Calvary Road Baptist Church

“FRIENDS”

Philippians 4.14-17

 

How many of you remember the Jerry Seinfeld Show on television? The show’s last original airing took place in May of 1998, the series focused on the lives of four neurotic, small-minded, and selfish friends. Part of the show’s great appeal among so many viewers was probably the way the show reflected how the audience’s own lives were lived so similar to the show’s characters; neurotic, small-minded, and selfish. This is what I read about the show in a newspaper article back before we had a television in our house. Another show that aired weekly was about six friends and was actually called “Friends.” That show, also categorized as a situation comedy although its humor was even more banal, was also extremely popular in this era of cultural decline. What few people realize about humor and comedy is that humor and comedy are always based upon truth. There simply is no such thing as something which is patently false being funny. And at least one of the truthful foundations on which so many of those television situation comedies were based is the fact that the friendships that were portrayed on those shows really did reflect the kinds of friendships most people are willing to settle for in our society. Friendships that are shallow, friendships that are self-serving, friendships that are shot through with lies, deceit, and a willingness to use your friends as much as you can to advance your own agenda and promote your own welfare at other’s expense.

However, that’s not the kind of friendship that people actually need. That’s not the kind of friendships that are a part of healthy societies. And that’s certainly not the kind of friendship that we find promoted and exalted in God’s Word; friendships like those of David and Jonathan in the Old Testament, or of Paul and his co-laborers Timothy, Titus, and Silas in the New Testament. Solomon wrote in Proverbs, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly,” Proverbs 18.24. Solomon was absolutely correct in pointing out that a person who wishes to have or who does have a friend has a responsibility to that person he calls his friend. You see, friends are not just people who like each other. Friends are people (real friends that is), are people who have joined together in common cause, who strive together to achieve a common goal more meaningful than simply having fun, who minister to each other to do each other good. In our text for today, Philippians 4.14-17, we see Paul’s accounting of the Philippian’s Christian friendship:

 

14    Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.

15    Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.

16    For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

17    Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.

 

Some of you are very lonely people. You are people without real friends. Oh, don’t get me wrong. You have people that you like. Maybe you even have a group of people you like to run around with. But if that’s it, if that’s the extent of the relationships you have with people, you are just as unfulfilled as the most isolated fellow who doesn’t even have an acquaintance. Perhaps you are too lazy to be a real friend or to have real friends. Maybe you are too scared to risk the dangers inherent in seeking out real friendships. Perhaps you are too hostile and volatile, with an explosive temper. Or, maybe it just never crossed your mind how to be a friend and how to have a friend, a real friend. Perhaps today God will bless your heart and you’ll be challenged to take a look at this thing called friendship. Perhaps today you will learn that friends show themselves friendly, and that by learning that you will acquire friends, real friends, like we see here in this portion of God’s Word. Notice Paul’s accounting of the Philippian’s Christian friendship.

 

First, PAUL REVIEWS THE HELP HE RECEIVED FROM HIS FRIENDS

 

Verse 14: “Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.”

 

Paul’s comments in this verse have been greatly misunderstood by folks who think that verse 13 was a put down to the Philippians, telling them that Paul didn’t need their money or their help. But such an opinion of Paul completely misreads him. To be sure, Paul understood that his ministry was a ministry that relied on the grace of God and not the help of man. However, he would never put down anyone for being generous toward him. Quite the contrary, as we see beginning verse 14,

Where we see their commendation by Paul.

 

“Notwithstanding, ye have well done”

 

Paul is telling his beloved friends in Philippi that although he was quite capable of dealing with any circumstance of life God might see fit to bring his way (because of God’s abundant supply of grace to anyone who is in Christ), when those folks sent Epaphroditus to Rome with a bountiful offering to meet Paul’s material needs and defray some of his expenses . . . they did a good thing. They did a wonderful thing.

However, that’s not all. We also see in verse 14 their communication with Paul:

 

“ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.”

 

Whenever you see the Apostle Paul use the word “communicate” you need to recognize that he is almost always talking about money. The word “communicate” comes from a form of the word Greek word koinonia and refers to sharing something with someone, to being a joint participant in some enterprise or effort.[1] Thus, when Paul commends the Philippians for their communication he is not bragging on them for saying nice words to him. He is not lauding them for saying that they would pray for him. He is recognizing the fact that they have joined together with him in his ministry in a real and substantial way by giving to him their money. There was Paul, in a Roman prison, enduring his “affliction.” He was experiencing great suffering and hardship for the cause of Christ. But according to verse 13, he had no concerns about his ability to deal with the hardship. Experience had taught him one thing, if he had learned anything at all about suffering and afflictions: He knew that by God’s grace he could handle it. In his own strength? No. But in Christ he could face anything. But then, wonderfully, along came the Philippian Christians, and they decided to join with Paul in what he was going through by sacrificially giving of their meager substance to be a blessing to him. Their communication, then, was the sacrificial giving that increased their own afflictions while somewhat easing his affliction. Recognize that they didn’t have to do that. However, that’s what friendship is all about, doing what you don’t have to do to benefit that cause to which you and your friend are both committed, the cause of Christ.

 

Next, PAUL REMEMBERS THEIR HISTORY WITH EACH OTHER

 

In verses 15 and 16 Paul reaches back in time to remind his readers how God had used them when they were but babes in Christ.

He first remembers their history generally, in verse 15:

 

“Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.”

 

Acts 16 gives us a full account of the time Paul spent in Philippi, including the need for a rapid departure at the urging of the city’s magistrates. But this verse describes things from the Philippian’s point of view:

 

“Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia”

 

Insofar as those folks were concerned, the beginning of the gospel was when Paul arrived in town and began to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. And when Paul left Philippi, headed for Thessalonica, he was headed out of Macedonia. With the timing of Paul’s remembrance established, I want you to look closely at what Paul shows to have been their tendency, which is to say the practice of the Philippians even back then:

 

“. . . no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.”

 

Although Paul’s general practice seems to have been to not allow churches where he was presently serving to give him money, in Second Corinthians 11.8 Paul points out that he had taken money from some congregations. That verse lets us know the Philippians weren’t the only congregation he had taken money from. However, Paul does say here that the Philippians were the only ones who “communicated with” him “as concerning giving and receiving.” In this respect they were a unique church. Their pattern of giving to Paul was almost like they had opened an account with him to give to him on a regular basis.[2] Have you ever had a friend you were so close with that if he was in your car when you pulled into a gas station and discovered you had left your wallet at home, he just paid for the gas without a second thought and never made any mention of being paid back? And you had done things like that for him, as well? That, my friends, is the Greco-Roman concept of friendship. Until you reach that relationship with a person, in Paul’s day, you and that other guy were not friends, only acquaintances. With other churches that Paul planted and had been in the relationships with the people were ones of father to child, spiritual elder to spiritual younger. And this certainly was true with the Philippians, as well. But it went farther with these folks than with others Paul knew. With these people there was an eagerness and a personal initiative to do more than stand back and watch him suffer for Christ’s sake as he fulfilled his apostolic calling. Those people rolled up their sleeves and got into it alongside Paul. So, from the very beginning of their Christian lives they engaged in much more of a back and forth with Paul. They were much more than little chicks in the nest with their spiritual mouths open, waiting to be fed. They were interested in much more than just a relationship based upon receiving from Paul. They desperately craved involvement in his life and ministry. So, to that end, their general tendency was to be a congregation of very aggressive givers. This is where the Philippians stood apart from other churches. This is what made them different from the Ephesians, the Thessalonians, and the numerous Galatian churches. As Paul wrote in Second Corinthians 8.5, probably specifically referring to these people, “And this they did, not as we had hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” Their friendship was based upon a common deep commitment to Jesus Christ.

Then, in verse 16, he remembers their history specifically:

 

“For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.”

 

Put on your thinking cap and consider carefully what Paul says here. The next city Paul went to when he left Philippi and passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia was Thessalonica, some 95 miles away. But we know that the Jewish community in that city so opposed Paul that he could only stay for three Sabbath days, or something over three weeks, Acts 17.2. However, in Philippians 4.16 Paul points out that the Philippians, just new Christians at the time, were so keen on involving themselves in Paul’s life and ministry that they came to his rescue two separate times, “once and again.” Think of that! Desperately poor, babes in Christ, yet they sent to Paul’s necessity 95 miles away on two separate occasions! They responded immediately and with urgency. That, beloved, is what Christian friends do for Christian friends.

 

Finally, PAUL REFLECTS ON THEIR HARVEST

 

Verse 17: “Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.”

 

Here is where Paul turns from looking back into the past, and tells his friends where his heart lies on their behalf regarding their future. He states his desire for them in two ways:

First, he states his desire for them negatively:

 

“Not because I desire a gift.”

 

Paul was thrilled that those folks had sent Epaphroditus to Rome with a gift for him. But he was not thrilled because money had arrived, though he certainly had use for it. Paul was not motivated by money. His relationship with them was not established by, or dependent upon, or maintained by, money.

Then, he states his desire for them positively:

 

“but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.”

 

People usually think of fruit as the fruit of the Spirit or as converts brought to Christ by a Christian.[3] But here the word “fruit” is related to the giving of money to Paul. Let me state again that Paul’s concern was not at all money for money’s sake. His capacity to serve God was not so much influenced by his income stream, if we read Philippians 4.13 correctly. Instead, his concern was for some result to be produced in their lives, which he refers to as fruit. And that fruit would abound to their account. That is, that fruit would result in them receiving rewards as Christians at the Judgment Seat of Christ. So, Paul’s only concern was for their present spiritual health and their future blessings in heaven. This, too, is a mark of friendship. Paul was not their friend for what he could get out of them, but for what he could put into their lives.

 

What kind of friends do you have? Do you have friends that you use? Do you have friends that you allow to use you, because you are some pitiful wretch who is afraid you won’t have anyone to hang around with unless you let your acquaintances take advantage of you? I’m just trying to be honest with you now. The Christian concept of friendship is superior. It’s based upon a real and vibrant relationship with Christ, not some shallow and inconsequential factor such as liking someone, or thinking a person is cute, or feeling the need to just have someone around you to talk to or go places with.

Friendship, as we see in our text for today, has to do with having some common concern, having some common goal, and demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice to help your friend achieve that goal, to advance that concern. And that concern, for the Christian, is the cause of Christ. That goal, for the believer, is to glorify God. If your friendships are based on something other than these things, then you don’t really have any friends at all. Not real friends, anyway.

Why not make some real friends? Why not get some real friends? You do that by being a friend, a friend who is committed to serving God and who is committed to bringing forth friends who also serve God.

 

SERMON:

 

One aspect of the relationship between Paul and the Philippians was friendship, profound friendship. That said, I grant that friendships are not limited to a relationship between a Christian and another Christian, or a Christian and others in a congregation. It is entirely possible for me to be a friend in the profoundest sense of the word to someone who is, perhaps like you, not saved. In Proverbs Solomon tells us that “there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”[4] That is, there are men and women who place such a premium on the responsibilities of friendship that they will actually be more loyal to you than your own kin. Of course, the ultimate example of “the friend that sticketh closer than a brother” is the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will never leave you nor forsake you if you are His.[5]

I want to be a friend to you. I want to be a friend in the truest sense of the word. I want nothing from you, but seek only what is best for you. Perhaps you do not yet feel that I have earned the right to speak to you as a friend would speak to a friend, but I have little opportunity and must use the moment given to me. For the next few minutes I want you to seriously consider what I am saying. I will speak the truth to you. My desire is to speak the truth in love. Some of the things I will say may rile you and irritate you, but remember what Paul once asked some people he knew: “Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”[6]

Understand, I seek not to tell you the whole truth, for there isn’t enough time. But I do seek to tell you that portion of the truth that you need to hear at this time. Since you are lost, dead in trespasses and sins, alienated from God, certainly doomed to a devil’s Hell should you continue on in your present state, let me speak to you as a friend about three things:

 

First, LET ME SPEAK TO YOU ABOUT YOUR MOTIVES

 

Your motives are selfish and self-seeking. I am not being judgmental in saying that, but reflecting what God’s Word declares about every unsaved person. When Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden it was for selfish motives. She was self-seeking and not willing to rely upon God to look after her interests. And since that dark day in the human race, it has ever been the ungodly person’s wicked motto that God helps those who help themselves. Before you will ever turn from your sins and flee to Jesus Christ for salvation something will first have to happen to your motives. Your concerns will need transforming from self to the Savior, from seeking glory to seeking God’s glory, from selfishness to selflessness. Moses expressed this transformed motive by stating to God that he was willing to be blotted out of God’s book if necessary to see God glorified.[7] Paul stated similarly that he was willing to give up his own salvation to see God glorified through the conversion of the Jewish people.[8]

I have seen many pictures I wish I had the time to show you. They show believers with scars left by the torturing they endured for Christ. Many of their friends died, not surviving their torture for Christ’s sake. What would you be willing to go through for Jesus’ sake? The Bible and Christian history informs us that a saved person will endure great suffering to glorify God. He wouldn’t want to, but he would if called upon. However, it is likely that you would not. Your motives are oriented toward self, not the Savior. Your motives will continue to be wrong until you are truly ready to be saved, which is to say, when you are convinced that you truly deserve Hell and God truly deserves glory, whatever the cost, Revelation 4.11:

 

“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”

 

Now, LET ME SPEAK TO YOU ABOUT YOUR METHODS

 

Your motives are sinful; your methods are also sinful.

In Galatians chapter 5 we are informed that there is a war going on between the Spirit of God and the flesh of man in the life of a saved person. And in that saved person’s life the Spirit of God prevails, not to sinless perfection, but to obvious Christian victory. Such is not the case with you. Being lost, you are without the indwelling Spirit of God who is the Lord Jesus Christ’s gift to every converted person, Romans 8.9:

 

“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

 

Notice that in this verse we are told that having the Spirit of God means a person is not in the flesh. But since you are not saved, and since you do not have the Spirit, you are therefore still in the flesh.

Do you realize what that means? It means that nothing you think, say, or do is spiritual. Nothing that you think, say, or do is pleasing to God. All is futile. All is lost. And, as Ephesians 2.12 clearly shows, there is no hope:

 

“That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.”

 

Oh, you might someday be saved. And should you ever come to be saved I would be so glad. I would be so happy for you. I would be so thrilled. But do you realize that most people are not ever saved? Do you realize that most people die in their sins and go to Hell? I don’t say these things to discourage you. I am not interested in disillusioning you. But neither am I interested in deceiving you. You need to be told the truth. You deserve the truth. And that’s the truth. Try to save yourself using some method. It won’t work. Your righteousness are as filthy rags. Try to climb the stairway to heaven by baptism, or by good deeds, or by church membership, or by Bible study and learning. Try self-denial. That won’t work either. Since you are in the flesh, and not in the Spirit, nothing you can say or do will save you.

 

Finally, LET ME SPEAK TO YOU ABOUT YOUR MEANS

 

What means are at your disposal to save yourself? What can you possibly do to remedy your sorry state before God? Romans 5.6:

 

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”

 

Notice that this verse contains both hopelessness and hope.

If you are bent on saving yourself your situation is seen to be hopeless. And how can it be otherwise? Unsaved people are without strength, impotent, utterly unable to resolve your own dilemma. But Christ did die for the ungodly, and you are ungodly. People are saved from their sins, they just don’t save themselves.

 

My friends, I have studied God’s Word for more than 40 years. And in that 40 years I have come to clearly see that no one is saved who does not first abandon all hope of saving himself. I want to be your friend. I want to do right by you. I hope you believe that. So, please understand that until you abandon yourself to Christ you will never be saved. Before you abandon all hopes of saving yourself you have to see that your motives, they are selfish, your methods, they are fleshly, and your means, are nonexistent.

Recognize that God seems to be pleased to save some people who, under this ministry, come to Him by Jesus Christ. But those who really are saved are those who first give up on themselves; their motives, their methods, and their means. Should God, in His infinite mercy, bring you to that place as a means of preparing your wicked heart for an encounter with His wonderful and precious Son, Jesus Christ, the savior of sinful men’s souls, then you and I need to talk, so I can again be a friend and tell you even more than I have told you thus far.



[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 562.

[2] Ibid., pages 562-563

[3] Galatians 5.22-23; John 15.1-8; Matthew 13.3-9, 18-23

[4] Proverbs 18.24

[5] Hebrews 13.5

[6] Galatians 4.16

[7] Exodus 32.32

[8] Romans 9.3


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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org