17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.
18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God. Phil. 4:17-18
I am still intrigued – and greatly challenged – by the Apostle Paul’s attitude towards material wealth and towards the offerings that he received from God’s people. When Paul received a gift, he did not say, “Gotcha!” Nor did he exhale an, “Oooooh, yeah!!”
No. Paul’s outlook was never about himself. As a recipient, he never thought about himself when it came to the ministry of giving and receiving. On the contrary, he thought about the giver. He thought about how this other person would gain through their gift in God’s heavenly Kingdom.
But probably the truly earth-shaking revelation is of how Paul could convert something that was basically material into spiritual. It is like in science, where you can turn something from physical form into chemical form. Paul turned a physical action into a spiritual one. How did he do it? He did it by not directing the gift to himself, but to God. He says,
“… the things which were sent from you, (are) an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.”
The Philippians sent Paul a gift and Paul did not write, “Oh, your gift really blessed me. It took me out of a rut.”
Instead, Paul says, “The gift that you sent me was received, not by me, but by God, and it has pleased His heart. Your gift has blessed God.”
But words are just words. You can say all those wonderful-sounding words and still be a man or woman who is looking after himself. What makes the difference is the lifestyle that you live. A life of self-denial is the proof that such words are indeed true in a man’s life. It is therefore through Paul’s lifestyle that we can judge and commend him for being a spiritual servant of God. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:8:
“I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.”
Whatever Paul received from other churches, he used it, not on himself, but to minister to other churches. This is what the revelation of the gospel in a man’s heart does. His whole outlook on life becomes, not about himself, but about others.
And, pray, what “service” do you suppose Paul did the Corinthians?
It was spiritual service. He preached to them the gospel of Jesus Christ. He taught them to give of their lives also even as Christ had given His. This was Paul’s “service” to the Corinthians.
I heard a bling (you have to look up “bling” in a contemporary dictionary) preacher tell his congregation, “You see my bling, you see my Bentley, you see my glory, but you do not know my story!”
The man also owns a Mercedes Benz and he went on to justify his extravagant lifestyle. “I have been pastoring for 26 years and… I have accumulated my wealth over the years.”
Another felt she had to justify on TV why she had to fly only on business class: “I really could not fly commercial at this stage of my life and do what I am doing. I could not endure it physically… You know how hard it is to fly commercial.”
“Physically”. All these preachers are thinking of is their physical and worldly comfort. They think only of themselves. And they have the material and financial wherewithal to live the kind of lifestyle they want.
But the Apostle never thought of himself. A true man of God thinks only of losing – losing, that others might gain. But it goes far beyond that; in fact, the spiritual man loses in the natural that others might gain in the Spirit. If it was a matter of owning churches, Paul owned all the churches in Europe, Asia and Africa. He also owned all the churches in the Middle East, except the tiny enclave of Jerusalem. He could have gone on and become the richest preacher who ever walked this earth. But Paul’s lifestyle hardly reflected any such thing. In 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, he writes:
“11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; 12 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: 13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.”
Those were the apostles of old; they were the Godly ministers of old. Today, largely, it is a far much different story. But, again, it is all about seeing into the never-ending war between the flesh and the Spirit. If one does not have this revelation, he cannot live the kind of lifestyle that Paul and the other apostles lived. He cannot deny himself. Nor can he see into God’s spiritual Kingdom.
Paul was fully filled with the Holy Spirit and in all aspects of his life, he was fully directed by the Holy Spirit. Paul therefore thought in spiritual terms in every aspect of life. We can sum up Paul’s life and ministry as a true ministry of the Spirit. Viz:
- Paul never thought of his own profit, but of the profit of others;
- Even when Paul thought of others, he was not thinking of the material gain they would receive on this earth, but of their spiritual gain in God’s heavenly Kingdom.
And this is what Godly ministry is all about.
[Paul chose to lose in order that he might minister to God’s people in the Spirit]