It is a rule of life in God’s world that He has designed people to have a real and effectual responsibility in the carrying out of His program. Whether this applies to assertive praying, evangelism, proclamation of the Word, counseling, or child-raising, the sovereignty of God cannot be used as an excuse for humans having a real, decisive, and unavoidably determinative role in the success of God’s plan.
An area of responsibility perhaps overlooked, however, is that of financial giving. Those of us who are missionaries on deputation (or who have been employed by ministries which require staffers to raise support) are well aware of how necessary money is to God’s work! And certainly money, insofar as it is a human cultural invention that has become conventionally necessary for the sustaining of life and the procurement of goods and services, is a reality of life as well as equal parts potential snare and blessing. Our Lord expected people to use “unrighteous mammon” for the furtherance of His purposes in the world (Luke 16:9), which undoubtedly provides a unique insight into the role and usefulness of financial resources.
But what can motivate believers on the giving side to give, and give generously and sacrificially, that the work of God might be advanced? As he closes his letter to the Philippian congregation, Paul includes a note thanking them for their recent financial gift to him. In it, he shares truth that will inform, encourage, and transform our giving to God’s work.
I will follow the format of this week’s sermon, which presented exposition first and application second.
Paul highlights the generosity of the Philippians, a theme he picks up from verse 10. While in the earlier context he uses their gift to highlight his ultimate confidence in the sufficiency of Christ, here, he brings it up to assure them he is actually grateful for their gift as the means God has chosen to meet his needs. He is not the kind of man that is indifferent to human relationship nor human responsibility in furthering God’s work, as if “God is all I need.” No, Paul sees the hand of God in the hearts of his friends, who have gathered to meet his need—just as they did before.
You see, the Philippians had an unusual relationship with Paul. The “first preaching of the gospel” refers to Paul’s missionary journey recorded in Acts 16-17 The gospel came to a seller of purple, Lydia, and her conversion started the Philippian church ten or so years prior to the writing of the letter. Doubtless the love Paul showed for them in evangelism and discipleship, as well as the miraculous circumstances surrounding Paul’s release from prison, endeared the little church to the apostle and vice versa. When Paul left Philippi, he came to Thessalonica, a trip that lasted about three weeks before angry Jewish people drove him out. This means that Paul was away from the Philippians for less than a month when, as verse 16 records, they sent him a gift more than once to cover his expenses.
It is in this context of commending and appreciating their sacrificial generosity (we know it was a sacrifice because of Paul’s repeated references to the Macedonian churches in 2 Corinthians—churches whose poverty highlighted the extreme generosity of their giving, and churches which, given the region mentioned, doubtless included Philippi). For Paul has just descended from a zenith of praise of the power and sufficiency of the Lord Jesus, who controls all things for His glory and the personal good of Paul. Yet Paul knows how aloof this might sound, how unappreciative. “Thanks for your gift, Philippians, but Jesus is really all I need.” (Sadly, there are many Christians, usually from well-taught churches, who have imbibed just that dastardly misunderstanding of the sufficiency and satisfaction of Christ.) So in his gratitude, he assures them their gift was needed—indeed, that it was the very way Christ manifested His sufficiency to Paul, for Christ moved on the hearts of His people to give at the exact right time apart from Paul’s doing anything—and that they have done well to share with him in his affliction.
“Done well” is a word translated elsewhere in your New Testament as “beautiful” or “honorable.” With apostolic authority, Paul assures them that no one less than the risen Jesus Himself looks with approval on their loving ministry to Paul—and Paul concurs! “Share” is the Green word for “fellowship,” used many times in your New Testament. In giving of their money (which implies also giving of their time, thought, prayer, and love, among other things), they have actually shared with or held in common Paul’s affliction. It has mattered to them, because it mattered to him. They are one enough that when he suffers, they do, and they wish to relieve and comfort his suffering as much as they would for themselves. This is biblical love at its highest.
Why have the Philippians done well? Why does Paul bring up their track record of sustained, if recently dormant, giving? Paul says something very interesting in this verse. He is appreciative of the gift, and knows he needs it so he can pay rent, buy food, and so on. (Remember that when a Roman prisoner was under house arrest, it was imperative for his rent and other expenses to be paid or else he would be chained outside under exposure to the elements. It was no small thing for Paul to have the funds.) But he says in encouraging their giving, he isn’t ultimately seeking anything for himself—such as being the beneficiary of that continued sacrifice—but rather he is after “the profit which increases to your account.”
What is this profit? Well, it is not hard to infer that at least Paul means an increased degree of reward in heaven (the parable of the talents in Luke 19 seems to state this rather blatantly). But it would not be incorrect to use Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians as a lens through which to understand his meaning here. In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul uses the multi-church collection for famine relief as a foil to spur the Corinthians to greater sacrificial giving. Moreover, while giving financially is the topic under immediate discussion, it is appropriate to infer various principles and apply them to any principled giving for holy purposes (such as time, relational investment, bequeathing of truth through discipleship, etc.). In 9:6-15 Paul gets to the heart of why we should give lavishly and what God promises to those who do.
In verse 6, Paul says that if we sow sparingly, little is exactly what we’ll get in return, but generous (lit. “with blessing”) sowing reaps a great harvest. Verse 7 says that giving must be done freely, out of the intent of the heart, reminding that God has special affection for the cheerful giver. That affection is manifested in verse 8, where Paul stretches the heights of language to assure the Corinthians and us that God will honor sacrifices made for Him. While some want to limit the “grace” mentioned to spiritual grace—doubtless out of right concerns about the prosperity gospel—the context would indicate that the grace includes, but is not limited to, financial blessing. I would agree that to read gold-plated toilet seats and air-conditioned doghouses into this verse would be a ghastly scandal. But recognizing that God promises to graciously, lavishly bless sacrifices sinners make for Him—including meeting financial needs, having enough money for everything God desires them to have and do for Him—is the true prosperity gospel!
Philippians 4, then, while emphasizing spiritual reward, does not exclude rewards of a different sort. Given that the context of 2 Corinthians 9 means the blessings are given not so we can have whatever we want, but so that we have more than enough to do more for Him, Paul is subsuming all of life under the lavishness of Christ. Thoughtful, sacrificial, and dedicated giving of oneself to the furtherance of His purposes assures that all the resources of heaven will be ours to meet every need and do impossible things for God.
Points of Application
1. Giving leads to fellowship (v. 14). To give of themselves was to become literal sharers in Paul’s affliction. Why? Because giving creates a partnership and sharing with other believers as we meet their needs. It also creates a relationship if mutual blessing and joy, as we have the opportunity to be answers to their prayers and the effect of their trust in the Lord’s care and provision, and they can be encouraged by seeing God intervene on their behalf.
2. Giving flows from fellowship (also v. 14). This point is inseparable from that last. It is only because the Philippians loved Paul, knew Paul, and were united to Paul—had some way been influenced by Paul—that their response to his need moved from mere pity to action. As I said above, their union with him because of their union with Christ made them want to relieve his suffering and comfort him as if his suffering was their own. Which, of course, it was.
3. True giving is driven by the gospel. Humans like money. We like it for what it promises to do for us, the potential power it gives us thereby, and the resultant sense of security it provides. What frees us from trusting in money to trusting in God so much we gladly part with it, looking to Him to meet our needs? The gospel! Only as we grasp how God has met our deepest need when we were yet spiritually dead ungodly sinners, apart from our initiative or ability, can we really grasp the power of God to move heaven and earth for us if we really trust Him. When God sees our letting go of money as the basis of our faith, He is willing to lavish us as we look to Him alone.
4. Christian giving is spiritually beneficial (v. 17). Not just spiritually, certainly, but primarily. It is the best thing for us to love others more than ourselves—to love them enough to part with what could legitimately, or at least potentially, be used to meet our needs and fulfill our wants. But we can only love others in that way if we have unshakeable, personal, detail-level confidence in God. I say “detail-level” because we’re talking about literal dollars and cents—quantifiable amounts that can only go to so many things. Will we lessen those numbers to further the work of God? Then we must trust God to provide for whatever our numbers will no longer cover—and much more besides. This is the best thing for naturally self-sufficient, prideful people!
God calls us to real, effectual, and sacrificial partnership with Him, in our money and in all things, to pursue His plan to its everlasting completion. Join Him in faith, and be blessed!