To Our God and Father Be Glory Forever
Philippians 4:14-23 – Philippians: Life Together
5th Sunday of Easter – April 29, 2018 (am)
The whole matter of giving in the local church can be a tough one to grasp. Back when Jean and I were newly married and were just starting to understand how to manage a family budget, giving, I confess, was a bit of a mystery to us. There was precious little money for us to manage in those days—I was in school; we established our first residence away from all family, and our joint income from the jobs we could piece together didn’t add up to one full-time wage. Giving some portion of that income away at that time seemed not only impossible, but potentially even unwise. Don’t you have to have before you can give?
It was hard for us to get started because the whole transaction just didn’t make sense to us. How was it responsible to give money away when you may not even be meeting your basic financial obligations month to month? Still, because we’d been raised by Christian parents who gave faithfully to the church and to missions, we just decided to do it. We decided to give first, before we paid any other bills, so that the money would more likely be there. We decided to give regularly, so we wouldn’t have to make the decision all over again each month. We decided to give proportionately, a percentage of our income. That first year we didn’t start at 10%, but we felt confident that proportionate giving was more important than the actual percentage we gave. And it was surely more important than the amount we gave! And we started this practice only because we believed it was right. It was difficult, very difficult, but it was right.
We’ve learned since then that there was another element present that enabled our giving in those early days, even without our being aware of it—I’ll say without my being aware of it. Jean may well have seen it. It was an element that bubbles up throughout our passage this morning like a spring feeding an oasis, even though it’s never explicitly mentioned. And I believe it’s the key to our joyful and fruitful participation in biblical giving. It’s the key not because it enables our understanding of biblical giving. It’s the key because it enables our participation in biblical giving. And it’s that participation, then, which I believe develops our understanding of giving.
I say this because of all I’ve observed in the years since that first year of marriage. I’ve had many conversations on giving, and I’ve come to understand that learning to give has nothing whatsoever to do with the amount of one’s annual income. One of the primary myths about giving is that one needs to be rich to do it. But then, who can define rich. Even the richest people in this richest of countries have affirmed that, no matter how much one has, there is always a sense of the need for more. But beyond that, surveys confirm that the percentage given by the average American to charitable causes is actually inversely proportional to his/her annual income. This means the more you make the less you give, percentage-wise. The sums may be greater, but the proportion is less. Now, we must grant that there are exceptions to every rule—there are some people of means who are exceedingly generous givers, even percentage-wise. I knew of an elderly couple some time back, both doctors, who decided in their youth to increase their giving by a certain percentage every year. When they were in their seventies, they are still working, not because they needed to but because they wanted to! They did so with great joy to keep up their giving to beloved ministries. Like many others their giving was a 90/10 split of their income; but for them they lived on 10% and gave 90%! Meanwhile, the average American Christian family gives to their local evangelical church between 2% and 3% of their annual income? And that’s giving to the work of a God Who has brought them from death unto life, a God who challenged His OT people to test Him in this matter of giving to see if He would not open the windows of heaven in response and pour down blessing upon them until there was no more need (Mal.3:10). This was a God who said to His NT people that He loves a cheerful giver (2Co.9:7). Some have said true Christians should give till it hurts. It sounds rather from this passage that we should give till it feels good!
So how is this heart for giving supposed to develop? I believe it flows from that hidden ingredient I didn’t understand when Jean and I were first learning to give. In Phi.4:14-23, Paul is drawing his letter to a conclusion and has just mentioned that, while he (rejoices) in the (renewed) expression of concern the Philippians have made toward his labor for the gospel through their financial gifts, he’s learned to be content in Christ in that work even when he’s experiencing great need, like poverty or hunger.We read last week from 2Co.11-12 the almost unbelievable list of hardships he endured, yet Christ (strengthened) him, enabling contentment, for even when he was weak he could be strong in the strength of Christ (2Co.12:9). Christ was his treasure, and Paul was satisfied in Him.
With the Philippians’ sharing in gospel work still in the spotlight here (14-20), we can learn much about biblical giving under three headings (followed by a closing epilogue [21-23]).
The Fact of the Partnership – 14-16
Nothing could be a worse response to receiving a gift than saying to the giver: Oh, you shouldn’t have, and actually meaning it! Some people are like that, though, aren’t they? Do you have relatives who open a Christmas gift then immediately set it aside without comment? Or worse, they affirm matter-of-factly that they know what store you bought it at, so they’ll be able to return it and get something they really want. Ingratitude is ugly! Paul didn’t want there to be any risk of the Philippians believing that he was ungrateful for their gifts. Surely he could be content without them, but that only freed him to see the deeper meaning in the gift. They had done an excellent thing in their expression toward him. They had (shared) with him in his need, fellowshipped with him in his trouble; literally, they had entered into partnership with (him) in his tribulation (14, trouble). That word trouble (esv, niv), or affliction (nasv), is the same one that’s used to describe the Great Tribulation in Mat.24, Rev.2, and 7. And from his account in 2Co.11-12 we can understand why he used it!
The Philippians had expressed genuine compassion through their gift. We’ve defined compassion elsewhere as loving involvement at a point of need, and that’s just what they did. And Paul wanted them to know he appreciated it. They were the only church that had entered into partnership with (him) in giving and receiving (15), and they’d begun doing so almost immediately after he’d left Philippi. He hadn’t ministered there all that long—perhaps only a few weeks or months (Act.16:11-40)—but he’d made some good friends: Lydia, the seller of purple goods and the Philippian jailer together with their households. Due to some unrest and his resulting imprisonment, though, he left at the request of the city magistrates. He’d traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica where he planted another church even though he was only there for perhaps three weeks (Act.17:1-9). Still, what Paul says here is that they sent (him) help even in Thessalonica (16). The Philippians picked up Paul’s support very quickly. And he says they helped him once and again—they sent multiple gifts. The Philippians gave because they were partners with Paul. There was great joy in laboring together like this, and this is just what their giving indicated. Giving in ministry is an expression of partnership—sharing resources, even sacrificially, in pursuit of a common goal. And there’s great joy in it because you love the cause, and the people who’re engaged in it with you. For example, our sister church in Germany built their whole church building, brick by brick, together, with their own hands. That was a common goal involving shared resources, and it knit their hearts together. We gave toward that project while we were building our gym, and that has linked our hearts with them in the joy of their finally having a church home. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Mat.6:21).
The Fruit of the Payment – 17-18
Paul used that word payment here (18), and the way he wrote this verse virtually reads like a receipt for payment in full. Paul’s needs were more than cared for due to the gift the Philippians sent with Epaphroditus (18). But still, it was not their gift that he longed for most. It was not their money that satisfied his heart. No, more than anything he was glad they gave because he knew that God was (pleased) with them for doing it. And he knew that their expression of concern would accrue interest in their heavenly bank account (17), so to speak, present and future. To use Jesus’ words (Mat.6:20), the Philippians were (laying) up for (themselves) treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. They were investing in one who may receive (them) into the eternal dwellings (Luk.16:9).
So, Paul was gratified that the fruit of their generosity was eternal fruit. Their giving was like a fragrant offering… to God, meaning a sweet-smelling aroma, like sacrifices were supposed to be in the OT. It was acceptable to God, meaning it met His standard. And it was well-pleasing to Him (18), the virtual combination of its being fragrant and acceptable. God loves a cheerful giver! (2Co.9:7) But don’t miss the fact that Paul, who could be content with plenty or want, was in a state of plenty here because of their generosity (18). The means of God’s grace in his life was the fruit of God’s grace in theirs. And in the process, they too were receiving! By giving to Paul financially, they were receiving interest spiritually. Paul was giving by receiving. And the Philippians were receiving by giving. Everyone wins!
The Fullness of the Promise – 19-20
Here is where we get the clearest glimpse of the hidden ingredient in biblical giving that I mentioned earlier. It’s rooted in the promise of v.19, a promise whose parameters would be very difficult to overestimate. Paul has been well (supplied) (18). And (his) God will fully supply for their every need (19). This is not so much God repaying the Philippians. Rather, He was (pleased) with their sacrifice so He poured out blessing upon them! As His people walk in His ways He’s walking with them to make provision for their every need (19). There seems to be another parallel he with Mat.6—this time vv.25-34. There Jesus was teaching his followers, and us, not to be anxious about what we will eat or drink or wear. Our heavenly Father knows our every need. So, we’re free to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness—to walk in His ways—knowing that all these things will be added to (us) by His grace. He’s a loving Father to us!
So, God will do the (supplying). He’ll supply for our every need. That’s the promise. In context it appears to cover both physical and spiritual (needs). And (He) will supply for them according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. In and through Christ, God will meet our need from out of the riches of his glory, but also on a level that’s worthy of the riches of his glory! 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? (Rom.8:32)
See what I mean when I say that it’s difficult to overestimate the parameters of this promise—God meeting (needs) in keeping with His glory? Wow! Nothing in this world, this universe, outshines God’s glory! Ultimately our salvation is the outworking of God’s glory as He purposed from eternity past to magnify His glory by saving sinful rebels rather than destroying them (cf. Eph.1:3-14). And more, His glory is not compromised by welcoming sinful rebel cleansed by the blood of Christ, but rather is magnified. He (transforms us) into the His likeness from one degree of glory to another! (2Co.3:18) And his riches in glory in Christ Jesus sets the standard for His provision!
There are two facets of this supply: first, this is a promise from God to the Philippians to meet their physical (needs) as they continue to please Him in every good work. Think of what this means! Three implications here: first, we don’t need to be concerned about our basic (needs) being met as we live in line with God’s principles and partner with His people to do His work. He promises He will supply all we need. Second, there will be times when we perceive something as a need, yet it remains unmet. But this cannot mean that God’s promise has failed. It means one of two things: either 1) this is not a genuine need, or 2) this is not the best time for this need to be met—perhaps there’s something we need to learn while we wait, like Paul with his thorn in the flesh (2Co.12:7). We know Paul won’t be taking that thorn into heaven with him. And he may not even have endured it for his entire life on earth. But one thing is certain: there was a lesson Paul learned as a result of that thorn that I guarantee he wouldn’t have wanted to leave unlearned! Do you embrace that answer with your thorns? Third, and here’s our hidden ingredient: all this comes together to show that our giving is primarily an act of faith. That is to say, generally we don’t give because we believe those resources may be required to meet some other need. But God has promised to meet those (needs) Himself! So, now we have a test on our hands! Are we going to express our confidence, our faith, in God and give to His work regularly and proportionately, trusting Him to supply our every need as He promises to do? Or, are we going to ignore or explain away His promise and take on the burden of trying to meet our own (needs), then give to God only what we decide we can afford?
Second facet, these are some of the important lessons we can learn from v.19 just in the immediate context here in Phi.4. But this verse is such a dramatic climax in the text that we really must see it as a conclusion to the entire letter, not just to this final paragraph. The promise Paul pens in v.19 doesn’t just assure the Philippians that God will supply for their physical (needs), enabling them to give. But it is also assures them (and us!) that He will supply for the spiritual (needs) that have been identified and clarified throughout this letter. God will supply all we need to be content in whatever situation (4:10-13), and also for us to ponder those things that are excellent and worthy of praise (4:8-9). God will supply all we need to rejoice in the Lord, and to displace our anxiety by diligently presenting our requests to Him in prayer, with thanksgiving (4:4-7). God will supply all we need to live here as (citizens) of heaven (3:17-21), to press on toward… the prize of (that) upward call of God in Christ Jesus (3:12-16), to count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of Christ (3:7-11), and indeed, to have the mind of Christ (2:5-11). God will supply all we need to work out (our) own salvation in cooperation with His work in us (2:12-13), and continue to believe in him and live in a manner worthy of the gospel while we suffer for his sake (1:27-30). Essentially Paul is saying that God will supply all we need for the prayer of 1:9-11 to be answered in our lives—do you remember it?—that (our) love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that (we) may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteous-ness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Do you hear these themes reappearing throughout the letter in the charges we just listed? There’s quite a thematic correlation between 1:3-11 and 4:10-20, giving the bottom line impression that Paul is specifically remembering this prayer as he pens the climactic promise of 4:19. And all of this just magnifies the glory and praise of God as he does. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Farewell from a Partner – 21-23
Paul sent (greetings) from his prison cell to all the saints there in Philippi, from the church and especially from those of Caesar’s household (21-22), likely that imperial guard who’d heard about Christ through him (1:13). But then he blessed them, declaring the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with (their) spirit (23) in their walk with God.
And that is also our closing thought today: the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. May you lay hold of that grace by faith to trust God—trust Him to (give) according to the model of these Philippians and to (receive) according the eloquent promises Paul penned, and the requests he prayed, in this beautiful little epistle of joy, this compelling description of our life together.