Throughout the history of Christianity individual churches have been remembered for different things, some good and some bad. In Philippi we have a picture of a church that is remembered because it remembered. It remembered the apostle Paul in his moments of great financial necessity. We remember it for its example of true Christian compassion and stewardship.
When Paul first came to the city of Philippi in Macedonia there were no Christians, for he was the first missionary. It was only as Paul began to preach and teach the Old Testament that a small group of believers gathered around him. These Christians were attached to Paul, because through him God had called them to faith in Jesus Christ and through him God brought great blessing. These Christians loved Paul and wished to help him, and they continued their interest in him even after he had moved on to other cities. For a short time after he had left Philippi, Paul worked in Thessalonica. Since this was near Philippi the Philippians sent a messenger to find out how Paul was doing. Word came back that Paul was in financial need. They took a collection and sent it to him. Later when they had heard that the need continued they did the same thing again (Phil 4:16). In Paul’s mind the gift from the Philippians was a shrub that had flowered, as it were, in spring after a long winter. It was a sacrifice to God for which Paul was thankful.
Paul’s pleasure at the gift that the Philippian Christians had sent was not merely for his own sake, however. He was pleased for their sake also. For he knew, as we should all know, that a gift actually benefits the giver more than it benefits the one who receives it. This is true on the human level, but it is even more true spiritually, for Paul writes that in God’s sight the gift would appear as fruit credited to their personal account (v. 17). We often think of the fruit of Christianity only in terms of character, primarily as the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. But other things are said to be fruit of the Christian life also. Converts are the fruit of our labors for the Lord Jesus Christ. Money given to help another Christian is called fruit. According to this text we may say that our gifts to others are encouraged by God, noticed by God, and much desired by Him.
Perhaps someone is going to ask at this point, “Well, what about tithing? Doesn’t the Bible say that we are only required to give a tenth of all earned income”? The answer to that question is that the Bible does speak about tithing, but that was for Jews under the Old Testament laws. “Well then,” you say, “doesn’t that mean that we are released entirely from the requirement to give”? Yes, is a sense we are, for we are not under law; we are under grace. But if you understand what it means to be under grace the standard does not go down – it goes up! For instance, the Sermon on the Mount is not law as the Ten Commandments are law; it is an ethic to be lived out by God’s grace in the lives of regenerate people. But because it is by grace, the standard goes up. We are not under law as regard to percentages, but we do have a high level of responsibility for the support of other Christians and Christian work. We are responsible for determining God’s will where our own individual stewardship is concerned.
Finally, let me call your attention to another phrase in this section that also deserves to be noticed. It should encourage us in a special form of stewardship. It occurs in verse 15; the last three words say “…except you only.” You only! Not only were the Philippians distinguished by the fact that they had remembered Paul in his need – that was significant – they had also been the only ones to remember him.
Do you want real joy in this world, real fruit in your Christian ministry? If so, let me suggest this; seek for ways in which you can help someone, particularly in those areas in which only you know the problem. God will show you how. The other person will think that no one understands their need or no one is aware of their problem. Then your gift or your word of encouragement will come. Then they will be overjoyed; and if they are a Christian, they will see it as another way which God uses people as channels of His faithful provision and blessing.
I cannot tell you who the person is whom you could help. I cannot tell you what the circumstances will be of even what you can do. That will vary. You will have to find it out for yourself. It might be a person in your own family with a unique need, perhaps one of your children who desperately need someone to do something special for him or her, or your wife or husband who needs understanding. It might be someone at work who thinks that no one cares about him. It might be someone at church. It might be a stranger. It might be a financial need. It might be a word of encouragement. Whatever it is, God will help you to find it if you ask Him. And He will give you great joy in being the one, like the Philippians, who did not forget, but remembered.
Philippians 4:10-18 Reflection Questions:
Are you always asking and looking for ways God can use you to bless someone else?
Are you a good steward of your money?
What does the word stewardship mean to you?
Who is God putting on your heart now to bless?