Gracious Profits

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A Reading from Philippians 4:10-20

10 I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

15 You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. 16 For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. 18 I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Meditation

As the week draws to a close, I find myself so thankful for St. Paul and his ministry. Do we ever just stop and give thanks to the Holy Spirit for the gifts of Scripture? These texts never cease to sparkle and amaze me. I’m struck regularly by how practical they are. Most of the writings in Scripture were on-the-ground texts written by people trying to live faithfully for Christ in daily experience.

For instance, I struggle with knowing how to balance needs and grace. I am someone who needs a lot of help: to get motivated, to focus on projects, to navigate my world. I don’t do well with lots of stimulation, and I don’t understand most social cues or expectations, which can lead to unintended offense on my part. But at the same time, I don’t expect anyone to help me, in the sense of being entitled to it. No one owes me. But it doesn’t make me need help any less.

Look at how beautifully St. Paul navigates this very question. He says that the Lord has taught him how to live through situations of plenty and of want. Nonetheless, he is incredibly grateful to the Philippians for “sending me help for my needs more than once.” But “[n]ot that I seek the gift.” This was something he neither demanded nor felt he deserved. He mentions their generosity because “I seek the profit that accumulates to your account” (emphasis mine). Gratitude affirms the generosity of others, showing how pleasing it is, both to God and ourselves, while not reducing its graciousness.

Grace paradoxically names that which is not owed and yet should be given. Even when others are not entitled to have their needs met, nonetheless God calls us to be the kinds of people who meet those needs anyway. This is a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.

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