Pastor Walther / Philippians 4:14-20 / Regular and Intentional / February 18, 2018 / Lent 1
In the Old Testament, God commanded his people to give ten percent of their income to the Lord, which is called a tithe. The nice thing is that they didn’t have to think about how much they should give. They knew exactly what was expected of them. Yet, they still grumbled. But at least it was easy.
In the New Testament, for people like you and me, God makes every gift completely voluntary. God lets us choose what percent of our income we are going to give. That’s not easy! I would love to give everything I have to the Lord, but God also wants me to provide for my family, pay my taxes, and give to the poor. We are not only juggling stewardship in giving to the church, but we have to manage the rest of our money!
Why didn’t God just make it easy and demand ten percent the way he did in the Old Testament? It’s interesting that we always find ways to blame God. We grumble against him for commanding us to do something or we grumble for not commanding us to do something, in this case our offerings. Well, one good reason why he doesn’t demand a certain percentage in giving is that when we wrestle in our hearts with how much to give and count our blessings and have to think about this and pray about this, then God gets more from us than just our money. God gets our hearts in joyful thanksgiving and praise.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote to thank them for the gifts they had sent him to support his mission work. You can’t help but compare the Philippians with the congregation at Corinth. The Corinthians were wealthy and the Philippians were poor. Yet, the Philippians begged for the opportunity to give and Paul describes that,“their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2). They gave to the needy Christians in Jerusalem beyond their ability. The Corinthians, however, said they were going to give to this offering, but they just didn’t get it done.
It seems that the Corinthians had good intentions, but the Philippians were more intentional. It’s great the Corinthians wanted to help and were eager to do something, but they never sat down and planned how they were going to get it done. Paul even shared a plan with them, which we talked about last week. In this plan they were to set aside part of their income on the first day of every week. Yet they never got into the routine of planning what they would give and then regularly doing it.
And I completely understand the Corinthians good intentions, but failing to follow through. I’m sure you can relate too. For example, you know that reading your Bible is important, but if you don’t have a plan on when and where and what you are going to read each day, there is a good chance you will not succeed. You will only have good intentions. And even if you have a plan to read the bible, sometimes the plan falls by the wayside. It’s not always easy to have a good plan and the discipline to carry it out, because you are fighting against your sinful nature and because the devil doesn’t want you to stay connected to the Word. He will distract you any way he possibly can.
The same is true of your joyful generosity. We may have good intentions, but maybe not always the plan or discipline. Do you have a plan on how much of your income you want to give to the Lord? Does your plan include not only how much, but when and how? Will you set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income before you start spending for Christmas?
These are good things to think about. Remember that you are not only fighting against your sinful nature all the time, but the devil doesn’t want you to give to the Lord and his work. The devil doesn’t want God’s church to have the resources it needs to spread the gospel. He would rather have us cut corners than expand our gospel ministry. He will always be tempting you to spend more than you can afford and then have nothing when you have an opportunity to give to the Lord.
We should be thankful that God doesn’t treat us the way we often treat our offerings. Where we have been stingy, God has been generous. Where we have been inconsistent, God has been faithful and regular. God’s mercies are new to us every morning! God’s forgiveness for you is both intentional and regular, which is why you can trust in him and not be afraid. When you give like the Philippians gave, you are reflecting God’s abundant grace, his faithful grace, and his consistent grace in your life.
Through your offerings, you in turn become a blessing to God’s church. Think of the impact that the Philippians’ regular gifts had on Paul’s gospel ministry. He never asked for anything from the people to whom he was preaching. He lived meagerly by making tents for a living. These regular gifts that the Philippians sent Paul gave him relief and freed him to spend more of his time preaching the gospel.
Friends, our church is blessed when you support the ministry of this congregation with your regular and intentional gifts. Paul thanked the Philippians for their regular support of his ministry, and I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you. Not only are you a blessing to this church, but your intentional and regular giving is a blessing to you as well.
The point is that your gifts to God’s ministry are noticed, not only by the church but by God. Maybe we can look at it this way. A grandmother might go all out to buy the Christmas gifts for her grandchildren that they really want. In a week or two, the grandchildren might send cards in the mail thanking her for those gifts. There are stick person drawings on the card and words that are scribbled and misspelled, yet she takes those heartfelt expressions of thanks, which are hardly a thing of beauty, and sticks them to the refrigerator. When the grandchildren visit, they see that grandma accepted their thanks with joy.
If God had a refrigerator door and magnets, then he would pin your gifts to his refrigerator so that he can look at them every day. Your gifts of thanks to God give him joy and great pleasure. Paul says in our text, “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more…They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” When we give, we give out of thankful hearts. We are not looking for anything in return. When we give, we are not trying to earn salvation or God’s favor. Our gifts are our grateful response to God’s grace. Paul says they are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. Maybe, when you get to heaven, you will see your expressions of thanks pinned to God’s refrigerator. That’s why we say it is more blessed to give than it is to receive.
There is another way in which you are blessed by your regular gifts. Paul writes, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Paul has personally experienced in his life how God keeps his promises. Just before the verses of our text, he says that he had learned the secret of being content whether he had a lot or not much at all, because he could do all things through Jesus, who gave him strength. He had experienced God’s providence in his life and he was confident that the Philippians would as well.
You heard a similar promise in the lesson from Malachi this morning: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it’” (Malachi 3:10). If you wait until you have an abundance of money left over in your checkbook before you give to the Lord, which almost never happens, you will not experience the truth of these passages. You will only be giving God what you have left over. God is not honored with leftovers! But if you are a regular and intentional giver, you are giving to the Lord before you know that you will have enough left at the end of the week or the end of the month to meet your bills. Your gifts take priority over your bills and your savings and your retirement. God is honored by that kind of gift because you are trusting him to provide for your needs, and that’s exactly what God promises!
God promises to continue to provide for us when we give our offerings to Him. God promises that there will always be enough. Sometimes, in the moment we freak out about where we will find the money to pay for this or that when we give our offerings, and yet God week in and week out continues to bless us with the things we need and promises to continue. Sometimes we feel like the widow in Elijah’s day whose flour and oil never ran out. We are blessed to experience God’s promises come true in our lives.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of God’s blessings. Paul says that God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. A better translation may be “all his riches in glory.” God promises to care for us in this life with the things that we need, yet He never promises Ferraris and million dollar homes. But what he does promise is heaven, something far better!
When we are intentional and regular with our offerings, God promises to bless us! If you haven’t done so, maybe take the time to plan your giving, looking at the blessings that God has given you, and actively look to carry that plan out! I pray that through your joyful generosity, you will be a blessing for our church and that you will see God’s blessings in your life as well. Amen.