COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“15Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.18Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” NKJV(Philippians 4:15-18)
Members of the body of Christ are interdependent, not independent. The various ministries found in the individuals are supported and complemented by others in the body. This is God’s manner, and the way in which the Lord Jesus ministers to His people. This arrangement guarantees the nourishment of each member. It also knits them together, and produces spiritual increase(Col 2:19; Eph 4:15-16). The Philippians excelled in this matter, and thus receive a commendation that is immortalized in Scripture.
YOU WERE THE ONLY ONES
“15Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.”NKJV. “The beginning of the Gospel,”refers to when it was first preached in Macedonia (about ten years ago). This was not when the Gospel began, but when it began to be made known in that area. It was in Troas, in the night, when Paul was called to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:8-10). This was a fruitful ministry, and is mentioned twenty-six times in Scripture. Philippi was the “chief city” in the Northwestern part of Macedonia (Acts 16:12). Lydia and her household were among the very first believing the Gospel in that region (Acts 16:13-15). It was also the place where Paul confronted a woman with the spirit of divination, who “brought her masters much gain by soothsaying” (Acts 16:16-18). That incident occasioned the well-known imprisonment of Paul and Silas in Philippi, where the jailer was converted (Acts 16:19-31). Thus, “the beginning of the Gospel”for that region was occasioned by great victory, and great trial as well. Paul told the Thessalonians (where he went after Philippi), that he and his colleagues were “shamefully treated” in Philippi (1 Thess 2:2).
“No church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only.” Here are some heart-breaking words. “Giving and receiving” refers to the exchange of earthly things for the ministry of spiritual things. The Spirit refers to this exchange in 1 Corinthians 9:11 and Romans 15:27. In this case, the Philippians received the Gospel and its benefits, then communicated, or shared, their earthly provisions with Paul. When Jesus first sent out the twelve, He told them to take no provisions “for the workman is worthy of his meat” (Matt 10:5-10). This casts a different light upon giving. It shows that God provides for the proclaimer of the Gospel through those who profit from his ministry–a principle inculcated under the Law, and confirmed under the New Covenant. As it is written, “Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:13-14).
The Gospel can produce a liberal spirit in the believer in those who joyfully receive it, and such was the case with the brethren in Philippi. However, this also distinguished them from other churches. They were the ONLY ones who faithfully ministered to Paul’s needs. Paul refers to their liberality in his letter to the Corinthians. “I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you . . . for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied” (2 Cor 11:8-9). These precious brethren were consistent. “Even in Thessalonica,” where Paul went after being in Philippi, they sent him “aid again and again” when he was in “need”NIV.
I cannot help but note the spiritual sensitivity of Paul to the liberality of the Philippians. Having experienced a similar outpouring of generosity, I know the ministry it has to the human spirit. Such gifts buoy up the spirit, and impart strength to the inner man. They also are a means of distinguishing churches--brethren that excel in “the grace of giving” NIV (2 Cor 8:7).
FRUIT THAT ABOUNDS TO YOUR ACCOUNT
“17Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.” NKJV. The covetous spirit is a most dangerous one. It moved Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, to request a talent of silver and two changes of garments from Naaman (2 Kgs 5:21-22). Peter says that “false prophets” are driven by“coveteousness” (2 Pet 2:3). Paul reminded the Thessalonians he had not come to them with “a cloak for coveteousness,” using flattering speech and subtle means to obtain their resources (1 Thess 2:5). Grace had effectively taught him to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Tit 2:11-12).
Even though he was “in need” and “distressed,” he did not “seek a gift.” To “seek” a gift means to search for, demand, and apply energy toward receiving one. Here is an extraordinary spirit–yet, it is a Kingdom standard. Love, we are apprized, “does not seek its own”NKJV (1 Cor 13:5). There is no question about the legitimacy of Paul’s work. He was “called to be an Apostle,” and “separated unto the Gospel of God” (Rom 1:1). If anyone could make demands for gifts, it would be Paul. He had a “right” to do so, yet made no such demands. He confessed to the Corinthians, “Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:12). It was not that Paul coveted gifts and suppressed the desire. He did NOT seek them. Grace had so affected his heart that he thought of himself last of all. In “lowliness of mind,” he did “esteem others better than himself” (Phil 2:3). In this regard, he reflected “the mind of Christ.”
While not seeking his own interests, however, Paul did seek the welfare of his brethren. He sought for “fruit” that would “abound,” or superabound, to the “account” of the Philippians. He carefully informs them he is not hinting for another gift. Just as when he first preached the Gospel to them, he was still seeking their welfare. In this case, it was the enlargement of their“account.” Behind this term is the knowledge of a heavenly record of the deeds of men. We are told men will be “judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Rev 20:12). Approximately 550 years before Jesus, Daniel wrote, “the judgment was set, and the books were opened” (Dan 7:10). Almost a thousand years before Christ Solomon wrote,“He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, And He will pay back what he has given” (Prov 19:17). Jesus said, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward” (Matt 10:41). Paul recognized this vital aspect of the Kingdom.
Meticulous accounts are maintained in heaven. No good work goes unnoticed. Godly preachers and teachers, like Paul, take that into consideration. They desire a productive account for those who bear the name of Jesus. They are not content for believers to have meager records in heaven. Jesus revealed the high regard of heaven for sacrificial giving when he observed a widow putting “all her living” into the Temple treasury (Mark 12:42-44). In her gift, she revealed her high estimation of the Lord and His service. That is the way it was with the Philippians. Their response to Paul revealed their high regard for the Gospel, and thus was duly noted in heaven.
A SWEET AROMA AND ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE
“18Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.”NKJV The marvelous impact of grace upon the heart is seen in these words. Although he was in prison, facing death itself, he confesses “I am filled”RSV. When he says, “I have all,” he refers to the loving compensation the Gospel has produced. The NIV reads,“I have received full payment and even more,” and the RSV “I have received full payment, and more.” The idea is that their gift matched the magnitude of the ministry they received from Paul. His bread had returned on the waters of Philippian liberality (Eccl 11:1).
We do not know the substance or size of the “things sent from” these brethren to Paul. The size of a gift is really determined by what is left, not what is given. Indicating the sacrificial nature of this giving, Paul told the Corinthians he had “robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister” to them (2 Cor 11:8). It was the NATURE of their gift that brought such rich satisfaction to Paul. His labors has not been in vain, as was confirmed by their liberality. How different from the concerns he had for the brethren in Galatia (Gal 4:11). There are people upon whom Kingdom labors are wasted, or “in vain.” Once Paul sent to learn about the faith of the Thessalonians, “lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain” (1 Thess 3:5). I fear there is not much of this type of concern among the churches of our time.
The gifts brought to Paul were actually sacrifices to God, “a sweet- smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” Contrast this with the sacrifices offered by some hard-hearted Israelites (Amos 5:21-23). It is the altar of the heart that “sanctifies the gift” (Matt 23:19). The thought of a gift bringing sweetness and satisfaction to the Almighty God is arresting. The sacrifice of Christ had this affect upon God (Eph 5:2). Those who labor for Christ also are so characterized (2 Cor 2:15). The Spirit testifies to us about communicating, or sharing, with the people of God. “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased”NKJV(Heb 13:16). Again, it is written, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Gal 6:6). Those who respond like the Philippians are “rich in good works” (1 Tim 6:18). They have come close enough to the Lord to be used by Him to sustain His workers.
The thought of something being “well pleasing to God” must not escape us. Paul told the Corinthians, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him” (2 Cor 5:9). Even children are told that obeying their parents “is well pleasing to the Lord” (Col 3:20). Such works are actually wrought by God Himself in sensitive souls. As it is written, “Now may the God of peace . . . make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus” (Heb 13:20-21). This is precisely what happened in the Philippians. Paul saw it, and it brought great satisfaction to his heart. His labor was not in vain among them, and their account was abounding in heaven. Like the Philippians, may you never squander your resources, but invest them in the glory of God.