Summary: New Life requires new generosity as shown by the Philippians
I want you put yourself in Paul’s shoes for a moment. Here he is, travelling around the Mediterranean, visiting exotic places; going on sea voyages; meeting interesting people. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, perhaps not so great when you think about the way he met some of those interesting people, the opposition he faced, the suffering he had to go through. Perhaps it wasn’t the dream holiday of the first century after all. And then think about how he had to manage. Now I don’t know what the exchange rate was between the Jewish Denarius and the Lira or the Drachma in those days, but in any case, I imagine what money he had when he set out on his missionary journeys, soon went in paying for food and accommodation and travel. How did he manage?
We don’t read all that much about these sorts of details in the pages of the New Testament do we? If we didn’t know better we could easily think that Paul’s missionary journeys just happened and he didn’t need to worry about money. But of course that isn’t how the world works. Even in the first century money made the world go round. If you had money you could travel. If you didn’t, you couldn’t. The sort of ministry that Paul was called to required funding from somewhere. As much as he may have depended on hospitality from people like Lydia in Philippi, he still needed cash to get to the places he was going (at least up until the stage where the Roman government took over and sent him to Rome). So how did Paul fund his work? We know that on at least one occasion he worked as a tentmaker but what about the rest of the time?
Well, we get hints of how he managed from time to time as we read through Paul’s writings and one of the clearest instances is here in Phil 4. Paul has just finished exhorting them to rejoice in the Lord always, trusting God to look after them. In fact the theme of rejoicing has run all the way through the letter. And now he gives them a final example of his own joy in the Lord, joy that bears out what he’s said about asking the Lord to provide what you need.
He says: "I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me." What does that mean? Is he saying that there was a time when they didn’t really care about what was happening to him? No, he isn’t talking about their emotional concern for him. He’s talking about their practical concern. He’s talking about the way they’ve again sent him material aid, presumably money. He knows that they’ve always been emotionally concerned for him, but it’s only now that they’ve again had the practical opportunity to help him out. And that in itself gives him joy.
What do you think it is about this gift that gives him this joy? It probably isn’t the money itself is it? We’ll see that in a moment. No, I think it’s the fact that by this gift they’ve identified with him in his ministry. They’ve become partners with him. Look at what he says in v14: "In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress." They may not be able to be there to join him in his prison cell, but they can share with him by this act of financial support. As well as that he rejoices because their gift is a sign of maturity, of their growth in service to God. He says in v18, "the gifts you sent, [are] a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God." This act of giving is something that God is pleased with. So Paul rejoices because he can see these people with whom he’s shared the gospel growing in their faithfulness to God, not just in their allegiance to himself.
Mind you, he doesn’t want them to misunderstand. What he said earlier about the peace of God guarding their hearts and minds is true for him as much as for anyone else. He doesn’t want to give the impression that he’s in need or asking for more aid. On the contrary he’s learnt an important lesson in his missionary journeys. That’s to be content. Whatever he has! Whether he has little or plenty, whether he’s well-fed or hungry. It doesn’t matter in the end. Why? Because Christ gives him the strength. "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
It seems to me that there’s an important and incredibly difficult lesson for us here. We live in an age where we’re increasingly urged to be discontented; where covetousness is the given, where greed is good. The big department store in Canada is The Bay (short for the Hudson Bay Company) and when we were over there all their stores had this motto emblazoned across the shop fronts: "Shopping is Good!" That’s the age we live in isn’t it? We live to shop. Shopping is retail therapy. And so contentment is a rare commodity.