11 October 2014Philippians 4:15-23
“I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” (v.18)
In this final section of his letter, Paul considered the issue of generosity. It is a difficult subject. While Paul was clear that he did not seek any gifts from the Philippians (verse 17), he was very appreciative of their repeated generosity (verse 16). Not all churches have acted in this way (verse 15) and the support of the Philippians (who he unusually mentions by name) was a sign of the close relationship that Paul has had with them for some time (verse 15).
The language that Paul used is initially commercial in nature. The phrase "in the matter of giving and receiving" (v. 15) is a particular example of this, with the Greek word translated as "the matter" being a technical phrase used for business transactions while the words translated "giving and receiving" refer to financial details noted on two sides of an accounts ledger.
However, for Paul, the generosity of the Philippians was far more than a commercial transaction. It was, in spiritual terms, "a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God". By using the language of sacrifice, Paul indicated that the gift of the Philippians was of great spiritual value with the image of the "fragrant offering" linking back to the sacrificial system described in the Old Testament (eg Exodus 29:18) and indeed right back to the offering made by Noah after the flood (Genesis 8:21).
The language used in these verses also links to the call on the followers of Jesus to offer themselves to God in a similar way. In Romans 12:1, Paul invited his readers to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship".
Paul is clear that the gifts sent by the Philippians have been of significant practical help, but he is equally clear that these gifts are part of their spiritual discipleship and are also "acceptable and pleasing to God".
- How are you being challenged to live generously today?
- What might it mean for your living as well as for your giving to be a sacrifice "acceptable and pleasing to God"?