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Supply & Sacrifice

Philippians 4:14-19 - “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. 17Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Introduction:

In this last portion of the apostle Paul’s epistle to the Christians at Philippi, we have one of the great promises of Scripture for the believer. “My God will meet [supply] all your needs.” Wow! That’s a wonderful promise! Does it have any exceptions? Can I claim it for healing when I’m sick? Can I claim it for financial prosperity? Can I claim it for that extra amount of strength I need to win an athletic contest? Are there any limits to this promise?

Right from the start, we should notice that God does not promise to supply all our wants--- but all of our needs! Even so, that’s a huge promise, especially if I define my “needs” by the present-day American standard of living. It’s obvious that we need to look more closely at the context in order to properly interpret this verse, define the limits of this great promise of Scripture, and see the connection between supply and sacrifice.

Background Notes

There were several reasons why Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians. He wrote to encourage the believers in their faith, and also to exhort them to find a solution to the problem of a rift that had developed in the congregation. Another important purpose for the letter was to thank the believers for the financial help which they had sent to him. Epaphroditus had been entrusted with the gift, and he had traveled all the way from Philippi to Rome to bring it to Paul. At this time Paul was under house arrest in Rome. Accused of being a Christian and disturbing the peace in Jerusalem, he was presently awaiting his trial before Caesar.

During this imprisonment Paul was allowed to live in his own rented house, but a Roman soldier was chained to the apostle at all times. As a result, the whole Praetorian Guard heard of Christ (Philippians 1:13). How long do you think you could be chained to the apostle Paul before hearing the gospel?! This reminds me of my seminary days, when President Ford’s son, Mike, was studying at the same seminary. Like the Roman guards assigned to Paul, Mike’s Secret Service “guards” had no choice---they had to sit in with him in the seminary classes, and as a result they heard solid Christian teaching and doctrine!

Paul thanked the Philippian believers for sharing with him in his time of distress. He also let them know that he remembered that they were the only group of believers who had shared with him in earlier days---not one other church had given to meet his needs (4:15)!

When Paul said “in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel,” he was referring to the time about 10 years earlier when he had visited Philippi on his second missionary journey. Paul was staying in Troas on the coast of what is now Turkey, and he received a special message from the Lord to cross the Aegean Sea and bring the gospel to Macedonia. Paul didn’t delay. He set out immediately, and arrived at Philippi, “a Roman colony and the chief city of that district of Macedonia” (Acts 16:11-12). It was at Philippi that the gospel was proclaimed in Europe for the first time. The account is recorded in Acts 16.

When Paul left Philippi he went on to Thessalonica, where he stayed for 2 or 3 weeks (Acts 17). During this time the Philippians sent financial help to Paul on more than one occasion (v17). When Paul moved on to Corinth, the Philippian church continued to support him (2 Corinthians 11:9).

In verses 20-23 we have the conclusion to the letter. “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”

Verse 20 is a wonderful doxology! In the closing salutation (v21-22), notice that Paul said, “Greet everyone...” Paul did not play favorites! He wanted every believer in the Philippian church to receive his greetings and his benediction (v23). “The brothers who are with me send greetings.” These brothers would include Timothy, Epaphroditus and other members of Paul’s team. From verse 22 we learn that the gospel had penetrated into Caesar’s household, perhaps through the Roman guards who were “forced” to listen to the gospel while chained to the apostle Paul!

Doctrinal/Teaching Points:

1. God is pleased with all the sacrifices of generous Christians.

“The gifts you sent...are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (v18). Notice that the generosity of the Philippian believers, and their giving to the work of the Lord, was regarded as acceptable worship to God. Just as the bringing of sacrifices in the Old Testament was the way of worship, so giving to the Lord’s work today is not just an act of service---it is an act of worship. And it is worship that is pleasing to the Lord! The same thought is mentioned in Hebrews 13:16: “Do not forget to... share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Now our giving can’t be a sacrifice if it doesn’t cost us anything! If we give to the Lord only out of our “surplus,” the language of sacrifice loses its meaning. We know that the Philippian believers gave sacrificially, because Paul used them as a model for Christian giving when he wrote to the church at Corinth. “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given to the Macedonian churches [Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea]. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and theextreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Corinthians 8:1-3).

They gave as much as they were able---and then they gave even more! No wonder God blessed them! And God will bless us, too, if we give sacrificially---because God is well pleased with this kind of sacrifice.

Notice in verse 17 that Paul said he was glad they had sent the gift to him---not just to meet his needs, but because of the fruit that would be “credited to their account.” Are you wondering why you don’t seem to be experiencing God’s blessing and fruit in your life? How’s your record of giving to the Lord? Are you stingy -- or are you generous? This passage teaches us today that you will be a fruitful Christian if you willingly give sacrificially to the work of the Lord. God is pleased with all the sacrifices of generous Christians.

2. God will supply all the needs of generous Christians.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (v19). Now there’s a great promise, right? Can believers always claim this promise? Yes---but only in context!

What do we mean, “in context”? When we want to discover the meaning of a verse, we shouldn’t just take that single verse out of its scriptural context and decide what we think it should mean! Scripture was given to us in a “context”---in surrounding passages and entire books, not just single sentences. When we want to interpret a single sentence, we should look at the surrounding verses, the chapter and the book. The surrounding verses are the background, or the “context,” of any verse we want to interpret. The promise of Philippians 4:19 is given to the Philippian believers in the context of their sacrificial giving to the Lord’s work.

Illustration: A few years ago a couple of my former Bible College students, who were now married, called me and told me that God was not fulfilling His promises to them. When I asked what they meant, they said that they were having trouble paying their bills and making ends meet. They told me they had claimed the promise of Philippians 4:19---in fact, they had written out the promise and fastened it to their refrigerator, but every time they went to their empty refrigerator they were reminded that God was not fulfilling His promise to meet their needs!

Now what do you think I said to them? You might think that I said, God doesn’t say He’ll meet all our wants, but all our needs.” No, I didn’t say that, because of course food is a basic need. Rather, I told this couple that they could not claim the promise of Philippians 4:19. What?! I could almost hear their gasps of amazement over the phone. You see, I knew this couple pretty well. As students they had been very active in Christian service. They both had leadership abilities and other spiritual gifts, and they generously used their time and gifts for the Lord. But once they were married, their generous giving of themselves came to a standstill--in fact, even their attendance at church services was sporadic.

So I explained the context of Philippians 4:19 to these former students. This wonderful promise was made to believers who were giving sacrificially to the Lord. This promise was not made to selfish Christians, but to giving Christians! Christians who are selfish or hoarding or unconcerned about others cannot claim this promise!

I challenged them to get involved again, and to start giving of themselves. Even though they didn’t have much money to give, they could give something. And they both could give of their time and spiritual gifts for leading Bible studies or teaching Sunday School classes. But at that point they were doing nothing. They were giving nothing of themselves to the Lord---no time, no spiritual gifts, no money---and therefore they could not claim the promise.

How is it in your life? Are you a giving Christian, or are you a selfish believer? Are you perhaps not giving anything at all to the Lord, or maybe giving just whatever money you can easily spare? Are you selfishly hoarding the time and gifts you could use in your church fellowship, or in a home Bible study, or in helping a sick or elderly believer or neighbor? Are you unconcerned about the needs of hurting believers in other countries, or the needs of fellow-believers who have gone to other lands to share the gospel?

The Old Testament prophet Malachi told the Lord’s people that they were “robbing” the Lord. They asked the Lord, “How do we rob You?” And the Lord replied, “In tithes and in offerings....Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse... and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it’” (Malachi 3:8-9)!

The apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Corinth that if they gave generously to the Lord, He would richly reward them. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). What a great and comprehensive promise: all grace---all things---at all times---all that you need!

Try proving the Lord in this area. What will the result be, if we give generously, and in return receive “all that we need” from the Lord? The end of the verse tells us. The result will be that we “will abound in every good work”---and thus bring further joy and glory to our Lord! God will supply the needs of generous believers.

Practical Applications

1. Remember the little prepositions of Scripture.

Notice that verse 19 does not say that God will supply our needs “out of” His riches in Christ Jesus -- He promises that He will supply our needs “according to” His riches in Christ Jesus. That’s a big difference, and it’s based on the little Greek preposition that is used here.

An illustration will help us see the meaning here. If I were a multimillionaire, and I gave you a gift “out of” my riches, that gift amount might only be a single dollar! But if I were to give a gift to you “according to” my riches, you’re going to get a very large amount of money!

If you’re a giving believer, you can be sure that God is going to bless you---not just “out of” His riches, but “according to” His glorious riches in Christ Jesus! Remember the little prepositions in Scripture!

2. Have you signed up for the best pension plan yet?

As people get older, they begin to get concerned about their financial security for their retirement years. Some people even lose sleep over the situation---even Christians! Well, I’ve got good news for you. You can sign up for the best pension plan available---even now. What pension plan are we talking about? Philippians 4:19, of course. If you’re a ”giving Christian,” you’ll have the best “benefit package” available.

When I left my career as a research scientist to work full time in Christian ministry, I realized that I no longer had a pension plan, a 401K, or retirement benefits. The promise of Philippians 4:19 was very encouraging. I was signing up for a far better “pension plan”--- God will meet all your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus!

You don‘t have to leave your job and go into full time ministry to get into this pension plan---but you do have to be a Christian who gives. Have you signed up for the best pension plan yet?
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