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Philippians 4:14-23: The Sweet Aroma of Gospel Partnership

March 22, 2012

The aroma of spring is in the air (and the allergy attacks that come with it). There’s something about smelling the clean air and fresh flowers that warms the heart. Just as there’s something about smelling the dirty diapers in the trash that turns the stomach.

Smells affect us—for better and for worse. From the heavenly aroma of meat on the barbeque to the choking odor of a crowd of teenage boys bathed in Axe Body Spray, smell is a powerful thing.

In Philippians 4:14-23, Paul describes the way we live our lives before God as giving off a particular smell—the sweet aroma of an acceptable sacrifice. In the Old Testament, Israel’s worship before God included many different kinds of offerings—usually a spotless animal that was sacrificed and burned upon the altar at the temple. We see one such sacrifice described in Leviticus 1: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. . . . And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD” (1:3-4, 9).

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the ultimate and final sacrifice to God (Heb. 9); no other offering is necessary to deal with his anger against our sin (Rom. 3:21-26). Yet through Jesus, God’s people are still called to worship him—not with the sacrifices of animals, but with the way we live our whole lives (Rom. 12:1-2; cf. Psalm 15). So Paul uses the imagery of a “pleasing aroma” to describe the Philippian church’s partnership with him in the advance of the gospel. Gospel partnership is ultimately a matter of worship—making much of God.

That worship finds a couple different expressions in Philippians 4:10-20: genuine concern for one another (v. 10), and sacrificial giving to the cause of the gospel (vv. 14-20). In other words, our joyful willingness to share one another’s burdens and to lay down our lives (and our stuff) to make much of Jesus’ name among the lost are a direct reflection of how much we value God.

We all face a great temptation to cling tightly to our lives and resources, either because we don’t trust God enough to supply our needs, or we don’t treasure him enough to willingly lay them down in his service. As we look carefully at this passage this Sunday (March 25) at Westgate Church, may God be pleased to lift our eyes to see his incomparable worthiness, and may he use his people to make his name great among our neighbors and the nations, as a fragrant offering to God.

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