 sounded like she would be offended if they refuse her invitation. Eventually, it looked like she arrested them to be her guests. The hospitality is a very important Christian virtue. Obviously the Philippian jailer was hospital too. (Acts 16:33-34).
33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Later the Philippians sent money to Paul not only in Thessalonica, but also in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 11:9 Apostle Paul says to the Corinthians:
8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 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.
This was what Paul remembered every time he was starting to remember his experience with the believers in Philippi. He remembered the hospitality of Lydia and the Jailer; he remembered the countless times when God had blessed him through them. And he bursts out in thanks to God. Yes, like all the other churches that he had planted they prayed for him. But they not just only prayed. They were also supporting him financially and in this way they became partners with him in proclaiming the Gospel among the gentiles. This is an encouragement to us – not only to pray for the advancement of the kingdom of God but participate in this advancement through our giving.
Double Elaboration – In Sanctification And In Parthership
The main reason for the close relationship between Apostle Paul and Philippians was their common interest in the work of God. The Person who drew them together was their Lord Jesus Christ. So, Paul encourages them in Him.
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
On one hand these words may be applied to the salvation of the Philippians. He, who has started the “good work” of salvation in them, will complete it and on the last day they will be resurrected in the glory of God. This is the traditional interpretation and it is good. But on the other hand the words “good work” could refer not only to salvation but also to the “partnership” for which the Apostle speaks in the previous verse 5. Yes, salvation is a “good work”. But partnership in the gospel which is God’s power for salvation is a “good work”, too. The One who in the beginning gave them desire to give will continue to operate in them so that their partnership will be improved in the future “until the day of Christ Jesus”. God will save those who have heard the gospel preached by Paul with the participation of the Philippians. So the good work of giving God started in Philippians will be carried on to completion when from a “good work of giving” it will become a “good work of salvation” of those who have heard the gospel spread with the partnership of the Philippians.
How To Be Partners In The Spreading Of The Gospel?
Now, how can we today participate in spreading the gospel and be partners with the servants of God? We can do this through our tithes, through our offerings, through giving for missions, through supporting the missionary’s family and so on. He who has the will, will find the way. He who doesn’t want to help will find his excuses. Anyway, we should remember that love gives. In the golden verse of the Bible (John 3:16) it is said that “God so loved the world that he gave…”, and he gave the most precious he had – “his one and only Son”. If we want to be “children of God”, we should be generous like Him. When we give we act like God.
From Burden To Beatitude
At the end I would like to say something about giving to the missions. Giving should not be a law that bounds. We are not saved through what we give; we are saved through what God has given for us. And the giving is a question of personal choice, spiritual growth and love. If it is going to please God partnership in the gospel should be done voluntarily and with joy. As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:7:
7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
When we give from inner conviction and not “under compulsion”, the giving is conversing from a burden to a beatitude, and we can experience the blessing of Jesus from Acts 20:35:
35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
On the other hand, although the giving is not a bounding law for us, it is spiritual principle. In antiquity the tithe was given by all Israel. And then this was enough not only for support of the priesthood but also for social support of the widows and orphans. Today in contemporary society many of the social services are done by the respective state structures. From our salaries we pay taxes that are mandatory and part of them are given for retirement, maternity, and all other social activities. Our mission however is not supported by the state. It is self-supported. And for its existence it needs a large amount of money. It is impossible for a single man to raise all that money. But if we all give our share from the money that belongs to God – we will be able to collect the needed amount. So, we must give. And we must give with joy, because we know that the resources we give will be used for preaching the gospel and this will result in salvation of immortal human souls. And I am sure that God will not overlook those who have been faithful to Him but He will overwhelm them with His glorious reward he has reserved for them on the day of Christ Jesus. Amen!