“15 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. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit 18 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.19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
It’s important when we read the book of Philippians to remember that it is a letter—a letter written by a missionary/church planter to his supporting church! We were at a conference for missionary families many years ago where the Bible teacher for the week taught through Philippians, focusing on it as a missionary prayer letter. Aha! That was eye-opening and something we could relate to. Of course, it is much more than a typical prayer letter, but reading the book with that perspective in mind adds even more depth to its meaning.
Paul talks about partnership and participation in the gospel throughout the letter; Churches and the missionaries they send are partners in many ways, but here in the closing verses, he focuses on finances. Look at all the words that might make us think along those lines: give, receive, needs, gift, credit (or account), payment, offering, sacrifice, supply.
I found a very insightful commentary that delineates Paul’s teaching in this passage on the missionary/supporting church partnership in this way:
– the missionary is thankful (v.10), but not dependent or grasping (vv. 11-13).
– the church does well to help the missionary in trouble (vs. 14)
– this fellowship relationship goes back to the early days (vv. 15-16)
– the missionary is not materialistic, but seeks the spiritual good of the church (vs. 17)
– the church’s gifts are like a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God (vs. 18)
– the missionary assures them that God will meet their needs (vs. 19)
– the missionary praises God (vs. 20)
(The author is not cited, but the commentary is found here: https://bible.org/book/export/html/18572)
What a great playbook for missionaries and churches! We know from experience that each of these points is true. We want to thank you, LSA, for being a partner in the gospel with us! For well over a decade, you’ve sent many of your people to Prague who have given of their time, talents and treasures serving the Czech church as well as unbelievers. You have sent gifts of support to our account that allow us to continue living there, doing the work of evangelism and church-planting, and passing those gifts along to others. We have seen fruit and there are saints you will meet in heaven because of your sweet-smelling sacrifice to us. And multiply that by all the lives that have been changed through your gifts to the other missionaries and ministries that LSA supports!
We want to continue to do our part as Paul has described it. We will continue to thank you and praise God for His provision for our needs through you. We give God the glory for this body of believers that has been and continues to be generous to so many people in so many ways. We will continue to pray for you as a church that God will guide you as you seek to uphold His word and reach out to the unbelieving world and that He will abundantly bless you as you trust Him to provide for all your needs.
Similar to what Paul writes in verse 23, the believers in Czech churches have a custom when they visit another church of bringing greetings during the worship service from their home church. In unison, the congregation responds with thank you and the visitor asks permission to bring greetings from them back to their home church, which is of course granted. We will bring greetings from you back to our churches in Prague when we return in January. Our hope is that it brings you joy to know that you have brothers and sisters in Christ there.
John Piper has pointed out that Paul opens each of his epistles with the phrase “grace to you and closes each of them with the phrase “grace with you” just as we see here in Philippians. He writes, “What then do we learn from Paul’s unbroken pattern of beginning and ending his letters in this way? We learn that grace is an unmistakable priority in the Christian life. We learn that it is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, but that it can come through people. We learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living. In other words, we learn that grace is not merely a past reality but a future one.”
May each of us take the words of encouragement and the treasures of truth found in Philippians with us as we go into our day
P.S. If you would like to read more missionary prayer letters (albeit not inspired ones like Paul’s, but Lord willing, they will be a spiritual blessing to you) you can send your email address to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.