The Grace of Giving and Receiving

The missionary task requires humble generosity and genuine reciprocity between gospel workers and supporting churches.

“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 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. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.” (Philippians 4:14-16 ESV)

In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, when the character Bishop Myriel extends generosity to the convict Jean Valjean, the novel’s protagonist, Valjean is initially hesitant to accept it. Overcoming Valjean’s resistance, the bishop declares, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

Even the simplest seeds of Christian charity can yield a harvest of great consequence—as Myriel’s words concerning the state of Valjean’s soul demonstrate. Yet just as striking is the human tendency to proudly resist such acts of kindness. Even in our closest personal relationships, we squabble over who will cover lunch or pay for gas and, if we lose, are sure to assert for the record, “I’ll owe you one” or “You didn’t have to do that.” Rather than humbly receive others’ generosity, we insist upon our own self-sufficiency—sometimes even depriving others of the grace of giving (Acts 20:35).

Although the Apostle Paul was content whatever his lot (Philippians 4:12-13), he was careful to avoid appearing ungrateful for the Philippians’ generosity. He was sure to commend them for their kindness in sharing his trouble (v. 14), further evincing their allegiance with him (1:5, 7). Apparently, from the early days of Paul’s mission in Philippi (“the beginning of the gospel,” Philippians 4:15) and from there to Athens and Corinth, the Philippian church alone had financially supported the apostle. From the first moment that Lydia had prevailed upon Paul’s missionary team to show them hospitality (Acts 16:15), to when they had sent messengers to meet his needs in Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:8-9), to this later stage in his ministry, these Macedonian saints had distinguished themselves as sacrificially generous supporters of the gospel’s advance.

Strikingly, Paul refers to this relationship in reciprocal terms: “partnership . . . in giving and receiving” (v. 15). John Gill observes the parallel between these terms and common accounting terms of the day, signifying deposits and credits. The Philippians repaid Paul materially what he had invested in them spiritually, while other churches had not. In turn, they reaped spiritual rewards all the more by aligning themselves with his ministry and remaining connected to him from afar. Such partnership would prove vital in Thessalonica (v. 16), where Paul faced violent resistance from unbelieving Jews. Out of their love for Paul, the Philippians sent aid not once but multiple times (v. 16).

Most Christians recognize their obligation, at least in principle, to financially support missionaries. Fewer, however, recognize the genuine reciprocity that ought to exist between a gospel worker and a supporting church. These relationships ought to be marked by a mutual, joyful exchange of spiritual investment through such means as prayer, fellowship, and brotherly affection in addition to tangible demonstrations of service.

William Carey recognized the need for such partnership at the onset of his missionary career—an occasion to which Andrew Fuller, his pastor, rose:

Our undertaking to India really appeared to me, on its commencement, to be somewhat like a few men, who were deliberating about the importance of penetrating into a deep mine, which had never before been explored. We had no one to guide us, and while we were thus deliberating, [William] Carey, as it were, said, ‘Well, I will go down if you will hold the rope.’ But before he went down, (continued Mr. Fuller,) he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us, at the mouth of the pit, to this effect, that [we] ‘while we lived, should never let go of the rope.’ You understand me. There was great responsibility attached to us who began the business (From Tom Nettles, The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming a Baptist Identity [Beginnings in Britain], 267).

If we are to propel the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth, we cannot treat the matter of missionary support with the same flippancy with which we play-fight over who foots the bill at lunch, politely declining each other’s generosity. Rather, the church must willingly and firmly hold the rope for Christ’s heralds who rappel to the unreached. Those who go must guard against the pride of refusing help, while the church must guard against the equally dangerous pride of refusing to help. An attitude of humble generosity alone befits those who are the passive recipients of the free grace of an all-giving God. And in thus giving and receiving freely, we too will find our souls set free and given to God.


I thank you for the model in Scripture of believers who gave freely to the work of mission. Help me to steward my resources to support those who labor in your name, and when I too am in need, grant me, like Paul, to rejoice in the kindness shown to me. I praise you for the way you weave together each member of Christ’s body, the church, such that every need is met, the gospel is advanced, and you are glorified as the ultimate Giver.
In Jesus’ name,

Prayer Requests:

  • Pray that the Lord would remove any pride from your heart preventing you from receiving the kindness offered by others. Ask God where you can become more receptive to his goodness shown through human hands.
  • Pray for under-supported and newly-appointed missionaries to raise their full funds so that the good news would advance through them. 
  • Pray for more churches to both send and support gospel workers generously, seeing themselves as partners in ministry.