Famous Methodist preacher Clovis Chappell said, “I love to preach on giving. I love to watch the generous smile and love to watch the stingy squirm.” We preach sermons by what we say, by how we live, and by how we give. Our coined life is a sermon of sorts. Our testimony of giving goes in the offering plate or bag.
The Philippians must have been a smiling church. They had been generous to Paul. And one major factor in the writing of the epistle was to thank the church for their generosity toward Paul’s church planting endeavors (1:3-5). As Paul closed the epistle, he emphasized right relationships (4:2, 3), right actions (vv. 4-7), right thinking (vv. 8, 9), and right stewardship (vv. 10-20).
I Am Well
Paul felt constrained to assure the Philippians that he was well. They had heard about his imprisonment (1:12-18) and were no doubt worried. Perhaps they had even wondered if their financial gifts to him had been delivered. Since he had them in his heart (1:7), it was right for Paul to set their minds at ease. Paul rejoiced that they had renewed (thrived or flourished) their concern for him. He was confident of their concern but constraints had cut short their opportunity (opportune time) to renew their giving to his ministry.
In the midst of thanking the Philippians for their generosity Paul offered a self-disclosing testimony about his view of money and missions. The giving was not so much about him as it was about the church in Philippi. Paul had some genuine need (the same word is used of the widow in Mark 12:44). However, he had learned to be content in his circumstances. Content means “adequate and sufficient.” It was a favorite word of the Stoic philosophers. It is where we get our English word autocratic.
Paul lived on both sides of God’s provision. At times he was in need (a different word than used earlier. This term means “to be brought low or humbled”). At other times he had plenty (to abound or excel). But Paul had learned the secret (favorite word from the Greek mystery religions meaning to learn the initiation rites of something) of being content when well fed . . . or in want (to be behind or last). He topped off his testimony with the famous verse in 4:13. This is a strong and confident verse, but it must be held in its context. Paul did not mean that he could leap tall buildings in a single bound or that he was more powerful than a locomotive. Paul meant that God’s strength got him through lean times and times of abundance.
You Did Well
Paul commended the church for what they did for him and what their generosity would do for them. Paul told them that it was good (beautiful) for them to share in his troubles (pressures). In fact, Paul singled them out as a unique church. Lydia’s hospitality (Acts 16:15) set the stage for one of the most generous churches in the New Testament. This was remarkable when one considers that these believers gave generously out of extreme poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Paul even acknowledged that the church gave more than once during his rather brief ministry at another Macedonian city, namely Thessalonica.
While Paul was the grateful recipient of Philippian generosity, the real winners were the church members themselves. Giving can certainly advance the mission of God in the world. But giving also does a wonderful work on the giver. The giver’s trust in God grows. Paul was less concerned about the gift. He desired that the church learn the grace of giving that would be credited to their account (literally that the fruit would increase to their “word”).
Paul acknowledged that he had received their gifts from Epaphroditus (2:25-30) and that those gifts supplied in full what Paul needed. But more to the point was that the Philippians’ giving was not just charity toward Paul. The gift was spiritual in nature. Paul described it in terms of a Levitical offering. The believers’ gifts would be as pleasing to God as the offerings and sacrifices mentioned in the Mosaic Law.
Seth Wilson used to say, “I shovel it out, and God shovels it in, and God has a bigger shovel.” Paul shared that same spirit by saying that God would meet their needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. What else is left other than to give glory to God (4:20)? Offering plates and bags still preach a sermon.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.