“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.”—Philippians 4:17–18 (NKJV)
Reiterating that this isn’t an indictment of other churches, nor an appeal for aid, the apostle Paul states that what he “diligently seeks” (epizētō) is for the fruit (karpon) of their generosity and care to be deposited into their heavenly account. Their gift to him was for him, a token of love and gratitude; but for them, it was much more. It fulfills what Paul calls the law of Christ in Galatians 6:2, and, in the end, will be a heavenly reward when all accounts are finally taken.
Fruit here has a much deeper meaning, speaking of that which is done in true partnership with Christ. Essentially, we as Christ-followers, as the branches, live united with, connected to, and as part of Christ Jesus, the Vine. In essence, Paul is more interested in the results that come from the Philippians living united to Christ, in what they are receiving from Christ, and what Christ is accomplishing in and through them, more than he is in the tangible gift he received.
And having said all of that, once again emphasizing that he had all he needed—adding here that he was “full,” thoroughly complete in all things—the apostle expressed an exuberant level of courtesy and gratitude here. Some scholars believe this was a potential preemptive statement by Paul as he anticipated the Philippians would want to know what else Paul needed so they could supply it as best as possible.
So, he reassured them that their last gift was more than enough. In fact, it was a sweet smelling aroma unto the Lord, because Paul viewed their gift, not as an offering to him, but to Christ Himself (Matthew 25:35–40). And Paul was convinced that He would accept it as pleasant and wonderful. The word odor (osmēn) refers specifically to the sweet fragrance produced in the temple by the burning of incense (Luke 1:9).
The verbiage used by Paul here is the same as the one used when describing an act of worship at the temple because he considered what he received from the Philippians as a thanks offering to God, presented with a heart of true devotion to the Lord with him merely as the recipient. He wanted them to be encouraged by knowing that even though this wasn’t what some would consider a formal act of worship, it was more than acceptable to God. It was as pleasing as the sweetest incense and burnt offering (Matthew 9:13). We would do well to remember this as well: The Lord desires mercy and generosity, acts of compassion over rituals.
1. As you look at Paul’s example, what does this passage say to you about giving and receiving?
2. Who in full-time ministry has God put on your heart to bless and how can you do that?