Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 8, 1958

Sponsorship At Philippi?

J. D. Tant, Abilene, Texas

Within the brotherhood of Christ there has lately arisen division and strife concerning the method by which churches of Christ may cooperate in doing benevolence and evangelism. Some contend that there is a pattern set forth in the New Testament for such cooperative work, while others contend that there is no pattern that is binding. They say that any method of cooperation may be used, so long as it is expedient and does not conflict with, or contradict, any other Bible principle or authority.

The church has been faced with this problem before. One hundred years ago the battle over "cooperation" was fought, and resulted in a division of the Lord's body. Many of the arguments now being made for federalized or centralized cooperative plans were made in that earlier controversy. One of them had to do with the work of the Philippian church in supporting Paul in his work of preaching the gospel. The significant passage is Philippians 4:10-17. Let us examine it:

Verse 10. As Paul is concluding his letter, he refers to some personal matters. The reference is to the things which he had received from the Philippian church through Epaphroditus. It is evident that Philippi had previously helped Paul, for the word "revived" is from the Greek anethalete and is rendered "to shoot up, sprout again, grow green again, flourish again." The verb thalloo means "to bloom, be luxuriant, or to cause to bloom, signifying to become green again, or to make green again."

Verse 14. Young translates this, "but ye did well, having communicated with my tribulation." Even though Paul had learned to be satisfied with what he had (verses 11-13), he was still thankful for the attitude of communion, of sharing (sunkoinooneoo — "to become a partaker together with others, or to have fellowship with a thing") and for the gift, for he was in a hard condition, evidenced by his use of the word thlipsis, a "pressing together" or "to press hard upon." Some contend that Paul was merely expressing thanksgiving or approval for the fact that the Philippians were of the Christian character to remember him or have fellowship with him; but his use of this word thlipsis points up the fact that he was sincerely glad to have their gift also.

Verse 15. "And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving hut ye only." On this verse the speculation has begun. It is assumed that Philippi was a sort of "sponsoring church," receiving funds from many congregations, keeping careful books as to the amount received from each, and then forwarding the funds on to Paul. This, it is thought, establishes scriptural authority for a vast federalization of congregations, with scores, or thousands of them funneling their resources into the treasury of one congregation to be administered by that eldership. But what does this passage actually say? Here are a few translations:

Revised Standard Version: "No assembly did communicate with me in regard to giving and receiving except ye only."

MacKnight: "No church communicated with me in the matter of giving me money, and of my receiving money from them, but ye only; I received money from no church but yours."

Anderson: "No church contributed to me so that I kept an account of giving and receiving, but ye only."

King James: "No church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only."

Englishman's Greek Testament: "Not any assembly had fellowship with me with regard to an account of giving and receiving, except ye alone."

It seems plain enough that whatever was sent to Paul at this time came to him from the Philippians ONLY. There is an implied praise and commendation from Paul to the Philippian church because of their activity. Of all the churches Paul had known and with which he had labored, Philippi ONLY remembered him in his hour of need. But, it is argued that the word logon, translated "account" is a financial term, and thus reveals that what actually happened was that the Philippian church acted as bookkeeper keeping a careful record of monies received from other churches, and in turn, forwarded by Philippi to Paul. Philippi herself, so far as can be determined, may not have contributed a single penny to that fund! All she did was to keep books.

Philippians 4:15 is then tied in with II Corinthians 11:8-9, "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister unto you; and when I was present with you and was in want, I was not a burden to any man; for the brethren, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my want; and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself." So, Philippi was the "sponsoring" church, collecting the money from other churches in Macedonia, keeping careful books, and sending the money (and the books?) on to Paul.

But is this what the text teaches? An examination of the text shows that if such were the case, then Paul, a man inspired of the Holy Spirit, was completely unjust and unfair in his praise-giving. He emphasized the fact that "ye only" and "no other church" had fellowship with him in his tribulations. Certainly all the churches "contributing" to Philippi should have had at least some degree of credit. It would have been impossible for ALL of them to have been "book-keeping" churches, for that would have left no congregation to be a "contributing" church! And where would Philippi have been had there been no supporting or contributing churches? This is so obviously out of harmony with the simple Christian principles of fairness and justice that no amount of tortured exegesis could ever commend it to a thoughtful student. Only a strained effort to establish a point could explain the other interpretation.

"Paul thanks the Philippians (4:15) for the gift which they had sent, and reminds them that when he left Macedonia, no church but theirs 'communicated,' that is, 'had partnership' with him 'as concerning giving and receiving.' After the words 'had partnership,' the Greek has 'with respect to an account of giving and receiving,' the ledger in which they recorded the good things received from Paul on the credit side, and the debt they owed Paul on the debit side. He acknowledged the receipt of their gift in the words, 'I have all,' using a business term meaning, 'I have received in full'." (Wuest, Bypaths in the Greek New Testament, p. 47.)

W. Robertson Nicoll gives the true flavor of the statement when he says, "Paul had bestowed on them priceless spiritual gifts. It was only squaring the account that he should receive material blessings from them. Their mutual relations are expressed by the Apostle very delicately, as throughout this paragraph." (Expositor's Greek Testament, p. 471.)

Regardless of whether the matters were of spiritual and/or temporal gifts, and regardless of whether or not either or both actually kept books, the matter concerns ONLY Paul and the Philippian church. Paul would be completely out of the bounds of propriety and fairness if this were not the case.

Verse 16. "For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again to my need." Some say that verse 16 explains where he was when he received the gifts, and that verse 15 should be translated, "When I went forth in Macedonia," meaning that he went from Philippi into the rest of Macedonia to preach. This seems logical enough from a viewpoint of practical and commonsense circumstances, although admittedly there is some awkwardness in the Greek construction. It is somewhat easier to picture the Philippians bringing Paul a final "going away" gift when he departed so hastily from Berea under the gathering clouds of violence. (Acts 17:14.) They had sent "once and again" to him in Thessalonica; and what could be more natural, and more to be expected than that they would make up a final gift for him as he is about to embark on the perilous journey into a new territory? And they were the ONLY church that did!

This is the obvious, simple, and logical explanation of Paul's statement. It is to be regretted indeed that some brethren have become so infatuated with their attempts at federalizing the church and justifying centralized cooperative "sponsoring church" arrangements that they have let their idols blind them to scholarship, and to the simple truth of Paul's statement — whether in Greek or in English.