This is post #25 of a 26-session blog series entitled Two Joyful Pastors – One Great Work of Christ: A Journey with Paul, Timothy, and the Philippian Church. It was Eugene Peterson who said that Philippians is Paul’s happiest letter. Join us as we explore this joyful work of Christ as it manifest itself amongst Paul and Timothy, and the early church of Christ-followers in Philippi. Just maybe, we might learn a few secrets to finding true joy in the midst of our lives as well. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.
Today’s Lectio Divina: You Philippians well know, and you can be sure I’ll never forget it, that when I first left Macedonia province, venturing out with the Message, not one church helped out in the give-and-take of this work except you. You were the only one. Even while I was in Thessalonica, you helped out—and not only once, but twice. Not that I’m looking for handouts, but I do want you to experience the blessing that issues from generosity. And now I have it all—and keep getting more! The gifts you sent with Epaphroditus were more than enough, like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end. You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes. Philippians 4: 15-20 (MsgB)
I don’t know about you, but one of my on-going battles in life has centered around provision.
Will we have enough income to make ends meet?
Will we have enough money to pay the mortgage this month?
Will we get a paycheck this month, or not?
You see, most people who go into pastoral ministry, don’t do it to get rich. As a matter of fact, most pastors I know share the same financial struggles. The facts make it pretty clear.
Most churches in America are well under the size of 200. And when it comes to these churches being able to fully support a full-time pastor, in most cases, it’s a big, big stretch.
Sandy & I planted our church in Cedar Rapids over 20 years ago, and like most pastors I know, we have cut corners in nearly every area of our lives in order to scratch out a living as we pastored our church.
Now, I’m not telling you this so you’ll feel sorry for us, but I am bringing it up because in today’s text, Paul is talking about something most of us in church don’t want to talk about…
You see, whether you are a businessperson, an administrative secretary, an electrician, a plumber, a student, or a pastor, it takes money to live. And it was no different in the days of Jesus, Peter, and Paul, as it is today.
When we read between the lines of Paul’s letters, we know several things about Paul, his ministry companions, and the early church.
- The first-century church of Jesus Christ, in general, was not made up of wealthy people. As a grass roots movement, the early church operated on a shoestring budget, receiving no support at all from the established Roman government or the Jewish-led synagogues. As a matter of fact, both of those institutions were warring against this newly-formed ministry, trying to stomp it out at every turn.
- Paul, and many of his traveling companions of the day, had other income sources outside the support they received from the church. We know, for example, that Paul was a tent-maker, and from what we know about his life and ministry, he never stopped this bi-vocational activity as he journeyed over the thousands of miles of the Roman empire.
- There were a number of generous people in the church, including many women, who became regular benefactors to Paul, and his traveling team. One prime example comes from the church in Philippi. Lydia, the first person to come to Christ in this fair city, was a merchant in purple cloth, and in the Book of Acts, we read that it was Lydia who provided a great amount of financial and provisional support for Paul and others along the way.
- The good folks in Philippi were one of the primary resources for not only Paul, but from what we read in today’s text, they were key supporters to a number of good causes needing financial help in the early church. One important fund-raising effort that many of Paul’s letters speak to is the funds being raised to help the church back in Jerusalem, which had suffered greatly at the hands of both the Roman government and the religious leaders of the day.
- Giving to the church, in those days, was a sacrificial effort. With very few in the early church being financially-well-endowed, their gifts were very sacrificial in nature. Paul says it here himself: “The gifts you sent… (are a) sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end.”
So, let me pull all this together and make a couple of points.
First, it’s obvious from what Paul writes here and elsewhere in his letters, that for those of us who step into pastoral ministry roles, we need to fully understand that we are never doing it for the money. As a matter of fact, if money becomes a primary issue, we’ve lost the battle. That’s why Paul speaks so clearly about how God is his ultimate provider, and that he has learned to be content whether he has much in the way of provision or little.
Secondly, I firmly believe that more of us in pastoral ministry today should seriously re-consider the widely-accepted rule of thumb that the only truly successful ministry is full-time ministry. You see, while I fully understand our honest desire, as pastors, to give God and His people our full-time efforts for the cause of Christ, I look back today and wish my wife and I had been more like Paul, being bi-vocational pastors, pulling a more reliable income from other more-dependable sources rather than just looking to our church for full-time support. The truth is, in our ever-changing culture, where less people attend church than ever before, there will be even more churches, like ours in Cedar Rapids, who will struggle to support a full-time pastor.
Finally, I want to plead with those of you who truly benefit from the on-going ministry of the pastor(s) of your church.
Folks, being a pastor who has struggled with having enough provision to take care of my family, know that most pastors won’t tell you about their struggles. I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that your pastor needs more of your support. They need your prayers. They need your encouragement. And yes, they are counting on God to provide. But here’s the God-honest truth. They need your MONEY!
Today, I encourage you to prayerfully consider being like the good folks of Philippi, and become, like they did, regular benefactors not just to your church, but to your pastor! Buildings are important, of course. Ministry and outreach are vital. But here’s the truth. None of those things will be successful long term if your pastor and his or her family are struggling to make ends meet.
Will you join me in prayer?
Today’s Prayer: Lord Jesus, You, as our Savior, are our Perfect Provision. Father God, as our Creator/King, You have promised to take care of all of our needs. Holy Spirit, You are the great Comforter/Encourager, carrying us through our times of need. Now, Lord, with that being said, I pray that You will awaken Your people to become pro-actively involved in the Mission of Christ by opening up their wallets, bank accounts, IRA’s, and other financial resources. For Your Name’s sake and for Your Glory. Amen.
Today’s Questions to Ponder: So, have I become so uptight about my own provisional needs that I’ve shut down the gift of generous giving? In what practical ways do I need to step my giving to God’s work so that it might be defined as a “sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end?”
So, how are you experiencing Jesus as we ponder together on this journey into the Book of Philippians?
Two Joyful Pastors – One Great Work of Christ: A Journey with Paul, Timothy, and the Philippian Church. We hope you’ll enjoy this series of 26 blogs. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.
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