Being a Great Missions-Giving Church, part 1 (Philippians 4:14-16)

Over the last few weeks we’ve been examining Philippians 4:10-13 and how Paul shares the secret of being contented, no matter what the circumstances.  But Paul doesn’t want them to imagine for a moment that he is not thankful for their financial support.

Although totally content even in want and need, Paul begins v. 14 with the word “yet” or “nevertheless” because he doesn’t want the Philippians to think that, after all, Paul really didn’t have any financial needs and that their gift to him was a mistake, or unnecessary.  In fact, he will say that they had done something “good,” something “beautiful.”

Verses 14-19 are a thank-you note from Paul about their recent gift, and in it he shows us several characteristics of a great mission-giving church.  I hope you are part of a mission-supporting church, because we are blessed to be a blessing to others.

Generosity is singularly beautiful and, when remembered, will prompt a genial smile.  This is what the latest example of the storied generosity of the Philippian church prompted in the imprisoned Paul in faraway Rome, as we saw in the last study: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me” (4:10).  And the apostle’s smile still lingered as he said, “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble” (v. 14).

So here is Paul’s thank-you letter to the Philippians:

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.

One characteristic of commendable missions giving is concern for the other person.  Notice back in v. 10 that Paul had said,

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.

This concern speaks to the emotional and mental attachment they had to Paul, one that was always willing to seek out information about his welfare and then respond in a tangible way to meet his needs.

The word “concern” shows that their giving was from the heart.  It wasn’t a requirement, or a sense of duty, that motivated them, but hearts moved by Paul’s needs.

Remember how Paul says in 2 Corinthians that our giving should not arise out of a grudging sense of compulsion, but rather out of a cheerful heart, one that is truly glad to give, because after all, “God loves a cheerful giver.”

Great giving comes from the heart.  It doesn’t look at the bank account first to see if it is feasible to give, but begins with a desire to give.

But that concern wasn’t still born as just a desire, or as tears and prayers, but turned into tangible aid.  They didn’t just say, “be warmed and be filled” but showed their concern “in deed.”

Someone has said that there are three kinds of givers: the flint, the sponge, and the honeycomb.  To get anything out of the flint, you have to hammer away at it, and what you receive is only chips and sparks.  To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it; the more pressure you use, the more you receive.  But the honeycomb overflows with its own sweetness.

Which kind of giver are you?  Is your heart attuned to the needs of others, looking for opportunities to give aid?

Paul viewed the Philippians’ generosity as evidence of their partnership or fellowship with him in the gospel ministry.

Recall that Paul began this letter to the Philippian church celebrating their partnership: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:3-5).

The word he used for “partnership” is the word koinonia , from the koinon word group, and means “fellowship” or “partnership” or “active participation.”  And then he drew from the same word group two verses later in 1:7 where he said, “You are all partakers with me of grace.”

Now, notably, here at the end of the letter he dipped into the koinon word group again as he declared, “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble” (v. 14, italics added) or more exactly, “Yet you did good to become partners in my affliction.”

Note also that in the following sentence Paul said, “no church entered into partnership [or fellowship] with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (v. 15).  Therefore, Paul wanted his readers to understand that giving to support his ministry was taking up fellowship with him as a partner in his present tribulations.

Though the Philippians were not in prison with Paul, they participated in his afflictions by their sympathy and monetary sacrifice.  And as they thus participated in his afflictions, they were doing so amidst the context of their own sufferings in Philippi (cf. 1:29, 30).

Paul is saying to the Philippians: “You did good.  Your gifts reveals your partnership in my ministry.”

A second characteristic of great givers is contentment with what you have.  Of course, that was exemplified by Paul as the receiver of the gift, but it is also necessary in the heart of a giver.  As long as a person is trapped by the need for more, the need to possess for the purpose of security or prestige, they will be unable to freely give.

It is difficult for us to develop a habit of giving when our discontent drives us to spend our money to match what others have or give us a sense of security for the future.

The Macedonians showed that they had a contented spirit because they gave out of their “extreme poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:2).  Listen to this amazing example:

1 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.

Despite a “severe test of affliction” and “extreme poverty” they begged to take part in helping out saints who were in the midst of a famine.  As a result, they “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”

Contentment is the key.  If you are content, you can give out of your poverty, or out of your plenty.  If you are not content, you will be able to do neither.

It’s not the amount of money in the bank account that determines a giver, but rather the amount of love in our hearts (concern) and trust in God’s care (contentment) that determines whether or not we will give.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the guy who went to church with his family.  As they were driving home, he began to complain about everything.  “The music was too loud, the sermon was too long, the announcements were unclear, the building was too cold, and the people were unfriendly…” and on and on he went.  Finally, when his took a breath, his observant son said, “Dad, you’ve got to admit, it wasn’t a bad show for just a dollar.”

Did you realize that only 2.6% of the average household income is given either to the church or other religious organizations?  However, during the Great Depression, 3.2% of the average household income was given to charities.  And although we are 450% richer today after taxes and inflation, than those during the Depression, the percentage of household income given to charities has decreased.

Being rich doesn’t drive giving, concern and contentment do.

Another characteristic of great mission giving is consistency.

“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.  Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again” (vv. 15, 16).

Paul taught that it is proper for a man who labors in the gospel to receive his support from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:1-181 Tim. 5:17-18).  But for the sake of avoiding the charge that he was preaching for the money, Paul chose not to receive support from a new church where he was ministering while he was there.  Instead, he supported himself by making tents.  But if the funds came from another church outside the area, he would stop making tents and devote himself full time to the work of the ministry (compare Acts 18:1-112 Cor. 11:7-12).

Paul never seemed to make his needs known, even as prayer requests, but trusted in the sovereign God to provide.  When funds ran low, he would go back to work until God met the need.

Paul mentions in v. 15 that the Philippians had not only recently sent him a gift through Epaphroditus, but that after he had left Philippi (in Acts 16) and traveled to Thessalonica (Acts 17), during that two weeks that he had been ministering there, they had sent gifts more than once.  (Notice Paul says “once and again” at the end of v. 16.)

This kind, beautiful act was something no other church had done.

When Paul left Philippi and traveled ninety-five miles down the Egnatian Way to Thessalonica, the poverty-stricken Philippians repeatedly sent representatives to Thessalonica with gifts to meet his needs.  And when Paul left Macedonia, they remained the only church to support him.

Even when Paul went to wealthy Corinth (from whose proud people Paul would accept no money), it was the Philippians of Macedonia who helped him, as Paul explained to the Corinthians: “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” (2 Corinthians 11:9). 

Many Christians are good at receiving.  Paul and his team had planted churches, supporting themselves through tent repairs and these new believers would benefit through all eternity because of Paul’s ministry.  Yet only the church at Philippi stepped up to give so that others could benefit from Paul’s ministry.

The Philippians had started giving early—a good principle—it is important to start now to give and to teach your children to give.

A preacher asked farmer, “If you had 100 cows, would you give 50 of them to the Lord?”

“Yes.”

“If you had 1,000 chickens, would you give 500?”

“Yes.”

“If you had 2 hogs would you give one?”

“Not fair, Preacher, you know I have 2 hogs.”

It is easy to imagine what we would give if we had more money.  But God asks us to start giving now, out of what we have.  And God calls us to be sacrificial in our giving.

As some anonymous person said:

It’s not what you do with the million if fortune should ere be your lot, but what are you doing at present with the dollar and quarter you got.

The Philippians had continued to give whenever they had news of a need from Paul.  They had given to Paul because this new “opportunity” to give had arisen.  Good giving churches, and Christians, scan the horizon looking for opportunities to give.  They are consistent because they are consistently praying for and looking for opportunities to give.

So Paul is telling them how much he treasures their giving.  Given the opportunity, he is confident that the Philippians would have given even more often.

Sure, it is great to send that first gift.  But it is the second and third and the fortieth and the hundredth gifts that are really appreciated.

The first gift is easy…and we get excited about that.  We usually do it because we know where that money is going to come from.  We do it because we have a little extra this month.  But after we’ve given for awhile, the excitement wears off and the money dries up and we’re tempted to write and say we can’t give anymore.

Missionaries face this all the time—individuals, or churches, can’t continue to support them.  It isn’t easy on them…and they are very thankful when people can be faithful and consistent in giving.

Before we move on in our text, let’s just contrast these good-giving practices with some typical excuses to put missions giving on the back burner.

For example…

“That’s their problem”—sometimes we act as if the problems of our Christian brothers and sisters, and churches are the other side of the world, are not our problems and should be of no concern for us.

But good missions-minded churches count others’ pains as their own pains and are concerned about their needs.

We are blessed to be a blessing to others.

Or we might say, “We’ve giving as much as other churches are.”  In other words, let’s not increase our giving.

But the fact that other churches were contributing little to nothing to Paul’s needs did not matter to the Philippians and did not stop them from giving time and time again.  If the Philippians had been giving “like everybody else,” then Paul would have received nothing.

The question is not “What are other churches doing?” but “What is God calling me (or us) to do?”

Someone might object “We pushed missions last year.”  But the Philippians gave more than once, they gave consistently, whenever they discovered an opportunity.  Missions minded churches treat missions as a priority, not a novelty.

Finally, one might say, “That’s part of the budget we get no benefit from.”  Money given to the general budget funds ministries and pays bills so we can stay open and meet each week.  When money goes overseas, we get no direct benefit.

But we shouldn’t focus on seating capacity nearly as much as sending capacity.

In reality, we do benefit from giving our money away to ministries that don’t benefit us.  In fact, we receive greater reward in heaven.

The money we give away is really the only money we really keep.  It is credited to our eternal accounts.

One more thing about this passage.

Do you remember your mother telling you how important it is to write thank you notes to people who give something to you (like for graduation) or who do something for you?

Well, that is what Paul is doing here.  He is thanking them for giving.

John Brug says…

“We know that God loves a cheerful giver, but I believe we also need to stress that God loves a cheerful receiver.  Cheerful receivers make giving and receiving a joy.  It is especially important that the called workers of the church learn to be gracious, cheerful receivers.  This is not necessarily an easy task.  The art of being a gracious, cheerful, thankful receiver may be even more difficult than being a cheerful giver.  If we learn to accept the compliments and the special personal gifts which we receive in a gracious, cheerful manner, we will help make giving and receiving a joy for ourselves and for our people.”

This gift itself may not have been very much, but Paul takes special care to thank them for it.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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