Most of us like receiving an occasional gift—maybe for a birthday or for Christmas or some other special occasion. It makes us feel sorta special like someone cares for us.
The apostle Paul takes an interesting approach to receiving gifts, it seems, and it’s probably because he wants us to learn an important lesson.
He’s in prison, and it’s fascinating to think of his eyes lighting up when a friend from Philippi brought him a gift from the home church to his jail cell in Rome. Listen carefully to what Paul says about the gift they’d sent him:
Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen (Philippians 4:14-20).
It must’ve been a welcome sight when Paul saw his friend approaching with the gift. Unable to get out and earn a living for himself, he depended on the generosity of others.
But did you notice why he was most thankful? “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.”
Even as he suffered in prison, Paul enjoyed the gifts he received mostly because he knew it blessed the ones who had sent them.
He was putting into practice some words from Jesus he had quoted earlier: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
That’s an important lesson for us whenever we give or receive gifts. Getting the top item on your wish list is great, but it’s so much better to give to the needs of others.
Someone once said, “We’re never more like Christ than when we’re giving,” and I think that’s right.
We should learn to be givers, especially to those who are underserved by our society. Find some underprivileged children whose needs you can meet. Donate some time to a homeless shelter. Invite someone without a family to eat a meal with yours.
Whatever we give to the needy, to paraphrase Paul’s words, is like putting it into the hands of God himself . . . it’s a “fragrant offering” that brings a smile to the face of God.