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17. The Right Perspective on Supporting Missions

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I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (Philippians 4:10-23)

What is the right perspective to have in supporting missions?

Scripture teaches that we are all called to be missionaries whether we serve in missions at home or abroad. We all are called to go throughout the world and make disciples (Matt 28:19). However, many of us have wrong perspectives on supporting missions. Some may feel like they are not called to support missions. Some feel like giving to missions is a burden. Some feel ashamed about raising funds for missions, and some will not consider going simply because they lack finances. All of these are wrong perspectives on missions that hinder God’s great work. As we look at Paul’s final words to the Philippians, we learn a great deal about a proper perspective on supporting missions as he speaks about how they supported him in the past and also while imprisoned in Rome.

It is good for us to remember that God has chosen to do the work of missions through the financial support of faithful saints. When God sent his Son to do the work of missions on the earth, he chose to provide for him through the faithful financial support of others. Luke 8:3 says this: “Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”

Christ was provided for through the faithful support of others and specifically through women, who had a low standing in that society. Similarly, when God sent Elijah to Sidon, he commanded a widow to provide for him there (1 Kings 17:9). When God called for Nehemiah to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, God gave him favor with the Persian king to pay for it (Nehemiah 2). Even here in this text, Paul was being supported by the Philippians who were extremely poor as seen in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2.

And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

What is a proper perspective on supporting missions? How can we have the right heart and mindset in supporting others? How can we have the right heart in seeking support? God may be calling many people to missions, but they will not go simply because of finances. God is bigger than our finances. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). The main thing we must discern is if God has called us to go.

In this text, we see the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and also, Paul’s great joy in their support of him while in prison. As we look at this text, we learn principles about what a right perspective is on supporting missions. As we go through this, we must ask ourselves, “Do I have a right perspective on supporting missions?” And, if not, “How can I have a more biblical perspective and practice on giving or receiving support for missions?”

Big Question: What principles can we learn about giving to missions in Philippians 4:10-21?

Our Giving to Missions Must Continually Be Renewed

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. (Philippians 4:10)

Paul said that he rejoiced greatly in the Lord because of the Philippians’ renewal of concern and support for him. While Paul was in Rome under house arrest, the Philippians sent Epaphroditus who supplied Paul with basic living subsistence, as the prison system did not provide food, clothing, or money. The word “renewed” is a horticultural term used of a flower or tree budding or blossoming.1 It seems that the Philippians had not supported him for some extended time period; some believe it had been nearly ten years. 2 They were concerned for him but had no opportunity to show it. Maybe it was because of the extreme poverty they were suffering (cf. 2 Cor 8:1-2), Paul’s great distance, or their lack of understanding what his needs were. Either way, they had ceased to support him in the work of ministry for some amount of time, and they had just renewed it. For this reason, Paul greatly rejoiced.

Similar to the Philippians, our giving should continually be renewed like a flower in blossom as well. For many Christians, they give their monthly tithe and feel no need to blossom, no need to excel in the work of giving. However, this is a wrong understanding of giving. In fact, the New Testament never commands the tithe and continually states how we are no longer under the law (cf. Gal 3:24-25, Rom 6:14). Paul actually teaches in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 about how to give weekly. There he says it should be given in keeping with our income or as God prospers us (v. 2). Look at what he said:

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. (ESV)

In contrast to simply giving our tithe every week, New Testament giving must continually be renewed. In fact, we are commanded to excel in it. Consider what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 8:7: “But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

Paul says we must seek to excel in giving in the same way we seek to excel in faith, speech, knowledge (of God and Scripture), and love. Our giving must continually be renewed before the Lord, especially as the Lord prospers us or we encounter the needs of others.

We serve a God that gave all he had. He gave his only begotten Son, and his Son, Jesus Christ, gave his life for the sins of the world. If we are growing more into his image, then there will be great feats of sacrificial giving happening in our lives as well. Paul rejoiced at their renewal of giving.

Is your giving blossoming as well?

Application Question: What is the difference between the concept of the tithe and New Testament grace giving (cf. 2 Cor 8:7)? Do you believe Christians are still under the tithe? Why or why not? In what ways has God been challenging you to grow in being a giver? What makes giving difficult?

Our Giving to Missions Should be a Ministry of Great Joy

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. (Philippians 4:10)

We must also notice Paul’s great joy in their giving. Now some might say his joy makes perfect sense. Of course he is joyful; the Philippians are helping him out. However, in the next verse he makes it clear that he is not joyful because they met his need. He says, “I am not saying this because I am in need” (v. 11).

Paul was not rejoicing because they provided for him, but he rejoiced at the grace that God would give them because of their support and how it honored God. He later says this:

Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. (Philippians 4:17-18)

The gifts they gave were an offering to God that would be rewarded. Therefore, Paul rejoices greatly in their giving because it brought glory to God, and it would lead to God’s blessing. Similarly, this should be our mindset as well in the ministry of giving. It is something that we should rejoice greatly in as well, not only because it helps people, but because it brings glory to God. It’s a sacrifice that honors God.

In fact, Paul taught this about giving: he said it must always be accompanied with joy in order for it even to be acceptable to God. Second Corinthians 9:7 says this: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Paul says if our giving is reluctant or under compulsion, “I must give because God told me so” or “I feel like I must,” then we should not give. Giving to the ministry of the Lord is something that we should rejoice greatly in as Paul did. It’s a ministry that brings honor to God.

Certainly, we see something of this great joy in Israel’s building of the tabernacle. They were commanded to bring gold, silver, and special offerings to build the tabernacle, but eventually the people had to be “restrained” in their giving because they gave so much (Ex 36:6).  When something is truly a joy, you typically have to practice some amount of wise restraint.  However, we can never out give God (Mal 3:10). We must have great joy in our giving to the work of missions. Joyful giving is the only type of giving that is acceptable to God.

Application Question: What do you think about Paul’s teaching on how reluctant giving or giving under compulsion is not acceptable to God (2 Cor 9:7)? Do you consistently experience great joy in your giving? Why or why not?

Our Giving to Missions Is Needed but Not Necessary

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Paul did not want the Philippians to think that he was rejoicing greatly at their gift because they met his need. He says “I am not saying this because I am in need” (v.11). No, he wanted them to know that he had learned contentment in every circumstance whether in plenty or in want. The word “learned” means to learn by experience.3 Paul had been shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned, and he also experienced times of prosperity. No doubt, on some of his missionary journeys the churches would support him and take good care of him. Some churches were wealthy as seen with Laodicea (Rev 3:17). While with other churches, he lived in extreme poverty and under severe persecution. Some might think being content in poverty would be the hardest task; however, being content in wealth is even greater. It is often the extremely wealthy who are the most discontent in life and also tend to commit suicide the most.

Paul said he learned the “secret of being content in any and every situation.” The word “secret” can be translated “initiated into the secret.” It was used of being initiated into a pagan religion and their inner secrets.4 Paul said that he had been initiated into the secret of contentment that very few find.

Even though contentment is commanded of Christians, very few learn this discipline. First Timothy 6:6-8 says this: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Hebrews 13:5 says this: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”

The word “content” means to be self-sufficient. It was a word used by stoic philosophers who sought to avoid emotions and to learn indifference to things not under one’s control. In ancient Greek the word was used of a city that provided for all its goods without any need for imports. 5 It was self-sufficient. However, Paul changed the word to mean essentially “Christ-sufficient.” He could always be content because Christ would give him strength and meet all his needs.

Even though Scripture continually commands contentment, most Christians never learn this discipline. The media and the culture seek to bring discontentment in every way. We must look like this, dress like that, have this type of job, have that type of phone, this type of computer, etc. Most Christians run around like the world after every new gadget, every new thing that comes on the market. Because they are discontent, they, like everybody else, complain about their family, their in-laws, their job, their home, their car, their clothes, their church, etc. Most know nothing about contentment. How do we learn contentment? What was Paul’s secret?

Observation Question: How could Paul be content in every situation?

He said the secret was that he could do all things through him who gives him strength (v. 13). “I can do” “means ‘to be strong,’ ‘to have power,’ or ‘to have resources.’”6 Paul was glad the Philippians provided for him, but he also knew that God would provide his resources in some way or another. Their offering was needed but not necessary because of the grace of God.

The word “through” can also be translated “in.”7 He could do all things “in” him or have all his resources supplied in him. In Paul’s relationship to Christ, the one whom Paul counted everything rubbish to gain (cf. Phil 3:8), the one he was pressing to know and be like in every way (Phil 3:12), he found sufficiency for every task, difficulty, and need. We see these promises throughout the Scripture. Matthew 6:33 says to “Seek first the kingdom of heaven and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Paul said that he wasn’t speaking in regard to need because he had learned this truth in his life. God was always going to meet his needs as long as he was building God’s kingdom. He knew that his relationship with the Lord was sufficient for the tasks God called him to accomplish. He had no need to beg or become anxious. God knew his needs and would provide for them in one way or another. Therefore, he could be content in his all-sufficient Lord.

Remember what Christ said to the disciples, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Mat 6:31). We should be content because we know the faithfulness of our Father. He will always meet our needs.

Not only would God meet Paul’s need, but Paul had learned by experience that when he was weak, God’s power was the strongest in him. Second Corinthians 12:8 says this: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” When Paul was at the end of his resources, when he was weak, God’s power was made perfect in his weakness. It was sufficient for him to persevere through severe trial or weakness. Paul learned this through experience, and this made him content. God would meet his needs by providing strength or material resources.

Now, this brings us back to our main point. God is winning the world to himself through the work of missions, and he will always provide for his ministers. He will meet their needs. The Psalmist said this: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). The question is not, “Will God provide?” The question really is, “Will we get involved? Will we be one of the hands used as part of his provision?” Our giving is needed, but it is not necessary because God will provide for his people.

Paul knew that if the Philippians did not help, God was very capable of sending manna from heaven or ravens with meat every day. He could command a widow or Caesar himself to meet his needs. Or God could simply empower him to persevere. Whatever way, God was going to meet his needs, and he had learned contentment in Christ’s sufficiency. Paul needed help, but if the Philippians didn’t help, God would have provided in some other way. Remember what Mordecai said to Queen Esther in challenging her to help the Jews who were about to be exterminated by their enemies in Persia? He said this:

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Mordecai knew that help and deliverance would come for God’s people from some place. The question was whether Esther would be part of God’s deliverance. Are you willing to be part of the process of God helping and delivering his ministers? Because Esther helped she was blessed. The book of Esther is about the salvation that came through her, even as the book of Philippians is in part a thanksgiving for the Philippians’ faithful help. God honored them for their faithfulness.

Our help is needed but not necessary. God will provide for his ministers. This should be a great comfort to each believer who is seeking first the kingdom of God—God will meet their needs. They should also learn to be content as they wait on the Lord. “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Is 40:31). But, it also should encourage us to get more involved with God’s work. God will honor those who do.

Application Question: In what ways do you struggle with contentment? How is God calling you to learn sufficiency in him? What do you think about the concept of “our missions support is needed but not necessary”?

Our Giving to Missions Should Be Intentional

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. (Philippians 4:14-16)

Another principle that we can take from Paul’s final words to the Philippians is that our giving to missions should be “intentional.” Consider how Paul describes their giving. He says, “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles” (v. 14). “When I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need” (v. 16). The Philippians continually met the needs of Paul. The circumstances and needs of Paul fueled and directed their giving.

John the apostle said this:

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

John said that helping the needs of our brothers is an act that proves the love of God dwells in us—that we are truly saved (cf. 1 John 5:13). God saw the needs of the world, and he responded. The love of God swelled up in generosity as God offered his Son. If God lives in us, we similarly should be drawn to meet the needs of others as well.

Certainly, we still have our regular giving to the church (cf. 1 Cor 16:1-2, 1 Tim 5:17), but we also should be prepared to help the urgent needs of others and especially those serving on the mission field. Ephesians 4:28 says, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” Paul essentially commands the Ephesians to prepare to share with those who had needs. When a need arises in the church or on the mission field, many Christians have nothing to give. Paul told the Ephesians to intentionally prepare to give to those who had needs. This seems to be beyond the regular support given to the church.

Are you preparing to give to those who are in need? Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This is intentional giving—meeting the needs of others. What needs has God already placed around you that he is calling you to meet? Many times someone’s need is God’s signal for us to give or to get involved.

With that said, we also should diligently make sure that this ministry, organization, or person truly has a legitimate need. Our funds can be misused and at times further handicap people. Paul gave instructions to Timothy about how to care for widows in the church. He commanded him to make sure the widows were “really in need,” following God, and not living for pleasure (1 Tim 5:5-6). We also must make sure that our giving is best used to honor God, benefit his people, and his work.

Application Question: How do we prepare to be someone who carries others’ burdens and meets the needs of others? How do we discern if a person or ministry is “really in need”? What does that discernment process look like?

Our Giving to Missions Is Honored by God

Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. (Philippians 4:17-20)

Paul said that the gifts sent by the Philippians through Epaphroditus were honored by God. He describes the honor these gifts received in verses 17-20. 

Observation Question: In what ways were the Philippians’ gifts honored by God and how is this honor reflected in our giving?

1. Our gifts are honored by God through reward in heaven.

Again, Paul was not rejoicing because his need was met, but because the Philippians would receive credit to their account (v. 17). The word “credit” is business terminology. God was keeping a record of their gifts, and they would be rewarded for them. Christ said something similar to the rich man. He said, “sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matt 19:21). Our giving is recorded and rewarded in heaven. In addition, Christ taught us to not store up riches on earth, but to store them up in heaven (Matt 6:19). One of the ways we store our riches in heaven is by giving them to the Lord.

It has been said that everything we earn will one day be left on the earth when we die. However, what we give to the Lord will follow us to heaven. God honors our giving by crediting it to our account and rewarding us in heaven.

2. Our gifts are honored by God through becoming acceptable, sweet smelling sacrifices to him.

Paul said that the gifts the Philippians sent were a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God (v. 18). Maybe the Philippians thought they were just giving to Paul; however, they were really giving to God. Through an angel, God said something similar to Cornelius about his giving. Listen to the account in the book of Acts:

One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. (Acts 10:3-4)

In addition, Christ said this in his discourse with the righteous at his second coming in Matthew 25:

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)

Whatever we give, even to the least of Christ’s brothers, is essentially given to God. They are sweet smelling sacrifices that bring pleasure to God. The writer of Hebrews said, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13:16).

3. Our gifts are honored by God through reward on earth.

Paul said, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (4:19). He essentially says, “You met my need. Therefore, God will meet ‘all’ your needs.” This means that not only would God meet their financial needs but also their emotional, physical, social, and spiritual needs. Everything that they gave would come back in abundance.

This truth is taught throughout Scripture. In Luke 6:38 Christ said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’” Christ said that God would abundantly give back to the giver.

Similarly, Paul said this to the Corinthians, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). The promise for giving was that all grace would abound in the givers’ lives. This grace would meet their needs at all times, and also they would abound in every good work. Giving would affect their ability to understand the Bible, to lead people to Christ, to disciple others, to be a good husband or wife, and to be a good parent or employee. Their faithful giving would open the door for abundant grace in every good work. Grace will overflow into the life of a giver. This then is the very reason many are in lack. They are not giving, and therefore, they find a lack of grace for every need or good work in their lives.

In addition, Paul says that Christ would meet their need “according to his glorious riches” (v. 19). It has often been noted that this text does not say “out of his riches.” A rich man could donate a dollar out of his riches. But to give “according” to his riches means that he might give millions of dollars. That is in accordance with his riches and not simply out of them. God’s supply for the giver is abundantly given according to his riches.

4. Our gifts are honored by God by bringing glory to the Father eternally.

Paul says in verse 20, “to our God and Father be glory forever.” The word glory has to do with the “weight” of something. When we give, we demonstrate how much God really matters to us. We demonstrate something of what is intrinsic to his nature, his glory. When the early church sold all they had and gave to the poor (Acts 2:45), it brought glory to God. It showed how much God really meant to them. It showed his importance in their lives. It’s the same for us. As we faithfully and sacrificially give, we bring glory to God eternally through the gift. This is the ultimate honor we receive from God. We receive the honor of glorifying him. The Westminster Catechism says man’s very purpose is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Application Question: What stood out or challenged you most about the honor that God bestows upon us for giving?

Conclusion

What is the right perspective on giving to missions?

  1. Our Giving to Missions Must Continually Be Renewed
  2. Our Giving to Missions Should Be a Ministry of Great Joy
  3. Our Giving to Missions Is Needed but Not Necessary
  4. Our Giving to Missions Should Be Intentional
  5. Our Giving to Missions Is Honored by God

1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 98). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 297–298). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 97). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 97–98). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

5 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 186). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 303). Chicago: Moody Press.

7 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 186). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Missions

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