“The Grace of Giving” Philippians 4:13-20 December 19, 2010
SI: Please open your Bibles to Philippians 4.
The occasion for Paul writing this letter was a monetary gift
the Philippian church had given him.
He was in prison in Rome, they found out, took up a collection,
and sent it 600 miles to Rome to be personally delivered by a church member
named Epaphroditus. At the end of the letter, Paul thanks them for their gift.
Listen to God’s Word.
INTRO: I was raised not to talk much about money.
Money was considered a private topic, discussed in the family,
but it was not something that you brought up in conversation.
You didn’t talk about your own finances
and you certainly didn’t draw attention to the finances of other people.
You didn’t make comments to a person about how much they made.
You didn’t comment about their standard of living,
or how expensive something was that they had bought,
or how they were able to afford it.
You might have raised your eyebrows at some things,
and talked about it around the dinner table,
but never, ever would you bring up the topic with the person.
I’m sure most of you here were raised the same way.
But some people aren’t.
When I was in seminary, Allison and I lived in some apartments
with several other seminary families.
There was a couple from Brooklyn who we loved spending time with.
But one thing that made me uncomfortable was that they would make money
comments and ask money questions that I thought were out of line.
One of their favorite questions was: “Whadchupayfurit?”
Say I had bought a new camera. “Whadchupayfurit?” they would ask.
And then when I reluctantly told them, they would say:
You got ripped off, my friend. I could get that $50 cheaper in New York!
They might say to a person:
It must be nice making what you’re making.
Or, I wish we could afford a car as fancy as your car.
I would become very embarrassed for them. But they weren’t embarrassed at all.
The way you talk about money is cultural, it’s part of your upbringing.
All that is to say that I have a hard time preaching about money and giving.
I’ve been here 14 years and I know all of you would attest to the fact that
I don’t preach on it much. Some of that is my preference for preaching
through books of the Bible or portions of the Bible passage by passage.
The Bible does talk a lot about money, but you can go for many chapters
and not deal with it explicitly. If it’s there, I’ll preach it.
But even so, I’m reluctant. Because it feels to me such a private matter.
And I don’t want to be a stumbling block for people.
I’ve heard some preachers say some crass things about money and giving,
and lay guilt trips on people that really turned me off.
But here we are, on the next to the last Sunday of the year.
A time when giving and money is very much on our minds.
All of you who are members of the church got this week a letter from
the elders and deacons about our year-end needs.
And other Christian organizations and ministries are asking for your money.
And we are mindful at this time of individuals who are struggling.
And most of all, here we are at the end of Philippians, the Epistle of Joy,
and one of the great money and giving passages in the New Testament.
In these verses the Paul takes this very important part of life
and just lays it out there in an open yet very sensitive way.
There is no guilt trip here. There is no hard-driving push for donations.
Instead, Paul talks something surprising. He talks about grace.
He brings his teaching about giving to conclusion
with one of the greatest promises of grace in all the Bible:
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
What is grace? Have you ever heard the definition: GRACE
God’s riches at Christ’s expense. That’s a great definition.
And here Paul speaks in the same sentence of God’s riches in Christ,
and meeting our needs, but this great promise comes after instruction on giving.
You wonder, how can that be?
Do you have to give in order to get God’s grace?
In that case, it’s not undeserved. It’s earned.
But as you unfold this passage, you realize that giving itself is a grace.
Giving is something God enables us to do through Christ.
And for the Christian, giving is itself a channel
through which God pours out blessing upon blessing.
Let’s look at the grace of giving. Three points Paul makes.
Three reasons to give. Three blessings of giving.
1. Giving is good to others
2. Giving is credit to you
3. Giving is pleasing to God
MP#1 Giving is good to others
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.”
That little word “yet” is so important.
Paul expresses his complete confidence and contentment in Christ
But he says, Don’t misunderstand me. That doesn’t mean your gift was
not important. It was very important. And then he explains why.
“Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”
You don’t have to know the geography of Philippi and Macedonia and Thessalonica
to get Paul’s point. The financial gifts of the Philippians alone is what enabled
him to continue is work and calling.
God had chosen Paul and uniquely equipped him to establish
the New Testament church throughout the Roman empire,
to lay the groundwork for the church we enjoy today.
Paul was a man of great faith, of great energy, a great mind, a great heart.
And God supplied his needs through the gifts of the Philippian church.
Paul says: “My God will supply all your needs.”
Yet here he says, “My needs were met by the Philippians.”
Is that a contradiction? No, it’s a theological principal.
God meets the needs of many through the giving of his people.
When you give, you become in a sense, the generous hands of God.
Does the name George Muller ring a bell with you?
He lived in England in the 1800s and he is known for his work with orphans.
He and his wife, Mary, started keeping some orphan girls in their home.
And that grew and grew until by the end of Muller’s life, he had personally
cared for over 10,000 orphans and had established 117 Christian schools for
orphans throughout England, that cared for and educated over 120,000 children.
Here’s the amazing thing about Muller. He never asked for any donations.
He prayed and the Lord provided in big and little ways.
Just one story: The orphanage had grown to 300 children.
And one morning the house mother came to Muller and said
There is no food for the children. The pantry is empty.
We have nothing to feed 300 hungry little stomachs. What should I do?
Muller said: Tell the children to go into the dining hall, and sit at their places.
When they were all assembled, Muller wished them good morning.
And began to pray: Lord, for this food we are about to receive, we thank you.
Everyone looked up from prayer at their empty plates, and they waited.
And then there was a knock at the door. It was a local baker.
He said: During the night, I thought of the children here.
So I got up early and baked extra bread—I hope you can use it.
No sooner had he gone than there was another knock. It was the milkman.
He said, the axle of my cart has broken right outside your door.
By the time it’s repaired, it will be too late for me to make my route.
Could you use this milk. And there was plenty for all to eat.
When you read story after story of his answered prayers,
and how the children were cared for and orphanages built
and lives changed you can’t help marvel at George Muller’s faith.
You can get so impressed with Muller that you miss the other important people
in the story—the baker, the milkman, the countless others who gave money.
George and Mary Muller had a unique calling. Few people can do what they did.
And God supplied their needs through the giving of Christian people.
Closer to home, last week I talked with Marty Baas, one of our missionaries.
Marty is a very interesting woman. She’s a grandmother.
Seven years ago she retired from a Christian school in Montgomery, and she went
with our denominations mission agency, Mission to the World to Ciudad Victoria,
Mexico to start a Christian school, in conjunction with a church being planted.
Christ Covenant took on monthly support. She plugged away down there.
Her challenges weren’t just academic. The drug violence in northern Mexico,
took a toll on her and the community. But she established a school.
Children and whole families have been converted and rededicated lives to Christ.
Marty recently turned the school over entirely to Mexican leadership.
She’s back in Montgomery, deciding what to do next.
And she told me several times how thankful she was for the consistent support
of Christ Covenant, and how she wants to get up here to see us all.
Through your tithes and offerings, you met her needs and took part in her work.
You become the hands of God as you give to his causes.
Whether that is your church, other Christian ministries and organizations,
or needy individuals who the Lord puts before you.
Back to George Muller for a moment.
Someone once asked him why he cared for orphans.
He said the main reason he did it was not to provide for their material needs,
the main reason was not even to tell them about Christ (even though he did both).
The main reason is to show the world that God is a Father to the fatherless.
And that is exactly what your giving will do in countless ways that you won’t know
until you get to heaven—it will show the world the love of God the Father.
Grace and blessing flow to you when you give.
You participate in the work of Christians called to special and difficult places,
and you become the hands of God the Father, doing good for others.
That would be reason enough to give, but Paul doesn’t stop there.
MP#2 Giving is credit to you
Look at verse 17 again:
“Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.”
All the commentators make the point that this is commercial language,
it’s business language, it’s the language of profit and return.
Paul is saying to the Philippians that God has taken note of their financial gifts,
he has recorded what they have given and he will reward them for it.
In fact, Paul is even more excited about the credit the Philippians
are going to get for their gift to him than he is about the gift itself.
He’s like a dad who’s proud that his son has made a wise investment,
because he knows that at some point in the future, there will be a huge return.
This teaching of rewards for giving raises three big questions.
1. Does this conflict with the message of God’s grace?
Does it conflict with the good news that eternal life and fellowship with God
is an absolutely free gift that you cannot earn but only receive by faith?
The answer is that it obviously doesn’t.
If there was ever a person who understood grace and the Gospel it was Paul.
He gave his life to proclaim that all the credit we receive
comes entirely from the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
He was dead set against any teaching of works righteousness.
And yet many places in his letters, Paul calls Christians to faithful living and
sacrificial giving and motivates them with the prospect of rewards from God.
All this is to say that God cares very much how we live and particularly
what we do with our money, and he cares so much that he rewards us for it.
2. The second question is: Isn’t the promise of rewards an inferior motive
for obeying God? Shouldn’t we just obey purely out of love and gratitude?
I think that’s absolutely true. There are higher reasons to give,
but this is also a reason, and the Bible doesn’t hesitate to tell us so.
The Christian life is difficult. We need lots of motivation to do hard things.
So the Bible gives us many reasons for obeying God.
And one of those motives is this:
God will not fail to keep record your giving and reward you for your generosity.
I think those two questions are easy to answer, the third one is harder.
3. What are these rewards? How is the credit to our account paid?
Here we need to be very careful. To stop where the Bible stops and not speculate.
The Bible does tell us that there will be rewards in heaven.
Of course just being in heaven with Christ is a great reward every Christian gets.
But in addition to that, there will be rewards in heaven for faithful service,
and for the faithful use of your money.
Jesus tells a parable in Luke 19 where a king gives his servants money,
and when he returns, he rewards them for using it wisely.
One faithful servant is rewarded with 10 cities, and another with five.
Is that literal description or just a word picture?
I don’t know. But there will be rewards in heaven and they are worth striving for.
The Bible also indicates that there are rewards in this life for faithfulness in giving.
One of the most famous verses is Malachi 3:10
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in
this, says the LORD Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and
pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
The tithe is 10% of your income. Not just any 10%, it’s the first 10%.
And in giving the tithe you are saying God owns everything,
and you are trusting him to provide for you with the remaining 90%.
Here is this incredible promise that God will pour out blessings when you tithe,
not when you get to heaven, but from heaven now, in this life.
I want to tell you about my personal experience with tithing.
But as I said a moment ago, it’s hard for me to talk about these things.
I hope you don’t feel some of the things I tell you are inappropriate.
When I got out of seminary and got called as an assistant pastor,
things became very tight for us financially, it was much harder than seminary.
I won’t go into the details. But as I’ve thought about it in later years, I’ve realized
that the leadership of the church had some unhealthy ideas about how much a
pastor should be paid. I went there willingly and knew what I was getting into.
But even so, it was harder than I thought. Cost of living was higher in Florida.
Allison was expecting our first child and there was a problem
with the insurance and we didn’t know if the delivery would be covered.
I tried to talk her into having the baby at home, but she wasn’t too keen on that idea.
So the possibility of big hospital bills made me worry more.
There where two verses of Scripture that comforted me. Said them over and over.
1 Timothy 6:6-8 “But godliness with contentment is great gain . . .”
Pro 15:17 “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.”
Along with those verses came a deep conviction that we needed to tithe.
Up to that point I had never been serious about giving.
I would just give when it was convenient, when I had money left over.
But I realized that giving the first tenth of my income was a way of expressing my
trust in God and making a statement about who am I.
This is what Christians do. We trust God with our money.
So we just started tithing. Ten percent of our pre-tax income.
I was paid once a month. I would deposit my paycheck,
and then the first check I would write was the tithe.
And it would go in the offering plate the next Sunday and there was nothing
to be done about it. We were locked in for the month.
Allison and I have never looked back. And I can say without a doubt that the Lord
has opened the floodgates of heaven and poured out his blessing.
This church has been a blessing to us financially.
The Lord has enabled us to give above the tithe, a greater percentage of income.
We couldn’t have done that if the floodgates had not been opened.
But let me tell you what the greatest blessing from heaven has been.
Giving has helped me be more content with what I have. I’m not perfect.
I still struggle with discontentment. But there has been in my life
a tangible connection between giving away the first tenth, and contentment.
And if you’re content, you’ve basically got the financial battle won.
All this is to say that if you are Christian, giving is good for you.
It’s credit to your account. God records and God rewards in this life and the next.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also
reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will reap generously.”
Brings us to the third point.
MP#3 Giving is pleasing to God
Paul says in verse 18: “I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.
They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”
Paul is using Old Testament worship language here.
“A fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God”
was a way of describing Temple worship in Jerusalem at its best.
You know what it’s like on a Saturday evening in the summer,
you walk outside and all through neighborhood people have grills going.
You smell the smoke, you smell steak cooking—makes your mouth water.
That was a big part of the worship experience in the Temple.
The smoke of the sacrifices, the fat being burned, the roasting meat.
And as that smoke and smell would ascend, it was a tangible symbol
that the Lord was pleased, that he was accepting the worship of his people.
So Paul is saying: Your giving is an act of worship.
You worship the Lord with your tithes and offerings.
It was a way of praising God, of declaring his worth.
And, of course, in the Old Testament church, animal sacrifices and grain offerings,
and other produce were their tithes and offerings. The Israelites would give
the firstborn of the flock and herd, and a tenth of their grain, wine, and olive oil.
So there is this Old Testament worship connection that Paul makes.
Your giving is an act of worship that pleases God.
But there’s something deeper—and it’s quite amazing.
This language “a fragrant offering, and acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God”
is the very same description Paul uses for Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:1
“Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
The eternal Son of God took on human flesh and human nature.
That’s what we’re celebrating this week—the incarnation of Christ.
Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. And that beautiful baby was born to die.
He lived a life of perfect obedience to the law of God.
He lived a life of love and kindness. He gave and gave and gave his heart,
himself to his people. Then he gave his life on the cross as the perfect sacrifice.
And all the great Old Testament sacrifices, the countless Passover lambs,
the blood of tens of thousands of bulls and goats through the centuries,
were just shadows and pointers to the death of Jesus Christ.
God the Father gave his Son in love so that you could be forgiven and saved.
And Christ offered up his body on the cross to accomplish your salvation.
And God looked down from heaven at the broken body of his son,
in all that ugliness and blood and pain and said, this is a fragrant offering.
Do you believe that? Do you know that Jesus died for you?
If you do, then you are going to be amazed at what Paul says about your giving.
He’s saying that when you give, God the Father gets the same sort of pleasure
that he got from the death of Christ—it’s a fragrant offering, pleasing to him.
Your sacrificial gifts somehow reflect Christ’s sacrifice.
God sees what they cost you, and that pleases him because it shows that
his fatherly love has made a deep impression on your heart.
It shows him that you are giving because you have understood and appreciate
the great gift and sacrifice of his Son, and have been changed by it.
This is glorious but it’s also very practical.
Because it forces you to ask the question that only you can answer—
Is my giving really sacrificial? Is my giving really costing me anything?
Listen to the way C.S. Lewis expressed it in Mere Christianity:
“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditures on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc. is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our giving excludes them.”
These are piercing questions:
How does your lifestyle different from an unbeliever with the same income
as your own because of your giving? Do you drive the same cars?
Live in the same houses? Go on the same vacations?
What are the things you haven’t been able to do or buy because of your giving?
What level of financial security have you given up because of your giving?
Do you see how practical this is?
Sometimes Christians say: I can’t afford to give. Or, I can’t afford to give more.
But what they really mean is :
I can’t afford to give without sacrificing something I don’t want to sacrifice.
But here’s the thing: God wants that sacrifice. It pleases him.
And he’s promised that as you give he will supply all your needs
according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Can you trust him for that? Of course you can.
Because he’s already proven himself in the gift of his Son.
And what better time of year for us to know this than Christmas?
You know the verse from the old Christmas carol:
“How silently, how silently The wondrous gift is giv’n.
So God imparts to human hearts The blessings of his heav’n.
No ear may hear his coming, But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still, The dear Christ enters in.
We’ve been recipients of the greatest gift of all, the wondrous, silent gift,
of the life of Jesus Christ poured into our souls through the Holy Spirit.
Let’s respond to that gift in the only real way—by giving back to God—
our lives, our days, our thoughts, our affections, and our money.