Rejoice in the Lord Always! Rejoice?! #3
Oct 18, 2020
20th Sunday after Pentecost
Stewardship 3 - Commitment Sunday
Text: Philippians 4:10-20
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Rejoice in the Lord always! Rejoice!?! Here we are, our third and final week focused on the 4th chapter of Philippians. It is rather surprising, when you consider it, that we could spend three Sundays on one chapter of one brief book of the Bible. There is so much to glean from so few verses!
The Apostle Paul tells the people in the newly formed Christian church in Philippi, and us too, that it is possible to be content, to have an inner sense of profound peace, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Paul learned to rely on God’s grace to help him prevail; he writes, “I have power in all situations by the one who is empowering me,” or, the more familiar translation, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
We determined last week that it is no wonder Paul could proclaim, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say rejoice!” With that level of trust in the Lord, who would not rejoice?
We move on then, from these inspiring encouragements, to verse 14 and the reason for Paul’s letter … gratitude. He is thankful for the financial gift the Philippian church sent him, which will meet his needs during his imprisonment in Rome. He also makes it clear that, although the Philippians are a small and poor group, they have been financially supporting Paul and his ministry since the church was founded. In fact, it sounds as if that congregation was the only one to consistently do so. Their generosity, Paul writes, is a way of partnering with him in the proclamation of the Gospel.
It is rather odd; more than one commentator noted that in verses 17 and 18, Paul uses business terms to refer to the Philippians’ gifts. He writes that he does not so much seek the gift, but “I seek the interest accruing to your account.” (That’s the closer translation from the Greek.) (1) He’s not likely referring to monetary interest or profit, but is saying that he’s more interested in what their giving does for them than what it does for him. He wants them to be blessed in their giving.
He continues with financial terms, writing about receiving “payment if full.” That may mean he literally has enough money to survive and does not need more, but it could also be a way of indicating the joy their sacrifice has brought him. It has filled him with and gratitude and also is a fragrant offering to God, which delights God and will result in God’s blessing.
Then, we reach the ultimate promise in verse 19: “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” WOW! What does that imply? Nearly every commentator gives that verse a straightforward interpretation. Before we talk about that, though, let’s remember the context.
Paul is writing this promise to people who have given sacrificially to support the ministry of Jesus Christ. As one commentator said, “It’s not a blank check for the whole human race.” I’ll quote Pastor Ray Stedman, “It (this verse) has sometimes been taken to apply to everyone everywhere. It’s not that. Half the world goes to bed hungry every night, as you know, and millions live in desperate need of both body and spirit. This is not a promise that God is going to meet all the time every need of every human life.” (2) Although I would insert, that’s possible if we human beings would do God’s will; but, that’s a topic for another sermon.
So, the straightforward interpretation of this verse is that when we give, out of gratitude for God’s grace, for the sake of the Gospel, God gives back. To quote Pastor Stedman again, “That is exactly what Paul is saying here to his dear Philippian friends. He says, ‘you have given to me out of your poverty, out of your lack, at cost to yourselves. I am grateful for that, not because of the gift which in itself was a delightful fragrance in the nostrils of God, but it means that my God will also give back to you…according to the riches of Christ Jesus.’” (3)
By the way, that’s an interesting phrase, “according to the riches in Christ Jesus.” An interesting way to explain it is to think of one of the world’s wealthiest people, let’s say Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Suppose you and I went to him and asked for a donation for a beyond-a-doubt worthy cause. After we presented the need, he sat down, took out his checkbook, and with bated breath, we watched him write a check for…$20. Now…that would be giving out of his riches, and no doubt we would find it difficult to be truly grateful, given the potential of those riches. But, if he gave according to his riches, we could celebrate a much bigger check.
So, when God gives according to his riches in Christ Jesus, it’s generosity beyond our ability to comprehend; that’s grace. God will give much more than we ask because our frame-of-reference is so limited. This is probably a good time to point out that the verse says God will “fully satisfy every need of yours,” not every want. What we think we need, and what God thinks we need, may not be the same thing.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what this text is saying. I am confident it is not indicating that if we give $100 for ministry, we’ll get $100 in return. I’m not even positive it’s promising food, clothing and shelter to the faithful, although many could manage with much less than what we think we need and it would then be more feasible for those needs to be met more broadly.
What experience has shown me is that when we respond with gratitude to the gifts of God’s grace and intentionally, thoughtfully give of whatever we have to do ministry, making it a priority, then we are blessed. We are blessed with a deeper relationship with God, which leads to stronger faith, fuller trust in God and the contentment and peace to which Paul refers.
When the people of Philippi committed themselves to the ministry of Jesus being done by Paul, they received in return access to the riches in Christ Jesus. So do we. That is why Commitment Sunday is not as much a financial exercise as a spiritual activity, in which we have the opportunity to participate today.
We are encouraged to prayerfully, intentionally consider making a commitment to share our time, abilities and money to support the ministry of Jesus at Faith Lutheran Church. And, God gives to us according to God’s riches in Christ Jesus – grace is given in abundance – and we are blessed. That is a reason to rejoice in the Lord always! Yes…rejoice! AMEN
(1) “Money and Ministry – Philippians 4:10-20” by Marg Mowczko, May 1, 2010, www.margmowzko.com
(2) “To Be Content” by Ray C. Stedman, Philippians 4:10-20, www.raystedman.org
(3) Same as #2