Being a Great Missions-Giving Church, part 2 (Philippians 4:17-19)

Last week we noted that in this final portion of the book of Philippians Paul is writing a “thank you” letter to the Philippian church.  Why?  Because they noticed that Paul was in need and they provided another gift to meet his need.

In short, they had been concerned for his needs, contented with what they possessed and consistent in their giving.  These characteristics should mark our giving as well.

This week we pick up in verse 17:

17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 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. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

In these verses Paul speaks about some motives for giving.

First, giving helps those in need.

Giving to missionaries enables them to more effectively spread the good news.  Paul had said back in v. 15 that they had been partners in the gospel ministry.

This should be our primary motivation when giving—promoting gospel ministry.

Frankly, there are those on TV who are raising money primarily to enable them to live lavish lifestyles.  Don’t give to them; give to those who are involved in gospel ministry.

The famous British preacher, C. H. Spurgeon, once received a request from a wealthy man to come to their town and help them raise funds for a new church building.  He told Spurgeon he could stay in his country home there.  Spurgeon wrote back and told him to sell the home and give the money to the project.

Give to those who emphasize ministry, not money.  Paul’s focus was on preaching the gospel, not on his need for money.  While he genuinely appreciated the gift from the Philippians, he was more excited about what it signified about their heart for God, that it represented fruit accruing in their account in heaven (4:17). 

When we give to missions, we meet real financial needs that enables their ministries and encourages them.  Your giving makes a difference.  It may not seem like much, but added with the gifts of others, a great deal can be accomplished.

Remember that this was a partnership (Philippians 1:3-5).  Paul considered that although he was doing the work, they were just as much a part of the team as if they were really there working alongside him.  Their gifts are what made full-time ministry possible.

This is why Paul encourages churches to support their preachers.

To Timothy Paul wrote:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 6:17)

And so there was no confusion about what Paul meant by “worthy of double honor” the next verse puts together two sayings from the Old Testament and from Jesus to show that he meant that they should be paid.

18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

Likewise, Paul says in Galatians 6:6…

6 One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.

Again, that is most likely referring to financial remuneration that allows the teacher plenty of time to study and minister the word, instead of having to work to pay for his needs.

So look for faithful servants or ministries who are focused on the furtherance of the gospel and give faithfully to them.

Whatever the Philippians gave to Paul must have been generous.  In v. 18 Paul piles us three words to express just how overwhelmed he was with their gift.  He received “full payment” so that he had abundance (“and more”) and was completely filled up (“well supplied”).

This reminds me that although the tithe might be a good starting point for your giving, God never intended for us to be limited by that set amount, but to give generously, even sacrificially, as God has enriched us.

So giving benefits those in need, but it also benefits us.  It brings reward to the giver.

Paul wasn’t trying to manipulate the Philippians’ generosity for his own sake, but indicates that it is for their sake.

“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit” (v. 17).

Let me just clarify for a moment here that heaven is not something we gain by giving.  We aren’t forgiven because we are financially sacrificial.  We are not talking about being justified by our works, or made acceptable by God by something we do.

However, throughout the New Testament we have this teaching that there is more for us in heaven than merely being present there and forgiven of our sins.  We can win reward and have a “rich entrance” (2 Peter 1:11) into heaven.

Although cast in commercial language, this is obviously talking about spiritual credit.

When you give to the Lord’s work, you are giving to God and making an eternal investment.

And Paul had support for this from Jesus, who told the rich young ruler, “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Jesus, in fact, composed a proverb to help his followers remember this: “‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven’” (Matthew 6:19, 20).

The truth is, the only money that we will see again is that which we give away. And that money will return with compounded interest!

You and I have open accounts in heaven.  If we are smart, we will “lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven.”

This reflects one of the most important principles regarding giving in the Scriptures: that we are never the poorer for having given.  God will never be our debtor, and as my father used to say, “we can never out-give God.”

Many of us have earthly investments.  We know that when we can put away a little extra into these investments we will likely reap better returns in the future.  That is fairly certain.

Heavenly investments are similar, but much better.  First of all, we know that our eternal rewards are certain.  No plunge in the stock market can take away our heavenly reward.  Also, the investment rate is much, much better.

The present participle “increases” signifies continuing multiplication that creates compound spiritual interest credited to our account.

Jesus said,

give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)

When you invest in God’s work, there is no risk and you get the highest possible return on your investment, guaranteed by the very Word of God!

One man has written on his tombstone: “What I spent, I lost; what I saved, I left; what I gave, I have.”  We can’t take anything with us, but we can send it on ahead.

This is why Jim Eliot so famously said:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Every time we get a paycheck we can decide whether to use it for materially beneficial ways for ourselves and our families, or rather for spiritually beneficial ways as we give it away to others.

Have you been laying up treasure in heaven?  You can invest in your eternal future by giving to the Lord’s work here and now.

Should we give in order to enrich our eternal future?  Yes!  But that is not the only, and not even the primary reason.  Ultimately, we give because…

It brings pleasure to God.

Paul moves from accounting imagery to that of sacrifice.  There is a spiritual dimension to giving that he does not want the Philippians to miss.

Paul says that the Philippians’ gift serves as a “fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (v. 18).

Sounds a little like Romans 12:1, doesn’t it?  There we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.  Here the Philippians offer their resources.

The language Paul uses here is the language of sacrifice, reminding us that giving is itself an act of worship.  Sweet-savor (“fragrant”) offerings in Israel were sacrifices made in worship, not so much to atone for sin.

In other words, if all we did this week was go to church and take up an offering, we could still say that we worshipped.  Giving is an act of worship.

Giving is not just a financial transaction, but an act of worship—an act of defiance against the god Mammon and the kingdom of darkness.

By the way, the language here is also similar to Ephesians 5:2, but it is applied to Christ giving himself for us.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

His self-giving and our giving of our money is an act of worship.

An “acceptable sacrifice” is a sacrifice that is prescribed by God and when done in the manner he commands becomes acceptable to Him.

In the case of the Philippians whose hearts were committed to Christ and to their apostle, and whose gift was generous by any measure, their sacrificial offer was very pleasing (euareston) to God.  It was given to Paul, but it was as if it had been offered directly to God.

Ralph Wilson notes:

The idea of a sacrifice that is pleasing to God has an ancient history that goes back to the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 28:38; Leviticus 1:3; 7:18; 22:19-20; Proverbs 21:3; Jeremiah 6:20).  “Pleasing to God” is another rich sacrificial theme.  The purpose of sacrifice is not selfish — to remove our sin — but Godward, to please God and express our love to him (Hebrews 13:16).

Fourth, it reflects trust in God’s provision.

The promise, for givers like this, is that God will “supply every need” (4:19).

The first half of this grand promise is closely linked with and echoes the preceding context. Just as the Philippians had kept Paul “well supplied” (v. 18), so now God will most certainly “supply every need” of theirs. 

We all want our needs met.  We also usually want our wants met as well.  God doesn’t promise to meet all our wants, but he does promise to supply every need.

What we fail to recognize is that the best way to meet our own needs is to become givers…to give things away.  Then, we don’t have to scramble and manipulate our way to have our needs met.  God Himself becomes the One who guarantees that our needs are met.  That is the best guarantee and comfort we could have.

How many needs do you think you have?  A study done by a sociologist in 1890 identified 16 basic needs that were necessary for life.  A similar study done 100 years later yielded quite different results!  By 1990 our basic needs had multiplied to 98!

Do we really have more needs today?  Or have we simply elevated more of our wants and greeds to that level?

Kent Hughes says…

“Every need” compasses the breathtaking range of everything that is vital to living for Christ.

God is committed to supply every need, even ones we are ignorant or unaware of.

2 Peter 1:3 tells us that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,” everything we need for life and godliness.  Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…”  Nothing else is needed.  We are “complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10).

Sometimes, however, it may not seem like God is meeting our relational, emotional or financial needs.  But maybe that it because God is working to meet deeper needs in our lives so that he allows us to go through times of “want” so that we can learn to trust God on deeper levels, to recognize how much we need him and are not strong in ourselves, and how to sympathize with others who go through want.

Paul promised the generous, “And my God will supply every need of yours” (v. 19).  This was intensely personal for Paul.  His God, who had repeatedly displayed his power in every conceivable circumstance, would supply the Philippians’ needs—just as he had done for Paul through them!

Paul had a relationship with “my God” that we need to have in order to benefit from this promise.  It is not a promise to everyone, but to those who have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

And how does God do this?  How does He meet our needs?

The answer is equally expansive—“according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (v. 19b).  As Gordon Fee explains, “The Philippians’ generosity toward Paul, expressed lavishly at the beginning of verse 18, is exceeded beyond all imagination by the lavish ‘wealth’ of the eternal God, who dwells ‘in glory’ full of ‘riches’ made available ‘in Christ Jesus.’”

God’s “riches” are inherent in his being as the Creator and the God of the universe.  So his riches include and infinitely exceed the aggregate wealth of the universe.  God’s incalculable wealth together with the ineffable splendor of his glory form the treasury and the dazzling context from which he lavishes his children “according to his riches.”

Unlike us, God is never a stingy giver.  He has no reason to be.  Giving away everything doesn’t diminish God a bit.  He always gives from a perspective of abundance, not scarcity.  He can afford to give away anything and everything and delights to do so.

Notice that we do not receive help “out of his glorious riches,” but “according to his glorious riches.”

The difference is this:  If, for example Bill Gates were to write you a check for 1 million dollars, he would be giving out of his riches.  But if he were to hand you a signed blank check, allowing you to write in however much you needed, he would be giving to you according to, or in accordance with, his riches.

But God does far more because his riches are infinite and cannot be diminished by the endless zeroes of a celestial blank check. 

The fact that his riches are “in glory” sets up the ultimate locus “in Christ Jesus,” which describes in whom and how the riches that come from God’s glory are given to His people.  Paul began this letter by addressing it “To all the saints in Christ Jesus” (1:1) and concluded “in Christ Jesus” (4:19).  For Christians, every need is met in Christ.  He is our beginning and our end.  All things come to us in him and through him, and according to v. 20, for him, for His glory.

The Scriptures tell us that if we sow sparingly, we’ll reap sparingly, but if we sow liberally, we will reap liberally (2 Corinthians 9:6).  We can’t outgive God; nor can we ever bankrupt his account.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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