Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.
Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about an old man who went to a McDonald’s and placed an order for one hamburger, French fries and a drink. He unwrapped the plain hamburger and carefully cut it in half, placing one half in front of his wife. He then carefully counted out the French fries, dividing them into two piles and neatly placed one pile in front of his wife. He took a sip of the drink, his wife took a sip and then set the cup down between them. As he began to eat his few bites of hamburger, the people around them were looking over and whispering. They were thinking, “That poor old couple, all they can afford is one meal for the two of them.” As the man began to eat his fries, a young man came to the table and politely offered to buy another meal for the old couple. The old man politely declined, saying they were just fine, and were used to sharing everything. People closer to the table noticed the little old lady hadn’t eaten a bite. She sat there watching her husband eat and occasionally taking turns sipping the drink. Again, the young man came over and begged them to let him buy another meal for them. This time the old woman said, “No, thank you, we are used to sharing.” Finally, as the old man finished and was wiping his face neatly with the napkin, the young man again came over to the little old lady who had yet to eat a single bite of food and asked, “What is it you are waiting for?” To which she humbly responded, “The teeth.”
Now that’s what I call extreme sharing! I understand what is my wife’s is also mine and what’s mine is hers but I pray the day doesn’t come when we must rely on a single set of teeth to get through a meal together! I pray God’s given each of us strong teeth or at least decent enough insurance to cover a set of false teeth for each of us. I guess I won’t know until that day comes so I might as well enjoy my strong teeth while I have ‘em.
In writing to his congregation at Philippi, Paul wasn’t necessarily celebrating the teeth shared between them as much as he was giving thanks for other things that they shared together. Recall that Paul came to faith in a rather nontraditional way through that encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul wasn’t raised in the Jewish temple so he had no connections with the established church and Christianity was still in its infancy. Christianity consisted of a small group of apostles and their followers. There were no buildings to gather in, no collections of writings to reflect on, no order of worship or ritual to follow. There were just people who gathered wherever to share stories about Jesus and what he said and did. I imagine the stories were wildly inconsistent until someone finally decided to write down the consistently retold stories. And it was in this chaotic time that Paul came to believe in Christ and felt compelled to share Christ with others. You can imagine how difficult his task must have been! There were few consistent teachings on Christ and no church body to support him. He couldn’t hang out at churches because they had yet to be built. He couldn’t rely on a governing body to finance his missionary travels. Yes, he had the skill of making tents to fall back on and provide both housing and a source of income. But that kept him from his true calling, his true passion of sharing the love of Christ with people. He needed to share that love with a lot of people in a lot of places so he couldn’t be hindered by a regular job of making tents. Yes, he needed quicker sources of income and mobility to fulfill his sense of calling.
Paul had quite the challenge set before him. He had no reliable source of income or housing. He had no reputable source of teachings to guide his discussions. He had no liturgy and rituals to structure gatherings and the world, for the most part, was rather suspicious of what he had to offer. After all, both the Jews and the Roman empire weren’t all that pleased with what Jesus said and did, two very large and reputable governing authorities in the world at the time. Yes, Paul had quite the challenge! Yet God found a way to connect him with the right people. The Philippians supported him financially and welcomed his teachings. And his imprisonment gave them, and us, the opportunity for him to put his teachings to writing. Once he put his teachings to writing, they became much more authoritative and effective in sharing Christ’s love. His teachings were more cohesive, understandable, and relatable in written form.
In the opening verses to his letter to the Philippians, Paul gives thanks for the gift of sharing, his sharing of Christ and their sharing of support. In that sharing, the love of Christ is most effectively revealed. That’s why we do it…that’s why we share with each other…to reveal the love of Christ in this world. In sharing, we are putting the needs of others before our own. In sharing, we open ourselves to receive from others. The book of Hebrews advises us, “do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (13:16) I think it pleases God when we share because it helps us understand him better. Our God is a good God who is always sharing with us his deep and abiding love. He doesn’t have to love us. God chooses to love us! And love is something that needs to be shared with others. It does no good if we hoard it to ourselves. God doesn’t want us to hoard his love. God wants us to share his love with others. God wants his love to be known by all people. We are all precious in his eyes! Jesus himself said, “give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:38) When we share, we inevitably receive back in one way or another. Not feeling like you’re receiving anything lately? Simply share what you have and you’ll be surprised at what you receive in return. Our God is a good God and this world is his world too. His word is true in this world just as it is true in the next world. Give and it will be given to you…
It is a gift to be given the opportunity to share. Paul understood it as such, we ought to as well. It is in sharing that the love of Christ is most accurately revealed. Let us not hesitate to share when given the opportunity. Let us gladly share with each other! Why? Because “God loves a cheerful giver” as we hear Paul tell us in his second letter to the Corinthians. Our God is a good and generously sharing God! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.