Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that is increasing to your account.
Why does the Apostle Paul use “commercial language” in this verse (and elsewhere in Philippians)? Here in Philippians 4:17, for example, he uses “profit” and “account.” Why? What is the spiritual significance of Paul’s choice of words?
Among Paul’s many accomplishments, he was also an entrepreneur and a businessperson—an “owner-operator” or “proprietor” of a tent-making enterprise. He joined forces in Corinth with two other tentmakers, the married couple Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-3). As a business person, Paul was familiar with typical business terms, which often appear in his writings: profit, loss, debt, credit, account, and others.
Paul engaged in his trade, which he learned as a young apprentice, so as to support himself financially and not impose a financial burden on his family, and later on the churches he founded and visited. The modern notion of “tent-making ministries,” in which missionaries or other church workers engage in business ventures to support their own evangelistic and Christian outreach missions, comes from Paul’s example.
While in prison, Paul was unable to apply his trade, and therefore depended on the donations of churches to meet his financial needs. No church supported him better in his time of need than the church at Philippi. Paul expressed his gratitude to the Philippian church and reminded the congregation that its tangible financial help to Paul produced intangible, spiritual benefits for all who contributed to support him. His supporters were thus “laying up for themselves treasures in Heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20).
What we learn from the Philippians’ generosity toward Paul is that our generosity is not just for the sake of the recipients, but also for our growth in sanctification and willingness to serve God with our time, treasures, and talents. Generosity leads to the growth, not the depletion of our spiritual resources. Paul’s faithful supporters in Philippi were helping not only Paul, but also benefitting themselves by laying up treasures in Heaven.
In a sense, all Christ-followers are “on mission” and are therefore “tent-making missionaries” like Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla. With what we earn from our employment we can help support Bible-based ministries, just as the Philippians supported Paul. How can you become a “tent-making” supporter of Christian evangelism? How many ministries do you now support with what you earn from your job? How can you do more for those ministries? Remember that what Paul wrote to the Philippians also applies to us: With each gift, our Heavenly treasure grows, our account increases.
How many entrepreneurs and businesspeople do you know who may not be aware that the Apostle Paul was himself an entrepreneur and businessperson? Perhaps introducing Paul to your business-owning friends might lead to a fruitful gospel conversation. Do you consider your job as a “tent-making ministry”? How can your job or your business help support full-time Christian ministries?
On tent-making in Bible times, visit www.theologyofwork.org and navigate to “Tent Making and Christian Life” (Acts 18:1-4)
On “Treasures in Heaven,” navigate to YouTube, “Treasures in Heaven,” song by Burlap to Cashmere
As a family, help your children set up a lemonade stand (or similar product appropriate to the season) and encourage them to choose and use the proceeds to support a Christian missionary or ministry, as the Philippians supported the ministry of the Apostle Paul.
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