Paul enjoyed an outstanding and longstanding partnership with the Philippian believers, who gave generously and consistently because of their shared faith in Jesus. He commended their generosity not because of the benefit to himself, but because of the eternal reward they could anticipate as a result of their giving. As Alistair Begg examines Paul’s instructions, he reminds us that whatever we sacrifice now for the sake of God’s kingdom is an investment in eternity.
I invite you to turn with me to Philippians chapter 4, where we resume our studies in Philippians. The section that is before us this morning begins at the fourteenth verse and follows the verses which caused us quite a bit of concern last Lord’s Day morning, when we were confronted by this whole matter of contentment. And a number of you have spoken to me subsequently to say that you found our study to be both helpful and also uncomfortable. And I think, as I acknowledged before you last week, that was exactly was what I anticipated, because I found it to be exactly that in my preparation. We noted that we live in an age that is marked by a spirit of discontentedness, and the challenge to be different is a quite radical call to a lifestyle that is markedly distinctive from those around us.
In my follow-on study, in bridging 13 and into 14, I came across a poem which expresses very, very aptly the discontent which is so prevalent in our society. The author writes as follows:
It was spring, But it was summer I wanted,
The warm days, And the great outdoors.
It was summer, But it was fall I wanted,
The colorful leaves, And the cool, dry air.
It was fall, But it was winter I wanted,
The beautiful snow, And the joy of the holiday season.
It was winter, But it was spring I wanted,
The warmth, And the blossoming of nature.
I was a child, But it was adulthood I wanted,
The freedom, And the respect.
I was 20, But it was 30 I wanted,
To be mature, And sophisticated.
I was middle-aged, But it was 20 I wanted,
The youth, And the free spirit.
I was retired, But it was middle age I wanted,
The presence of mind, Without limitations.
My life was over.
But I never got what I wanted.
Now, that finds a reverberating chord in each of our lives, if we are prepared to be honest for a moment or two. And equally challenging is what now follows in relationship to the circumstances which were peculiarly those of the apostle Paul and the Philippian church.
Let me introduce it by giving you one of the doggerels that my father used to confront me with regularly. Ever since I was small and unwilling to share with my sisters, he would say to me, “There was a man they said was mad; the more he gave away, the more he had.” Which would befuddle my tiny mind insofar as, especially if I was parting with money, and I had half a crown, and I was to give one of my sisters sixpence, that would leave me with two shillings, which would be less than two and six, and so, as far as I was concerned, his doggerel was bogus. How could it possibly be? “There was a man they said was mad; the more he gave away, the more he had.” “Well,” I said to myself, “I’m gonna have to work this one out.” I’m now forty-six, and I’m still confronted with the challenge of it, and still tempted to doubt the truth of it.
It’s virtually impossible for us, in the last four or five weeks, to live without thinking that Wall Street is the most important street in the whole world—that Alan Greenspan is actually more significant than he really is, and that when he coughs the whole world either goes up or down. And whether you have money in stocks or you don’t, you will have been prevailed upon significantly enough by means of the media to believe that you’d better be worried when everyone else is worried.
Now, of course, it would be wrong for us to dismiss these matters. Economics are important to our society, they’re important to our world; the issues of international monetary policy are not without their significance. And therefore, we know that it is important—we’ve been told it enough time—to make sure that we have, amongst other things, an individual retirement account. And we are asked with frequency, “Do you have one? How much do you have in it? When did you make your last contribution to it?” and so on.
Well, I don’t want to talk about IRAs this morning. I want for you to think with me about what I’m going to refer to as an IEA—an IEA—namely, an individual eternal account. I want you to think with me this morning about this matter of spiritual investing; about having a portfolio that is eternal in its dimensions; about discovering what it means to be a church that really gives; about becoming the kind of individual who is as mad as the gentleman mentioned in the doggerel with which I began; and therefore, for each of us to be confronted by these same questions in relationship to an IEA—namely, Do you have one? What’s in it? and When did you make your last contribution to it?
Now, if you allow your eyes to scan verses 14–20, let me talk you through the passage for just a moment. The apostle, you will notice, is commending the Philippians for their willingness to “share in” his “troubles”; he says that in verse 14. Also the fact that they are sharing with him in this “matter of giving and receiving.” Their care, he says in verse 16, is not sporadic, but it has been consistent, insofar as they have done this sharing “again and again.” In emphasizing this, according to verse 17, he doesn’t want them to think that he’s motivated by what he will receive, but rather that they might understand that what stirs him is the benefit that will accrue to them as a result of their generosity. There’s no question that he is in fine shape as a result of the gifts that have come to him via Epaphroditus. And indeed, he was confident that these gifts, according to the end of verse 18, were “acceptable”—they were like “fragrant offering[s],” they were “pleasing” as a “sacrifice … to God.” They should know—verse 19—that God will meet all their needs in accordance with his divine resources, and that these Philippian believers—as far as verse 20 is the outburst of his heart—these wonderful Philippian Christians have made the apostle’s heart sing for joy.
Now, with that as an overview, let me then go back to the beginning and seek to trace a line through the instruction that we have before us. I have a number of words, each of which begins with the letter P in order to try and help me to remember my own outline, and the first of these is to note the partnership—the partnership—and considering verses 14, 15, and 16.
The reason I use the word partnership is because of the existence of the word “share,” which you have there in verse 14, and you have it again in verse 15: “Not one church shared with me…” Now, the word that is used there is the word that would be used for a partnership that exists between individuals. In the same way, if we stick with the stock market for a moment or two, we might say that we have shares in a certain company; we have a partnership with it, however limited. Or that we have a share of a certain business; that by our financial and physical contribution, we are partners with others in this same endeavor. Now, that is exactly what Paul is identifying here. He says, “In this matter of the gospel, I am so thankful for the fact that we have been made partners.”
Now, the way in which he begins verse 14 is important to notice. Because you will recall from our study last time that he had made clear to the Philippian believers that he had learned the secret of contentment. So whether he received material benefit from them or whether he didn’t, whether he lived in plenty or in poverty, whether he was well-fed or hungry, he had learned the secret of contentment. It perhaps then occurred to him that they might assume that he was being dismissive of the gifts that they had sent to him. And so verse 14 would appear to exist in order to clear up any kind of misconception that may have emerged. He is not making light of their generosity. As Phillips paraphrases it, “I am not disparaging the way in which you were willing to share [in] my troubles.” “I don’t want you to think,” he says, “that because I have learned the secret of contentment that I don’t care about the fact that you are giving.” He’s about to go on and say he cares passionately about the fact that they’re giving, but for a very different reason than they or we might be tempted to assume.
Now, this partnership was marked by a number of things. First of all, it was an outstanding partnership. It was outstanding, inasmuch as it stood in direct contrast to the absence of this kind of fellowship from other churches. That’s what he’s saying here in verse 15: “In the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel”—which was some ten years prior to his now writing—in those early days, he says, “when I set out from Macedonia, [there wasn’t another] church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you [folks].” And so he says, “The very fact of your partnership is outstanding.” Here was a fledgling church. There were others who had been around longer, and yet somehow or another from the very outset they had determined that they would be supportive of the apostle Paul, recognizing all that he meant to them.
The partnership was not only outstanding, but it was also longstanding. That’s the significance of the phrase “you sent me aid”—in verse 16, at the end—“you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.” We all understand the distinction between making a one-time contribution and making a contribution that is marked by continuity. Every so often, someone might write and say, “I am sending this to you,” or “I am giving this to this particular fund,” or “I want this used in this particular way, and please note that this is a one-time contribution.” And then another may write and say, “I am giving this to you because of the sense of urgency that I feel, and I want you to know that not only am I giving this in this way and on this day, but as God enables me, on this day in a subsequent year I will again give in this fashion. I am prepared to give, by the urging of God’s Spirit, not simply sporadically, intermittently, but I’m going to give again and again.” And that’s why, although a decade has elapsed, here we find the apostle Paul, he’s in jail now in Rome, and these dear Philippian Christians, who had given right from the beginning, were still up-to-date with their commitment.
Now, the other thing to note about the way in which they gave was simply this: their giving was not, if you like, convivial; it was essential. You say, “Convivial? Is that a word?” Frankly, I’m not sure, even as I say it myself right now, but I’m pretty certain it is. Convivial would be Mr. and Mrs. Jones, who live in 47 Carseview Gardens with a poodle and two garage door openers and a fairly extensive mortgage, invite Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who live two streets away with two poodles, one garage door opener, and an equally extensive mortgage, and they share similar backgrounds, similar interests, similar concerns, and they invite one another over for meals. And one month it’s the Smiths who host the Joneses, and the next month it’s the Joneses who host the Smiths. And they have a kind of convivial relationship. And that, of course, is part of what makes the world go round, and it’s very nice, and it’s pleasurable, and there’s nothing wrong with it at all.
But essential sharing would be either the Joneses or the Smiths going to another family whose circumstances are nowhere close to their own, whose needs are very deep, and inviting them to come and share the resources of their home and their hearth and their kitchen, and sending them on their way without any anticipation that this will be a reciprocal relationship—that this is some kind of convivial dimension of sharing. Indeed, they are convinced that they will never be invited to the home of this family. And furthermore, they have told them as they leave the driveway, “Now, plan on this on the same Thursday next month, because we’re going to do this all over again.” That sharing was essential.
That, incidentally, is the kind of sharing about which the Bible speaks in relationship to God’s people. Isn’t that something of what Jesus means when he says, “If you love those who love you, what reward is there in that?” Or, to paraphrase it, if I invite people over to my home who like to invite me over to their home, what’s the big deal? The real challenge is whether you or I are prepared to invite to our homes those who have no prospect of reciprocating by dint of their circumstances—or, even if they do, are so largely different from us on the outside that the world looks on and says, “I don’t know why those people are over with those people! They’re not the same color as them. They didn’t go to the same school as them. They don’t have the same interests as them. They don’t have the same resources as them.” So they’re scratching their heads. They say, “What brings these people together?” And the answer, of course, is Jesus brings these people together.
Now, while it is true that every fellowship will largely represent the demographics of the environment in which it finds itself—which is a bit of a mouthful, simply meaning that if the church is down next to a park and a golf course, it is unlikely that we will be involved in a peculiar participation of inner-city dwellers who get up at three a.m. to find their way out to this place. Now, they may, and that would be fine; but by and large it’s unlikely. If we’re going to do urban ministry, it would be better to go and be urban. If we are suburban, or “ru-burban,” or whatever the world we might be, then there is a sense in which there is an inevitability about that.
I acknowledge that, but I refuse to accept that as the totality of what it means to enter into partnership. And I am exercised and concerned and increasingly consumed with the notion that the surrounding community can encounter Parkside or drive past it and explain it away in the way that it can explain away any other secular gathering of people who have similar educations, similar financial resources, similar interests, and similar backgrounds. And so they come around and they say, “Well, of course you don’t need God or Christ or the Holy Spirit for anything that’s going on here; we understand it perfectly. You’re all sort of the same!”
And we have baptized cultural elements into our Christian professions to the extent that we do not cross boundaries, we do not build bridges across boundaries, both in terms of race and in terms of finance and in terms of education. And we have not, as a church, begun to scratch the surface of what it means to become that kind of multifarious community of people who are so disparate in our backgrounds that the explanation can only be, “Their partnership is about the one who is the chairman and CEO and president—namely, the Lord Jesus Christ himself.”
Now, to the extent that you believe that, share that, are concerned about that, want to do something about that, go and do something about it. I don’t accept that—I refuse to accept—that my African American brethren can only worship in a certain cultural framework. They have decided that they want to, but they can worship somewhere else. Nor do I accept that a bunch of white people—who can’t beat time if their life depended on it—that they can only function in this fashion. It is not true. We have baptized a cultural milieu into our expressions of Christian faith. And that is one of the reasons that the world looks on and has such difficulty in understanding why it is that we think they should be beating our doors down to come out and find what the explanation is. There is no need for explanation! “If you hang with those who like to hang with you, what reward to you have? Do not even pagans do that?” Of course they do!
You say, “Well, what does this mean?” I don’t know what it means, but I just wanted to mention it in passing! I don’t have to have all the answers. That’s what I have Jeff Mills for! He has the answers. He asks the questions! I don’t know. All I’m saying is, if you had moved amongst the Philippian believers… This stuff has got to mean something: “There’s neither barbarian, slave, Jew, gentile, bond, free,” whatever else it is.
Let’s take another one—my Messianic Jewish brethren. Are you telling me now that we’re supposed to have Messianic churches, so that that is distinct from the barbarians and the Scythians and the Gentiles? Absolutely not! That was what Acts 15 was all about. They wanted to go back and say, “Unless you were circumcised in the way the Jews determined, you cannot be a true believer.” And Paul and Peter go head-to-head on the issue, and Paul says, “Peter, you’re flat-out wrong on this, and you shouldn’t give up on this. And if you do give up on this, it will have a major effect on the future of the church. Therefore, I resist you to your face. You cannot baptize this cultural factor into the essentials of Christianity—not if your sharing is going to be on the basis of the radical difference that Jesus makes.”
All of that to say this: when partnership—when fellowship—is galvanized in an understanding of the grace of God in Christ, then at least to some degree, loved ones, there must be the indications amongst us of the difference that Jesus makes. And that, it seems to me, demands that we as individuals and as families cross bridges ourselves, in order that as individuals we may understand, embrace, be involved in a kind of fellowship that is not only cross-cultural and cross-racial and cross-everything-else but is radically driven by the kind of partnership to which Paul is referring here.
Now, I don’t know where in the world any of that came from; I don’t have it written down in front of me, but you can do with it what you will.
It is one thing to identify that someone has a need, it’s another thing to display a genuine interest in the need, and it’s quite another thing to get involved in the need. For example, what about the Good Samaritan? Remember the Good Samaritan? “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, [who] stripped him of his raiment, and [beat] him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” And in the King James Version it says, “And by chance a priest happened to be going down that way.” Or in the NIV, “A priest happened to be [passing] down the … road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side”—saw the man, he identified the man had a problem. “So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, [he] passed by on the other side.” So he identified he had a problem; he identified the fact that he was half dead. And the fact was, he was about to become whole dead. Because all he did was identify the problem. He had some kind of interest in it; it would seem that the second chap in the story Jesus told perhaps went over and had a closer look: “Oh, man, you’ve got a problem here. Whew! Okay, right, ah, let’s be warm, be fed, be cool. Thank you.”
“But a certain Samaritan…” See, do you like this, Samaritan? See what Jesus is doing? He says, “You homogenous boys—you that want to keep it all in the same group, all the same background, all the same stuff,” he says, “let me tell you who was the one that got him on the donkey: a Samaritan.” Do the Jews like Samaritans? No. Why would you make a Samaritan the hero of the story? To make the point. “But a certain Samaritan…” Because remember, the question was “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. And he went to him and he bandaged up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine. And he put him on his own donkey, and he brought him to an inn and he took care of him.”
You see the difference between identifying the need, showing an interest in the need, and becoming involved in the need? It wasn’t that the churches in Macedonia didn’t understand the need that was represented in the apostle’s life; it wasn’t that the people from Thessalonica were totally disinterested. They just never got involved. The never crossed the Rubicon from information to application—in much the same way that is possible for us to do. And that’s what made their partnership outstanding and longstanding.
Now, loved ones, what is it—this is the question that’s been in my mind this week—what is it that takes God’s people and makes them generous? Makes us sacrificial? What is it? Is it an emotional surge? Is it external manipulation? No, it’s neither of those things. It is the awareness of the fact that we have been given to freely. Jesus, in Matthew 10:8, in sending out the disciples, he says to them a very interesting little sentence; in Matthew 10:8 he says, “Freely you have received, freely give.” So in other words, the foundation of sacrificial, generous, resourceful partnership is the grace of God. It is when I suddenly understand that all that I am and all that have—all that I’ve been able to generate by means of resources, all of my gifts, all of my talents, whatever they might be—all of that I have been freely given. So when somebody then says, “Will you freely give?” there is only one sensible response: “Yes, I must.” Not because you’ve manipulated me. Not because you’ve tried to play a violin and make me emotional and weep and get my checkbook out and write to you. Not because you have appealed to how I’m going to feel when I get my name on the building. No! Because you just said, “Hey, has God freely given to you?”
“Would you consider freely giving?”
Now, it is in the awareness of the fact that we’re involved in a partnership that is most helpful here. We do not all have the same gifts. We do not all have the same capacities. God has purposefully put us together in that way so that each of us might offer up what we have. You find that all through the New Testament—for example, in Romans chapter 12: “Just as each [one] of us has [a] body with many members, and [the same] members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” That’s partnership. “We[’ve got] different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”
Now, all of these aspects, and more besides, represent the kind of partnership that is involved, and each partner contributes something different to the other. And when we understand that, then we understand the importance of team, and that there is no I in team; that as Sinclair Ferguson put it, “The Philippians would never become jealous of Paul’s status or [his] gifts, nor would Paul complain that he alone bore the burden of Christian ministry,” because each gave their gifts.
So we ought not somehow or another to get stymied on this matter of money as we so regularly do: either to make out that somehow or another money is the crucial thing, it makes the world go round or makes the church go forward, and so to exalt it to a place of unbelievable influence; or, on the other hand, so to denigrate it as to say it doesn’t matter at all. In relationship to Paul’s concerns, it was their generosity that put his head on the pillow, it was their generosity that gave him clothes to wear, it was their partnership that marked them out as radically different.
Now, I’ve spent an awful long time on the first point, but let me go to verse 17. What about Paul’s perspective in this? “Not that I[’m] looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.” Now here’s a novel approach, isn’t it? Their generosity made Paul glad not because of what their gifts meant to him but on account of what their gifts would mean to them.
You’ve got to think about this for just a moment. Here comes the apostle, and he writes this letter and he says, “I’m so thankful that you gave to me.” The natural response would be to say, “See? I told you we should send him that coat. I bet he loved his coat. I’m so glad that we sent him those two extra things of pancakes. I bet they kept him going for a good few breakfasts,” and so on. Paul says—he doesn’t even mention the gifts. He doesn’t even say, “Well, thank you so much,” or “Thank you for what it was,” or “Thank you for its usefulness.” He doesn’t say anything of that. He says, “I’m so glad that you gave to me, not because you gave to me, but because of what it meant to you.” You get this? This is weird! This is a whole different form of accounting.
“It isn’t the value of the gift that I[’m] keen on,” paraphrases Phillips; “It isn’t the value of the gift … I[’m] keen on, it[’s] the reward that will come to you because of [the] gifts that you have made.” Why? Because in giving in this way, the Philippians were investing in eternity. They were vesting in eternity. They were able to anticipate rich dividends in much the same way that accumulating interest stands to the credit of one who makes deposits in the bank. If you buy CDs or you buy annuities, you understand that you make the investment now and you receive the benefit later. Paul says, “I’m so excited that you were so generous, because you have made an investment now and you will receive the benefit later.” He doesn’t talk about the benefit that comes to him.
Luke chapter 6, the words of Jesus—verse 38. Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you.” “Give, and it will be given to you.” See, you never… the only way to goof up in sharing is not to share. ’Cause you never know this principle unless you do the first part. It’s never given to you unless you give, so if you don’t give, there’s no second half. That’s why some of us don’t have the second half. We think, “I can’t afford to give!” Listen, we can’t afford not to give. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
And Luke 18:29. In verse 28 Peter says to Jesus, “We have left all we had to follow you!” Now, I don’t know what his spirit was in saying that, but it’s classic Peter, you know: “Hey, we’re the guys!” Jesus said, “[Let me] tell you the truth … no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
In other words, when you take all that represents security to you, when you take all that represents familiarity to you, and you are prepared—on whatever level, in whatever context—to offer that up to God, to say, “Now God, I’m gonna do without my home or my wife or my brother, my parents, my children, and I’m doing this for the sake of the kingdom of God,” Jesus says, “You will receive a hundred times more in this present age, and in the age to come you will receive eternal life.”
Now, the reason that this is so difficult is the same reason that insurance guys have in selling policies to people when they’re young. ’Cause it’s all about dying, and it’s hard to believe you’re going to die. When the guy comes round to your house and says, “Now, how about your little son?” I said, “Yeah, look at the size of him.”
“Wouldn’t you like to buy an insurance policy for him?”
“What? A life insurance policy? No!”
“Why not? He’s going to die one day.”
“Oh, thanks for coming in and mentioning that; that’s a wonderful thought.”
But their best motives are there, because they’re trying to get you to see beyond the horizon, and it’s so hard to do. It’s so right to do, and so good to do, but so hard to do.
The same is true when the Bible confronts us with an individual eternal account: “Ach, eternity! Eternity’s not today, I’m going to lunch. Eternity’s not tomorrow, I’m going to the office. Eternity’s no time soon, I’m going to school.” Eternity is one breath away for every one of us.
“I’m so thankful,” says Paul, “that you’re partners with me in this way.” And he says, “I want you to know that what really jazzes me is not the benefit I receive from your gifts but is the benefit you will receive from your gifts.” Because in relationship to “threescore years and ten,” eternity is going to last forever.
“Give, and it [will] be given unto you; good measure, pressed down … shaken together, and running over.” We’ll come back later on, and we’ll talk about the distinction between generosity and sacrifice. We’ll talk about whether it is sufficient simply to reallocate resources from the government to the church and congratulate ourselves because we’ve decided to apportion them to the church rather than to the government, and we’ll ask the question whether that can be equated with what Paul is talking about here in Philippians chapter 4. Probably be a little uncomfortable for all of us. It’s getting to be routine, isn’t it?
Let’s pray together:
Father, we thank you this morning for your love and your goodness to us. Thank you that you are the great giver; that you have given sacrificially; that you have given your “only begotten Son, that whosoever believe[s] in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And that is actually where some of us need to begin, because we have never understood the immensity of your gift and we have never come to take it from your hand in humble, repentant, childlike trust. Others of us, Lord, are frightened to believe that we can’t live if we don’t really give.
Help us, then, to think these issues through—without the coercion of a man, without the manipulation of a structure, without any dependence upon emotionalism. But with our Bibles open on our laps and a spirit of prayerful expectation, teach us, we pray.
And may grace and mercy and peace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be our abiding portion, today and forevermore. Amen.
 Jason Lehman, “Present Tense,” in Abigail Van Buren, “Youth’s Poem Remarkably Farseeing,” Chicago Tribune, February 4, 1989, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1989-02-14-8903050524-story.html.
 Philippians 4:12 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 5:46 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 5:47 (paraphrased).
 Colossians 3:11 (paraphrased).
 Luke 10:30 (KJV).
 Luke 10:31 (paraphrased).
 Luke 10:31 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 10:32 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 10:33 (KJV).
 Luke 10:25 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 10:33–34 (paraphrased).
 Romans 12:4–8 (NIV 1984).
 Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Philippians (1997; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2018), 111.
 Psalm 90:10 (KJV).
 Luke 6:38 (KJV).
 John 3:16 (KJV).