Those ‘unhistoric acts’ we do for others have a lasting legacy, says ROB JAMES
I guess there are some gifts we all remember. I frequently recall the day my father unexpectedly gave me £5 as I awaited a train taking me back to college.
I knew he could little afford to do it and for that reason it has remained etched in my memory ever since.
In a similar way, a friend told me recently that she will always treasure the gift of cakes she was given following the death of her daughter some years ago.
Paul's letter to the Philippians is peppered with references to their repeated acts of kindness. That’s obvious from the very beginning:
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5).
In one sense Paul had no need of their gifts. He tells them a little later that he had reached an enviable point in life: he was a contented man – something that stands in stark contrast to today’s consumer driven culture.
But even though he could have survived without their gifts, it is obvious that their faithful generosity had encouraged him enormously. Their acts of kindness had done more than put food on his plate – they had reminded him that they cared for him as well as ensuring that he could be faithful to his God-given calling.
I imagine few, if any, of those friends envisaged the lasting impact that their kindness would have, either on Paul or on millions of believers ever since. But acts of kindness are like that – they have a ‘ripple effect’ on others, leaving a legacy of thankfulness and encouragement in their wake.
I read recently that researchers at the University of California have discovered that every act of unforced generosity gives rise to three others. Each act, it seems, creates a domino effect in which one person’s generosity spreads first to three, then to the nine others that they interact with.
George Eliot seems to have understood this many years ago for she concluded Middlemarch with this observation: “… the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts”. (Sadly, the same research discovered that the reverse is true also: selfish behaviour is just as catching as kindness.)
But Paul goes even further than this because he believed that their kindness had had an impact on the Lord himself, for a little later in the same letter he says:
“I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).
This is a remarkable observation, for in another of his letters Paul uses similar language when talking about the cross:
“Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).
No one understood the importance and the magnitude of the cross more than the apostle Paul; the death of Jesus dominated his whole life. And yet, when writing to these friends in Philippi, we find him using the same kind of imagery when referring to their gifts.
Their generosity clearly reminded him of Christ. But even more significantly he was keen to stress how much pleasure it gave the Lord. And that’s quite a fantastic thing to say about a few seemingly small ‘unhistoric acts’ of kindness. It puts them in a different league altogether.
Lord, we are so thankful that you are a kind and generous God. Help us to become more and more like your Son who gave his all that we might inherit everything you wish to give your children. Amen.
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