In our last in the series 'Letters from Lockdown' Pete preaches onPaul's final words in his letter in Philippians 4:10-20. In this passage Paul encourages the Philippians to continue giving generously as the have received generously from God.
We all have a favourite smell. It might be the smell of freshly cut grass, or a favourite perfume. Often a smell can evoke memories and emotions. We can identify attractive or repellent things through their smell.
The big question is what smell most pleases God?
In these closing verses of his letter to the Philippian church, Paul’s mind turned to the topic of smell. We should remember that, at the time, he was imprisoned and chained in a, probably, foul smelling Roman jail, and yet he suddenly smelt a beautiful fragrance which could only be the fragrance of the Philippian church. He smelt this lovely aroma because he was thinking of the gifts the church had sent to him to help him in his Gospel ministry. He described these gifts, in verse 18,
“They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”
These words literally mean sweet-smelling, welcoming and well-pleasing.
The ‘Message’ version of this passage expresses it in this way:
‘Like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, and pleasing God no end.’
Their generosity caused Paul to rejoice in the same way that God rejoices over our generosity. The language used in these verses refers to the Old Testament book of Leviticus which describes the sweet-smelling sacrifices that were offered at the altar of the Lord.
But, sadly, the very same offerings can stink too. In the Old Testament there are many examples where the thankless attitude of the giver turned the offerings into an offense to God. God requires a broken heart and a contrite spirit! Offerings should be lifted to the Lord with gratitude and thanks.
In the book of Leviticus, it explains clearly that the offering needed to be the very best, given with heart-felt gratitude and love, and an understanding of the forgiveness symbolised by that offering. If offerings are given out of duty or are the equivalent of our ‘left-overs’, they will stink.
We have to remember that God doesn’t need our sacrifices because everything belongs to him already, and they will never buy our favour with him.
But offerings actually teach us to be generous, like God, in our thanksgiving back to him.
Do we fully understand what a generous God we have? How we respond to giving, indicates the level of our understanding of the gift that God gave us in his son Jesus Christ.
Using the language of professional wine-tasters, they talk of ‘the nose’ and the ‘notes’ that are savoured after smelling the wine.
What are the ‘notes’ that make a sweet aroma to the Lord??
Note 1 - Share
Look at verses 14-16
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.
In its literal translation, share means ‘partnership’. It was used to refer to the running of a business, or to have shares in a business. So, the Philippians had taken shares in Paul’s mission and service. Their understanding of God’s free gift in Christ freed them to share their gifts. They weren’t influenced by the behaviour of other churches around them. Their generosity was immediate, and not just a one-off gift. It formed a continual partnership with Paul in his ministry.
Even when there were difficulties and troubles for Paul, the church suffered with Paul, and gave according to his need. They were partners with him, giving as much as they received.
What makes God’s people generous?
Matthew 10:8 “Freely you have received; freely give.”
The foundation of generosity is the grace of God. He is so gracious, so we are gracious. We share with him. If we are in partnership with him, we have to be generous.
So how do we smell?
Note 2 – Credit
4:17 “Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.”
Paul is not here rejecting the gifts. He certainly doesn’t want more gifts. He also doesn’t question that God will fulfil his purposes without them. As verse 19 states, God is the giver: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
But the giving is a blessing to them. As they gave, they received more. Their account was credited the more they gave.
God doesn’t need our gifts but how we give reveals more of our own heart. Have we understood the most important gift of Jesus Christ dying on the cross for us? Giving should be to our credit in the sense that we are blessed from it.
It shows the Philippian Church’s understanding of how much has been given to them through Christ. As I give generously and selflessly, I become richer – more like Christ.
Luke 6:38 states:
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Whatever you give up, whatever security you give up for Christ’s work, will be returned to you in this life and in the life to come. As it says in 2 Corinthians 9:6:
“Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously”
If you are selfish in this life you will receive the measure you’ve given out. But as you give generously you become more like Christ.
The Philippians were being Christlike, and they smelt great!
How do we smell?
Are we giving generously?
Note 3 - Acceptable Sacrifice
Sacrifice carries with it the meaning of ‘costly’. It costs us. It isn’t spare change. Under the Old Testament sacrificial system, it was unblemished lamb that was acceptable to God.
It must cost you to give!
In the book of Malachi God complains to the priests in Chapter 1:
“When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?’ says the Lord Almighty.”
These sacrifices were meant to be heartfelt generous sacrifices prepared lovingly. But they were cheap and they stank.
When King David was offered a free gift of sacrificial bulls by another King, he answered:
‘No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” [2 Samuel 24:24]
David was effectively saying, ‘No I don’t want your spare change.’ He insisted on paying for the sacrifice.
That’s the fragrant offering that the father loves. That’s the smell that reminds him of Jesus. His beloved son who willingly went to the altar to be sacrificed. This central message is emphasised in Philippians 2:6-8:
“who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!”
This was giving, generous, sacrificial, and costly! The Philippian church smelt like that! Great!
It is like the smell of a beautiful flower to the Lord.
Paul sends a greeting in the final few verses of the letter.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!” [Philippians 4:4]
He knows he is not on his own, and he is taken up with joy.
In verse 10 Paul rejoiced at their gifts.
“ I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.”
In Cornerstone we have been generous. We have raised money for Open Doors.
That is a fragrant aroma to the Lord.
We rejoice in supporting Taras in Belarus.
Let’s keep giving and giving for the gospel!
What do we smell like?
Does the father smell us with joy? Does he smell in us, the generous spirit of Jesus?
Let’s freshen ourselves with Jesus, to smell like him, to live for him, and have that credited to our account. In order that we may gain the riches of eternal life in the kingdom with him.
Philippians 4:10 - 4:20
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
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.