The Richness of the Gospel (Phil. 4:10-23)

Publié le 13 juin 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Pastor Sam Niblack

More than any of Paul’s letters, Philippians is the most joyful, the most uplifting, the most encouraging. (We thought it would be useful to study it considering the covid situation…) In this letter, we discover that Paul himself is a joyful and encouraging person. This is extremely unusual given his circumstances! This letter lists things that could rob us of joy: in ch 1) prison, persecution, ch2), the illness of a close friend, ch 3) the yoke of a religion and the feeling of never being able to do enough for God, or the pride of those who believe they are succeeding, (it’s hard to be a proud and joyful person!); ch 4) interpersonal conflict (which seems to impact the whole church), with thoughts that invade us, that bother us. But each time, Paul says: I rejoice, you too: rejoice!

But there is a topic that has not been addressed so far, it is perhaps the one on which our society makes us depend on joy the most easily: it is about money, about material goods. A bill, a statement at the end of the month, a tax return, there’s nothing quite like it to deprive us of joy…

And then there’s not only personal finances, but also church finances. We have an accounting team; we have a missionary committee that deliberates on missionary support–sometimes it seems that when we talk about finances, we leave the field of faith and joy, but that’s not the case for Paul. To live out the richness of the Gospel and joy in the face of material need, we must:
• Express Gratitude
• Learn Contentment
• Know how to give and receive
• Live fulfilled (in God)

The goal this morning is to have these feelings dominate our lives, in the management of our possessions, and in everything else.

Expressing Gratitude
In these verses, we discover the purpose of this letter, the concrete reason. It is a letter of thanks for a gift that Paul received from the Philippians, brought by Epaphroditus. When he says in v10, « you were able to renew your feelings for me at last », this feeling was to support Paul with a gift of money in his needs. Not as easy as a money transfer. It was necessary to get organized, to risk the trip, and at first sight, something prevented them from being able to do it for a while, until Epaphroditus’ trip.

So, Paul is grateful. The word « thank you » does not appear in these verses, but we understand that the purpose is to acknowledge and show gratitude and appreciation for the Philippians. This explains much of Paul’s constant joy. Gratitude is a source of joy. This joy he experiences in v10 is the joy that comes from gratitude.

Try being downright grateful and sulking at the same time! Try having a bad day and still be filled with gratitude! That’s the beauty and advantage of gratitude: it brings joy, it is a component of joy. This is the disadvantage of atheism: there is no one to be grateful to.

The opposite of gratitude is the feeling that everything is due to us. In these verses, Paul is careful not to see this gift as a due. A gift, an act of kindness, a missionary support, when it is renewed, it is easy to get used to it and we start to see it as a due. I have seen people discover the French social system – the first month they are grateful (!), and after 2-3 months, the attitude changes: « where is my check? Why is the amount wrong? They are incompetent at the CAF…. » RC Sproul tells in his book on Holiness: “Let us beware of this feeling that everything is entitled, because it is one of the main thieves of our joy. We become demanding, often critical. We are quick to do the same with God: Oxygen is a due. Health is a due to me. A normal life is a due. No, these are gifts.”

Learning Contentment
Closely related to gratitude is contentment. Here is a great secret of joy: learn to be content in all circumstances, v11-12. He repeats the same idea 3 times: humiliation/abundance, being full/hungry, scarcity/abundance. In his life as a missionary, he has seen all this. And above all, he says that it is a learning process.

Learning to be hungry? That can be learned?! What can be learned is not to complain, not to be bitter, not to be jealous of others, not to depend too much on others, but on God, patience, learning to grasp the promises: nothing is lacking to those who fear him. If it is already surprising that we must learn to be hungry, it is even more surprising to learn to be satisfied, to be in abundance. This learning is perhaps more difficult. We must learn that more and more does not make us happy. We must learn to manage our wealth well. We must learn not to forget God.

All of this may seem like hard learning – it already seems like an expert level in the Christian life! Yes, you must be very strong to learn this. That’s why Paul says: I can do all things through him who strengthens me. This verse is always in the top 10 favorite verses of Christians. But sometimes we forget its context. « I can achieve all my personal dreams with God’s help…. » No. Paul can’t visit Venice as a tourist. Paul can’t play for the Roman team and score the winning goal. There are many things Paul can’t do. But he can be happy in prison. « I can do anything » is not necessarily getting a job or getting healthy today, but it is living contentedly and confidently until then. « I can do anything » is not necessarily having the vacation of your dreams, but going on a mission, or supporting a missionary.

Knowing how to give and how to receive

It’s always tricky to talk about money. A beautiful friendship can go off the rails because of money issues. But in these verses, Paul preserves a healthy, joyful relationship with the Philippians. Let’s see how:

Paul doesn’t want to make his joy dependent on money. He doesn’t want to be a beggar, he is always happy, he doesn’t ask for money, (v11) but neither is there a false modesty, or self-sufficiency to refuse their gift. So, he says: v14 you did well to take part in my distress. In v15-16, Paul describes a strong relationship, a healthy partnership he had with this church: no church counted with me for what it gave and received. Paul does not see their relationship as a one-way street. A church that engages in missionary support will give and it will receive. Concretely it will give, provide for Paul’s needs, but it will receive letters, news, prayers, and as Paul says in v17 there is fruit that abounds to her account. Paul knows how to give and receive, and he helps this church to do so as well.

This is also what we experience at EBTM. It is a great source of joy for our church, and a source of abundant fruit, to engage (« enter into account ») in supporting missionaries. Because generosity is already a source of joy, and also because we receive so much in return…

Living Fulfilled

Paul ends with a joy, a gratitude that overflows, v18 « I have received everything, I am in abundance, I have been filled with goods. » But let’s be realistic: the Philippians did not give him a Ferrari, nor a castle in Provence; we are certainly talking about a modest gift that will help him better endure a few months in prison. It is not a few euros that will put him in abundance. It is not the gift of money that has filled him. He had insisted on this a lot: see v11, v17. And in v18, he recognizes that the gift is not primarily offered to him, but to God, and what makes him happy is God’s delight.

We feel a gratitude, a joy that overflows, but for something to overflow, it means that the heart is already full. Full of what? Full of what he also wishes for the Philippians in v19: my God will provide for all your needs according to his riches, with glory, in Christ Jesus. Wealth with glory in Christ Jesus is not measured in dollars or euros.

This is the ultimate secret of joy. Until God has filled our needs with his wealth, no material wealth can do so. Philosophers and writers all agree:

Augustin: Our heart is without rest until it rests in you.

Pascal: All men seek to be happy, but this infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and unchanging object, that is to say, by God himself.

Baudelaire: Boredom, (the feeling of emptiness, of dissatisfaction) is the « ugliest, nastiest, most disgusting » of all our vices and problems, source of all the others.

Chesterton: « we are homesick in our homes »

Kungfu Panda: « Would you finally be fully satisfied? Would the subordination of the whole world be enough to satisfy you? The cup you have chosen to fill has no bottom. »

The only way to be fulfilled is when God provides for this feeling of lack, of emptiness by his riches in Jesus. Like a swimming pool: you can put a lot of things in a swimming pool: inflatable games, chlorine tablets, a thermometer, bathers, swimmers, … but if you don’t fill it with water first, you’ll look a bit ridiculous throwing all these things in the swimming pool, and you can even get hurt if you jump into a pool without water. Like those who seek joy and pleasure without God, outside of God.

Jesus gave the ultimate gift at the cross to provide for our needs, I have received everything, I am in abundance, I am filled with forgiveness, hope, and a meaning to my life, which is to share this wealth with others. Through the testimony of a transformed, joyful life, as well as through the missionary vision of a church.