“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 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.” (Philippians 4:17-18 ESV)
In 2021, the Houston Chronicle published an exposé uncovering questionable accounting associated with prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland’s “parsonage”—a tax-sheltered, 18,000-square-foot mansion valued at approximately $7 million on the market, yet somehow assessed at only $125,000. The article quoted Copeland, who boasts an alleged net worth of $760 million, speaking about the property in 2015: “You may think it’s too grand. I don’t care what you think. I heard from heaven,” alluding to his claim that he built the property based on divine revelation. “Glory to God, hallelujah!”
Anyone who has channel-surfed late at night is likely familiar with the pervasive issue of prosperity preaching in contemporary times. Charismatic leaders in the Word of Faith movement promise divine favors in exchange for financial support, accumulating vast wealth at the expense of their trusting followers. Yet numberless souls lie in their wake—some repelled from religion entirely after enduring such deceit, while others are inoculated to the true gospel by the attenuated alternative of positive thinking. The wicked pattern continues unabated across the nation and globe, despite cries of hypocrisy from corners of the media and heresy from the church.
Against such a backdrop, the words of the Apostle Paul stand out in stark contrast. Writing not from luxury but from imprisonment, Paul appeals not for donations but for devotion—simple piety among his supporters in Philippi. While commending his readers for their generosity, Paul emphasizes that his primary concern isn’t to benefit financially from their largesse but to witness spiritual fruit accumulate in their accounts. Earlier, he expressed confidence that they would bear the fruit of righteousness up to the day of Christ (Philippians 1:11). Having founded the church in Philippi, Paul’s foremost wish is for them to mature and bear fruit—fruit which, blending metaphors in typical Pauline fashion, is credited to their ledger for eternal reward. Paul wrote this clearly understanding the Lord’s teaching that those who support a traveling preacher will partake in that preacher’s reward (Matthew 10:42).
Paul, praising his followers in Philippi, feels comforted as he recounts what he has received from them through Epaphroditus. However, his solace isn’t so much in the provisions they granted him but in the spiritual maturity their generosity demonstrated. Paul had been a spiritual guide during their induction into the kingdom of Christ; now they were guiding and nurturing others. Paul was truly pleased with this—as he expressed to another church: “For I seek not what is yours but you” (2 Corinthians 12:14).
What delighted the apostle most about the church’s gracious giving was that they did so as an act of worship—a “fragrant offering . . . acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). What they gave to him, they were, in essence, offering to God. Just as sacrifices under the old covenant produced a literal savory aroma (see Genesis 8:21), the worship of the saints in the new covenant rises before God pleasingly (Revelation 5:8). Offering such delightful gifts to God is indeed a significant objective of the Christian life. As the author of Hebrews notes:
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:15-16)
While few can relate to the unique temptations of luxury that ensnare public figures, we are all called to perceive our duties as the Philippians did and to respond to others’ generosity as Paul did. We donate to ministers of the gospel not for personal gain but in worship to God and love for the saints, just as Christ himself was offered up as a sweet aroma to the Father (Ephesians 5:2). As Paul encourages in another context, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Our generosity to ministry should arise not from begrudging obligation but from a joyful overflow of worship. Similarly, when we find ourselves benefitting from Christian charity, we should rejoice not only in what satisfies our physical needs but also in the grace of God active in others’ hearts.
These twin, godly states of mind are united by a supreme delight, not in worldly possessions but in the Lord. Reflecting on such contentment, the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, writes:
Do not rejoice in your privileges; I mean, do not make the great joy of your life to be the fact that you are favoured with this and that external privilege or ordinance, but rejoice in God. He changes not. If the Lord be your joy, your joy will never dry up. All other things are but for a season; but God is for ever and ever. Make him your joy, the whole of your joy, and then let this joy absorb your every thought.” (“Joy—A Duty”)
The world’s religious charlatans know nothing of such deep-seated satisfaction in the Lord’s goodness. So, whether we give or receive—in reality, we are all engaging in both—let us do so recognizing the all-generous Giver who supports every act of grace his people undertake, empowering and supplying them in every way.
When I give, help me to do so generously, rather than grudgingly, knowing that you provide all that I have so that I can make return to you and bring you glory. I thank you for supplying my needs and for those who, in turn, have been generous to me in your name. Help me to live generously as a sacrifice to you.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
- Pray that across the nation and the world, helpless sheep would be delivered from the clutches of profiteering, prosperity-preaching wolves who prey upon them.
- Pray that a spirit of worshipful, joyful giving would pervade your church body when members are in need. Seek that God would direct you to be faithful in this regard.
- Pray that God would raise up grace-filled donors to support the work of mission at home and abroad. Ask that the result of their gifts would be a pleasing aroma ascending to God.