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, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The friends[i] who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Seemingly, Philippi had a reputation from the earliest days for their generation. Their generosity was seen by Paul as a sacrifice to God that Paul describes as “an odour of sweet savour”, a description often used in the Old Testament to describe a sacrifice that was acceptable to God. (Genesis 8 v 21 and Leviticus 1v 9, 13, 17). Paul was pleased with the gift because their generosity was an expression of their love for others. It was not as if Paul either requested their help or even needed it.
It seems that in the 20th Century that the spirit of generosity had been lost. My wife tells the story of an experience she had as a teenager in the 1950’s. The church she attended at that time had arranged an outing for the children as a reward for regular attendance at Sunday school. The only issue being that the adults organising the event felt the children should pay towards the cost. My wife Beryl, being Beryl, argued that as a reward the children should enjoy the treat free of charge as earlier treats for which a charge had been made had made a profit for the church, but the adults attending might pay a contribution to the costs. Her argument went down like a lead balloon. The attitude was one of protecting the financial status of the church rather than reach out in generosity to encourage the children to come to learn more about the love of Jesus.
Returning to Philippi, Paul concludes with greetings to members of that congregation. Especially, he greets Christians who were members of “Caesar’s household”, not his family, but members of the civil service. Clearly, Christians had infiltrated the highest authority in the land.
Generous God, willing to even sacrifice Your Son at Calvary for the forgiveness of our weaknesses and sin. Help us to be generous to those who are both near and far away. May our actions be a reflection of your generosity to us, even though we don’t deserve it. Amen.
The Rev’d Colin Hunt, retired minister, worshipping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex