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Series:  Philippians:  A Letter of Life in Jesus - Part Nine

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 7, 2003

Please turn with me to Philippians 4 - starting at verse 10.

A couple of years ago our neighbors brought home this cute adorable little rottweiler puppy - that soon grew into this huge muscular dog. In order to keep this dog in his own yard our neighbor ended up building a retaining wall and fence - a small fortress. When I could I went over and helped - putting boards in place - pounding nails. Which made me feel good. I’d helped my neighbor.

One day our neighbor and I were talking about our yard. I happened to mention a problem I was having with some ivy - common - everyone has some in their yard - garden variety ivy. Which I’m allergic to. If I touch ivy I get an itchy rash that lasts for weeks. We had this large patch of ivy which kept threatening to take over a section of the yard. For me to remove it would have been a life threatening experience. Our neighbor said he would come over and get rid of the ivy.

Suddenly I felt very uncomfortable. I was going to be at a disadvantage - indebted to my neighbor. Even with my great need I struggled to accept his graciousness.

Put differently - when you go out to a restaurant with someone else - a group - or another couple - who pays?

Jesus said that, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) It’s also easier.

In the church there are those who have needs and there are those who need to give. Often we struggle with this - with giving and receiving - because of our pride. We’re tempted to give with prideful motives. We hold back from sharing our needs because of our pride. Money and things and need can be a source of division and tension and awkwardness even between God’s people. And yet - God has placed us here together and given us a tremendous opportunity to care for each other.

That’s Paul’s concern - his focus in Philippians 4:10-20 - Paul encouraging the church to care and to be being cared for without all the awkwardness and feelings that we struggle with.

Look with me at Paul’s teaching - verse 10: But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.

Remember that Paul is under arrest in Rome - a man with needs. The Philippian church - seeing the opportunity - had sent Epaphroditus to Rome - probably with money to meet Paul’s needs.

Verse 11: Not that I speak from want - I haven’t asked for help and I’m not asking for help now. I’m not writing in desperation - for I have learned to be content - I really don’t need anything - for I’ve learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.

Verse 12 - here’s how - I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

In other words, “Thank you for the gift. I appreciate and rejoice in your generosity. And the gift - the gift isn’t really what’s important to me.”

Paul’s first point about caring and being cared for: It’s not the money that’s important. Don’t focus on the things we give each other.

Today we have more things - more wealth - more toys - more abundance - more reasons to be optimistic - and yet more emptiness - more depression - more emotional pain than at any time in history. Many people go to bed exhausted and wake up tired. We're hurried - harried - harassed - and helpless.

It’s been said that there are many things that money cannot buy. Money can buy: A bed but not sleep. Books but not brains. Food but not an appetite. Finery but not beauty. A house but not a home. Medicine but not health. Pleasures but not peace. Luxuries but not culture. Amusements but not joy. A crucifix but not a Savior. A church building but not heaven (1)

On December 7, 1988 an earthquake devastated much of Northern Armenia. Whole towns ceased to exist. Gumri - a city of 250,000 was brought to its knees. In a short period of time over 25,000 people died. 100,000 plus were homeless.

That summer I went to Armenia and I saw the devastation. I can’t describe it. I wish I could. Piles of rubble that had been schools. Apartment buildings that were mounds of concrete. And the stories - everyone had lost someone. In many cases whole families were lost except for a single small child or a grieving parent.

In Gumri - in center of the city was a large church - split into two halves - the center section had collapsed. Every building around the city center was damaged. There sitting on a curb in front of a church was an old woman - wearing black. I asked her, “How are you doing?” She looked up at me and said, “I’m praising God.”

It’s not the things that are important. Say this with me. “It’s not the stuff.”

Verse 13 - read this out loud with me - together: I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

I - the recipient - can do all things - living even in these circumstances - through Him - God - the source - who strengthens me - the means of my living - His strength which is what I really need.

At the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia - the diving competition figured to belong to the Chinese. Li Na and Sang Xue of China - in their prime at ages 16 and 15 - apparent heirs of China’s diving dynasty - winners of other major international competitions - Li and Sang had placed first and second going into the finals of the 10 meter platform. One would go home with the gold. One with the silver.

Laura Wilkinson - ancient at the age of 22 - came into the finals having placed eighth. Three months before the Olympics Wilkinson had broken her foot while training. She would need surgery when she returned home to Texas. That she was even in the finals was a major upset. A testimony to determination and fortitude.

Needless to say Wilkinson was not expected to win. For 36 years no US woman had won a gold on the platform. In pain, Wilkinson hobbled on a broken foot to the platform. And she won.

The San Francisco Chronicle said this, “Then, just as she does before each dive and every ascent of the platform, she recited Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. That might explain why pressures such as a broken foot, an eighth place ranking, a 36 year gold drought, two young Chinese women and the legacy they uphold didn’t rattle her.” (2)

It’s not the money - the stuff we have in life - that brings contentment - that give us what we need to keep going - that frees us to love God and love others more deeply - to reach out with the Gospel. What we really need in life doesn’t come from having more things. It comes from God.

If we’re going to care for each other - giving and receiving care without all the awkwardness and attitudes - we need to get our eyes off of the stuff - who has it - who doesn’t - and see it as a means not the end. What God is really giving us is the opportunity to share His love, His grace, His mercy - to tangibly reach out in His name or to be touched in love through a brother and sister in Jesus. And that’s a far greater gift than all the things we count as important.

Verse 14: Nevertheless, you - Philippians - have done well to share with me - Paul - in my affliction. The Philippians we’re looking for the opportunity - and without all the awkwardness and attitudes - they gave.

Paul’s second point about caring and being cared for begins in verse 15: You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.

There were at least three other occasions when the Philippians had supported Paul - about 10 years earlier when he’d left Macedonia. Then again when he was in Thessalonica.

Verse 17: Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.

The gift isn’t something to desire. What’s desirable is the investment value - the bottom line of profit - growth in our spiritual account - what counts in our relationship with God.

Here’s his point - verse 18: But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphrodtitus what you have sent - having once again received from you a gift of support - which is - a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

Paul’s second point - it’s not the gift that’s important - What’s important is our heart before God.

I know a man - not here - a man who was so disgusted - offended - with the direction worship - and in particular music - had gone in his church - that every time the church sang his favorite hymn he donated $100. It would have been interesting to sing his favorite hymn five or six times in one service and see what would have happen. Have you ever seen this? People who give or withdraw support in an effort to influence the church - or people - to do things their way.

In the Old Covenant a priest would take a male animal as an offering to God. He would lay his hand on the head of the offering - symbolizing identification. In a sense transferring his sin guilt to the animal. The animal taking his place as Jesus took ours on the cross. Then the priest would cut the animal into pieces and lay it on the burning altar - as Jesus was sacrificed for us. The smell would rise up - a soothing aroma - well pleasing to God. (Leviticus 1) Pleasing because of the heart attitude of the one making the offering.

Paul writes in Romans 12:1: “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Every Sunday - at the top of our Worship Bulletin - is the reference for this verse. A reminder. We’re not here for our own egos and self-gratification. Worship isn’t some great act of religious piety on our part. Access to worship comes only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. To worship requires the sacrifice of our lives - our hearts before God - through Jesus.

Paul says, “I’ve received in full - in abundance - not just because of what you sent with Epaphroditus - but because what you sent was acceptable to God.” In giving - and receiving - its not the transaction of stuff between us that counts. What counts is our hearts sacrificed before God.

Verse 19: And - as we give from lives totally given to God - my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

“My God” - the source - “shall” - the certainty that He will - “supply all” - the extent of His supply - like taking an empty bucket and pouring water into it until the water is flowing over the edge and still He keeps pouring. My God shall supply all “your needs” - not wants - but what we really need - to know God - salvation - purpose in life - our daily needs.

Do you remember Zaccheus? Short - bald - rude - obnoxious man - kind of like Danny DeVito in Taxi. Zaccheus was a tax-collector - he took advantage of his own people by working for the Romans. He was getting rich. By the standards of our society - focused on things - Zaccheus was very successful. But Zaccheus' wealth had failed him. He was without friends - without hope - insecure - with deep inner needs. When Jesus passed through Jericho - perhaps because of these deep inner needs - Zaccheus climbed up a Sycamore tree - just to see Jesus.

When Jesus passed under that tree where Zaccheus was seated, He stopped and said, "Zaccheus, hurry and come down out of that tree. Regardless of what everyone else may think of you - whatever you may think of yourself - I'm going to befriend you today. I'm going to stay at your house." Then these words - powerful - life changing: "Today salvation has come to your house."

Zaccheus had all his needs supplied. His life was changed. He gave ½ of his possessions to the poor. Instead of stealing from people he started giving back what he had stolen at 4 times the amount he had stolen. What he had - materially meant nothing - compared to how his life - his deepest inner need - had been supplied by knowing Jesus. (Luke 19:1-10)

Zaccheus understood what Paul is talking about - giving - not coming from what we achieve on our own. But giving coming from a life - a heart - sacrificed - responding to what God has done for us.

Verse 20 is a doxology - a response of praise to God for His care of His children. Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Finally - verse 21 - Paul closes his letter with these words of greeting: Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Don’t miss this. Notice three groups of people. “Brethren” - who were Paul’s co-workers - his mission team. “Saints” - who were the church in Rome - Jews and Gentiles - slaves and free. Third - “those of Caesar’s household” - the Imperial guard - converts who had newly come to faith in Jesus.

There’s purpose in these verses - a reminder of who we are to one another. Regardless of background - social or economic status - what we have or don’t have - we’re one together in Jesus Christ. We’re brothers and sisters with the same Father. We belong to each other.

God gives to us such a great opportunity to care for one another. As Christians we need to resist the temptation to focus on ourselves. To keep in mind that things are not important - they’re a means not the end. Because what we really need comes from God. We need to be open - sacrificed - to what He wants to do in us and through us for each other.

1.  Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations
2.  San Francisco Chronicle, 09.25.2000, A10

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible
®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.