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You might say that it is at this point at the end of this letter that Paul gets down to business. You might say it’s all very well and good to talk about being in Christ and humility and unity and all the things we’ve been talking about, but let’s get down to business and talk about the money. You might say that everything Paul has been saying has been a preamble for him to talk about the part that really matters – the cash.
I would say you’re wrong but you might say those things.
Paul has received a gift from the Philippians. A monetary gift. Epaphroditus brought it to him. The thing about money is it can make things weird, particularly among friends. We live in a society in which many of our relationships are primarily transactional – I provide a good or a service and you provide me with money or vice versa. Things can get slightly complicated when friendship is involved. I was under spiritual direction for some time with Sarah Patterson, who some of you know. She’s moved out west with her husband Rob, but I used to see her once a month and talk about what God was doing in my life, it was good. The handover of money, however always felt a bit awkward (and maybe it was just me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were just me, it’s been known to happen). I used to put the payment in a little offering style envelope that I would get from Jennifer and leave it on this little table. It just felt a little strange.
“Money Changes Everything” is the name of a song from my youth. Does it though? Let us look at how Paul addresses the gift he has received from his beloved Philippians sisters and brothers and hear what God has to say to our hearts this morning.
Paul begins with a theme that has been recurring throughout this letter. “I rejoice (or as the note in our Bibles has it “I rejoiced”) in the Lord greatly now that at last, you have revived your concern for me….” This is not a case of “Whoohooo” I’m so happy to receive this money. It’s a case of rejoicing in the Lord. This has been our theme all summer. How being in Christ, how being in the Lord, reconfigures our relationships with God and with one another. They had no opportunity to show their concern, which Paul knew existed all along. The word that has been translated “revived” here is a word used for new growth – for blossoming. This gift is tangible evidence of new growth and blossoming within the Philippian church, and for this Paul rejoices.
“Not that I needed it,” continues Paul. You see the fine line he is walking here between acknowledging this gift with love and restating what he has been talking about from the beginning of the letter. They do not depend on one another. Their walk in Christ is not dependent on whether or not Paul is there. Our walk in Christ is not dependent on a leader, though of course we can be greatly influenced in our walk in Christ by a leader. Paul longed to be with them again, but whether he was present or absent he wanted them to live their lives worthy of their citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven so that he would know they were standing in one spirit and striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the good news of Christ.
This gift that he has received is tangible evidence that the Philippians are indeed doing just that and are growing in the image of Christ. Not that he needed it. He was not in a patron/client relationship with the Philippians. They did not owe him anything. He’s not their patron. He’s not saying “Thanks for the gift, you really owed me after all the work I did for you in Philippi.” He’s not demanding anything. Gustave Flaubert put it like this – “Of all the winds that blow on love, the demand for money is the coldest and most destructive.” Paul is not their client either. He’s not in a position where being in receipt of a monetary gift means that the Philippians can make demands on him. It would be like being on a search committee that puts forward a recommendation to hire a pastor and then feeling that that pastor owed you something from here on out because everything is a quid pro quo. This was how so many relationships functioned in the ancient world. Even friendships were largely between people of equal social status. Gifts were given and they were expected to be returned and if the person was honourable they were to be returned in even greater measure. We get this today, right? You go to someone’s house for a dinner party and so often part of the conversation around the good-bye is “Oh we’ll have you over very soon” like we’re in some kind of quid pro quo situation.
Or maybe you really just find them companionable and want to get together again.
This part of the letter has been called Paul’s “thankless thanks”. It’s not so much about thanking though, as it is making a point about God and who we are in Christ. “It was kind of you to share my distress,” writes Paul in v14. That’s what we do. We share joys, sorrows, burdens, rejoicing. I didn’t need the gift, writes Paul, because “I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” The word for content here is self-sufficient. It’s a word that was big among stoics at the time. The whole point of stoicism was to accept whatever circumstance you were in. William Barclay describes this philosophy like this – “a state of mind in which a man was absolutely and entirely independent of all things and of all people, a state in which a man had taught himself to need nothing and to need no one…The Stoic rightly believed that contentment did not consist in possessing much but in wanting little… The Stoic believed that the only way to be content was to abolish all desire until a man had come to a stage when nothing and no one was essential to him… The Stoic proposed to eliminate all emotion, all feeling, until he had come to a stage when he did not care what happened to him or anyone else.” While Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is still fairly popular, you can see why stoicism did not really take off.
Stoicism said, like so much of what we hear today, that the secret to finding contentment is within yourself. Paul did not find the secret within himself. I have not found the secret within myself. If you are a follower of Christ, you have not found the secret within yourself and this is good because we were never meant to. To find the secret is to find it in Christ – in casting ourselves in complete and utter dependence on the mercy and grace of Christ. “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” To know what it is to live with loss – whether it’s loss of income, loss of relationships, loss of health. To know what it is to live with plenty and live in a way that honours God – to live justly in the midst of abundance which can be a very difficult thing for us. Something for us to discern continually.
We were never meant to do these things on our own. What is the secret? V13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” I can face any circumstance, whether it’s privation or abundance, through Christ, in Christ, who gives me the strength. As one translation puts it “I have strength for all things through the one who strengthens me.”
I have strength for all things through the one who strengthens me. I have strength for all things in Christ.
What a wonderful truth!
V14 “In any case, it was kind of you to share in my distress.”
Because this is what life in Christ has always been about for the Philippians. Sharing. Life. Together. In Christ. I know there is encouragement in Christ. I know that there is consolation from love. I know that there is sharing in the Spirit. Compassion. Sympathy. This is what Paul tells his Philippian family at the start of chapter 2. We talked about how we have seen the same things here. Encouragement. Consolation in love rooted in Christ who loves us. Sharing in the Spirit. This has worked itself out in practical ways because all theology is practical. Our theology shapes our ethics. Paul remembers how God has been at work among them – V15-16“You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving (money), except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once.” Paul then talks about the reason he rejoices. V17 “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account.” Paul is not even saying that he’s happy about the gift because of how it will help his ministry – maybe he’s using it to pay guards to get the message of the gospel out. Paul is seeking the profit that accumulates to their account. He’s using the language of commerce here, ironically. He’s not talking about money at that point. The word used for profit is the word used for harvest or fruit – as in the fruit of the Spirit. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self- control. It was kind of you to share my distress, Paul writes. The gift is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work within the Philippians.
When we are giving freely of our resources here; when we are asking God to teach us what it means to be people who live with open hands; when we are asking God to teach us what it means to do without; when we are asking God to give us a spirit of generosity with all the gifts he has given us – our time, the things we are good at, our money; when we are asking God to help us to see these things, not as things to be held onto or grasped or sought after as the primary thing in our lives that we seek after; when we are opening ourselves to God and seeking his Kingdom and his righteousness; when we are seeing this spirit being manifested in our faith community, then we have cause to rejoice.
And we see it. We saw it when we felt called to sponsor a refugee family. We saw it when we felt called to send another team to Bolivia. We see it when people give of their time at Out of the Cold, at our summer camp, in our worship services, in all the different ways and opportunities that God puts in front of us to dispense the gifts that He has so freely given us. This is the profit that accumulates to our account. The fruits of a person who is being transformed by the Spirit of Christ. We don’t look at our relationships at that point in terms of quid pro quos – in terms of favours asked for, granted, and returned. We don’t look at our relationships in terms of client/patron, boss/underling(minion). God is our patron. God is our patron who opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing. Life in Christ means a sharing in that same spirit.
V 18 “I have been paid in full,” writes Paul. Knowing that God is at work among them in this way is payment for Paul. Knowing that the gifts they give are a fragrant offering – just like those thank offerings in the OT were. Which were burned of course. If this image seems strange to you, just think of steaks on the grill! A fragrant offering. A sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Paul wrote to the Romans in that well known and well-loved verse Romans 12:1 – “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God (in light of God’s mercy to us), to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Everything we are. Everything we have. Not simply what might be left over once we take care of ourselves first, because after all, we have to take care of ourselves first. No. Everything we have. Everything we are. This is your spiritual worship. Everything we are, everything we have, even the cash. This shouldn’t make us uncomfortable. I’m not going to make a demand for money because I tend to agree with Flaubert – “Of all the winds that blow on love, the demand for money is the coldest and most destructive.” The appeal rather, the invitation, is to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, that way be people who profit – who bear the fruit of the Spirit. It’s not about lording it over anyone or gaining influence or winning friends even, it’s about winning in the thing that means the most in the world – a life in which we are being transformed into the image of Christ, pressing on together, looking forward to that day in which we will be conformed to the body of his glory.
Which is where Paul finishes – “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever.” Glory meaning not only honour but God’s presence. May God’s presence be felt by us and through us as we continue to seek Him and do His will for us here in our faith community. May these things be true of us, family.