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Philippians 4:15-17

 

14 Nevertheless, you have done well by sharing in my affliction.

 

15 Indeed you yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, not one church shared/partnered with me on the ledger of giving and receiving but you alone;

 

 16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my need.

 

 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the gain/profit which increases on your ledger.

 

 

Introduction

Our text this morning continues the closing section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

 

Now remember, throughout this final portion of the letter, Paul expresses his deep appreciation for the Philippians’ support of his Gospel ministry.

 

Not only that, in the process, Paul provides a biblical perspective on giving that is Christ-centered and not simply money based.

 

Notice then the story thus far: in verse 10 Paul told us that he rejoiced because the Philippians had revived/renewed their support of his ministry. However, last week in verses 11-13 Paul stressed the fact that he is not writing to try and get more support from them. Instead, Paul says that he has learned to be content with whatever he has (be it great or small). In other words, because Paul knows that God is with him, for him, and Lord of all he faces, Paul has the confidence to trust God’s provision and purpose, and thus remain focused on/faithful to the work/walk that God has given him.

 

In our text this morning Paul turns to express his deep appreciation for the Philippians’ gift and to ground it on this Christ-centered notion of giving.

 

 

Verse 15

Notice at once the flow of the passage: if verses 11-13 are given to assure the Philippians that Paul is not asking for more support, then verses 14-17 are given to equally assure the Philippians that Paul is truly thankful for their gift and that it has truly contributed to the work of the Gospel. Notice then how Paul goes about giving this assurance:  Paul reminds the Philippians that they have not only done well sharing in his current affliction, they also know how much their past support has meant to him and his work. In other words, Paul draws a direct parallel between the value of the Philippians’ past gift as well as Paul’s gratitude for that gift and the recent gift they have just sent. Why? Paul is giving the Philippians a concrete and well known frame of reference by which to measure his current deep appreciation FN#1.    

 

Next notice what Paul says the Philippians know: that is notice the value to which Paul is comparing their recent gift: Paul says they know that at the first preaching of the Gospel (that is, at his very first mission trip to Philippi and the region of Macedonia), that after Paul departed that region, the Philippians were the only church to support his ongoing work. Not only that, notice how Paul describes their support: Paul describes it as joining with Paul in making entries on an accounting ledger (bank book). Importance: Paul intentionally takes up the crass language of the marketplace (the language of the money and the very sort of gift that he does not seek) in order to then elevate the entire transaction/conversation to its Christ-centered focus FN#2. Notice then the type of entries that both Paul and the Philippians make on this ledger. Paul says that the Philippians have shared with him in recording both giving and receiving (inflow and outflow). That is, they have each received a blessing and they each have sought to give a blessing from all that God has provided. How? Think about it: Paul has labored to minister the Gospel to the Philippians (Paul has given and the Philippians have received). In turn, the Philippians have sought to support Paul’s Gospel ministry to others (the Philippians have given and Paul has received). In other words, for Paul biblical giving is based on mutual care. Notice then both Paul and the Philippians care to see God’s Kingdom spread, to see Christ glorified, and to see others healed by the same grace they have received. Therefore, they delight to be an active part in God’s work FN#3.  Importance: already we are beginning to see Paul’s elevation of giving from that of the market (the way we normally think of giving) to its Christ-centered basis as mutual care and delight.


Verse 16

Next, notice the extent of the Philippians’ past support and thus by comparison the extent of their recent gift. Paul says that even when he was in Thessalonica the Philippians sent gifts to him on more than one occasion. However, the question is why is sending support to Paul in Thessalonica an example of the extensive nature of the Philippians’ support? Remember, like Philippi, Thessalonica is in the region of Macedonia and is only about 100 miles (a 4 day walk) from Philippi. In other words, the Philippians are not undertaking some arduous task to get Paul support in some exotic/remote corner of the world (its right next door). Instead, the reason that sending support to Thessalonica is such a big deal is that Thessalonica was a very rough ministry field (Acts 17:10). Acts 16:20-21 tells us that the gospel met great public resistance in Thessalonica. Not only that, Acts goes on to say that the Thessalonians claimed that the Gospel was anti-Roman and not lawful for any Roman citizen to follow. As such, to openly support such a venture posed a very real and great threat to the Philippian church. Not only that, to make matters worse the Thessalonians had already shown their willingness to go to other neighboring Macedonian cities and stir up trouble for Paul (Acts 17:3). Simply put: the Philippians’ willingness to support Paul (not meagerly but boldly and often) even in a hard, unpopular, and potentially costly endeavor underscores their commitment to the Gospel and the genuine first love that living faith had brought to their lives. Notice then the point: Paul reminds the Philippians that they know just how needed and appreciated their past gifts were. Therefore, they know exactly how their recent gift has been received.

 

Verse 17

Next, notice that once again Paul underscores the assurance given in verse 11-12 that he is not seeking the gift. In other words, because Paul knows that God is with him, for him, and Lord of all he faces, Paul has the security to be content. That is, Paul has the security to trust God, and thus continue with the work that God has given him to do, knowing that God will accomplish exactly what God intends through that work. Notice then what Paul does seek. Paul says he seeks the gain which increases the balance on the Philippians’ ledger. In other words, the picture here is that of Paul acting as the Philippians broker FN#4. As such, he seeks that which increases the viability/health of his client’s account. In other words, Paul is not seeking cash from the Philippians. Instead, he is seeking fruit FN#5. That is, Paul is seeking for the Philippians those priorities and endeavors that nurture and grow their walk with God. As such, Paul rejoices in their gift because in it he sees the signs of true and living faith. In turn, it is this heart for God and this heart turned towards God that Paul solicits (wants) from his church.

 

Bottom line: Paul knows that God will supply the work that God has given him to do regardless of where or from whom that support comes. Nonetheless, Paul rejoices that it has come from the Philippians because he knows it is pleasing to God and a sign of their true and living faith.

 

Footnotes:

1] Notice the emphatic way Paul begins verse 15. Paul says “Indeed you yourselves also know Philippians”. In other words, the emphatic conjunction “Indeed”, the repetition of you yourselves, and the affectionate (vocative) manner that Paul calls the church by name all underscore/covey the sincerity and genuineness of Paul’s gratitude. As such, Paul’s opening sets the emotional framework of verses 14-17 and alerts us to how we are to read/hear this entire portion of Scripture.

 

 

2] Notice the language of the marketplace in play here: the Philippians partner/share with Paul. They join him in making entries on both the inflow and outflow sides of an accounting ledger. Later in verse 17 we will see Paul acting as the Philippians’ broker. Importance: the Philippians would have been well acquainted with this language of the market. Remember, Philippi was a leading Roman port city at the terminus of the Egnation way (a vital trade road between Rome and the east). In other words, finance and trade was something they knew very well and was at the center of their daily life.

 

 

3] Notice then by contrast, the other churches have not joined with Paul and the Philippians in this mutual Gospel partnership. They have received the blessing of Paul’s ministry but have not given so that others might share that blessing.

 

 

4] Note broker may be a bit of a modernization of terminology. It may be better to say Paul is depicting himself in the role of the Philippians’ steward. Regardless, the function of both steward and broker are the same: the steward handled his master’s financial affairs, kept his books, and invested his money in order to see a gain for his master’s account. This was a common arrangement in Biblical times from Joseph being placed over Pharaoh’s house to the Parables of Jesus (Gen 41:39-42; Lk 16:1-11).

            In turn, there is a real sense in which Paul (as the Philippians’ broker) has taken their gift and invested it for them (not in the market but) in the Gospel ministry. The result is that this active participation in Paul’s work which has furthered the spread of the Gospel has earned spiritual dividends for the Philippians’ account. That is, God credits the Philippians for what their gift has enabled Paul to do. In God’s eyes they are co-laborers (partners) with Paul in his Kingdom work. This same principle holds true for our support of and desire to see the Gospel furthered through the work of others.

 

 

5] Notice Paul’s play on words here as he lifts our eyes from the common ledger of the market to a spiritual one: the Greek word Paul uses here for “gain” or “profit” (καρπός) at its most basic root means “fruit”. Thus, Paul is playing on the gift he does not seek and contrasting it with the fruit he does seek in the Philippians’ walk.

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