having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” – Philippians 4:18
In the final phrases of Philippians 4:18, Paul describes Christian giving in the language of Old Testament sacrificial worship—language that originated all the way back in Genesis 8. After Noah and his family emerged unharmed through the flood of God’s judgment, he worshiped God: “Then Noah built an altar to Yahweh, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. Yahweh smelled the soothing aroma (same as “fragrant aroma” in Phil 4:18) and Yahweh said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man…’” (Gen 8:20–21).
This was the essence of worship under the Old Covenant. God’s people were commanded to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and strength (Deut 6:5 ), to worship and serve Him only (Deut 6:13; cf. Luke 4:8), and to have no other gods before Him (Exod 20:3). And a principal way in which His people demonstrated that He had occupied first place in their hearts was by offering up to Him of the firstfruits of their livestock, by dedicating animals to God that would have otherwise been used for food or for securing profit through labor. As an act of worship—as a lived-out demonstration that they regarded God as more worthy than their own possessions—like David (cf. 2 Sam 24:24), they gave God that which cost them something.
The one who recognized God’s worth above all things and thus could part gladly and even eagerly with a portion of what God had given to him. And because that was the heart attitude of a faithful worshiper who brought a sacrifice to God, when the odor of the burnt flesh of an ox or a bull or a ram ascended into the heavens, rather than a disgusting stench, the text says it reached the nostrils of God and was to Him a soothing aroma—a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. Continue reading