Generous

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.

Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. ~Philippians 4:14-23 (ESV)

Paul concluded his letter to the church at Philippi thanking them for their ministry support. They had given to the cause of Christ, so that Paul could spread the gospel further without the need to support himself. This freed him to share even more on his missionary travels.

Philippi was alone in their giving in this season of Paul’s ministry, but they gave generously. So much so that Paul was able to say to them, “I am well supplied.” In other words, he didn’t need them to keep sending him money at this point. This shows that Paul was no charlatan preacher. He wasn’t in it for what he could gain. He wasn’t pleading for more and more money despite having a nice house and fancy clothes.

And in return, Paul assured them that God would bless them and supply their needs. This not that every want would necessarily be met, but that they would not lack in the basics of day to day living.

From this example, we learn what it means to be generous. God has chosen human beings as the ordinary means for the gospel to spread in this world. He could use a choir of angels. Jesus even said he could make the rocks cry out if every other voice fell silent of God’s glory. Yet, he chose people as the means.

The spread of the gospel takes money, then. It costs to travel and to live in new places. It costs for new Bibles to be printed in the languages of those who have no access to the scripture. It costs to meet basic human needs of clean water, good food, and clothing. Those of us who have been supplied by God have a duty to share with those who are in need.

But we should also be careful to whom we give our money. When people who are more than “well supplied” beg for our giving, we should question just what they intend to use our money for. There are too many needs in the world, too many people who have not heard the gospel for us to give unwisely. Let us be generous to the cause of Christ all throughout the world.

This is our last post in this devotional series on Philippians. Look for a new series starting next week.

Philippians 4_19-20

A Cheerful Giver (a meditation)

Everyone should do as they have determined in their heart, not in a gloomy spirit or simply because they have to, since “God loves a cheerful giver.” ~ 2 Corinthians 9:7

Giving of our resources has always been an important task of God’s people. In the Old Testament there was a series of tithes (a one-tenth of something) and offerings established for various purposes. Some were simply sacrificed to God as an act of faith, trusting him as the ultimate Giver. Others were given to support the poor or the Levites who served as priests and had no territory of their own among Israel.

In the New Testament giving continues to be an important part of following Jesus. Through the pages of scripture we find three primary purposes for giving.

First, is to help the poor and needy. This, arguably, is the most important reason to give of what we have as more is said about it than any other form of giving. In Deuteronomy we find a vivid illustration of what it means to give generously. Moses called the people to “open wide your hand” to the poor and needy in their land. A wide-open hand is a sign of generosity from a heart that refuses to be stingy.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke about how his followers would give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked (Matthew 25:31-46). Many in the early church went so far as to sell home and property so there would not be “a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34-35). Paul commanded the rich to enjoy their wealth but also “to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). And his encouragement to give in 2 Corinthians 8&9 was in the context of helping the poor in Jerusalem.

Second, is to support missionaries in their work to spread the gospel to places most of us will not be able to go. Paul encouraged Titus and the churches he helped lead to speed some men on their way, one of which was a known traveling preacher, and to “see that they lack nothing” (Titus 3:13). Paul also thanked the church at Philippi for their contributions to his missionary work and told them they could stop giving since he was fully supplied for the moment (Philippians 4:10-20). Such selfless giving to see the gospel spread is a good example for us all.

Third, is to support the daily functioning of the local church and especially so that the leaders are free to pray, study, and teach without the burden of other work. Though Paul gave up this right while in Corinth (thus showing that there may be appropriate times for self-funded or bi-vocational church leaders, depending on the circumstances), he spoke of having the right to be supported by the church, saying, “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” (1 Corinthians 9:11). And Paul told Timothy to make sure the elders (pastors, overseers, leaders) of the church were supported, “especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

In whatever act of giving, Paul told the Corinthians that “God loves a cheerful giver.” In the New Testament we don’t find percentages assigned to these gifts. The New Testament doesn’t tell us that 5% must go here or 10% there. Instead, Paul wrote that each person should determine what God wants them to give—this to be understood in seeking God’s will through prayer and the Bible. And then give happily what God has led them to.

A heart that has been changed by the generosity of God toward us in Jesus will not have to be compelled to give. The generosity of God breeds generosity among his people. Thus, we will want to give. And if we seek God and his will in our giving, we will become people who give cheerfully, especially to help the needs of others.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Lending to God (a meditation on helping those in need)

The title of this post should cause you to pause. Lending to God—isn’t that saying there might be a time that God needs something and so we are to let him borrow it? But God is self-sufficient and self-sustaining, indeed the One who gives sustenance to others (Acts 17:24-25). So how can we lend to God?

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 19:17:

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deeds.

To be generous is to freely give of our own resources to another, expecting nothing in return. Again and again the Bible calls us to generosity, even using an apt illustration of a hand that is open wide, not clinging but freely giving, in order to help the poor and needy (Deuteronomy 15:11). This reflects the generous nature of our God who has given us himself in Jesus.

The all-generous God who calls us to generosity needs nothing. We cannot in fact lend to God. Yet at the same time we can. In this proverb, Solomon captured a truth we find more explicit elsewhere in the Bible: God so closely identifies with people, and especially his people in Jesus, that what we do to them is as if we do it to him.

Jesus captured this truth in Matthew 25 speaking on the final judgment where he will say to his people, his sheep:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (25:34-36)

His people then ask When did we do all of this?

Jesus said, “The King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.’” (25:40)

As we do to others, we do to Jesus, to God. The proverb says that in helping the poor we “lend to God” and that “he will repay.” This means there is reward in generosity. This isn’t reward from the people we have given to. Neither Solomon nor Jesus tells us to expect back from the poor and needy we help—that would not be generosity. But there is reward from God himself.

Sometimes we may see that reward in this life (2 Corinthians 9:6-10, which speaks of a financial reward that should lead us to be even more generous), but for certain we will see this as an eternal reward (Matthew 25:34, 19:28-30).

So lend to God by being generous to others, and especially helping those who are in need.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

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