Generosity is a defining feature of the Christian life and witness. The Church at Philippi was exemplary in love, resilience and partnership in the Gospel. However, not many are familiar with their partnership in the “defence and confirmation of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:7). Paul celebrates this partnership in the Gospel (Phil 1:5; 1:7, 4:15) with the Church.
The Church at Philippi
Philippi was one of the flourishing Roman colonies and enjoyed a special status in Macedonia. Not surprisingly, Luke calls it a “chief city” (Acts 16:12). The Church was founded through the evangelising efforts of Apostle Paul during his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:36—18:22).
Subsequently, the Church grew in numbers. The epistolary address to “overseers and deacons” (Phil 1:1) is indicative of a large number of Christians (Saints 1v1).
The Church at Philippi was dear to Paul, and they were eager to support him. We can learn many lessons from the Church at Philippi in fostering fruitful partnerships with those directly involved in Christian nurture and evangelism.
Firstly, the Church at Philippi was a giving Church
The Church at Philippi was generous, much like the other Christians in Macedonia who were known for their liberal giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-15). However, Apostle Paul had a special place for the Church: “I hold you in my heart” (1v7) and “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1v8).
The Church at Philippi supported Paul’s ministry with prayers and financial gifts. They helped Paul financially twice before (Phil 4:15 -18). Paul was dear to the Church, and when the Church heard of Paul’s Roman confinement, they sent him a gift again.
Paul was overwhelmed by the Church’s special concern (Phil. 4:10). He writes: “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied” (Phil. 4:18). The Epistle to the Philippians is also a thank you note in response to the generous gift sent with Epaphroditus.
Christian giving is an act of worship. Interestingly, Paul recognises the Church’s gift as “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18). Paul’s choice of words here is reminiscent of God’s response to Noah (Gen. 8:21).
We may give to the Church. But, how much do we give as a Church? What efforts do we take as a Church to become partners in the Gospel and support the work? Do we give generously, knowing that our giving is a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God?
Secondly, the Church’s giving was consistent
The Church’s deep love and affection for Paul began from Paul’s initial visit to Philippi when they offered Paul a place to stay. Subsequently, the Church became a partner in giving (and receiving) whenever Paul was in desperate need of support.
The Church at Philippi gave generously, but more importantly, they gave consistently. They helped him when Paul left Macedonia. They provided for Paul’s needs in Thessalonica. They sent Epaphroditus to attend to Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome.
The Church was eager to help and looked for opportunities to support Paul. So it is no surprise that support for Paul featured consistently in the Church’s list. The constant connect, and consistent giving helped to amplify Paul’s efforts.
Generous giving was something that the Church at Philippi did without the need for applause. Generosity was a vital part of the Church’s DNA. Such consistent giving is possible only by creating an eco-system in which people are taught to respond to needs in love.
Our support must be consistent. Only with consistent giving can we help keep Mission initiatives going. Likewise, innovative and creative initiatives need consistent support from a committed group to produce results.
Thirdly, the Church’s giving was timely.
The Church at Philippi took timely action to respond to Paul’s immediate needs ( Acts 18:5; 2 Cor. 11: 7 – 10; Phil 4: 15 – 16). The Church came forward to help when Paul was in dire need as he left Macedonia. Their generous giving had a beneficial impact.
The Church was eager to “share in his troubles” and continuously revived their interest in Paul’s missional engagements. The Church’s financial gift to Paul in Thessalonica came at the right time to meet his pressing needs (Phil4:16).
Even the Church’s gift to Paul during his Roman imprisonment through Epaphroditus was timely. It was common knowledge that prisoners suffered from inhuman treatment and appalling conditions in Rome. Prisoners were not fed, and they needed to be attended to by family or friends for their basic needs.
Despite his special status as a Roman Citizen, Paul suffered hunger, unhygienic conditions and cold weather. When the Church heard this, they sent Epaphroditus to minister to Paul’s needs (Phil 2:25). They also sent financial gifts with Epaphroditus to meet food expenses and other basic needs.
Epaphroditus, the helper, sent by the Church at Philippi, fell sick and even had a close brush with death (Phil 2: 30). Paul recognises the sacrificial and timely services of Epaphroditus (Phil 2: 25 – 30).
Paul’s constant stream of information was heard and responded to by the believers. The Church’s timely action was a simple and beautiful display of support. It was much easier for the Church to support Paul’s pressing needs due to their familiarity and long-standing relationship.
How are we connected to those working in Church’s Mission? Do we revive our interests in the work so that we are aware of their pressing needs? An emotional connect with Missions, and timely action can provide relief and reassurance for those working for the Lord.
Fourthly, the Church at Philippi was strategic in its giving.
The Church’s support for Paul’s work was definitely a counter-trend. When Paul left Macedonia, no church came forward to support him (Phil 4:15). However, the Church at Philippi came forward to support Paul’s ongoing missionary work (Phil 4:15b).
It is interesting to note that this Church could see further than others. They had the grace to see the value of Paul’s work and therefore eagerly supported him. Paul’s tone of an immense sense of gratitude (Phil. 4:14) to the Philippians reveals the magnitude of its significance for his Gospel work.
Frontier thinking does not come easy. It is easy to support ‘pet projects’ or copy-cat initiatives uncritically. But it takes spiritual eyes to see the impact of creative, innovative and path-breaking initiatives.
Christian giving is not giving for giving sake. Rather, Christian giving needs to be strategic. We need to support strategic Mission initiatives, particularly those that seek to go where no one goes, do what no one does,
Like the Church at Philippi, we are called to support creative, innovative and path-breaking Mission initiatives. Therefore, we need to make an effort to locate strategic Mission initiatives and build solid partnerships.
Christian giving is an important aspect of Christian living. The measure of a Church’s fruitfulness is demonstrated in its giving for Kingdom concerns. The Church at Philippi was exemplary in giving, and their every act of generosity was a fruit to their credit ( Phil 4:17).
The Church does not exist for itself. We, as a Church, must demonstrate our unconditional love, sincere faith and living hope through acts of service. Well established local Churches – wealthy or otherwise – must engage in some partnership with younger Churches or frontier Missions. The Church at Philippi offers exciting new ways for partnership in the Gospel as we look ahead.