THE JOY OF FINANCIAL FUNCTIONALITY
Most all of the members of the early body of Christ functioned organically from the time when they were still dripping wet from the waters of baptism. Even on the birthday of the ekklesia (church), “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (At 2:44). The members of the body were not only connected to the Lord in a covenant relationship through obedience to the gospel, they were also connected to one another in service to the physical needs that prevailed at the time, especially to the support of those who went forth to preach the gospel they had obeyed.
The beginning of the ekklesia in Acts 2 sets the model for everyone who would later obey the gospel. As a result, the organic function of the early obedient went forth out of Jerusalem to all the world, even to us today. Growth of the church happened because others followed the example of those first disciples. Growth happened in Antioch (At 13:1-3). Growth happened in Ephesus (At 19:8-10). It happened in Thessalonica (1 Th 1:6-10). And it happened in Philippi (Ph 4:15,16). It was simply understood that when one freely received the gospel, he was to make sure that it was freely preached somewhere else. One of the greatest examples of this was the sacrificial giving of a few Christians in the city of Philippi.
A few years after their conversion, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only” (Ph 4:15). The Philippians’ partnership with Paul in preaching the gospel to other places through Paul began when they were new Christians. In fact, they were only a “few days” old as Christians when they began their support of the evangelists who went on to Thessalonica, for Paul, Silas and Timothy stayed only a few days in Philippi (See At 16:12). These were not “taker Christians,” “for even in Thessalonica,” Paul wrote, “you sent once and again for my needs” (Ph 4:16). When Paul went on from Thessalonica in Macedonia, the Philippians, who were in Macedonia, even continued their financial partnership with him in preaching the gospel in Achaia. He later wrote to shame the Corinthians, “And when I was present with you and in need, I was not a burden to anyone, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied” (2 Co 11:9).
The fascinating function of the Philippians, as well as the Thessalonians, who both resided in the province of Macedonia, is that they contributed to reach out with the gospel to other areas from the very beginning of their walk in Christ.
As the Philippians, the Thessalonians went to work, both locally and regionally, by sending support to Paul while he was in Achaia (More later). But what is strikingly awesome about the behavior of the Philippians was that from their very beginning as new Christians, they “sent once and again” unto Paul’s needs while he was in Thessalonica, and then in Achaia. We wonder why they did this? Was it something that Paul taught them? Or, was Paul one who preached for money? From what Paul did in both Thessalonica and Achaia, the answer to these questions was that he worked with his own hands in order not to beg off the brethren (See 2 Co 11:9; 2 Th 3:8). Both the Philippians and Thessalonians witnessed his sacrificial behavior, and thus, they were moved to help support him in order that the gospel go beyond the borders of their province.
Now as we study through these examples of supporting evangelists, we must not forget one very important point. The evangelists were going forth. They were not “stay-at-home” preachers who misappropriated the work of an evangelist. They were on the move preaching to the lost in other areas, not preaching to the saved at home. This does not mean that the local brethren should not support their teachers. This is not the discussion of this chapter. The point here is that those who obey the gospel must make sure that the gospel is preached to the lost in every nation of the world.
So the next question would be, Was what the Philippians believed and accepted inherent in the gospel that Paul preached? This would be our conclusion. God is a giver. He gave His only begotten Son (Jn 3:16). Therefore, anyone who would truly accept the message of God’s love, seeks how he or she can get this message out to others. Godly people want to give as God gave good news to them (1 Jn 4:19). This is the beauty of the gospel. When one obeys this message of love, he must give, even when one is in poverty circumstances as the Philippians. Listen to the Holy Spirit’s testimony of the disciples in Macedonia where Philippi was located:
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia, that in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty, abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Co 8:1-4).
The only begging that should ever come from a disciple of Christ is his begging that someone take his contribution. Why have we reversed this to an outstretched hand that is always looking for a gift? If one becomes a disciple of Jesus, then his begging from others must stop. If it does not, then the person never really believed the message of the free gift of grace that moves believers to be givers. Godly people do not beg for themselves. They only beg that the needy receive their contributions of love. Now we can understand why Paul wrote that the Thessalonians must withdraw their fellowship from any person who would seek to beg off the church. He wrote to the disciples who had some beggars among them, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother who walks disorderly and not after the tradition that he received from us” (2 Th 3:6).
Paul did not behave disorderly among the Thessalonians (2 Th 3:7). He, Timothy and Silas did not eat “any man’s bread without paying for it” (2 Th 3:8). Their “orderly walk” and example was that they “worked with labor and hardship night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you” (2 Th 3:8). So if there are any among the brethren who are “not willing to work neither let him eat [beg]” (2 Th 3:10). Christians are not beggars off one another. They are partners together in Christ. If there are beggars among us, then Paul states that these beggars are walking disorderly. And because they are walking disorderly, two things must happen: First they must not be allowed to continue to beg off those who work, and second, if they persist in their begging, then they must be disfellowshipped from the family of God. The church is not a fellowship of beggars, neither is it a welfare society for those who can work when there is work to be done.
Christians who beg off other Christians are walking disorderly in reference to their function as members of the organic body of Christ. If one would be a member of the same church to which the Thessalonians were added, then he cannot be a beggar off his fellow brothers in Christ. If they continue such begging behavior, then they cannot be in fellowship with the organically functioning body of Christ.
The Philippians, as well as the Thessalonians, saw a different culture in the message of Jesus, and thus, they established a culture of giving. They could not compare themselves with other disciples in their region, for there were no other disciples in their region to which they could look for an example. The only example they had was reflected in the behavior of the sacrificial living of Paul, Timothy, Luke and Silas, which example was an emulation of the sacrificial behavior of Christ. “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation …” (See Ph 2:5-8). As an example to the Thessalonians and Philippians, Paul, Timothy, Luke and Silas made themselves worked with their own hands (2 Th 3:9). And so, Paul could write to the financially dysfunctional Corinthians, “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Co 11:1). The Philippians and Thessalonians had imitated the behavior of Paul. Now it was time for the Corinthians to enjoy the sacrificial life of Paul.
In the area of physical things, one does not come to Christ to see what he can get. If one does, he will not experience the pure joy of being a godly giver for Jesus. Simon came to Christ to see that he could get, but when Peter said he could not buy it for himself, he became bitter. (Read carefully At 8:18-23, specifically verse 23. Simon became bitter because he could not make a profit out of laying hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit.)
The Philippians saw what they could give, not what they could get. As a result, their standard of living came down because of their giving out of their deep poverty. And they did this with “the abundance of their joy and their keep poverty” (2 Co 8:2). We used to say, “Give until it hurts!” We were wrong. The truth is that we must experience the abundance of the joy of Jesus until we give. There should never be any “hurting” in giving. It should simply be as natural for the Christian as eating to preserve our natural body. This is why the Philippians could joyfully give out of their deep poverty. Therefore, the conclusion from our study of the example of the Philippians is that one does not really understand the message of the gospel of joy unless he comes away from the waters of baptism looking for something on which he can pour out his joy. Doing such is inherent in the message of the “good news” (gospel) that we have obeyed. Giving, therefore, should be an occasion of just pure joy, not “hurting.”