Imagine the incredible works of literature we would lack if people had not spent time incarcerated. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Miguel Cervantes began to write Don Quixote, widely considered the first modern novel. Martin Luther King Jr. penned “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” his fiery response to complacent clergymen as he suffered punishment under an unjust law. Unfortunately, we also have Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf. Of course, the most critical literature ever to come out of prison, were the Prison Epistles by the Apostle Paul. Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were all penned while Paul spent considerable time in chains.
As Paul closes out the letter, he brings several themes to a culmination. He is grateful for their partnership in gospel ministry (1:5-8; 4:14-15). He has desired that they would enjoy the unity that could only come from the humility of Christ (2:1-11; 4:21-22). Paul has pointed to the examples of others who followed Christ (2:19-30) and modeled through his own experience how to live sacrificially for the glory of God (3:1-11; 4:18). He has exhorted and modeled perseverance, and repeatedly shown how God protected and provided for his ministry through times of need and plenty (4:2-9, 19).
It is all too common for the covenant community to be defined by their conflict.
“What do you know about that church?”
“Oh, they went through a split due to…”
Saints often work against one another rather than alongside one another. Instead of co-laboring to advance the gospel, saints spend too much time squabbling at the starting line.
Paul has modeled, in this elaborate thank you letter, that conflict—though inevitable—does not have to define a church. Characteristics that define a healthy church are fellowship, discipleship, and outreach. Saints who mutually care for one another and encourage each other to persevere. But, that’s not to say that any of this is easy. It can only be accomplished through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of our God and Father. Ultimately, partnership in the gospel requires sacrificial support that is supplied by the riches of the gospel.
Read Philippians 4:14-23.
I. Support for Gospel Ministry (14-16)
Paul refers to his “trouble”, his own need and difficulties in ministry (14). Their support of his ministry was literally an ‘honorable’ (kind) aspect of their fellowship (same root word συγκοινωνέω).
Paul accepted gifts from the Macedonian churches while serving the Corinthians. Their support allowed him to minister to them without being a burden to them (2 Cor 11:8-9). They had enough issues to deal with already. However, Paul would exhort them to learn to be generous as well (2 Cor 8:1-15).
By the time Paul was ministering in Corinth, additional churches had partnered with him. But when he began his ministry in Philippi, they were his only support (15) and they have maintained that support since day one (1:5).
The Philippians supported Paul on multiple occasions while he was ministering in Thessalonica (16). This does not appear to have been enough to sustain his ministry since he and his co-laborers “worked night and day” in order that, as in Corinth, they would not be a burden to anyone (1 Thes 2:9; 2 Thes 3:8).
Paul primarily supported himself through tentmaking (Acts 18:1-4). But the financial gifts he received encouraged him and allowed more time for ministry.
In early 2012, I began raising support for this church. I spent a lot of time preparing a summary of the project, a Powerpoint presentation, letters and email templates. By the end of that summer we had raised $350,000 in one-time gifts and pledges for ongoing support.
I tried to send prayer updates every few months. Everything was in constant revision as details changed, but the one constant, was the number of ministry partners whom the Lord used to sustain us over the years. As one partner would shift their support elsewhere, a new one would join.
In fact, to this day we continue to get support from a handful of partners who were with us from the beginning. Like Paul, I can actually say certain individuals and church have partnered with us “from the first day until now” (1:5).
We have had our challenges, but the Lord has sustained us with supporters who gave sacrificially. The first implication of this text is a challenge to enter into partnership with us! Partnership with this church primarily occurs through membership. We look forward to receiving another group of members next Sunday. If you are not a member, I encourage you to look into becoming one.
The fourth vow of membership states: “Will you support the Church in her worship and work to the best of your ability?” If you are a member here, you havepartnered with us. That commitment involves the sacrificial giving of your time, talent, and treasure. Look over the announcements again. Where can you get involved? Are you using your unique gifts to support one of these ministries?
At the end of the day we know that Christ receives all of the glory for building his church. He ensures her survival. And He will preserve her with or without your contribution. The way he typically does that is by blessing the participation of others. It is through the Church that Christ governs his people in this present age. This is the means by which the Great Commission is fulfilled (Matt 28:18-20).
Christ concludes that instruction with the reminder “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So the Church will continue until Christ returns. It is our privilege to partner together—in Christ—for the fulfillment of his commission.
› Providing support for gospel ministry ensures that all of us will receive…
II. Supply from Gospel Ministry (17-20)
Paul was leery of any false accusations that he was greedy and covetous. Apparently, he had heard that accusation plenty of times to know that he needed to qualify his appreciation. Their financial support truly credits their own account (17).
He goes on to assure them that their gift, delivered by Epaphroditus, has supplied him very well (18a). Again, this does not mean that their gift was extravagant, but that the Lord had multiplied it in providing for Paul’s needs.
At the same time their gift was “a fragrant offering” that was “acceptable and pleasing to God” (18b). This raised the significance to more than a mere earthly partnership. Their gift was far better than any business transaction; it carried spiritual weight.
Just as the Lord took care of Paul through their gift, so God will continue to supply every need of the Philippians (19). This is not in response to their gift, as if they sowed a seed of faith and will receive back a financial reward as the prosperity gospel teaches. “Riches” are not merely physical and financial terms. Paul often uses this language in reference to spiritual blessings supplied by the redemption of Christ Jesus (Rom 11:33).
God will supply for their needs “according to his riches in glory.” In other words, no need is too great, because the source of the supply are the riches in his possession. That is why God will receive the glory “forever and ever” rather than whatever earthly agent is utilized to supply the physical gift (20).
I am freshly amazed whenever we do our annual financial update. God has not only sustained us through the years with generous support from ministry partners outside of the church, but he has continually increased our internal giving.
It is not easy for me to talk about finances since my own income is so intricately tied to the church’s budget, but this congregation has always handled those meetings with genuine interest. And the response, almost immediately, is one of generosity.
This church gives according to the need. And that is how it should be. We present the needs and opportunities, and as the money is available, we move forward. This is simply my way of recognizing—as Paul did—that we have been well-supplied! I’m tremendously grateful for your sacrificial partnership in the gospel.
We should all say, “thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor 9:15).
If the support that is given for gospel ministry not only supplies the necessary funds for the church’s existence, but also serves as a fragrant offering, then giving our gifts is an element of worship. Therefore, the only proper way to participate in that element is to give generously and joyfully!
It is a response of gratitude that proves the genuineness of our love. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to give from the abundance of their supply (2 Cor 8:14). He exhorted them to excel in “this act of grace”:
2 Corinthians 8:7–9 ESV
But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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.
We take an offering during our worship service, not because we are greedy, but because it is an act of grace that testifies of your love for God and neighbor. It is acceptable and pleasing to God because it reflects the riches of the grace we have received in Christ.
› Paul points us to that grace in his final greetings to the…
III. Saints in Gospel Ministry (21-23)
Paul wraps up the letter in the way he opened it, with a greeting to “all the saints” or “every saint” (1:1; 4:21). The church was now made up of all sorts of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Certainly more had joined the church since he last visited. Each one was an important part of the work. Each of them received the label: “saint”.
At the same time, all the saints who were with Paul sent their greetings to the Philippians (22). Although this likely included a handful of Paul’s traveling companions (who had come and gone over the past few years), he especially highlights “those of Caesar’s household.” It’s possible that some of those who were members of the imperial staff had done some overlapping service in Philippi, a Roman military colony (Martin). Paul has already encouraged them with the news that the whole imperial guard understood his “imprisonment is for Christ” (Phil 1:12-13).
Notice the significant disparities in status between the “saints” who are mentioned here. One group, we know to have fluctuated between “extreme poverty” yet overflowing in generosity (2 Cor 8:1-2). The other group linked to service in the emperor’s palace. All of them, well supplied by the riches in glory in Christ Jesus! And all of them, partners in gospel ministry.
Instead of marveling at this new humanity that has been brought about by the grace of the gospel, so many are introducing division and discord based upon wicked and secular ideologies. Many in the church have forsaken the unity purchased by the blood of the cross, and exchanged it for a bankrupt tribalism of Neomarxism. Instead of pursuing biblical justice in partnership with all of the saints, they have hitched themselves to wicked organizations in pursuit of Critical Social Justice. In other words, they have exchanged the riches of Christ’s grace for the poverty of Critical Race Theory.
With so many competing identities we find ourselves in a tug of war. We need a heightened awareness of our shared identity in Christ.
Institutes of the Christian Religion 2. Union with Christ as the Special Fruit of the Lord’s Supper
Union with Christ as the special fruit of the Lord’s Supper
Godly souls can gather great assurance and delight from this Sacrament; in it they have a witness of our growth into one body with Christ such that whatever is his may be called ours. As a consequence, we may dare assure ourselves that eternal life, of which he is the heir, is ours; and that the Kingdom of Heaven, into which he has already entered, can no more be cut off from us than from him; again, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from whose guilt he has absolved us, since he willed to take them upon himself as if they were his own. This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness.
Meditate, believe, and rest in that truth every Sunday and throughout the week! How could it not impact everything?
The final line is a simple—yet profound—benediction (23). It’s much more than the close of a service. It is a blessing that reminds us of our dependence upon God’s grace.