14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 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.
Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was troubled, to say the least. He entered the local synagogue there and labored to explain who Jesus is and what Jesus had done. Though many of the Jews in Thessalonica believed, a mob formed and tried to seize Paul and Silas to bring them up on charges of treason against Ceasar and have them arrested or even killed. After some bribes were paid by the believers, Paul and Silas fled the city by night (C.f. Acts 17:1-9).
What a terrifying reality to face. Imagine entering a city and preaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ with some measure of conversion and success in persuasion, only to find out that a small minority of hateful people have rejected the gospel, formed a mob, and are seeking your death. Certainly, Paul knows what rejection feels like. From an external perspective, Thessalonica appears to be a failure in Paul’s missionary journeys. He was unable to peacefully develop a church community and faced such violence that he was forced to flee. His rejection was evident and the failure was palpable. Yet, the Philippians supported his efforts and maintained concern for his work. It was their contribution that permitted Paul and Silas to work in Thessalonica without cost (1 Thess. 2:9 and 2 Thess. 3:7-8). The Philippians have been consistently supportive of Paul’s missions from the beginning and have maintained that support even in locations where it seemed as if there was no fruit.
Paul did not have to produce reports for the Philippians or send them pictures and testimonials from the field. Instead, they pursued his work and his affection. They sent messengers to him with care packages and pursued him to learn about what was going on in the places he was ministering. While it would have been easy to discount Paul’s ministry at times and insist that they could spend their resources better elsewhere, the Philippians trusted in the Lord to fulfill the work and entrusted their resources to God’s minister. It is this sort of giving that validates the affection of the church for the mission of God. If the church is openhanded with its giving and actively involved in pursuing knowledge of the work, then that church is proving its own affection for the gospel ministry.
Epaphroditus traveled to Paul, risking his life for the opportunity to share in the work of the gospel through the gift of resources to Paul. It is a tremendous blessing to the missionary when others who are like-minded are willing to sacrifice in order to join in the work. This sort of support sends the message to the missionary that they are not alone. One of the most common hindrance to the Christian leader is a feeling of loneliness. In the face of rejection and seeming failure, it is easy to feel alone on the mission. When fellow believers pray, support, investigate, and get involved with the work, missionaries can rest in the confidence that they are not alone and they can lean on the emotional and material support of the broader family of God.
All this support is to the glory of God. Paul’s growing confidence in the Philippians is not only assuring him that he is not alone in the work. It is also fortifying his confidence in the sovereign Lord of all things. Through the provision of support for the gospel ministry, the Philippians are actually validating God’s own sovereign work. The surrender of possessions and commitment to Paul’s missionary efforts serve as validation of their affection, but also of God’s approval and efforts. So Paul’s extreme confidence in God’s provision and sovereignty is only strengthened through the efforts of the Philippians.
When a church submits to sacrifice for the work of the gospel, there will inevitably be a hesitancy to continue with the work as their own resources and ability to provide for their own work diminishes. In times when resources are depleting and efforts seem to be stretching too thin, the church needs the reminder of verse 19: God will “supply your needs.” It is a common struggle in modern western churches to place their security in their own supply of money and resources. Western churches are extremely wealthy. Even the poorest of churches in the west is more financially stable than the average church in the rest of the world. At first, this appears to be a benefit that God has lavished upon His people. However, a careful observer can see that wealth is not always a blessing. Attend one or two business meetings at a local church and the heart of the leadership will quickly be revealed. How much time is spent debating frivolities that cost money and how much time is given to prayer and reports from the mission field or church planting? Does the church spend the majority of its time debating how money is spent or do they spend their time praying and investigating where to send their money? When the money and resources are beginning to be exhausted, the church leaders should remind the people that God will meet their needs. It is confidence in the sovereign God of all things that will bring security, not money. Surrender the finances in obedience to God and He will provide your needs.
The above questions are good questions to ask. Though they are not exhaustive in their determination of the heart of a church, they will give some indication as to the church’s dedication to the mission and their confidence in God’s provision. When you are seeking a church to partner with in ministry, seek out the heart of the leaders in that church. Then see if the people are following the Word of the Lord. If their confidence is in the Lord and His word, then they’ll be able to lead well and the people will be able to join in the mission. If not, keep searching.