Gospel giving - Philippians 4:10-23
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
A famous Eastern European Pianist was once booked to perform at a great concert hall for a high-society extravaganza.
In the audience was a mother with her fidgety nine-year-old son. Weary of waiting, the boy slipped away from her side, strangely drawn to the Steinway Piano on the stage.
Without much notice from the audience, he sat down at the stool and began playing "chopsticks." The roar of the crowd turned to shouts as hundreds yelled, "Get that boy away from there!" When the great Concert pianist heard the uproar backstage, he grabbed his coat and rushed over behind the boy.
Reaching around him from behind, the master began to improvise a countermelody to "Chopsticks." As the two of them played together, the Pianist kept whispering in the boy's ear, "Keep going. Don't quit, son...don't stop...don't stop!"
In the end an unlikely partnership produced a pleasant sound!
That's how it is to be with the Church of Jesus Christ! Working together, different people, some more able than others, but all fulfilling different parts in prayers & action for a common purpose the gospel of Jesus.
That is the way the church, living "worthy of the gospel of Christ" (1:27), in "partnership in the gospel" (1:5), can make a pleasant sound as the good news of Jesus is lived out & got out!
The Apostle Paul began his letter to the Philippians thanking God for the "partnership in the gospel" he shared with them & he ends it the same way;
Do turn to p 1181 & look at v10;
"I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it."
Paul is thankful for the way they have sought to support him by giving him financial support to continue his ministry. v14Yet it was good of you to share (literally "be in partnership with me") in my troubles." 16 "for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need."
We've seen throughout this letter how the Christians were under threat of disunity in the church family because of selfishness or false teaching so they need to be reminded (2;2) to "be likeminded, having the same love being one in spirit & purpose". Being partners together in the gospel.
Recognizing how they've been in partnership with each other & with him, Paul thanks God & as he does so he gives some very valuable insight into 2 areas of Christian living Contentment & Giving.
1) Learn to be Content in Christ. (v10-13)
Have you ever given anything to a charity & then received a thank you letter that really seems to be less about genuine gratitude & more a hidden appeal for more?
As we saw last week the Apostle Paul has just reminded these believers 4:9 "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me put it into practice." Paul's example here after receiving the Philippians gift is rather different from the typical Charity response.
Paul thanks them for their support & then adds v11 "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
What he says is amazing & so different to so many in our world who never seem satisfied, who seem to be always out to get more.
There was a programme on the BBC last week about singer/songwriter George Michael. He is a man who has received virtually everything the world has to offer. In one of his (apparently autobiographical) songs "Freedom '90" he says this; "I was every little hungry school girls' pride & joy" he had "brand new clothes & a big fat place" but he concluded "sometimes the clothes do not make the man". He had everything but it seems he was not content.
Those who lack a certain something in their lives often dream that if only that had this or that, life would be so much more fulfilled but those who have found, been given or earned what they were looking for, illustrate that this is a myth.
An American actress was asked whether she would have been happier having 10 children rather than being a millionaire (as she was).
She replied "I'd rather have had 10 children then I would have known I had got enough"!
She had millions of dollars but she still had a drive for more money she was not content.
Paul's example is different.
i) He had learned to be content; v11 "I am
not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be contentv12 "I have learned the secret of being content
Being content is not a natural state we automatically want more whatever it is. Paul over time with God's help had "learned" (he says it twice) that he actually could be settled in his situation.
This is an encouragement to us when we feel we're struggling to be content where we are in life financially, in our family life, with our health contentment is not necessarily natural but it can be learnt.
ii) Paul learned to be content in challenging &
Paul was content if he had very little he could cope with difficulties. And he was content when he had lots, when life was relatively easy.
V11 "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."
It is possible in whatever situation to be content in life. It is possible having very little (& therefore being vulnerable to resentment or coveting or even stealing) & yet not giving into such temptations & instead being content.
And it is possible to have more than you need (& therefore be vulnerable to trusting in your wealth & being selfish) & yet not giving into such temptations & instead being content.
Paul's circumstances involved v12 "any & every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." We could add; whether busy & rushed off our feet or bored & underused, whether facing the demands of family life or the loneliness of being on our own, whether working or unemployed, whether appreciated & valued or disregarded & misunderstood. "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation."
The secret of contentment is beyond mere circumstances & Paul had learned it within these different circumstances.
iii) Paul's contentment was rooted in his belonging to Christ.
V12 "have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
Paul's contentment was not the effort of a superhero rising above every challenge, but rather his contentment is focussed on all that he benefits from in being in relationship with Jesus.
Contentment in every circumstance, is possible because of God's strength through Christ. v13 "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
Now the word "everything" here must fit the context. Whatever the circumstance Paul found himself in with the rich & powerful, or with the poor & needy, whether preaching to 100s or chained to a jailer, Paul had learned to cast himself on God & to discover a calm contentment.
Putting into practice Paul's example, following his lead of learning contentment can be real for us; we can do "everything" everything God brings across our path. With God's help we can cope, we can be content, because we can be secure in the secure love of God in Jesus through the gospel.
We may have to learn more contentment but we can be hopeful, holding onto the promise of v13.
Having indirectly made clear he was not asking for more Paul goes on to speak further about the gift the Philippians had given him. As he does so he helps us to a better perspective on Christian stewardship which is part of our "living worthy of the gospel" & "partnership in the gospel":
2) Give to Forward the Gospel of Christ & Please God v14-23
Here was a church in Philippi that was keen to put partnership in the gospel into practical action. They had benefited from the gospel Paul had brought to them from God, & they wanted to be partners in seeing the gospel go forward. They could do this by supporting Paul financially as he continued his work.
v14 "Yet it was good of you to share (have partnership) in my troubles. 15Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared (were partners) with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need."
i) Financial support given from Christians to others in need whether that's physical need or, significantly here in need as they communicate the gospel is "partnership".
What we have here is a lovely picture of support from some to others in need, who are passing on the gospel. Here is the mutually of Christian fellowship of being partners together living worthily of the gospel of Christ.
This account is a reminder that we all have a part to play in the life of the local church family & indeed wider as the work of the gospel goes beyond our circles of influence.
Not everyone is a missionary, not everyone is to lead a church family & have time free from other work to teach & train & pastor, but we all have roles to play; practical tasks to fulfil, ministries of the word to exercise, prayer to offer for others. And many of us can financially support those who need to be freed up to serve & equip the rest of us.
That's the idea behind the traditional idea of what's usually called a "Stipend". Several of our St John's staff team don't get a salary or wage we are not thought to have earned it rather we are given a stipend a grant if you like, that supports us & our families so we can be freed up from earning a living another way. That way we can have time to teach the Bible & coordinate the life of the church family so that everyone else plays their part & the good news goes out to the community.
But clearly that money has to come from somewhere. It seems God's purpose is that it doesn't usually come from outside bodies but rather from the people of God themselves then as here with Paul & the Philippians, partnership in the gospel is expressed financially to enable the gospel to go out.
It's easy to feel in a relatively large church like St John's that things just happen. But of course they don't! The ministry of the whole body of Christ here is made possible on the human level by a lot of organization to faithfully steward the resources we have so that the gospel is prioritized. And of course those resources need to be provided.
I'm encouraged that the giving to the work of the gospel through St John's has increased by something like 25% this year so far we should be grateful to God for that, yet the needs in our area are such that we want to press forward & facilitate more gospel opportunities as well as maintain what we already do we still have a long way to go.
Financial partnership like the "giving & receiving" (v15) Paul speaks of here means each of us carefully considering what we are able to share from our personal & family resources for the sake of the gospel & acting practically to give it setting up the standing order, using the white envelopes & other ways of actually getting round to it.
I was at the Church Mission Committee last week which facilitates the partnerships in mission we have at St John's with others locally in Hull & the UK & around the world in Africa, Europe, Asia & South America.
10% of our giving at St John's goes to support the work of these "Missionaries," but we would like to take on more mission partners especially as folks with links to St John's are sent out to serve, as people are being. These also provide opportunities to share in partnership financially. Do keep your eye on the Mission Board when you're having a coffee after the services, to see what's going on.
Have you heard about the man who had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital?
He could deal with only a few visitors and was not to be excited.
While he was in the hospital a rich uncle died and left him a million pounds. His family wondered how on earth to break the news to him with the least amount of excitement. It was decided to ask the local vicar if he would go and tell him quietly.
The Vicar called in and gradually led up to the question. He asked the patient nonchalantly, "What would you do if he inherited a million pounds?" The man said, "I think I would give half of it to the church."
The vicar had a heart attack!
That's often how the subject of Christian giving is thought about it's a big surprise if anyone gives to the cause of the gospel!
But what we see in the Bible is that it costs nothing to belong to God's people but that as we've seen here we want to express our "partnership in the gospel" by giving, so the that gospel is forwarded.
ii) And there's another factor Paul speaks of here in Philippians 4 - giving is an activity that blesses us
v17 "Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18I have received full payment and even more; 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."
Paul is thankful for their gift but is actually more concerned that they are blessed through giving. The Philippians' generosity to others (here Paul) will be "credited" to their "account".
The image is of something like interest accumulating in a savings policy. Christian giving to others actually benefits the giver. This is not that we are guaranteed to receive more financially than we give & so we are motivated to give by some sort of sanctified selfishness, godly greed (as some Christian teachers seem to get close to teaching) but that God will honour Christian generosity with the generosity of his grace & blessing on our lives. Paul was really pleased at the Philippians giving because he knew it would be spiritually good for them. We too can be sure that we will be spiritually blessed by God as we give to others for the sake of the gospel.
iii) What's more Christian giving can be seen as an
act of grateful worship to a generous God.
The financial gifts given as a sharing in partnership in the gospel, gifts which will also bless the giver are as well v18; "a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God."
These words are very significant because of their use in the OT. They are all phrases associated with the sacrifices offered to God, which were a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Using these terms shows that the gifts given to others for the sake of the gospel are immensely valuable in the sight of God.
Christian giving is "a fragrant offering" (it is of the highest worth because it is given for God's glory) (cf Ex 29:18, Eph5:2), it is "an acceptable sacrifice" (it is received positively by God) & it is "pleasing to God" (it is an action that is very good because it brings pleasure to God.)
Christian giving then, can be seen as part of our life of worship to our generous God.
God has given so much to us, we want to please him by helping to support others to pass on the gospel. Our giving, like all our lives as Christians is a response to God's grace to us.
On top of this;
iv) That sort of attitude is met with an assurance;
v19 "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. 20To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
What a promise that is! God will provide He is reliable & can be trusted to give us what we need materially & spiritually. It's great to know we can never out give God in anything as we seek to be partners in the gospel, because through Jesus, God will fulfil his promise. And God can meet all our needs in a manner that befits the riches of his glory in Jesus. Nothing is too difficult for Him.
As we've spent time learning from this ancient letter over these 2 months we've seen something of what it means to live lives "worthy of the gospel," lives lived in "partnership" for the gospel's sake.
--Like the little boy & the pianist we thought of at the beginning, a pleasing cooperation is possible as Christians serve Christ & his gospel.
As we close it's interesting that the words at the end & the beginning of this letter are connected. Paul begins wishing the Christians 1;2 "grace & peace [to you] from God our Father & the Lord Jesus Christ." And he ends 4:23 "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit."
Grace, the generous love of God to those who don't deserve it, is the heart of the gospel of Christ.
It is the grace of Christ which enables us to learn contentment in Him & it is the grace of Christ to which we respond when we give to the support of others serving the gospel of Christ.
Let's pray to the God who keeps giving us more grace.
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