Regarding the ministry of the community of the redeemed- that is the propagation of the gospel of Christ in its many and varied forms of expression- there are two core factors essential to its success. Obviously there is more than two, but in these particular verses we find two.
At the heart of this letter is the relationship between a local church and an apostle who is engaged in the propagation of the gospel. To understand that relationship you need only to understand the fifth verse of chapter one: ‘…in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.’
There is a great deal that could be stated- particularly about the word ‘participation’- but perhaps what I read in one of my commentaries says it best; ‘When Paul left Philippi he had hardly passed from sight before these believers were chasing him down the road to bless him with a gift.’
Within the context of that relationship as it related to the apostle’s ministry there were two very distinct dynamics operating- and the apostle Paul makes no apology for referencing those dynamics- in fact he deliberately magnifies them. Those dynamics quite simply are giving and receiving.
This means that within the context of the relationship between the apostle Paul and this local fellowship of Philippian believers one was the giver and the other the receiver- and in this dynamic of giving and receiving the ministry of the gospel was possible. Obviously the giver was the local church and the receiver was the apostle Paul.
Consider it carefully, regarding all ministry of the redeemed community- and of this community, Kingston Christian Fellowship, in particular- and ask the question: Is there a single aspect of ministry that ever occurs outside of this reality of giving and receiving?
But these two factors of giving and receiving are not the two factors I am after this morning; I am after the much deeper factors that affect and determine so much of the giving and receiving essential to the ministry of the Christian community. These factors are set out in verse ten.
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.
It is obvious that the two factors upon which the whole reality of giving and receiving rest are the factors of concern and opportunity. We have to understand that it is very possible to have a deep, legitimate concern and yet lack opportunity. That was the case with these Philippian believers.
And I am comfortable in suggesting that the lack of opportunity involved two circumstances. The first was their limited resources- which did not prevent them from giving but most certainly put them in the position of having to take more time to get together the offering they gave. And the other factor in their lack of opportunity was the means of transportation of the gift to the receiver. That, of course, may not seem to be an issue at all from our place in history- but two thousand years ago it was a major issue.
In this letter we meet a brother named Epaphroditus. He was an essential element in the opportunity aspect of this story. It must not be overlooked that he (his obedience) provided the opportunity for the completion of the giving which came out of the concern of this local church. Nor should it be overlooked that this courier of the gift- Epaphroditus- did this at the risk of his life- and in fact almost died in the process.
And I think we should give pause this morning to consider those who out of their deep concern gave- and not just out of their abundance but sacrificially out of their own need; and we should soberly reflect upon the fact that the gospel has come to everyone of us in this house as the result of someone’s sacrifice as they found opportunity to give.
Thus far then, we understand that it is possible to have a Godly concern and yet lack opportunity to give.
The second and much more difficult reality is that we lack no opportunity to give- we simply lack concern. If I were to ask you this morning concerning the church (generically) within our culture, which impacts most upon our giving- a lack of opportunity or a lack of concern, how would you answer?
I think we have to conclude that in our world of technological magic and our incredible means of travel it is not lack of opportunity that most affects whatever lack there is in the communication of the gift to the receiver for the sake of the ministry of the gospel; it is lack of concern.
In winding this down this morning I would ask that we note the following four words and the relationship between them: rejoice, revived, concern, and opportunity.
The word rejoiced must be joined with and qualified by the word greatly- or the even better word, immensely. In fact this is the only place this particular word is found in the Greek text of the New Testament.
This is a very strong- an incredibly strong expression that goes light years beyond the idea of just giving thanks for something. What we have here is a very deep, a very intense, and a very pure (unmixed) joy and rejoicing that can only be described as a complete baptism of the entire being.
Regarding this baptism of joy it is important to see that it is in the Lord. What that means is that it was a totally Christ-like, Christ-centred or Christian joy- and was without any mix of the self-serving carnality of fallen flesh. And if you really consider this you will realise it is no small thing to have matured to such a state.
While this baptism of joy was entirely in the Lord it was very much related to a particular circumstance. We need to understand that circumstance, and we need to understand the relationship between that circumstance and Paul’s experience of Christian joy.
The circumstance that gave rise to this particular expression of Christian joy was not the gift this Philippian fellowship sent to Paul- and that is important to understand. The reality which occasioned this immense rejoicing is expressed in these two words- revived concern. There is something far more important than the gift- and that far more important reality is the motivation of the heart out of which the gift has come.
The word revived comes from a Greek word which is found only in this text of the New Testament. The word was used to describe the budding of a bush, or blooming of a flower in spring. I would express its meaning like this: the irresistible bursting out of life in springtime.
This is so important to the whole issue of giving. There is no need to beg life to manifest; there is no manipulation, no trickery, no pressure necessary to bring it forth- or to prove its existence. It may appear to be very dead through the bleakness of a long winter, but with the coming of spring it will faithfully manifest itself in a thousand ways.
What was revived in these believers was their concern for the apostle and for his ministry. But Paul made it clear that the reviving of their concern did not mean that they had lost their concern. What was lacking was the opportunity to communicate or demonstrate the concern that was ever-present.
Like the life in the fruit tree during winter- the opportunity to manifest that life is not there but most certainly the life is there- and with the changing of the seasons it will manifest itself in fruitfulness.
The word concern means thoughtful care. What this means is that their concern was more than a mere emotional response; it was more substantial than that. Their concern was carefully considered, well thought through, and very deliberate, and consequently was not vulnerable to the rise and fall of emotional moods and whims.
To bring all of this home it looks like this. I go out east, a team goes to Haiti, pastor Doug goes down town, and pastor Dave shepherds a flock- sets vision in the house, sorts through and attends the details of life within the community, and balances the various ministry focuses within the house- which, by the way, is no small task especially on those days when I feel that my ministry is the really important one. And now the ministry of God through this house has reached the point where the facilitation of it has brought us to where we have never been before- and that is what that drawing on the wall is all about.
The building in itself is meaningless and useless; its one and only significance relates to the growing ministry of Christ through this redeemed community to the community around us and to nations beyond us. And even as I share these considerations I am so aware that in relation to the growing demands of the growing ministry of Christ through this body my own heart is being challenged.
That challenge does not finally come down to any gift- it goes so much deeper; it ultimately all comes down to the true measure of concern on the level of my heart. And that concern is not for buildings, and travel, and things physical and external; that concern is for the propagation- the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But in the end that ministry cannot be divorced from things physical, things external, things practical.
The sequence looks something like this: giver, concern, opportunity, gift, receiver, ministry. When the communication of that gift is impeded either by lack of concern or lack of opportunity, it stands to reason that the ministry is going to be affected.
To understand the heart of these Philippian believers is to stand amazed at the grace of God. Concerning that heart one reality dominated- the realization of the unspeakable privilege that God was allowing them to participate in the ministry of Christ through their community with and involvement in the life and ministry of the apostle. I can tell you that a tax receipt would have meant nothing to them- except perhaps a greater opportunity to give more.
This heart reality of unspeakable privilege will always overflow in lavish expressions of worship. And in the presence of a reality as pure and wonderful as this, all of the pumping, and priming, and manipulation that goes on in the name of Christian ministry around the issue of gifts is seen for what it really is- the carnality of flesh and of the natural mind- even if the work is legitimate.
There is a simple yet very beautiful song that catches that deep reality of privilege and the irresistible hunger to worship consequent to that realization of privilege. I would like to sing that for you this morning.