This is a copy of my talk given to Pensioners Praise, Christ Church, Billericay, on Monday 5 October 2015. They have been following a theme on God’s Promises for 2015 and I was given the title ‘Our Needs’ from Philippians 4:10-23.
The huge brass offertory plates were passed around the congregation one Sunday morning – and returned almost empty to the vicar. He took them, held them up to heaven and prayed: Lord, we thank you for the safe return of these plates!
Money is one of those issues that Christians never like to talk about, however, you may be surprised to learn that 30% of Jesus’ teaching had to do with money and it’s an issue that Paul wrote about a number of times in his letters. The sort of ministry that Paul was called to required funding from somewhere. How did he manage? We know many followers of Jesus offered hospitality, but he couldn’t depend on that, he still needed cash to get to the places he was going. So how did Paul fund his work?
We get hints of how he managed here in Philippians 4. Paul has been encouraging them to rejoice in the Lord always and to trust God to look after them. Now he gives them an example of his own joy in the Lord, joy that bears out what he’s said about asking the Lord to provide their needs.
Joy in Giving
Paul says 4:10: “I rejoice in the Lord greatly that at last you have renewed your concern for me.” Paul is writing about the way they’ve sent him material aid, presumably money. He knows they’ve always been emotionally concerned for him, but it’s only now they’ve had the opportunity to help him out practically. And that is what gives him joy.
But what is it about this gift that gives him joy? I think it’s the fact they’ve identified with him in his ministry. Look at v14: “Yet it was good of you to share my distress.” They may not be able to be there to join him in his prison cell, but they can share with him by this act of financial support. Paul teaches that generosity is not measured by the size of the gift but by size of our heart.
Paul learnt an important lesson in his missionary journeys and that is to be content: whether he has little or plenty, whether he’s well fed or hungry. It doesn’t matter in the end. Why? Because Christ gives him the strength, vs13: “I can do everything through him who strengthens me.”
Let me ask those who’ve been Christians for a long time, was this one of those Bible verses you learnt as you were growing up? I wonder what you thought that meant when you first heard it. Did you think of facing wild animals in Africa, or of standing up for the gospel in a strange land or being a faithful servant of Jesus? Or did you think of being content with poverty, or with being hungry? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Sharing in the Ministry of the Saints
Paul remembers the way the Philippians supported him from the start. Even when he’d diverted through Thessalonica they sent aid over and over again. But this wasn’t a rich Church. Yet, as so often happens, their lack of riches resulted in a wealth of generosity.
Paul tells us a bit more about these Philippian Christians in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians 8:1-5. We read that the Philippians are being persecuted to the point where their livelihoods are being taken away, leaving them in extreme poverty, and yet they voluntarily give, not just according to their means, but beyond them.
The people of Philippi couldn’t go with Paul on his missionary journeys, but they could become partners, shareholders, in his ministry by their financial support. It’s as if they beg for the privilege of sharing in the ministry of the saints. They don’t just see their giving as charity. This is a way for them to share in Paul’s ministry and those he’s helping with these gifts. It’s like they see it as buying into a partnership with Paul.
Perhaps Paul’s motto from Phil 1:21 had rubbed off on them: “For me to live is Christ but to die is gain.” Paul rejoices because their gift is a sign of maturity of their growth in service to God. He says in v18, “… the gifts you sent, [are] a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” This act of giving is something that God is pleased with. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 7: “Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Paul rejoices because he can see these people growing in their faithfulness to God, not just in their allegiance to himself.
Our Needs or Greed’s?
Has anyone ever been to Lindisfarne? St Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne: If I could live in a tiny dwelling on a rock in the ocean, surrounded by the waves of the sea and cut off from the sight and sound of everything else I would still not be free of the cares of this passing world, or from the fear that somehow the love of money might still come and snatch me away.
It’s not money which is the root of all evil, as people often misquote, but the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10). The billionaire financier Rockefeller once said when he was asked how much money is enough? Replied: “A little more than you have.”
We live in an age where we’re money is everything and, in the words of Michael Douglas’ character (Gordon Gecko) in the film Wall Street: Greed is good! I can’t help but think that should be the motto of all those complaining about the cost of England going out of the Rugby World Cup!
Contentment is a pretty rare commodity in today’s world simply because contentment seems to be inextricably linked to how much money a person has. What do you need to be content? How much will be enough? A recent survey suggested that the average person would be financially happy if they were given £1.75M! That’s the cost of happiness! Many people mistakenly think that they will be content when we accumulate money in the bank and enough possessions to make them secure. And whilst, as the song says: ‘Money makes the world go round’ money isn’t everything. There are some things that money just can’t buy. As The Beatles sang: ‘Money can’t buy me love’ or peace or joy or purpose … Jesus said that the free gift of God was eternal life – it doesn’t get much better than that does it?
The truth is, you will know contentment when you give to the Lord’s work, whether to world missions, to the local church, or to meeting the needs of the poor through Christian ministries. “Where your treasure is, your heart will be” (Matt. 6:21). If your treasure is in this world, your heart will be in this world, which isn’t the most secure environment! But what does Paul tell us about the Philippians and their future security, 4:19: “… my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
It’s worth taking note here how Paul writes that God will supply your needs, not your greed’s. Most of us have far, far more than our needs. We all live in relative luxury, even if we live in a house that is too small or only have one car.
Sometimes it’s worth remembering that people in other countries squeeze ten family members into a one-room, dirt-floored shack, as I’ve seen with my own eyes in Uganda – where people are considered rich because they have a tin roof – which means the shack doesn’t flood when it rains.
I read a story about a Jewish man in Hungary who went to his rabbi and complained, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?” The rabbi answered, “Take your goat into the room with you.” The man was incredulous, but the rabbi insisted, “Do as I say and come back in a week.” A week later the man returned looking more distraught than before. “We can’t stand it,” he told the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.” The rabbi said, “Go home and let the goat out, and come back in a week.” A week later the man returned, radiant, exclaiming: “Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat–only the nine of us.” Perspective often helps, doesn’t it!
George Muller proved the sovereign faithfulness of God in the matter of finances. He lived in 19th century Bristol, England, where he founded an orphanage. He and his wife had taken literally Jesus’ command to give away all their possessions (Luke 14:33), so they had no personal resources.
He was also firmly committed to the principle of not making his financial needs known to anyone, except to God in prayer. He was extremely careful not even to give hints about his own needs or the needs of the orphanage. The children never knew about any financial difficulties, nor did they ever lack good food, clothes, or warmth.
But there were times when Muller’s faith was tried. On February 8, 1842, they had enough food in all the orphan houses for that day’s meals, but no money to buy the usual stock of bread or milk for the following morning, and two houses needed coal. Muller noted in his journal that if God did not send help before nine the next morning, His name would be dishonoured.
The next morning Muller walked to the orphanage early to see how God would meet their need, only to discover that the need had already been met. A Christian businessman had walked about a half mile past the orphanages toward his place of work when the thought occurred to him that Muller’s children might be in need. He decided not to retrace his steps then, but to drop off something that evening. But he couldn’t go any further and felt constrained to go back. He gave a gift that met their need for the next two days. Muller knew many instances like that where God tried his faith.
The Wall Street Journal quoted an anonymous wit who defined money as: An article which may be used as a universal passport to everywhere except heaven, and as a universal provider for everything except happiness.
He might have wanted to add something about money being a wonderful servant but a terrible master. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve both God and money. If God is our master then money will be our servant. But if money is our master then we become the servants of money and money is an unforgiving master. We waste our lives instead of investing in them.
Legend has it that a wealthy merchant during Paul’s day had heard about the apostle and had become so fascinated that he determined to visit him. So when passing through Rome, he got in touch with Timothy and arranged an interview with Paul the prisoner. Stepping inside his cell, the merchant was surprised to find the apostle looking rather old and physically frail, but he felt at once the strength, the serenity, and the magnetism of this man who relied on Christ as his all in all. They talked for some time, and finally the merchant left.
Outside the cell, he asked Timothy, “What’s the secret of this man’s power? I’ve never seen anything like it before.” “Did you not guess?” replied Timothy. “Paul is in love.” The merchant looked puzzled. “In love?” he asked. “Yes,” said Timothy, “Paul is in love with Jesus Christ.” The merchant looked even more bewildered. “Is that all?” he asked. Timothy smiled and replied, “That is everything.”
And so it is!