Last year our multi-site 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 in Newcastle, why do we also give so much money to world mission, and other ministries here in the UK which don't benefit us directly? 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 seek to imitate. That's right! 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 multi-site 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 two-week 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 that's why it's great to see that, from day one, St. Joseph's Benwell has eagerly stepped up to support mission partners like Andy and Rose Roberts in Brazil. You pray for them in your home groups. You give to support them financially. Praise God!
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 give. Not: "Oh no – not another charity trying to take away my hard-earned cash! But I suppose if I don't give, then the church buildings will all fall down and the church staff will have to retrain!" But: "Oh yes – a giving review! What a blessing it is to give financially with the money God has given me! 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 continue to 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. Bungee jumping looks scary. I've never done it! Maybe that's the situation you're in with your giving: you are deciding whether/not to take the bungee jump and start giving for the first time. The message from verse 19 is loud and clear: the rope will hold!
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 mission partners Jon and Lisa Short, for example, 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 Britain becomes more multi-cultural, there are masses of opportunities here on our doorstep. Each year nearly half a million international students come to the UK to study - including 10,000 in Newcastle. My role is to equip a team in Jesmond Parish Church to reach them and disciple them. We've made a start in Newcastle – great – but could we send workers to other cities in the North-East to reach internationals with the Gospel?
What about Sunderland? Or Middlesborough? Then there's also people who come from other cultures and have set up home here, like my wife who came over from Italy nearly seven years ago – and like many of you here today. Some of these ethnic groups have many enthusiastic Christians – but other people groups are almost unreached with the Gospel.
What could we do about this? Could we send out evangelists to reach the 80,000 strong Pakistani community in Bradford? Or the 14,000 Italians living in Bedford? Or the 280,000 Turkish Cypriots who live in London?
And that's just in the UK. Around the world the opportunities are even more enormous. Many parts of Europe and the Middle East need pioneer church-planters, like the apostle Paul was. In Romans 15:19-21, he wrote this:
"from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written,
"Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.""
In Turkey 0.01% of the population are evangelical Christians. That's one in 10,000 people! If Benwell was a small town in Turkey, there would be literally 1 or maybe 2 Christians. Turkey is a spiritual desert which needs the rain of the Gospel. Could we send someone with a profession to live there – pray – and work in a small team for the advance of the Gospel there? In some of the Balkan states, around where Robin and Alice Whaley work, the spiritual situation is not much better than in Turkey. But, different to Turkey, the doors for publicly sharing the Gospel are remarkably open… For example, in Serbia, less than 0.1% of the population are evangelical Christians, yet I recently read about a fruitful university CU mission there. It was run openly in the capital Novi Sad, with the assistance of British Christians from UCCF! Friends, the doors in the Balkans are open. Could Robin and Alice be first of a line of mission partners we send to that needy region?
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.