Sacrificial Giving Smells Good to God: A Biblical Perspective on Money (2)
In this brief series of articles on money, I want us to look closely at what Paul says in the final paragraph of his letter to the Philippians. Continue reading . . .
In this brief series of articles on money, I want us to look closely at what Paul says in the final paragraph of his letter to the Philippians. Here is what he wrote:
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
What we read here is Paul’s handwritten “Thank You” note to the church at Philippi. Earlier in chapter one, verse five, Paul referred to the “partnership in the gospel” that the Philippian church had entered into with him. From the beginning of his ministry in Macedonia they had joined with him, not merely by praying for him or merely agreeing with his theology but also by supplying him with financial resources so he could do the work God had called him to do.
Most likely, the Philippians had entrusted to Epaphroditus the task of traveling from Philippi to Rome carrying with him the money they had contributed to support Paul in ministry. My guess is that Paul, upon coming to the conclusion of his letter, reached over and took the pen from Epaphroditus and insisted on writing this final paragraph in his own hand. Thus what we are reading is not only an explanation of his theology of financial stewardship but also a formal thanksgiving to them, together with an expression of his deep affection for them as his fellow-believers in Jesus.
I’d like to make five important observations.
First, you are probably familiar with Paul’s vigorous explanation in Philippians 4:11-13 of his ability through Christ to live independently of external financial assistance, to spiritually thrive in both poverty and prosperity. But he doesn’t want his comments to be misinterpreted, as if he were saying he is indifferent to what the Philippians had done for him. Although he is profoundly grateful for their generosity, he isn’t dependent upon it.
Paul wants them to know that because of their financial gift they have come to “share” in his “trouble” (v. 14). The fact that they gave so much, so often, proves that when Paul hurt, they hurt. When he grieved, they grieved. Paul interprets their financial commitment as a deep and personal identification with him in his labors. This is similar to what we see in 3 John 8 where those who support others in ministry become “fellow workers for the truth.” It didn’t matter that the Philippians were separated from Paul by more than 800 miles.
The second thing I want you to consider is the remarkable fact that the Philippian church was only a few months old! These were brand new, baby Christians! Yet Paul says they had already embraced the responsibility of generous financial stewardship and had on several occasions sent a monetary gift to him (vv. 15-16).
This ought to forever put to rest the objection I often hear: “Well, we can’t expect new Christians to give. They aren’t mature enough. They don’t understand enough of the Bible.” Nonsense!
And we must never forget that when Paul refers to the incredible generosity of the “Macedonians” in 2 Corinthians 8-9, he’s talking primarily about the church and Christians in Philippi (the churches in Thessalonica and Berea would also have been included). Listen again to what he said about them, as a way of encouraging the Corinthian Christians to give generously to the poverty-stricken saints in Jerusalem.
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
My third observation relates to what Paul says in v. 17. He is clearly concerned that his eager acknowledgement of their generosity might be mistaken for a veiled request for more. So he explains his true motivation in expressing his gratitude.
Paul’s point here is that what really gets his spiritual juices flowing is not what he gets from their giving but what they gain! Read that again: “I seek the fruit that increases to your credit” (v. 17b). Paul clearly regards their gift to him as a spiritual investment entered as a credit to their account, an investment that he envisions will pay them rich dividends.
But what precisely is the “fruit” that “increases” to their “credit”? If Paul is not saying that when Christians give, God promises to make them rich, what is he saying? What is the fruit that will come to them? I think he has several things in mind.
(1) We are in fact told in Scripture that if we give we will get, but not in the sense promoted by advocates of the prosperity or health and wealth gospel. Paul says in 2 Cor. 9:6-11,
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. . . . He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:6-11).
God gives to those who give but not in order that they may become personally wealthy and hoard their money or squander it on excessive luxuries. God gives to those who give so that those who give might be able to give even more! We are channels and conduits of God’s generosity, not reservoirs!
(2) There is the approval and affirmation from God when he sees our sacrifice and generosity. God is pleased with gracious giving! This will be Paul’s point in v. 18b (“pleasing to God”).
(3) There is the fruit of increased joy that comes to the giver when he/she experiences partnership in spreading the gospel.
(4) There is the assurance that God will give them greater responsibilities and even more productive opportunities. In other words, God says: “Demonstrate to me that you are faithful in the small things and I will entrust more to you in even greater things.”
(5) Part of the “fruit” is increased reward in heaven. If you think it is sinful to give with a view to gaining a heavenly reward, you haven’t listened closely to Jesus (see Matt. 6:3-4) or Paul (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
(6) There is also the fruit of enriched fellowship and intimacy with the ones to whom you give.
(7) Finally, there is finally the indescribable fruit that comes from knowing God is glorified when people give him thanks for your generosity.
To be continued . . .