Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Giving Christian: Philippians 4:10-19

The Giving Christian

Philippians 4:10, 14-19

When it comes to preaching about stewardship, there are a number of errors that can be made on the part of the preacher. The first is to not define the term. Many people hear the word stewardship, and instantly think that money is the subject. Stewardship, however, refers to all of life. It is the recognition that everything that is within our grasp ultimately belongs to God. He has allowed us to be managers, or stewards, over these things as we live for Him and serve Him. So, stewardship applies to our finances and material possessions, but also to our time, our talents and abilities, our relationships, and everything else that is in our hands. So, when we don’t define the term, we run the risk of being misunderstood by those who are completely unfamiliar with the concept of stewardship and by those who understand it only applying to money.

The second error is to preach too often on the subject. It is no secret that many people have a preconceived notion that if they come to church, they are going to hear the preacher beg for money. This is because many preachers do this on a frequent basis. Perhaps this is your first Sunday here, or one of a very few you have spent with us. I assure you that in ten months as pastor of Immanuel, this is the first time I have ever preached a message on financial giving, though I unashamedly stress stewardship of one’s total life nearly every Sunday. This is because I have learned from experience that giving is something that has to be caught rather than taught. I know very few people who have decided to be generous givers because of a sermon they heard on the subject. However, sometimes a sermon meets a person right where they are, and God has been dealing with their hearts already about their total life stewardship, and a commitment is made as a result. But rest assured that if you are visiting with us today, your presence and attentiveness are the most precious gifts you can give, and we are grateful for both.

The third error is to preach on giving as if God needed our money. If we correctly understand stewardship, we understand that He doesn’t need anything, because it is all His anyway. And though you may not be a generous giver to God’s kingdom causes, you are not depriving God of anything. The Bible says that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. The Bible says the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. The Lord says through the prophet Haggai, “The silver is mine and the gold is mine.” God is not in danger of filing for bankruptcy because you withhold your tithe.

A fourth error is to be so hyper-sensitive to the perception of outsiders that the subject of financial giving is avoided altogether. We don’t want to turn anybody off who may be seeking spiritual direction. However, we cannot claim to preach the whole counsel of God and avoid the subject of giving, because the Bible has much to say about our finances and possessions. And, we do not want to minimize the scriptural responsibility of Christians to support the work of the Lord through giving. If we never teach on the subject, and that seeker decides to follow Christ, what will he or she think when suddenly they begin to hear that the church expects its members to be generous givers?

I could go on indefinitely, but I want to specify one more error. There is the error of preaching on giving in such a way that non-Christian people feel that a financial gift in the offering plate makes them right with God. If you have come here believing that God will accept you because you have made generous gifts to religious causes in the past, let me have the unfortunate privilege of disappointing you. If you have never given your life to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then your gifts are unacceptable before the Lord because you are separated from Him because of your sins. The only remedy for that dilemma is Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross whereby He took your sins’ penalty and makes forgiveness available to you. And as our resurrected High Priest, He presents the offerings of His followers to the Father as a fragrant aroma which are pleasing and acceptable to Him. So, the first and most important gift that God desires to receive from each one of us is our hearts and lives as we surrender ourselves to Him.

Now, in the passage before us today, Paul has much to say to the Philippian Christians who have given him a generous financial gift to assist him in his work of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ across the world. As he discusses this gift, we learn much concerning the characteristics of the giving Christian.

I. The Giving Christian Shows Concern for the Work of the Lord (10, 14)

The giving Christian recognizes that God’s Kingdom work is bigger than one individual. Each of us is part of an interconnected web of giving, receiving, praying, and serving. Paul traveled the then-known-world preaching the gospel and planting churches. Not everyone has that kind of ministry. Most of us are busy working to make ends meet and put food on the table. So, if it weren’t for those who are willing and able to go to the ends of the earth, the Great Commission to reach all nations with the gospel would never be fulfilled. However, if they are venturing forth for the gospel, how shall their needs be met? Food still costs money, and it is still a requirement to live. Beyond just the basic living expenses, ministry costs money. I told Stephen Chang last week when we were talking about the costs of seminary education, “The Gospel is free, but the ministry isn’t.” There are costs relating to conducting ministry, and the need to help those in need who are encountered along the way.

So Paul is out doing the ministry of global evangelization, and how is he going to meet the expenses that he encounters in so doing? He doesn’t want to be a financial burden on new Christians and he doesn’t want to depend on non-Christians for support. So, we know from Scripture that on several occasions, he made tents to provide an income for himself. However, more time spent making tents means less time sharing the gospel. So, Paul was glad to receive the offerings of God’s people in churches like the one at Philippi. He says that their gifts are an expression of “concern”, and that they have done well to give.

Perhaps it is unfair to say that the giving Christian is concerned about the work of the Lord, as if to imply that those who do not give are unconcerned. Certainly giving is not the only outlet of concern. However, in the first chapter of Philippians Paul referred to this church as being his partner in the gospel, and we learn here that this partnership is based heavily on their giving. The giving Christian understands that, though he or she may be unable to go and do all that some others are doing in the kingdom, through giving, they become just as much a part of what is being done as the one on the front lines. We think of Billy Graham as being probably the most influential Christian in modern times, but Billy Graham could not have accomplished half of what he has without the financial gifts of those who have supported his ministry through the years. The same is true of a local church. There is much we can do to impact the community and the world. However, in order to do it, we need every member to realize that their giving enables them to be a partner in all God accomplishes through us.

Now, notice in verses 15 and 16 that also…

II. The Giving Christian is Committed to Faithfulness (15-16)

The Philippian church was faithful in their participation. They were not content to say, “Some other church will come through for Paul.” Nor were they willing to say, “We will give if others give, but if no one else is giving then we won’t either.” Paul said, “No church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone.” They were the only ones! In 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 &, Paul said to the Corinthians, “I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia, they fully supplied my need.” Probably this is a reference to Acts 18:5, which tells us that when Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul was able to abandon making tents in order to devote himself completely to the ministry of the word. And the reference to Macedonia is primarily a reference to Philippi.

There is an old adage that says that in churches, 20% of the people give 80% of the money and do 80% of the work. That may be true, but it is probably more likely that 10% are giving and doing 90% of what gets done in most churches. Often times, unfortunately, all that is heard is the complaining that others are not doing more. We need to just go on record today and say, “Praise God for the 10% or 20% who have been faithful when others have not!” Praise God for the ones who were not content to say, “Someone else can give to Lottie Moon or Annie Armstrong. Someone else can tithe. It’s not for me to do.” Praise God for those who were willing to say, “If no one else will give, I will give!” And while certainly we pray that their tribe might increase, we should never fail to commend the faithful participation of so many in the work of the Kingdom through giving.

Notice also that they were faithful in their continuation. He says it was after I left Macedonia …Even in Thessalonica, that they gave. Many people might give as long as they know they are going to receive something tangible in return. Not the Philippians. They gave, even when Paul was ministering in some other region, and they would see no direct impact of his work. They shared with him in the matter of giving and receiving, knowing that some other church or some other individuals had given to him so that he could come and preach to them. They received the gospel of Jesus Christ from him, and they gave, so others could receive Christ as well. Paul implies that many receive, but do not give. The Philippians did both. As individuals and as a church, we must be committed to giving beyond what impacts ourselves. You and I may never need the help of Urban Ministry, but those who do need that help could not receive it if people like us didn’t give to them. We have to get our eyes off of ourselves and realize that the Kingdom is bigger than you and me, and it is bigger than Immanuel Church, and give accordingly. I lament the fact that 80% or more of our church budget funds only what takes place under our own roof. I long for the day when we give away more money in ministry and missions than we keep for ourselves, but that cannot happen until all God’s people are faithful in continuing to give beyond what impacts themselves directly.

And notice also that this cannot be one-time giving. Paul says that the Philippians gave more than once. Some Christians believe that one-time designated gifts are the best way to give. However, the needs of missions and ministry are year-round. In many churches, the power bill and the Sunday School literature and the staff salaries are being paid primarily by widows and single-parent families who are barely making ends meet, but who are committed to tithing. And meanwhile some Christians, often wealthy Christians, only give sporadically and to their favorite projects. One-time gifts cannot keep the church advancing. We must be faithful in our participation and continuation as a giving Christian.

Now thirdly, notice…

III. The Giving Christian Understands the True Value of the Gift (v17-18)

The real value of giving is not the financial transaction that takes place when the check is cashed and the funds transfer from one account to the other. There is a greater value because Christian giving is both a spiritual investment and a pleasing sacrifice to God.

Paul says that his primary concern is not the gift in itself. He is grateful for the gift, but you recall from verses 11-13 that he has said that he has learned to be content in famine or feast. He says that his greater concern is the profit which increases to your account. He uses the terms of financial banking to describe the reality of spiritual investments. There was a transaction taking place that was of eternal value. The word he uses for profit is the word karpos which means literally fruit. Here Paul has in mind the idea of interest which is increasing in their spiritual account. This interest is being compounded and is accumulating all the time until the last day. I like the way F. F. Bruce describes this – Their gift “is a token of heavenly grace in their lives and, so to speak, a deposit in the bank of heaven that will multiply and compound interest to their advantage. They meant Paul to be the gainer from their generosity, and so indeed he is; but on the spiritual plane the permanent gain will be theirs.”[1] I do not know how you will collect, but I know that God is faithful and He will not forget your faithfulness in giving. And maybe, just maybe, when we stand before Him in heaven, He will show us all that took place in His kingdom because of our giving – souls saved, lives changed, societies transformed. That my friends will be an awesome return on the investment of our tithes and offerings we gave throughout our lives.

But also, the true value of giving is not only the spiritual investment, but also the pleasing sacrifice that it is to God. Paul says that their offering is a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. Under the Old Testament Law, a person would approach God with a burnt-offering which was said to be a fragrant aroma to God. That sacrificial system was superseded by the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the final payment for sin. In Ephesians 5:2, Paul said that Christ gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Here, our giving is said to also be a fragrant aroma to God.

Our gifts are an acceptable sacrifice. The word sacrifice implies giving something up. Much of our giving today is not sacrificial. We give out of abundance in many cases. But some have committed to giving sacrificially. The widow’s mite was commended by Jesus in Mark 12 because, although many others gave large sums, Jesus said, she gave more than all of them. “They all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” The Philippians gave in this sacrificial way. In 2 Corinthians 8:2, Paul spoke of the Philippians’ gifts, saying, “in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality or generosity.” Some have rendered deep poverty as rock-bottom poverty. This was not a wealthy church, but they gave abundantly. Some might chastise Paul for accepting gifts from such impoverished people, but Paul said in 2 Corinthians 8:4, that they begged with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints. They were going to give whether Paul wanted it or not. They viewed it as a privilege, and they begged for the opportunity. Why the enthusiasm? Because they recognized that their gifts were an acceptable sacrifice. They weren’t giving to Paul or to some ministry program. They were giving to God, and entrusting His servant Paul to administer that gift properly. And viewed this way, their gifts were well-pleasing to God.

Do you view giving as just going to the church? Just the preacher? Just paying the power bill for the sanctuary? No, when you give, you give to God. Hopefully, you trust your church to administer that gift (if not, then I wonder why you haven’t found another church). And though your check may be made out to Immanuel Baptist Church, know that God is using that money to accomplish His purposes all over the world as we fund the work of ministry and missions starting in our own community and extending to the ends of the earth.

The true value of giving is the spiritual investment we are making and the pleasing sacrifice that our giving is to God. Now finally …

IV. The Giving Christian Will Never Be in Need (v19)

This is another one of those promises that all too often is divorced from its context and applied universally to all people in all circumstances. However, this promise takes on a specific nuance when we keep it rooted in its context. The promise is that God will faithfully provide for the needs of those who are faithful stewards of what He has given them. The Philippians could rest in the comfort of this promise because they had been faithful to invest sacrificially in God’s kingdom work, even from the depths of their poverty, because they knew it was all God’s anyway. God would never forget their stewardship. Hebrews 6:10 says, “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name in having ministered, and in still ministering to the saints.” Because they were faithful with the meager resources they had, God would see to it that they never lacked anything they needed. Now this is not a promise of prosperity, it is a promise of survival. We don’t need most of what we think we need. But, all that we have was given to us by God, and if we use it for His glory, He will continue to faithfully provide for our needs.

I began today by speaking of some errors that preachers and churches often commit when it comes to discussing finances. I hope I have avoided them today, and simply unpacked what the Scriptures teach in this passage about this subject. But I want to be very clear in closing about a couple of things. If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ in a personal way, or if you are not sure, then we want you to give God a gift that money cannot buy – your very life. Your life is valuable to God. So valuable, He gave something very costly for you. The Bible says that you have not been redeemed by perishable things like silver and gold, but with the blood of a lamb without spot or blemish – the lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who was slain on Calvary’s Cross for your sins and mine, so that you could be forgiven and know God and live for Him in the way He intended for you from the day He made you. He presents this infinite and eternal offer to you as a free gift. You cannot buy it with money. You receive it by giving your life to God through Jesus Christ as you turn from sin and receive Him as your Savior and Lord. That is the most important gift you can ever give God, and until you do, He is not interested in any other gift you may desire to give. So I invite you today to receive Him, and to give yourself to Him.

And then I want to be very clear about another thing – God is a giver. God so loved the world He gave. And God loves a cheerful giver, the Bible says. If you are a Christian, and a member of this church, I am not ashamed or afraid to say that you have a responsibility. You receive ministry from this church, and you have a responsibility to give to see to it that the ministry continues. And your gifts should be to God, offered to Him as a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice which is pleasing to Him. It is a spiritual investment on your part. You might say, “I don’t have much.” It doesn’t take much. Just say to God, “I trust you enough to provide for me to return to you this small portion of what you have given me.” Some of you tithe faithfully – giving God 10% of your income. God bless you. But for some of you, God may lead you to go above and beyond that. There is no biblical Law saying to only give 10%. God may lead someone to give abundantly more than that, and to refuse to do it in the name of the tithe is sin. Others may give sporadically, irregularly, inconsistently. I want you to know every bit of it is appreciated and we hope that we will administer those gifts faithfully. But I want to challenge you to give consistently, systematically, and sacrificially. Make a plan today to say, “Lord, it is my desire and my goal to give this amount, or this percentage, on a weekly or monthly basis to you through this church, so that your word will go forth from here and change lives in our community and around the world.”

I hope you know, we aren’t begging for your money. God is faithful beyond what we give or don’t give. But we desire for all God’s people to be obedient and faithful and mature. And we do this by growing in the stewardship of our whole lives. Our money is just one part of our lives. So today God may challenge you about your stewardship in some other area of life. So however he is leading you in regard to this matter, I pray your response and mine will be one of faith and obedience.

[1] F. F. Bruce, NIBC, 154

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