A Fragrant Aromaan Acceptable Sacrifice
Richard R. Gerber
Do you find your relationship with the missionaries and other kingdom workers of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church difficult to define? Are we partners in the work of the gospel? Are we friends? Is your support of kingdom workers a business arrangement or an act of worship? Or do all of the above apply?
The complexity of our relationship is nothing new. The apostle Paul and the people in the congregation at Philippi had a multifaceted relationship.
Deep bonds of friendship knit Paul and the people of that church together. "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.... It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace.... For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:3, 7, 8). To what other church does he say, "My brothers, whom I love and long for ..." (4:1)?
Some of you have special bonds of friendship with a missionary family or a church planter or as pastoral intern. You have shared meals. You have prayed for one another. You have competed against each other in volleyball at a presbytery conference. Cards, e-mails, and photos have been exchanged over the years.
But more than friendship is involved in your relationship. You feel a sense of obligation to this man and his family. You have a part to play in his ministry. You are doing all you can to hold up your end of the partnership. You regularly pray for this family of kingdom workers. You give generously to Worldwide Outreach to support his ministry.
This also describes the relationship between Paul and the Philippians. They were friends who cared deeply for one another. And they were also business partners.
The apostle uses business language metaphorically to describe their relationship: "You Philippians ... entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving" (4:15). "I have received full payment, and more" (4:18). This is the language of commerce. Paul and the Philippians were in partnership. Each had obligations. An in-and-out "cash flow" was taking place on both sides.
The flow of gifts from the Philippians to Paul is easy to see. Again and again they sent him gifts to support him in his ministry. Their first gift flowed out to Paul soon after they had been established as a congregation. Whether Paul was in Macedonia or Thessalonica or in prison at Rome, this congregation sent gifts to meet his needs. They gave; he received.
But the Philippians received as well. From his prison in Rome, Paul was not able to send them much. However, Paul assured them that "my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (4:19). God would take up Paul's end of the partnership and provide all that the Philippians needed.
They were suffering because of the oppression and opposition of the enemies of the gospel. God would richly supply steadfastness, joy, and encouragement. In their need to advance the gospel with a united heart and purpose, God would supply the grace and humility necessary. When one might expect grumbling and anxiety, God would be with them as the "God of peace" (see Gordon D. Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians, page XXX).
Furthermore, interest was accumulating on their side of the ledger. "I seek the fruit that increases to your credit" (4:17). The fruitfulness of these Christians was partly evidenced by their gifts to support Paul, the kingdom worker. This fruitfulness was entered on the divine books as interest to their account.
Many of you give regularly to Worldwide Outreach through your local congregation. You will soon be joining with other Orthodox Presbyterians in presenting an offering of thanks to Godthe Thank Offering. These gifts may be an expression of personal concern for David and Sunshine Okken in Uganda, or Greg and Janet Thurston in Colorado, or Sixto and Damaris Perez in New Jersey. Over seventy-five families, laboring for Christ through the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, are supported through your gifts.
Your gifts are also an expression of your partnership with them in doing the work of Christ. You are partners in an enterprise of telling unbelievers in North America and Asia and Europe and Africa and South America that the true and living God "so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). You are partners in planting churches where disciples of Jesus Christ may be nurtured to observe all that Jesus commanded. You are partners in preparing materials to assist in that discipleship. You are partners in equipping men to be shepherds of Christ's sheep. What an enterprise you are investing in!
And how that investment is paying off for you! God puts into your account all that is necessary for every need of yours. Note the measure of that giving from God: "according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). Can you put a value on God's riches in glory in Christ Jesus? There is no end to such riches. There is enough love to flood your longing, aching heart. There is enough security to keep you in God's embrace for all eternity. There is enough order to anchor you through the cluttered chaos of sin.
The gifts that Epaphroditus brought to Paul were an expression of friendship and love. Those gifts were a payment on an account that was due. But there was another dimension to their gifts: they were an act of worship: "I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God" (4:18).
With the change of metaphor, the focus shifts. God is viewed as the recipient of the gifts. The material gift to feed and clothe missionary Paul is a sacrificial offering to God.
The gifts are a "fragrant offering," a term used to describe burnt offerings. "And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord" (Lev. 1:9 nkjv). God is pictured as enjoying the fragrant aroma wafting up to him.
The willing, joyful sending of the gifts to God's servant was an act of worship. They were like the sacrifices of the old covenant. Just as the animals brought to the tabernacle and offered there to God were a sacrifice, acceptable and pleasing to God, so too are gifts given to support missionaries and other kingdom workers.
As you look over the names and faces on the maps that appear later in this issue, you will see the missionaries and other kingdom workers of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church who are supported by your gifts to Worldwide Outreach and your Thank Offering. Through their efforts and support, forgiveness of sin in Jesus' name is being proclaimed across North America and around the world. With God giving the increase, churches are being established. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, disciples are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As you participate in Thank Offering 2004, your gifts are an investment as a partner in the business of King Jesus, and your gifts are an act of worshipa Fragrant Aroma, an Acceptable Sacrifice.
The author is the associate general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. Reprinted from New Horizons, November 2004.