Reflection | Paul has just shared with the Philippians the secret of contentment – relying on the provision of Christ who gives us exactly what we need in any situation we face in life. Now, in the final paragraphs of his letter, Paul returns back to expressing his gratitude for the financial support which the Philippian church has provided him. He writes “it was good of you to share in my troubles” (v. 14).


Paul perceives the Philippians to have given him more than just a gift. For Paul, the contribution made by the Philippians is a reflection of their partnership with him in ministry – in sharing the Gospel. Their collaboration together, Paul reminds them, goes all the way back to “the earliest days of your acquaintance with the gospel” (v. 15).


From the very beginning of their emergence in the faith as part of the Body of Christ (some ten years earlier), the Philippians had been willing to financially support Paul’s missionary work. Lydia – the first follower of Christ in Europe and a woman of means – had hosted Paul and Silas when they first visited Philippi. When Paul notes they “set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;” he is referring to the monetary contributions made by Lydia and the other new disciples of Jesus who met in her home (see Acts 16).


Apparently, the community of faith in Philippi stood alone and apart from all the other Christian fellowships in being willing to help finance Paul and Silas’s missionary travels. This gift is more than likely the same one Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 11:8-9, financial backing that he received from the Philippians when he was in Corinth. Now, many years later, Paul still remembers and thanks them for their unique and noble act of assistance.


As he goes on, Paul adds, “even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need” (v. 16). Paul’s work in Thessalonica is described in Acts 17:1–9 along with some additional details being given in his two letters to that community, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. From these sources we learn Paul’s ministry in this city was brief, less than a year. Regardless, it appeared to be long enough for the Philippians to send Paul at least two monetary gifts and perhaps more.


In total, by this count alone, the Philippians materially contributed to the advancement of the Gospel through Paul on a minimum of four occasions. This underscores their generosity towards Paul is more than just a one-time donation. Their prior kindness along with their present charity indicates their giving serves as a tangible reflection of their ongoing partnership with Paul.


But the reach of the Philippians’ benevolence extends far beyond just Paul. Drawing upon Old Testament worship imagery, Paul describes the continued goodwill of the Philippians as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (v. 18). For Israel, grain and other burnt offerings were intended as external signs of the true, internal sacrifice of a life being yielded to the Lord. Paul’s point is the Philippians’ generosity towards him is also, more importantly, a direct expression of their reliance upon God.


Something we need to keep in mind is the Philippians were not rich. Throughout his letters, Paul many times describes the faith communities he planted and ministered to as impoverished. Specifically, in 2 Corinthians 8:1-3, Paul declares the churches of Macedonia (of which Philippi was a part) were in “deep poverty.” And yet, despite their poor conditions, the Philippians remained faithful stewards of whatever they had received from the Lord. In the midst of Paul’s pressing circumstances, they continued to give sacrificially. They gave, not just according to their ability, but beyond their ability.


However, it isn’t about the money. Paul repeats an earlier sentiment as he writes, “Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied” (v. 17- 18). While he speaks in terms of monetary interest and credit, Paul is not being literal here. Even as he adds, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (v. 19), he is not making an equivalency between financial giving and material prosperity per se.


While indeed, Paul promises and we can rightly expect the Lord to fully and completely meet all our needs, what we want does not always equate with what is essential to our lives. More pointedly, the Bible is clear that what we truly need to live extends far beyond material things. Related to this, the glorious riches of God to which Paul refers here consists of much more than what we equate as wealth.


No, the credit Paul desires to be given to the Philippians is what Jesus once referred to as “storing up treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-21) – meaning, a deeper awareness and experience of the love, peace, and joy that is God. The Philippians put the little money they had where their mouth was, trusting the Lord to provide for their needs and ended up finding their contentment in Christ. In the same way, the less we hold onto in this life, the more we give away, the greater our investment and return in the person of Jesus and the lasting satisfaction we can receive only through Him.


Consider & Discuss | Thoughtfully reflect on how you invest the time, treasures, and talents God has given you. Are your investments being fruitful for the Kingdom of God? Producing a sweet fragrance that glorifies the Lord? Does your giving unto the Lord make room for and testify to the ability of God to supply your needs?


What is your definition of the word “sacrifice”? How is your definition of this word challenged by the example of the Philippians – and more significantly, the witness of Jesus Christ? Who benefits most from a gift to God’s work – the recipient of that gift or the giver of that gift? How does both a deeper sense of relationship and partnership develop out of a posture of generosity? What are some ways you have experienced a deeper sense of relationship and partnership with other followers of Jesus through either their generosity or your own?


Prayer Focus | Big-hearted, open-handed Father, there is nothing we have that You have not given us. All we have and all we are by Your grace alone. We say this but Lord, give us the faith and the strength to live this way. For even the will and the courage we need to be generous is something only You can provide. On our own, apart from You, we consume more than we give away. We spend selfishly rather than invest selflessly. We resist any call to sacrifice for others by insisting upon and defending our rights over against those who are in need. Teach us to freely and joyfully give away whatever You bless us with, so we rely less on what we have and depend more on what You provide. Lead us to be faithful over a few things so that we may be entrusted to share Your glory through all things. May we, as Your Body, be generous in order to fully reflect Your generosity towards all creation – sparing not even Your Son, Jesus Christ, for our salvation. Amen.