Last year our church family gave over £263,000 through the Jesmond Trust to World Mission. And that's not the total figure for world mission giving, as many of us give directly to individual missionaries or mission organisations. The question is this: Alongside our giving to ministry here at JPC, why do we as the church family place such a high value on giving to world mission, as well as other ministries here in Newcastle which don't benefit us directly? It's a good question – and we'll find the answer in Philippians 4:10-20. Let me pray.
Father, Please open our eyes to the opportunities for mission – both here and around the world – and help us to be better mission partners ourselves. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Here's the background we need before we move to Philippians 4: Paul, the mission partner, is in prison in Rome – on trial. He is writing to the Christians in Philippi, Macedonia, his main supporting church. In Philippians 2.25-30 we learn that the church in Philippi sent a man called Epaphroditus from Macedonia all the way to Rome with gifts for Paul. In chapter 4, Paul then says 'thank you' for this gift from the Philippian Church. My first point is this:
1. Paul rejoices that the Philippians have recently supported him financially – but insists that he is ultimately dependent on Christ to meet his needs (v.10-14)
Many of us will have come across verses 11-13 as beautiful picture of Christian contentment which we see in Paul – which we should all seek to imitate. But in the context of this passage, those verses are almost bracketed. They are a qualification of the statement which Paul makes in verse 10. Let me read verses 10-14 straight through:
"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity [i.e. they couldn't send a financial gift].
[Open Brackets:] Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [Close Brackets]
Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble."
The question is: why does Paul speak in this way? He seems to be saying: 'Thanks for your gift – which I didn't need – but thanks anyway.' 'Thanks for the Christmas jumper, Auntie Ethel – but no thanks, I've already got one – but thanks for thought all the same.' What's going on here? Paul wants to avoid being misread and he is trying to express two important things at the same time – without being misunderstood:
Firstly, he wants to express genuine gratitude to the Philippians for their financial gift – so that the Philippians know he really values Gospel partnership with them (see verses 10 and 14). And that's true for us on the church staff here – the money we need to live on doesn't grow on trees – it comes from you! And we are enormously grateful to God for your generosity, which means that we can be set aside to serve you and others in the different ministries God calls us to. Thank you!
Secondly, at the same time, Paul wants to insist that he is ultimately dependent on Christ to meet his needs – so that the Philippians don't feel under pressure to give. He doesn't want them to feel that if they are unable to give in future, Paul will be destitute (v.11-13). And likewise I hope very much that this time of year when we have our church giving review isn't a time when you feel pressured into giving. No – as a church family, and church staff – we ultimately trust God to provide for us.
First point: Paul rejoices that the Philippians have supported him financially – but insists that he is ultimately dependent on Christ to meet his needs. Secondly…
2. Paul reflects on the longstanding Gospel partnership with the Philippians – and reassures them that God will bless them spiritually and meet their future needs (v.15-20)
Here Paul steps back and surveys the wonderful Gospel partnership he has enjoyed with the Philippians over the years: past, present and future – just as we can do with some of our long-standing mission partners, like Andy & Meiling Wilson who are now with us in Newcastle.
Gospel Partnership in the Past
Paul starts off with a warm nostalgic look back to the past. Verses 15-16:
"And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again."
The Philippians were simply the best! Better than all the rest! They stood out from the crowd in their partnership with Paul for two reasons:
- They were the first church to commit to supporting him in his Mediterranean missions. They gave when others were not giving – and that's a reminder to be bold in giving to good Gospel causes, even when others have not yet caught the vision – or are not able to give.
- They continued to meet his needs. Even when it was tough, they sent him help again and again – that's a reminder for us to stick at supporting our mission partners, even if they can't visit us often – or even if we've never met them!
It's this combination that fills Paul with thanks as he looks back over the years of Gospel partnership with them: their eagerness to begin supporting him in Gospel partnership and their eagerness to continue supporting him. And looking back, we can praise God for our faithful involvement in world mission over the last few decades in our three areas of world mission, home mission and relief/development. As a church family, we have been eager to support mission.
Gospel Partnership in the Present
Paul then eagerly moves on to talking about Gospel partnership in the present. Verses 17-18:
"Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God."
Here we see another 'not that' in verse 17, which qualifies what comes before. You see, while Paul rejoices in their generous Gospel partnership (v.15-16), he is anxious to make it clear that he doesn't see the Gospel partnership as a means for his financial needs to be met – but rather as a means for their spiritual blessing. And for us today surely that is the reason to have. Not: "Oh no – another giving review! But if I don't give, then the church buildings will all fall down and the church staff will have to retrain!" But: "Oh yes – another giving review! What a blessing it is to give financially! I want to be part of what God's doing here and around the world – and reap the spiritual benefits!"
Gospel Partnership in the Future
Past, present…and finally, Gospel partnership in the future. Here Paul sensitively addresses the concern that perhaps the Philippians feel. If they give generously to support him as their mission partner, they may be in financial need in the future. Here's his word of reassurance (v19-20):
"And my God will supply 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."
He reassures them that God will continue to meet their needs as they continue to support him. And that's a great reassurance for us if we decide to take that bungee jump as we start giving for the first time – the rope will hold! It's also true if we have our minds set to continue giving generously and sacrificially in economically uncertain times – God will continue to supply our needs – the rope won't snap!
We've seen a Gospel partnership between Paul and the church in Philippi. It's a model for us to follow. Two challenges for us as we close:
- Like the Philippian Church, are we eager to continue to meet the needs of our mission partners – both here and around the world?
After the Brexit vote, because of the devaluation of the pound, many missionaries around the world have lost up to 40% of their regular support. And they are not super-spiritual Christians who do not feel this. Yes, they trust God to provide, but these anxieties still weigh on the hearts of Andy and Rose Roberts as they care for abused girls in Brazil, and Jon and Lisa Short as they train students for evangelism in Madrid. And in response to the example of the Philippian church and the current world financial situation, I think we should consider if we could give more to meet their needs, as the Philippians did. We may not be able to, but could we – to meet their needs?
- Like the Philippian Church, are we eager to send out new mission partners – both here and around the world?
The Philippian Church was the first church out of the blocks to send Paul off on mission. What an honour! Like the Philippian Church, could we send out new mission partners? Mission agencies observe that fewer and fewer younger people are going into Gospel ministry – and that they are finding it harder and harder to raise financial support. Could we send out new mission partners – young and old?
As we feel Britain becoming more multi-cultural – and as we see Britain losing much of its Christian heritage, we sense that there are such great needs and opportunities here. And there are! And that's why one of our three areas of 'world mission giving' is actually 'home mission', supporting mission partners who work within the UK for organisations like Scripture Union or the Christian Institute. It's really important!
But we are in very privileged situation here in the UK – and particularly at JPC. For example, we all have a Bible in our own language – 1.5 billion people in our world don't. That's it's great that we already support Jock and Katy Hughes in Indonesia and Jo and Sarah Potter who are training for translation work in Mozambique. But more are needed – could we send them? What about some of our current UK students? Could we send them to translate the Bible?
Then there's the issue of sound Bible teaching. Outside of Europe and North America, there is enormous church growth – in fact, about half of our international students here at JPC are first generation Christians, which is fantastic! But false teaching is also spreading fast (moralism, prosperity teaching, dangerous cults) - and even in evangelical churches, the Bible teaching is often weak. When I speak with my international student friends who have returned home, they miss the clear, challenging, straight-forward Bible teaching at JPC. That's what they tell me. Back home they just don't have it – and they wish they did!
But could we turn this situation on its head? Could we see it as an opportunity, rather than a cause for discouragement? Could we actually take on some of these returning international students as our mission partners: an Indonesian who wants to reach Muslims in Indonesia? A Rwandan student who wants to improve the quality of theological education for pastors? And there are lots of opportunities for CYFA and UK students too. Some have already been on summer mission trips to serve alongside our mission partners in South Africa and Brazil – could we send some of these students back there as long-term mission partners?
What amazing opportunities we have to be part of God's work through our financial giving – both here in the UK and around the world. Let's pray for God's help to make the most of the opportunities – and not miss out.
Father God, please enable us to give generously to support our current mission partners – and also to send out more mission partners in the coming years. In Jesus' name, Amen.