The Partnership of the Gospel (Phil 4:14-23)

The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.

*Originally preached in June 26, 2022*

Sermon Audio: The Partnership of the Gospel (Phil 4:14-23)

When I was in high school I worked as a busboy and host at an Applebees. In-between passing out chicken fingers and burgers, my fellow co-workers found out that I was planning on becoming a pastor someday. This was something they found wildly comical and referred to me from then on as “Father Marc.” I cannot remember how it came about but eventually my co-workers found out that I also believed that sex should only happen within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. This led to a whole new slew of haranguing and poking fun. Most of it was lighthearted and silly. One conversation, however, was different.

One of my coworkers was a gay man who struggled with how I could believe that God was loving, yet I would deny that if two people loved each other they wouldn’t be allowed to give themselves to each other in the ultimate expression of love: the sexual act. We tend to assume that “love” is primarily a feeling, and that our job when we experience that feeling is to not inhibit it, but to let it have free reign and go where it wills. So, if you love someone and feel strongly towards them, you should let your affections take you wherever you will. This was what my coworker assumed.

But I asked him if he could define what he thought “love” meant. He thought about it for a moment and then said, “Well, I think it is some mixture of affection for someone coupled with a commitment to their good.” And I told him I thought that was exactly right. But then I asked him how he defined what “good” was. He sat quietly for a moment and slowly realized: This is more complicated than I thought. We understand that love involves affection, but it also must involve something more. Someone who “loves” someone, but is doing things to hurt that other person does not really love them. To truly “love” someone else, we must be working toward their good, and for us to work toward their good, we need to have a definition of what “good” is. Love requires a goal.

And while it may be easy for us to spot the error in my coworkers understanding of love, I wonder if we may have a harder time spotting the error in our understanding of love as it pertains to how we are to love one another within the church. What does it mean to love your neighbor or your fellow church member? What does it mean to be committed to their good? In our text today we will see what love between Christians looks like in action, what the goal is that Paul is working towards in the Philippian church.

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.

–       Phil 4:10-23

On of the most common themes in the book of Philippians has been the love of God’s people for one another. In fact, the very first sermon I preached in Philippians was called “The Love of God’s People.” All over the letter, Paul’s affection and admiration for the Philippians, and their love of him, is evident. In this final section we get three more pictures of what love does amidst the people of God: love shares, love seeks, and love supplies.

Love Shares (14-16)

“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.” – Phil 4:14

But, vs. 14, Paul wants them to know that he recognizes their gift as a kindness, for they were sharing in his trouble—had “fellowship” in his trouble. The word for “sharing” is from the same root word for “fellowship” in the Bible, like in Acts 2, where we are told, “42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” (Acts 2:42). How do you “devote” yourself to Christian fellowship? We tend to use the word “fellowship” just to refer to hanging out together—which is, no doubt, a key aspect of Christian fellowship. In fact, just a few verses later we are told that the early church would gather to share meals on a daily basis (Acts 2:46). Time together matters. But, this isn’t the sum of Christian fellowship. Christian fellowship isn’t just a commitment to hang out, but a commitment to one another’s good, even when it comes at great personal cost. Which is why we also read in Acts 2 of the sacrificial love of Christians for one another, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need,” (Acts 2:44-45). 

This is what Christian fellowship is: Paul’s problem became their own. Love shares. What is burdening you, burdens me; what rejoices you, rejoices me. The body of Christ is an interconnected whole, like a vine, or the bricks of a building, or a body. We are like a tightly interwoven net: when a rock falls on the net, the whole net bends down to absorb the blow, and in doing so it pulls the individual strand of the net that was struck back up. This is distinct from our typical, modern idea of the autonomous man. The autonomous man works a decent job, makes plenty of money, has great insurance, a cushy retirement, drives his new car directly into his garage, closes the door, and spends his evening by himself. He is a monad, a marble, a disconnected and isolated individual who has all the entertainment and comforts he needs. His relationships are ones of convenience, never dependence. But that is wholly alien to the nature of the relationships that Christians are to have with one another—we are to depend on one another.

And so, Paul depends on the Philippians; he has been in need, and the Philippians have supplied his need.

In fact, vs. 15-16  show that the Philippian church has a track record of financially supporting Paul, even when no one else did, “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.” (Phil 4:15-16).

Paul’s pattern of receiving financial support: Paul refused to take financial support to the church he was currently planting, but once he left to go plant more churches, he would then receive monetary support from them (cf. 2 Cor 11:9). Paul was concerned that by receiving financial support initially from the church plant he was working on it would both put a stumbling block in front of early believers  that may hinder them from the free gift of the gospel, or it may confuse some to think that Paul was like other paid rhetoricians who received money for their eloquent sophistry. But after the church was established and Paul traveled on, he would then receive and solicit financial support from these churches to help him.

This is what the Philippian church did, but notice that vs. 15 tells us they did this from their first exposure to the gospel. Which is significant, because we know from the book of Acts that Paul only stayed in Philippi three Sabbaths. Just three weeks. How could you establish a relationship of that kind of trust in such a short time? Well, look at the last few verses of our section:

The “greet one another” commands. 

“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.” (Phil 4:21-22).

Have you ever considered why, in the providence of the Lord, these conclusions were included in Scripture? Many times we are given a long list of names that Paul greets (cf. Rom 16:1-16). Given how short Paul’s letters are, why would the Lord waste precious space on these greetings and farewells that have nothing do with us? Why is that? Notice, vs. 21 is actually a command given to us: we must greet every saint in Christ. Have you ever considered what it looks like for you to obey that command? Have you ever considered ways in which you may have broken that command? This means that Paul assumes that there is a relational obligation and connection between fellow Christians that exceeds other relationships. We are commanded to greet other Christians, to put a premium on the relationships of others who are united to Christ. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith,” Gal 6:10.

And because we are to be devoted to fellowship, this means that we share in one another’s troubles, we bear one another’s burdens. Why? Because we all have trusted in Jesus who has born our burden of sin for us, and that creates in us a desire to love one another similarly. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9). When we see what Christ has done for us, and then look around at the much smaller burdens of others around us, we naturally desire to move in and help in the same way Christ has helped us.

Practically speaking, this means that we should put a premium on the relationships with other believers around us, especially those within our church. We should prioritize time to spend together, to share meals with one another, to help one another move and fix one another’s lawn mowers or babysit or shovel each other’s driveways. Consider setting aside a small amount of money each month specifically with the aim of being available to use on blessing other people within the church.

Do you have needs yourself? Bring it to the church. We may not be able to always provide everything, but we can always strive to help in whatever way we can. Don’t deprive your brothers and sisters the joy of bearing a burden with you.

Love Seeks (17)

“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” (Phil 4:17).

Vs. 17 Paul again wants to clarify so that the Philippians won’t be mistaken. In vs. 11-13, Paul’s clarification was for them to know that—while grateful for the support—Paul wasn’t banking on their support for his source of contentment—he has learned the secret to being content in any circumstance. Here, however, Paul is wanting to guard against the idea that his aim is the money itself. It isn’t. He is seeking something else: “fruit that increases to your credit” or “I seek the profit that accrues to your account.” 

Paul’s main aim isn’t his own self-interest, but the Philippians’. Now, this is tricky. Paul thinks that the churches should financially support pastors and missionaries. “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Tim 5:17-18; cf. Gal 6:6; Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11). 

In fact, he refers to the financial gift that the Philippians gave him in vs. 18 as, “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” It is an act of worship for Christians to use their money to care for the needs of the church. This is why most churches on Sunday for as long as churches have been around have made it a part of the worship service to include a collection of tithes and offerings. Our church does not practice this mainly because we are concerned that it may lead to a misunderstanding that to attend our worship services one must pay money. But we do not want anyone to get the idea that we think that what we do with our money is not a critical part of worship. It is! Paul thinks so.

And yet, Paul makes a careful distinction: though he thinks churches should support their pastors and missionaries, should give money to help others, he does not advocate this for his own good, but for the good of the givers. 

“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… And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it.” (2 Cor 8:1-4, 10)

Paul loves the Philippians, so he seeks their good, the “fruit that increases to your credit.” Here the “fruit” that Paul refers to is the Christian character he sees growing in the Philippians, but the phrase also has a financial overtone. Paul is using the language of an “investment manager: he desires “continuously increasing profits, daily compounding interest, and accumulating dividends for the Philippians’ account.” In other words, Paul is encouraging them that their generosity to Paul is a wise investment that will pay rich dividends. Jesus exhorts us to lay up treasure in heaven, not on earth.

God loves you, and He desires your joy, He desires your fruit that increases to your credit.

Love Supplies (18-20)

“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. (Phil 4:18-19)

Vs. 18 shows that Paul has received an overwhelming gift from the Philippians, he is “amply supplied.” The Philippians didn’t skimp on their support—Paul is overflowing with a superabundance of resources and funds now. But then, he provides this amazing promise as a boon and comfort to the Philippians: “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” 

Notice the “my” there? Paul has experienced the provision of the Lord himself so personally that he can speak to the Philippians about “my God who supplies everything you need.”

Christians should be abundantly generous because our God is abundantly generous. Paul has been supplied well by the Philippians, and then he turns around and insures them: God will supply you with what you need. Our zeal for generosity comes out of a deep assurance that God honors and provides Christians with everything they need to pursue the ministry of love.

6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:6-8)

There is a way that Christians can take a good and right vision of wisdom with finances, but have it morph into a kind of miserliness that has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. The servant who buries his talent in the ground is rebuked, not rewarded. Ebenezer Scrooge may have had no credit card debt, but he is no model for those who follow Jesus. We should invest and spend our finances wisely and courageously as we seek to further the mission of the gospel through our support and care of one another and the missionaries we support. In our member’s meeting we will be discussing some ways we want to use the money the Lord has entrusted to us to invest in future opportunities of ministry.

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Do you see the storehouse that God is drawing from to supply your needs? “his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” That is the measurement of wealth that God draws upon to insure that you will be supplied with everything you need for life. If an angel were to come and take you on a tour in heaven of the storehouses of wealth in glory King Jesus has, how long would you be gone walking the hallways of that heavenly bank? How wealthy is the God who not only owns a cattle on a thousand hills, but who speaks our entire cosmos into existence? Will the wealth and riches of our God prove to be inadequate for your needs? Will his checks bounce? Friend, the God of the universe will richly supply every need of yours. So trust Him.

If you struggle with faith to believe that promise, consider what God has done in Christ. The Father did not even spare His own Son, but graciously gave Him up for us—how will He not then give us everything else we need? Friend, what more could the Father do to prove His commitment to you? What else could He offer to demonstrate that He will spare no expense for your good? The cross of Christ is a placard of God’s unfailing love and commitment to your good. You can count on the promises of God to be depended on—the offering of Jesus is the ultimate display of God’s love for you. The promises of God are something that you can stand upon, not merely print on coffee cups and throw pillows.

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