July 26, 2015
Does it surprise you to learn that the least religious states give the least to charity? Those states with the most religious people give the most. Utah leads all the states. Here at Forest Park Baptist we have been so grateful at the generous giving of our people. Over the past ten years we have had two capital campaigns and numerous mission projects. Our people have been generous. As I have often mentioned, I don’t know what anyone gives. I don’t look at the giving records. So when I speak about giving I have no one in particular in mind.
In Phil.4:10-20 Paul is thanking the church in Philippi for the generous financial gift they sent to him in Rome. And he wants them to understand that he is not just out to get their money. This is why in v.11-13 he talks about how he has learned to be content through the strength that God gives to him. He has needs but he is content.
This morning we want to finish looking at how Paul says, “Thank you,” to these believers. And just as we learned something about contentment in v.10-13, so in v.14-20 we learn something about giving. Followers of Christ are characterized by generous giving.
I. GENEROUS GIVING PROMOTES CHRISTIAN MATURITY. 4:14-17
In v.14 P, again alludes to their gracious gift. He doesn’t actually call it a gift until v.17. In v.14 he calls it “sharing in my trouble.” Through their gift they became partners with Paul in his ministry. But since they themselves were experiencing persecution, they were also partners with Paul in his suffering for Christ.
I think it is interesting to notice that just as Paul borrows language from stoicism in v.11, so here in v.15-18 Paul borrows language that was used in commercial relationships involving debt and credit. But sometimes these words were used in a metaphorical way to describe the give and take of friendship.
A few weeks ago I just happened to be reading a blog about a new book that is coming out called “Paul and the Gift,” by John Barclay. In the book Barclay points out that, “gifts in the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds always entailed obligation and reciprocity. That is, “grace” or “gift” establishes social relations, community, and mutual benevolence/reciprocity of exchange and fellowship.”
We see this in v.15 in the phrase, “no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving.” Again in v.17 we find the phrase, “Increases to your credit.” And in v.18, “I have received full payment.” “I have been paid in full.”
This is not the only place where Paul uses this kind of language. In 1Cor.9:11 Paul writes, “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” And in Phm, Paul appeals to Philemon to no longer treat Onesimus as a slave but to welcome him as a brother in Christ. After acknowledging that Onesimus was a runaway slave and may have incurred debt to Philemon, in v.19 Paul writes, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it–to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” Paul was referring to the fact that Philemon had become a believer through the preaching of Paul. In a sense Philemon was in Paul’s debt.
In v.15-16 Paul refers to the fact that of all the churches that he planted, only the church in Philippi had entered into this deep friendship in which they recognized their debt to Paul and the Lord for their salvation. In fact from the very beginning Paul and Silas benefitted from the hospitality of Lydia, who welcome them into her home. This was unusual for Paul. We know that Paul made it his practice to not accept gifts from any of the churches. He didn’t want to give even a hint that he was trying to profit from the Gospel, and so he supported himself by working as a tentmaker. But there was such a close relationship between Paul and these believers in Phliippi that they wanted to have a part in his ministry.
Now you know how it can be in a friendship. Let’s say your friend gives you a gift or takes you out for dinner. Well, you sort of feel obligated to return the favor. And of course, you don’t want your gift to be less in value than their gift to you. If one isn’t careful this can escalate until we feel so indebted that we can’t possibly reciprocate in like manner and our friend sort of holds the upper hand.
Paul brought the gospel to Philippi. The new believers were so grateful that on a number of occasions they sent Paul money to help in his ministry. But now it was Paul’s turn to reciprocate. But wait, Christian relationships are not about trying to outdo each other. So in a moment we will see how Paul reciprocates.
For now, note where Paul’s heart was at. In v.17 he says, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” Paul appreciated the money, but he was more thrilled about what their gift implied for them.
All of this to say that generous Christian giving is a sign of Christian maturity. Why is that? It is because they were not giving out of mere compulsion. They were freely giving out of love and concern for Paul. And the fact that the church in Philippi was not rolling in the dough tells us that they were giving sacrificially.
But here’s something else. Generally for us, “out of sight out of mind,” is how we roll. Unless I have a picture of a missionary on my bulletin board I don’t often think about the missionary. Paul was far away in Rome. Think about it, the believers in Philippi had their own problems to deal with. They were experiencing persecution, yet they were mindful of Paul. That tells us that they had the Lord’s work in their hearts. Those who are followers of Christ, have the Lord’s work in their heart.
When my father and mother in law were alive, every so often they would send a care package or money to relatives in Germany. Why did they do that? It’s because they had their loved ones in their heart. I’m sure they wished they could do more. Well, when you have the Lord in your heart, you have his church and his people in your heart as well.
We are living in a society that is becoming increasingly secular. The presence of the church in the world is imperative. The church is really the only true light of moral and spiritual life and sanity in the world. Does it matter to you? Is that reflected in your giving? The giving of the believers in Philippi was an expression of their spiritual health. It is no different for us today. Does your giving reflect a spiritually mature life in Christ?
II. GENEROUS GIVING YIELDS GOD’S GRACIOUS PROVISION. 4:18-20
In v.18 Paul finally spills out his deep gratitude for this gift. “I have received full payment and more...I am well supplied.” Again, Paul is using the language of commerce. But Paul does something very interesting here.
You note in v.18 that he refers to their gifts as a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” Paul uses these same words in Eph.5:2 to refer to Christ. He writes, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This language comes out of the Old Testament. For example in Num.15:2-3 we read, “When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you, and you offer to the LORD from the herd or from the flock a food offering or a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering or at your appointed feasts, to make a pleasing aroma to the LORD....”
By using this language Paul is saying to his friends in Philippi, “You are not just giving to me. Your gift is a fragrant sacrifice, pleasing to God. You are giving to the Lord.” When we give to the Lord’s work, to support his church and missionaries, etc, we are giving to the Lord. This principle is found elsewhere. In Mt.25 Jesus refers to himself and says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” But the righteous people say, “Lord when were you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison?” And Jesus responds by saying, “’Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” When we minister to others in the name of Jesus, we are ministering to Christ himself.
Let’s go back to this idea of reciprocity in friendship. Paul was instrumental in bringing the men and women at Philippi to Christ. Coming to saving faith in Christ is the single most important moment in a person’s life. In many ways those men and women were in Paul’s debt. How could they repay Paul? Of course Paul was only the messenger. It is God who saves through Christ. We are all in debt to Christ. But nevertheless, the believers in Philippi, expressed their gratitude to God and Paul by giving financially to help Paul.
But now Paul is, in a sense, in debt to them. They gave him a much needed gift. How could Paul pay them back? He was in prison. Paul could not pay them back. But since they were really giving to the Lord, Paul says, “The Lord will pay you back.” In v.19 he writes, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Think about what Paul has written. “Every need of yours?” What does that mean? It means exactly what it says. God has given us many ways in which we can provide for ourselves. Paul provided for himself by working as a tent maker. But there are times in all of our lives when we are in need. The need could be financial. It could be emotional, spiritual, or physical. Sometimes we need wisdom. Sometimes we need perseverance and patience. Sometimes we need to forgive or to apologize. In our endeavor to live for Christ, we will have many needs. Paul says, “Every need of yours,” not every want, but every need.
And consider the fact that God’s riches in Christ Jesus are endless. Our access to God’s riches comes through Jesus Christ. Do you remember what Paul writes in Rm.8:32? He writes, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” In giving Jesus Christ, God has spared no expense in our behalf. If God has already given us the very best gift in Jesus Christ, surely he will give whatever is needed through our relationship with Christ.
Now two thoughts: 1) When we have a need, some do not think to ask God to meet the need. What is more, some are too impatient to wait for God to meet the need. We sometimes take matters into our own hands because God is taking too long. And sometimes, we really don’t believe God will meet our need. I’m not saying there is never a time to act. I’m saying that we need to seek God’s guidance and leading before we act.
2) This verse appears in a context in which God’s people are freely giving to the Lord’s work. Their gift was intentional. They had to take an offering and then make arrangements, asking Epaphroditus to take the gift to Paul. Maybe they had to finance Epaphroditus’ trip. All of this was a significant sacrifice on their part. So what I’m saying is that we can’t just take v.9 and apply it willynilly. God promises to meet the needs of those who are generous to him and his work out of a loving, obedient heart.
If you were to draw a pie chart and draw in the various ways in which you use your money, what would the pie look like? Of course there would be a wedge for rent or mortgage payments. There would be a wedge for utility and grocery payments. But I wonder how big the wedge would be for your giving to the Lord’s work. Would it come to 10% of your income? I picked 10% because that is the starting place in the Old Testament law. We are not under law, but if God saw fit to ask for 10% in the past, I would imagine it would be just as pleasing to him now provided we give willingly. The Lord loves a cheerful giver. If you are a Christian, is your life characterized by generous Christian giving? Amen.