18th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you enjoy gardening? Well, my family enjoys gardening. But there’s a purpose to gardening. The whole point of having a vegetable garden is it not to enjoy the produce at the end of the growing season? If, at the end of the season, the plants didn’t produce any vegetables or they became diseased or the frost came too soon and killed all of the plants, we wouldn’t be all that pleased. We wouldn’t say, “Well, it was sure nice to weed and water and watch the garden grow and that’s it.” We planted the plants, nurtured them, fertilized them, pulled out the weeds, watered them, all with the purpose of enjoying the fruits of our labor at the end of the growing season. And now that it’s the end of the growing season it’s fun, it’s exciting to harvest and enjoy the fruit of our labor.
Well, more than once in His Word God compares Christians to plants and the fruit that they bear. When you plant a vegetable plant you full expect it to produce vegetables. In fact, it just naturally does. The plant grows in order to produce. You don’t have go out to your garden and keep reminding it to, you don’t have to command it, you don’t have to prod it along, it just does. A vegetable plant planted in good soil and well-watered will grow and produce a crop. In the same way a Christian who is “planted” in the gospel can’t help but produce fruits that are pleasing to God.
The apostle Paul knew that God was pleased with the fruits of faith produced by the Philippian Christians. As Paul wraps things up in this last chapter of Philippians, he reminded them that he had learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance – whether hungry or thirsty, well-fed and satisfied, he knew he could do everything through Christ who gave him strength. But before he closes the letter he wanted to thank the Philippians for a gift of support that they had sent to him to aid him in his ministry to share the news about Jesus.
And he said, “It was good of you to share in my troubles” and they shared with him in the matter of giving and receiving again and again when no other church did. Paul was in need and the Philippians responded by sending him a material gift. Now, there’s a difference we need to be aware of. There’s a big difference between attaching one’s heart to material things and making use of material things. We all need material things in order to survive physically and live in this world. In addition, material things can be used and transformed into ministry. And here the Philippian Christians, although they themselves could not travel all over sharing the gospel, they actually did. God used their material gift to help support Paul so he could continue to share the gospel. And so, by their support they actually became Paul’s partners and sharers in the gospel ministry.
Now, it’s not like God needed their support to continue spreading His word. God doesn’t need us either. The whole world is His. In fact, it would be arrogant and sinful of us to think that God needs our gifts, our support, or that our gifts, our work, our support for His Word are in some way making us better Christians or earning His favor or earning extra brownie points with God. “God ought to like me for everything I’ve done for him!”
No, even our best efforts as beleivers are still tainted by sin. The Philippians support and our support for His work are pleasing because we are God’s children through faith in Jesus. God values our partnership in His kingdom much in the same way that my wife values dandelions and flowering weeds that my children pick for her. The joy is not in any intrinsic value in the gift, but in the love which the gift expresses. You see, being good stewards of the gifts God has given us is a joy when we are confident that God is pleased with our efforts because we are His children in Christ.
And Paul indicates that when he says it’s not so much the gift, but what the gift reveals about the Philippians. In verse 17, Paul literally said, “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for the fruit, the one increasing to your account.” In other words, this gift to support the spread of the gospel was a fruit of faith in the Lord Jesus- and that’s what pleased Paul the most. The Philippians knew what it was like to be in the darkness and then see the light of God’s grace. They knew what it meant to be heading to hell and then to be turned 180 towards heaven. They knew what it meant to be blind and then to see, to be lost and then to be found.
Try putting yourself in the shoes of the unbeliever for a bit, what’s it like? It’s rather easy for us to be so acquainted with the gospel that we forget it’s power for our lives. Just imagine for a brief moment that you’re an unbeliever. Your parents didn’t value God’s Word, they never brought you to the font to be baptized, you never had the opportunity to learn the accounts of the Bible, growing up your friends would sometimes talk about this ancient person named Jesus who sounded like a nice guy with a lot of words of wisdom, as you grew older your main ambition in life was to get ahead, to make money, you were greedy, self-centered, mean, certain people hated you for what you did to them, in order to cope with the setbacks and difficulties of life you turned to alcohol and drugs, which left their toll on your body, no matter what you did you always felt like something’s missing, and you began to wonder, “What’s the point of all this? What a meaningless life this is! I deal with all these problems of life and one day I die and that’s it. And if there is a God out there, which there probably is, he probably won’t want anything to do with me after all the garbage I’ve done in my life.” And churches? All they want is my money in order to make me feel even more guilty about myself or all they do is sing and dance and try to make themselves feel good.
But then in a wondrous way God used someone to tell you why you experience all these problems- they all stem back to this thing called sin. And how on your own all you deserved was eternal death for every bad thing you did. And how there’s nothing you could do to save yourself. But then wonder upon wonders God sent His own Son into this sinful world to live perfectly in your place and die on a cross to pay for YOUR sins. How God has justified you freely by his grace through the redemption that came from Christ Jesus. How God has given you heaven free of charge! What a difference! Life isn’t meaningless, it has wonderful purpose! Death isn’t the end, it’s the door way to life eternal!
But, have we lost that zeal for the gospel? Do we take God’s Word for granted? Is our support for the work of God’s kingdom more of a half-hearted grudging duty than a happy privilege?
If those are our thoughts, we need to be once again reminded of God’s grace. God’s grace that took our half-hearted commitment to His work and our grudging and self-centered attitudes and nailed them to the cross of His Son Jesus. There Jesus redeemed us, there Jesus freed us from our sins, there Jesus gave us heaven free of charge, there on that cross Jesus gave us everything – life eternal!
Now in grace upon grace God chooses to make you His partner in expanding the boundary lines of His kingdom, in sharing this free message of grace with our community and the world. He uses you with your gifts, your talents, your prayers, your time, and your treasures to do just that! He didn’t have to do it that way, God doesn’t need anything, He could have had angels preach the gospel to the world, but in His grace he chooses to use people like you and me! All so that he might be pleased with the produce, the fruits of the faith he created in our hearts. And that’s the joy of godly stewardship. Amen.