Cultivating a Healthy Gospel Partnership

Mike Miller, Speaker

Philippians 4:10-20 | June 23 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
June 23
Cultivating a Healthy Gospel Partnership | Philippians 4:10-20
Mike Miller, Speaker

Father, thank You that we come to this time in this service of worship to hear Your Word read and preached, and I pray that the meditations of my heart and the words of my mouth would be pleasing to You, that You would use this to further advance the cause of the Gospel around the world.  Thank You for this church and the privileges that it has and that You have given this church a DNA of missions for its life from its inception.  So we pray that that would continue to flourish and even grow.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.   

So as your missions pastor, I think I arguably have the best job on staff, except maybe for Zach, because he works in college ministry.  I did that for 11 years and that’s just really a good time.  So Zach maybe, but I believe I do.  I’ve been here 14 years now.  I’ve grown in my understanding and appreciation for our many co-laborers in the Gospel around the world.  I just got back from two trips and looking to go on a third in the next couple of months, possibly, and then even farther far east in the coming months ahead.

The unequivocal support that I feel from our fellow pastors, our elders and deacons, and a marvelous missions committee, and a church that in so many ways supports the global Church, praying, resourcing, relationships, giving, sending, and going.  Just a wonderful place to be.

Whether this is the end of my career as a pastor, it would be a blessed ending, but it is a joyful one.

I have much to learn but one thing that has been said often of Christ Covenant by our missionaries to me directly, in their own context, is thank you that they pray for us, thank you that they give and contribute and care about us and they support us as a church with their resources of which there are many in this church.  You have been, I want to say, a blessing to the global Church through your very gifts, your callings, experiences of all sorts have benefited and helped the global Church partners that we have, church planters, those that are investing and strengthening the Church, those engaged in evangelism, campus ministry like Campus Outreach and those involved in diaconal and mercy ministry.

We have a lot to learn, I have a lot more to learn, but let me be quick to commend you, not in a self-congratulatory way so that somehow we boast in our performance, but in a genuine way for your good work and having a significant impact on our supported workers’ lives and their ministries.

Tonight what I would like to do is explore what should characterize our connection.  What should characterize the connection of sending church to a missionary?  Of the sending church to the missionary.  What should characterize that?

Perhaps we could put it this way – What are healthy Gospel partnerships supposed to look like and be?

Partnership has a lot of meanings.  Just look it up sometime.  You think about partnerships in all kinds of places in the world.  What should partnership look like with a missionary, a supported worker?  It implies, partnership at least this – mutual benefit.  Mutual benefit.  A giving and a receiving involving both parties.

So here’s my thesis today as we approach this passage in Philippians chapter 4.  A healthy partnership with missionaries, supported workers, engaging the global Church begins with DNA value of taking the Gospel to the world, believing and acting on the Great Commission as its marching orders from the Lord Jesus.

So it is a DNA value and Christ Covenant was planted with that years ago and there are obvious people that come to mind – Harry Reeder and many others that have carried that on from its inception – and it has flourished in the years since as a church, and Lord willing it will continue long after my time and your time.

Healthy churches will form partnerships with missionaries of all sorts and invest in their missions and their ministries around the city, the nation, and the world.  In other words, a healthy church will resource others involved in evangelism, church planting, strengthening, mercy work, through their prayers, their giving, and when possible going, sending others, even sending our own.

I am grateful that this is the heart and mind of Christ Covenant.  Lest we ever think that we are giving too much money or resources or even our best and brightest, let me quote to you John Piper here.  He says, “I’ve never seen giving to missions hurt any church.” 

So let’s explore the relationship to understand the qualities, the characteristics, of a healthy partnership with us as a church and with those that are out in the world doing the work of the Gospel. 

I want to ask you to turn with me, if you would, to Philippians chapter 4.  We’re going to be looking at verses 10 through 20.  I’ll read it in just a moment.  But let me set the context for the passage.  So Philippians chapter 4, verses 10 through 20. 

Here’s the context.  When Paul came to Philippi in Macedonia, there were no Christians.  He was the first missionary.  You can read about it in Acts 16, and as he began to preach and teach, over time people began to believe the Gospel.  New converts, such as Lydia, began to grow in their relationship with Christ, and with Paul, as you can imagine.  They grew to love him, this church.  After all, he had led them to Christ.  He had helped them grow up in the Church, in the faith.

The little congregation began to meet together for worship in Philippi, many scholars and commentaries say possibly at Lydia’s house, so naturally they wanted to help Paul.  They continue their interest in him long after he left.  Acts 16 describes Paul’s journey from Philippi to Thessalonica some 95 miles down the road.  While he was there, the Philippians were told, sent messengers to see how he was.  Word came back that he needed financial assistance so they took up a collection and they sent it to him.  Later they repeated it as our text will say, again and again, as Paul would say, “When I was in need.”  And after a short time Paul was run out of Thessalonica and on the way he went to Berea and then onto Athens, Greece.  It seems that the Philippians lost track of Paul for a time until a traveler who had seen Paul reported to them and again they sent funds to assist him.

Because Paul was always on the move, the Philippian church again lost track of him.  Paul left Greece and returned to Judea.  It was there that Paul was eventually imprisoned, sent off to Rome.  Many years passed since Paul had first visited Philippi, starting the new church.  But their mutual love and joy for one another never waned.

Finally when they learned of his imprisonment in Rome, that many had left him alone, that he had practically nothing, the little church of Philippi again collected funds, sent them off, this time in the care of Epaphroditus, and Paul was elated.  As a result of this friendship, this partnership in the Gospel with the Philippian church, he finished his letter written in a Roman prison.

Knowing that context now I want you to imagine you, the Philippian church, receiving this letter, read this way.  Verse 10: 

“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.  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, 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.”

“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.  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.  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.  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 forever and ever.  Amen.”

Now imagine this being read in the church and how these final words would be ringing in the ears of the Philippians.  Words of partnership rooted in a friendship that we, our little Philippian church, participated in all the church planting, all the missionary work that Paul had done, and our gift to him, Paul says, is a sweet smelling sacrifice, pleasing to God and in turn God will supply all of our needs in the riches that are found in Christ Jesus, and all this redounds to God’s glory.

Now I want to break it down into three points, three simple points.

First.  Their relationship is rooted in friendship and it met Paul’s needs.  It’s rooted in friendship.

Second.  Their relationship represents a partnership in the Gospel.  A partnership in the Gospel.

Then third.  Their relationship results in a fragrant offering to God.  A fragrant offering to God.

Friendship.  Verses 10 through 13.

Partnership.  Verses 14 and 17.

Worship.  Verses 18 to 20.

So first, the relationship is rooted in friendship and it meets Paul’s needs.  As far as we know, the Philippian church is the only church that received funding for his, Paul received funding for his ministry.  Philippians are the only ones that gave.  Like any missionary, he needed assistance to carry on his ministry, yet lest we misunderstand what the nature of giving to a missionary is, Paul is quick to remind them that their giving is rooted in the highest level of friendship.  Get that.  The highest level of friendship.  It’s not merely transactional.  It’s not a transaction.  It’s relational. 

Can you imagine the missions committee of the first Philippian church interviewing Paul?  Paul, now here is our contract with you.  We need to see seven churches planted, particularized with leadership, staffed all within 10 years, otherwise we’re going to stop supporting you.

It’s not the way it was.  That’d be foolish and it sounds absurd, because it is.  No, they had a relationship, a friendship with Paul.

Let me give you, I’m sorry for this, but a college football illustration of this.  Okay.  I’m very close to someone who is in this world and it’s miserable at times because this thing called NIL, name, image, and likeness, has made things to be contractual, a transaction, and not relational.  Everything now is based on transactions and contracts that sometimes are written, most of the time are not.  Therefore, when the coach comes in to recruit a player, it’s not often things like I could have a good relationship with that coach, or I like that school, I like the major it offers.  Back in the day when I tried to play, that’s the way it was.  Now it’s a different thing.  It’s transactional.  It’s contracts and the relation has been set aside.

That’s the way it is here with Paul.  It’s not a contractual thing that the missions committee, the Philippian church, had with him.  It’s relational.  It’s a friendship.  Not based on need.  It’s much deeper than that.  And to show that, he digresses just a moment to talk about contentment.  The Philippians would immediately understand the context Paul is talking about.  Their Greco-Roman world were the stoics of the day.  That was the quintessential, self-made man, an independent man.  So any relationships were merely based on utilitarian need and not at any deeper level.

Not so with Paul’s relationship with his beloved Philippians.  Rather than self-sufficiency it is a Christ sufficiency.  Rather than coming from within, it comes from without.  From his being a man in Christ on whom he is totally dependent for all of his needs.

There is no unhealthy co-dependency in their relationship.  Paul’s joy is not over the gift given as though he can now eat, but over the friendship of his Philippian churches and God’s provision.

Look at how he describes it – your concern for me, in verse 10.  It’s used many times in this letter and it means an active interest, renewed or revived.  A word that’s only used here in the New Testament and taken from that agricultural world, blooming again, blooming again.  You’ve revived your concern for me again.  All the time the Philippians were concerned there was good intention, but they lacked opportunity, the text tells us.  We’re not told why this is so.  Perhaps Paul was not able to receive it because they didn’t even know where he was.  Perhaps it was a difficult season financially for the Philippian church, the housing market busted, the stocks were down.  There’s no hint of blame, though, in Paul’s voice.

Notice verses 11 through 13.  Paul wants to make sure they know he is not disappointed in them, so he states his famous thoughts on contentment, worth multiple sermons themselves.  Whole books written on these profound verses.  But it’s a learned art, Paul says, contentment is learned.  It’s not based on circumstances.  It caused Paul to focus his attention on the important things of life, eternal things, on Christ who strengthens him.

Verse 12.  Paul gives an eloquent description of his life.  “I know,” he says, a personal testimony.  His own abasement, being brought low.  This reflects that of Jesus who humbled Himself.  Yet the opposite as well.  To have plenty, to overflow, a life of prosperity.  He had both and in both he learned the secret of contentment – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

His self-sufficiency has not come through a mechanical self-discipline or a fixed resolution like the stoics, but his union with Christ.  In any and every circumstance he finds the strength which vital union with Christ supplies, to be adequate for his life and ministry.  Paul is not a spiritual superman who towers above us and one that we can’t relate to.  He was a mere man who had boundless confidence in the ability of Christ to match every situation, whose power is made perfect in weakness.

So in my brief interaction over the years with missionaries, they have to learn the art of contentment.  They have to be able to handle the lows and the highs of ministry, confident in the ability of Christ to match every situation.  Practically speaking, a healthy church sees every supported missionary and a supported missionary sees every supporting church in the context of this growing, vital relationship, not just meet the need.  Not contractual.  As important as funding is, it’s not contractual.  

Healthy relationships between giver/sender, and that’s often the Church, and the cross-cultural worker out there are best when relationships are at the heart of the connection.  Partnerships will not be developed without growing relationships.

I was at General Assembly two weeks ago now and I saw with a group of guys from the UK where Kevin is on his way right now.  There was a Scottish leader there who heads up their church planting efforts in Edinburgh.  His name is Neil MacMillan.  He’s with the Free Church and we support, you support, a number of the Free Church pastors in Scotland.  One of the comments that he made, unbeknownst to any initiation to him, was that the relationship with the US Church is more important than the funding that the US Church gives.  The relationship with the US Church is more important to them than the funding that the US Church gives.

Every missionary that I am privileged to connect with knows firsthand of this living in dependence on Christ.  You as a supporting church are their friends.  With them, you have developed a special bond – the missionary, you, and the Gospel, with the ultimate goal of glorifying Christ.

The relationship is not only rooted in friendship but on a deeper level it represents what Paul calls a partnership in the gospel.  Verses 14 to 17.  Every time you begin a relationship with a new missionary, you start a partnership, meaning you join in with that person to share with that person something, whether it is the common thing that we first think about, funding and prayer, but it’s also more, Paul says.  It is that, and this church is fantastically, thankfully generous, but it is more than that.

Notice verse 14.  He said, “Yet it was kind of you, Philippians, to share in my trouble.”  In this section Paul is recalling his appreciativeness of the church’s assistance of his works by their gifts, presumably money.  He praises their readiness to share, though, he says, with his troubles.  He says, “It was good of you,” expressing a closeness of the bond which brought them together, kept Paul close to his friends.

It means they had fellowship.  They identified themselves with Paul in a partnership on behalf of the work of the gospel.

Flip over to chapter 1 verse 5.  He says, at the start of this book, “Because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.”  And likewise, back to chapter 4, the book ends with this idea of partnership:  “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.”  My trouble is the ellipsis and it cannot mean in this context merely Paul’s immediate difficulties, or his personal needs.  It’s a term for affliction, tribulation beyond the present.  As Paul is looking as well to the future, the affliction to come on the earth at the end of the age.

The Philippians then, by their gifts, have a greater honor than just to offer money to Paul, even in their close friendship.  They would be also sharing, sharing in the trials which precede and prepare for the end.  By their gifts, the Gospel is carried to every creature in preparation for that end, some for judgment, some for eternal life.  To understands this holds the key to what follows.

Verse 15.  Paul is recalling the day when he first ministered the Gospel, in the early days of their acquaintance with the Gospel.  You can read about it again in Acts 16.  The bond of this Christian affection that developed between them over the years showed itself in their practical expressions of their gifts.  They loved Paul, so they loved the Gospel, and Paul mentioned this idea of giving and receiving, giving and receiving, a double transaction.  Material gifts presumably passed from the church to the apostle, and spiritual blessings that flow the other way.  It was, in essence, a two-way transaction. 

That is what partnership is all about.  It is a blessing for us to hear of answers to prayer, significant things that happened in international places with our partners.  It is a blessing to us, a benefit to us, an encouragement to us.  In turn, we given often our money, we give our prayers, we give our support when they come to us and we host them and a number of other things.  It is a two-way transaction.  We learn what it is like to a Christian oftentimes in other hostile environments.

Notice what verse 16 says.  Paul mentions his toil and hardship.  He mentions this in 1 Thessalonians 2:9.  Yet more than once, literally again and again, you sent me, Philippians, assistance.

Notice how the gift is described.  Verse 17.  He uses this commercial term in this verse to describe the generosity of the church and disclaims should there be any question about Paul’s motives to be supported.  Any covetous seeking of the gifts is not for me, Paul says.  His concern was rather, he says, what may be credited to your account, you Philippians.

We need to grasp this when we give and pray, what may be credited to our account.  Fruit or interest accruing to a financial account.  Paul is saying that their generous giving was credited to their account. 

__ sheds light on this meaning.  He says the interest which is accruing to your credit.  What the Philippians gave as their gift was like an investment which would pay dividends in the service of the kingdom as accumulating interest.  It stands to the credit of the depositor.

The clear implication for us is that in the last day this generous gifting would not go unnoticed and unrewarded.  It is a remarkable way Paul is saying thank you to the Philippians.  There is a present “now you helped me in the work I’m doing” and a future blessing in the supporting of our Gospel workers.

Not only rooted in friendship and partnership, but finally in worship.  The relationship of giving and receiving results in what Paul calls a fragrant offering to God.  Verse 18 to 20 is worship language.  Paul continues his financial terminology in verse 18 – “I received full payment and even more” is a technical way of drawing up a receipt in business.  Here then is my receipt.  I have received something in full with the implication that all that is due has been paid, paid in full, and even more means that their gift and generosity has more than covered his needs.  He is well-supplied, he says.  We assume that all of his material requirements were met in the service the Philippians rendered him, at least for a time.

Epaphroditus is the bearer of the gift and Paul qualifies the gift by saying that God is pleased, an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to Him, a fragrant offering.  It’s language for worship.  This is an important reminder to us that all sincere Christian service which entails sacrificial and self-denying cost not only promotes the cause of Christ and strengthens the hands of God’s servants, but it is an act of worship that God takes pleasure in.

One commentator writes this:  So Paul lifts the minds of his readers above the actual sending and receiving of the gift to the Spirit which has prompted it and the purpose which it ultimately served.

The church, ready to help, and his own indebtedness is put in the highest level possible by these solemn words which characterize it as a sacrifice, pleasing to God.  The reward of all of our service and our stewardship is to have pleased Him.

Here verse 19 is a vital connection – and in return my God will supply every need of yours, Philippians, according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus.

Over in 2 Corinthians Paul seems to suggest that the Philippians had helped Paul to their own impoverishment.  Now Paul reassures them, yes, you gave even to your own impoverishment, but here’s a foundational promise – God will not fail to meet their every need as they have not been remiss in meeting Paul’s.

Paul is holding out this to his Philippian friends, the reassurance of the faithfulness of God, who as He has supplied the material needs of His servant is able also to supply all of their needs as well.  Whatever their deficiency may be, God will supply the remedy.  God is a rewarder of self-sacrificing service.  He who is my God will not disappoint you, Paul is saying.  In fact, the source of the extent of this divine supply are given some profound words, according to His glory, His glorious riches in Jesus Christ.

Who can estimate the range, the height, the depth, of the riches in which every conceivable human need is more than adequately supplied?  It is from that source that the richness of God’s mercy and provision is made known in Jesus Christ.

So what do we do with this as we think about a mission church at Christ Covenant?  We think about those that we support individually, those that we support through faith promise, those that we pray for, those that we go to see, those that we host in our own houses and homes and apartments when they come through. 

I want to give you a couple of very practical things to think about as we think about the depth of the relationship of friendship, partnership, and worship when we give to missionaries.

Number one.  I want to just say you can be very grateful for your missions committee, for their diligence to steward your giving, your sending, the selecting of our supported workers.  It’s hard work.  It’s discerning work.  There needs to be unity but freedom to speak and disagree with one another.  I am deeply thankful for each of them and those who have gone before us, before this missions committee years ago, that laid a solid foundation for a partnership in Gospel ministries.

The second thing I would say is I would encourage you highly to pick up the prayer guide and to be, as a family, as a single with roommates, thinking about how to pray for our missionaries that are on the field serving.  They’re in different places in the world, some harder than others.  They have different situations.  I was telling the folks before had prayer tonight for our nation that when I was in Zimbabwe this last time, about two and a half months ago, I got on the plane and a young man got on the plane, sat by me and I struck up a conversation with him.  He was from Spain and he worked for the World Coalition of Elections, something about checking elections around the world, and Zimbabwe had just had one.  I asked him so how did it go?  What were your findings?  And he had to say to me, “Let’s wait until the door closes.”  So the door closed and then he began to tell me that the only other place in the world that, he estimated doing this for 20 years, he said was worse was Bangladesh.  So Zimbabwe and our brothers and sisters there are in hard places as they serve with an economy that’s in shambles and with other challenges unique to that part of the world.  They are like that so pray for them.  Pray regularly for them as a family.  Involve your children in praying for our missionaries.

Remember Neil’s comment, Neil MacMillan from Scotland – relationship is more significant than funding as much as funding is needed.

What might you do to partner in the Gospel with a particular missionary?  Would it be correspondence with that missionary?  Maybe writing them or writing their kids letters?  Their kids deal with the same things our kids deal with, our grandkids deal with, but much more difficult in many places.  Would it be courage for their families in special seasons?  Would it be hosting them while they’re in town?  Would it be picking one or two missionary workers each year and with your family make it your goal to have a deeper relationship with them?  They are happy, more than happy, to do that, 99.999% of the time.

They have challenges, they have desires, they have a life living on the field, trusting the Lord to use them in Gospel ministry.

Friendship, partnership, worship.  That’s the foundation of our giving to missions, and our receiving in missions as well.  The blessings that we receive.  May Christ Covenant continue its long history of faithful and generous support of our sent workers that roots itself in friendship, partnership, and worship so that the Gospel will continue to advance in all the world until Jesus comes again.  

Let’s pray.  Father, I pray that You would deepen our friendships with our supported workers.  May they not be just contractual, may they be relational.  May we know the reality of and enjoy the partnership we have with them in ministry as they minister in other places around the world, an extension of sorts for the benefit and blessing of giving and receiving and the joy of knowing that our God will provide all our and their needs with Christ’s unsearchable riches, all for the glory of Christ alone.  In His name we pray.  Amen.