Read the Text
14In spite of past circumstances, you have performed well as partners in my difficulty. 15You are aware, residents of Philippi, that during the beginning of my spreading the gospel message, when I had gone out from Macedonia, no communities partnered with me in the relationship of give and take except you alone. 16As a matter of fact, even when I was [still in Macedonia] in Thessalonica, once or twice you dispatched funds to me. 17I don’t say this to imply I’m expecting a donation. Rather, I am expecting the ever increasing effect shown in your lives, which is credited to your heavenly account. 18I have been reimbursed for all I’ve done and I am overwhelmed by your generosity. I continue to be completely satisfied ever since I received from Epaproditus your compensation, like the savory aroma of roasting meat on an altar, an acceptable sacrifice, satisfactory to God. 19The God to whom I am committed will provide fully for all of your necessities of life through the splendid wealth made available through participation in the divine life of Christ Jesus.
Think about the Text
Paul’s language in this section is filled with allusions to financial relationships and a social contract of giving and receiving. Some scholars take this to mean a formal contract referred to as societas. Much of Paul’s language, however, can be simply understand within the relationship of friendship rather than patronage and reciprocity. To whatever degree we might find these formal relationships in this section, Paul seems to modify the reciprocity to something more intimate than payment for services rendered.
“Rather, I am expecting the ever increasing effect shown in your lives, which is credited to your heavenly account.” (Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account.) - Paul takes the language of economic reciprocity and uses it as a metaphor in verse 17. The question is what kind of “fruit” does Paul expect. Is it “profit” Paul expects that will be credited to their account? I take it to refer to the accounting Paul expects to take place at the final judgment. According to Paul, everyone will be judged according to their deeds (Rom 2:6). The standard is “doing good” (Rom 2:7) or being “self-seeking” (Rom 2:8) or doing evil (Rom 2:9). Each one of us, Paul says, “will give an account” (Rom 14:12) before God’s (Rom 14:10) or Christ’s (2 Cor 5:10) place of judgment for what we do in life.
In verse 19 Paul clarifies that God provides for what humans need rather than for what they desire. Self-sufficiency is possible because humans can have all they need to fulfill the goal of human existence without satisfying all their desires.
Meditate on the Text
Imagine a balance sheet that lists what others have done for you and then what you have done for others. Do you think you are in the red or in the black?
Do you think the quality of your life and the effect your life has on other people is balancing God’s accounting of your life in your favor?
Live the Text
Remember people who have had a positive impact on your life. Is there a way to respond to them and repay them for what they did for you?
Show reciprocity by doing good to others for the good that has been shown to you. Then start a new cycle of good deeds by doing something good without any sense of indebtedness or expectation of returning the favor. When you do, imagine you smell a pleasant odor like steak on a grill or sweet incense.