The Privileges of Local Church Planting (Philippians 4:10-20)
Big Idea: Get involved in church planting not just because of the responsibility but also the privileges that God grants to those who partner in planting.
I have a simple question for you today: Why should you get involved with church planting?
It’s not like church planting is easy. I’m not only a church planter, but I train church planters. One thing I can tell you is that church planting is one of the most challenging things you can do. It involves hard work, a lot of risk, and it often involves spiritual attack. And it doesn’t even work. There are a lot of things easier than church planting!
It’s not like you aren’t already busy doing other good and important things. If you’re like me your life is full. You’ve got bills and responsibilities and tasks that have been sitting on your to-do list for ages. As a church, you are already doing a lot of great work.
And yet I believe that all of us should be involved, at some level, in the ministry of church planting, both individually and as churches.
In January 2012, Char and I began our church planting journey. Before that, I thought that church planting was kind of weird. I thought church planters were basically maladjusted Christians who were so weird that they couldn’t fit within the local church. I’ve talked about this before, and some people who’re involved in church planting say, “You’re kind of right!” There’s some truth to that statement.
But then I came across an article by Tim Keller called “Why Plant Churches?” For the first time, I began to see that church planting is a biblical imperative. It is the normal, biblical outcome of the mission that God has given us. I began to see church planting completely differently. Quoting Tim Keller:
The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for (1) the numerical growth of the body of Christ in a city and (2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else—not crusades, outreach programs, parachurch ministries, growing megachurches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes—will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow-raising statement, but to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.
Why should you get involved with church planting? Because I believe it’s the most strategic ministry for the growth of the body of Christ and the renewal of the church. It follows the New Testament pattern. It’s necessary for reaching North America. Every church, every believer should be involved at some level in planting churches.
That’s the responsibility of church planting. That’s a very good answer to the question, “Why plant churches?” The answer: because it’s both biblical and strategic.
But that’s not how I’m going to answer the question today. Instead of focusing on the responsibility of church planting, I want to focus on the privileges of church planting.
I want to look with you at a letter Paul wrote to a church that he had planted and that was now involved in his church planting ministry. Paul first visited Philippi, a city in Europe, around 49 AD. He didn’t stay long, but long enough that he left at least a few believers behind. He seems to have returned a couple of times to check in on them. Now, about ten years later, this church is investing in Paul’s church planting ministry. He thanks them for their “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5) — partnership meaning active cooperation with his ministry in every sense, including financial support.
At the end of this letter he returns to thanking them. And in the process of thanking them he talks about some of the privileges that we get to enjoy when we get involved with church planting.
My prayer is that some of you here today will actually become church planters. I also pray that some of you will join a church planting team. You may not be the primary church planter, but you will be part of the team that goes out and helps to make the church plant happen. And then my prayer is that all of you — this entire church — will become involved in partnering with church planting the way that the Philippians did with Paul: praying for church planting, financially supporting church planting, and perhaps even incubating church plants from within this church.
Why should we do this? Not just because of the responsibility to church plant, but because of three privileges we get to enjoy as a result of our participation in church planting.
Here are three privileges we get to enjoy when we get involved in church planting.
One: We share in an interest that compounds to our account
It would be very difficult to measure the full impact of Paul’s ministry. Paul was a frontier missionary, taking the gospel where it had never been before. He paid a heavy price for this. He suffered throughout his ministry, and he ultimately lost his life for this mission.
But the results were amazing. “By the time his life was over, there were churches from Jerusalem to northern Italy that would endure for centuries of empire wide significance” (John Piper). I don’t know if anyone in history had the impact on Christianity that the Apostle Paul had.
And yet Paul says something surprising in this letter. In verse 17 he says, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” Paul is thanking the Philippians for their financial support of his church planting ministry, and in this verse he teaches us about one incredible privilege that we get to enjoy as we get involved with church planting at any level: we get to share in the fruit of that church planting ministry.
There are a couple of layers here. Paul knows he is in awkward territory here. When you’re thanking someone for a financial gift, it’s very easy to be misunderstood. Paul doesn’t want the Philippians to misunderstand his motives in thanking them for their gift. He’s not trying to manipulate them. So in the process, Paul clarifies an important truth:
- Giving helps the church planter — but that isn’t the end of the story. In fact, Paul says, “I didn’t even seek the gift!” Giving is not primarily about the church planter.
- Giving helps people hear the gospel. They benefit as the gospel is preached and as people turn to Jesus in repentance and faith. But that isn’t even the primary emphasis that Paul offers here.
- Giving blesses the giver. As we invest in church planting at whatever level — as the planter, part of the church planting team, or as financial supporters — we benefit. We get part of the credit for what God does through our involvement. We get fruit that’s credited to our account.
The image is one of compound interest. You probably see those offers like I do — “get 2.75% on combined balances, limited time offer only.” They tell us that if we invest our money there, that is the best possible investment we could make.
What Paul is telling us here is that when we invest in church planting at any level, we are making a strategic investment that will compound to our account.
What exactly does Paul mean by this? Does he mean future reward when Jesus comes back or present reward? I think he means both.
The picture painted by the accounting metaphor is of compound interest that accumulates all the time until the last day. The apostle has employed this commercial language to show that he has set his heart on an ongoing, permanent gain for the Philippians in the spiritual realm. The advantage (καρπός) that accrues to them as a result of their generous giving is God’s blessing in their lives by which they continually grow in the graces of Christ until the parousia. (Peter O’Brien)
It’s very possible that nobody will benefit more from your involvement in church planting than you. You will be rewarded in this life and the next. This has certainly been my experience in church planting. It has been the most invigorating and exciting venture of our lives. It’s been hard, but we wouldn’t trade it for anything. And we haven’t even got to the heavenly rewards yet.
When we get involved in church planting, we get credit that compounds to our account both now and into eternity.
Here’s the second privilege we get to enjoy when we get involved in church planting:
Two: We get to know that our involvement is pleasing to God
Paul writes this in verse 18: “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.”
Paul obviously switches metaphors here. He began with a business metaphor: our involvement brings us interest that compounds to our account. Now he switches to sacrificial language. He says that their gifts are of the highest value to God. Paul heaps up three sacrificial terms to emphasize the value of our giving to church planting: it is a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, and pleasing to God.
I want you to hear this. When I go to the post office at 1117 Queen Street West and open the PO Box and find an envelope with a cheque that someone has mailed to our church plant, I’m not just handling a cheque; I’m handling a sacrifice to God that really matters to him. When my friend Grace gets the order of service by email and opens up her computer to prepare the slides from her home in Scarborough, even though she doesn’t even attend our church plant, she’s not just entering slides; she’s worshiping God. When Aurora shows up and doesn’t even sit down because she’s too busy running around with a Windex bottle cleaning windows and changing toilet paper, she’s not just cleaning. She’s worshiping God.
When we get involved in church planting at any level, we get credit that compounds to our account both now and into eternity, and we also offer God worship that really matters to him. Our involvement brings pleasure to God.
There’s one more privilege we get to enjoy when we get involved in church planting:
Finally: God promises to meet our needs
Okay. I’m a bit nervous with this one. I’m almost going to sound like a prosperity preacher. I’m not, to be clear. But this principle is repeated so often in Scripture that it’s impossible to ignore.
Paul writes in verse 19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
This is repeated so often in the New Testament, all the way from Jesus — “give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38) — to Paul in 2 Corinthians — “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (2 Corinthians 9:11) — to here that it’s impossible to ignore. Don’t let fear of the prosperity preachers rob you of a precious biblical truth. This is not a get-rich scheme. But it’s a promise (paraphrasing Gordon Fee):
- In the midst of their “poverty” (2 Cor 8:2), God will richly supply their material needs.
- In their present suffering in the face of opposition (1:27–30), God will richly supply what is needed (steadfastness, joy, encouragement).
- In their “need” to advance in the faith with one mindset (1:25; 2:1–4; 4:2–3), God will richly supply the grace and humility necessary for it.
- In the place of both “grumbling” (2:14) and “anxiety” (4:6), God will be present with them as the “God of peace” (4:7, 9).
“My God,” Paul says, will act for me in your behalf by “filling to the full all your needs.”
Here’s what I’ve noticed: God seems to bless generous people. God seems to bless generous churches. The more they give, the more God tends to give them so they have more to give away. God’s economy works completely differently from ours.
Friends, I want you to get involved in church planting. I’m praying that there may be some church planters here who are going to take the next step and move into church planting. I’m praying that there are many here who are going to sacrifice and become part of a church planting team. And I’m praying that all of you will start today to invest in church planting through your finances and giving.
When our hearts are captured by what God has done through Jesus Christ, taking our place, bearing our sins, removing all condemnation and guilt from us, lavishing us with new life, and making us his people, how could we not want others to know? When we see the biblical and strategic reasons for planting, how could we not get going?
But I pray that you won’t just get involved for the responsibility. I pray that you’ll also plant for the privileges: for the interest that compounds to your account, for the knowledge that your involvement is pleasing to God, and because God promises to meet all of your needs. Get involved in church planting because we’re responsible, and then don’t forget to enjoy the privileges that God grants to those who partner in planting.