Lesson 28: Faithful Giving, Faithful God (Philippians 4:14-20)Related Media
Whenever I speak on the subject of giving, I’m aware that I’m dealing with a sensitive area where people are easily offended. “The church is always after my money,” is the common complaint. I’m also reminded of the comment a preacher made, that when you throw a rock at a pack of dogs and one of them yelps, you know which one got hit. So before you yelp about this sermon, you’d better think about whether the Word of God may be hitting you where it hurts!
If you’re visiting with us, you need to know that my usual method is to preach through a book of the Bible, and speak on what the text says. It’s your lucky day--you just happened to come on a day when the text talks about giving money! The Bible speaks very plainly about money because our hearts and our wallets are tightly bound up together, and God is after our hearts. Jesus talked often about money: 16 of His 38 parables deal with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions (Howard L. Dayton, Jr., Leadership, Spring, 1981, p. 62).
I also want you to know that I do not know how much or how little anyone in this church gives. If you think I’m looking at you because you don’t give very much, it’s just your guilty conscience! If you fake it and smile back at me, I’ll probably think you’re a big giver! But it won’t fool God. Also, you need to know that this year our giving is actually more than $4,000 over our budget, so I’m not addressing the subject because we’re in a crunch. Our text is a “thank-you note” Paul wrote to the Philippians who had given sacrificially to meet his need. In it he gives us one of the most comforting promises in the Bible:
If we give faithfully to the Lord’s work, He will supply all our needs.
In the context, it’s a conditional promise; you can’t divorce verse 19 from what goes before. It is to people who have given faithfully and generously that Paul says, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” If we meet the condition--give faithfully, God will fulfill His part--supply all our needs. So what is faithful giving? There are many more principles than the ones found here, but these four we all must learn:
The principles for faithful giving:
1. Faithful giving should be one of the first things we establish in our Christian walk.
Paul commends the Philippian church by reminding them of how, at the first preaching of the gospel, after he departed from their region (Macedonia), they shared with him in the matter of giving and receiving (4:15-16). At that point, they were the only church that took the initiative to send support to Paul. Even when he was still in Macedonia, at Thessalonica, more than once they sent gifts to him. Apparently those gifts were not enough to provide full support, because he reminds the Thessalonians how he worked with his hands to provide for his needs when he was with them (2 Thess. 3:7-9). But right from the start of their Christian experience, the Philippians had given.
Paul taught that it is proper for a man who labors in the gospel to receive his support from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:1-18; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). But for the sake of avoiding the charge that he was preaching for the money, Paul chose not to receive support from a new church where he was ministering while he was there. Instead, he supported himself by making tents. But if the funds came from another church outside the area, he would stop making tents and devote himself full time to the work of the ministry (compare Acts 18:1-11, 2 Cor. 11:7-12). As I mentioned last week, Paul never seemed to make his needs known, even as prayer requests, but trusted in the sovereign God to provide. When funds ran low, he would go back to work until God met the need.
But Paul must have taught the Philippians early on the importance of faithful giving to support those in Christian ministry, because soon after he left town, they sent gifts after him. They would have been just a few months old in the Lord, but they were already practicing faithful giving.
Jesus taught the same principle in Luke 16:10-13. After giving the parable of the unrighteous steward, which has to do with money, He said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.” He goes on to show that the “little thing” is our use of “unrighteous mammon,” or money. If we are faithful in how we use our money to advance His kingdom, the Lord will then entrust “true riches” to us (16:11) which, in the context, are souls. If we want God to entrust us with souls, we begin by proving our faithfulness in what to us is a “big thing,” but to God is a “little thing,” the use of our money. That’s His test. So financial faithfulness, which includes giving, but also how we manage all the material goods God has entrusted to us (earning, spending, saving), should be one of the first lessons we learn in our Christian walk.
One of the first lessons on giving should be that we learn to take the initiative in looking for faithful Christian workers who are focused on the glory of God and the work of the gospel (as Paul was) and support them without being pressured to give. It’s a sad commentary on the American church that we live in relative luxury while faithful servants of the Lord are being held up from going to the field because of a lack of funds, or they have to return from the field to raise more support. Many American Christians are so used to the pressured appeals of TV preachers, that “if you don’t give right now, this ministry will go off the air,” that we overlook the faithful servants of the Lord who are not so forceful in their appeals for funds.
In our own church, we have faithful people who are doing the Lord’s work. Don’t assume that all their financial needs are being met. Like the Philippian church with Paul, take the initiative to support them. If you’re not sure of their need, ask them. Keep in contact and direct some of the resources God has entrusted to you to help support them in His work.
2. Faithful giving should be focused on the furtherance of the gospel.
Paul was “preaching the gospel” (4:15). He had given each church where he worked an example of his hard work and his freedom from greed (Acts 20:33-35; 1 Thess. 2:5; 2 Thess. 3:7-9). There are those who claim to be serving the Lord, but they are lazy and greedy. Don’t give to them. If a TV or radio preacher pleads for money, saying that his ministry will go under if you don’t send your gift today, let him go under. He’s not trusting God. Look at his lifestyle. If he’s living in luxury, let him sell some of his junk and give it to his ministry. The Scriptures warn us about men who are in ministry for the money (1 Tim. 6:5; Titus 1:11; 2 Pet. 2:3, 14, 15).
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). As for himself, Paul lived by faith and was content with whatever God provided. But he never made strong appeals for funds for himself.
Paul did, by the way, make a strong appeal for funds for others. In 2 Corinthians 8 & 9, he appealed strongly to them to give generously to meet the need of the poor Christians in Judea. Of course he would never stoop to some of the fund-raising gimmicks used by various ministries and churches in our day--sending out “prayer cloths” in exchange for your contribution, church raffles, bingo games, and the like. He appealed to them to give based on God’s gracious gift of His Son for us (2 Cor. 8:9; 9:15). He was always scrupulous not to take advantage of anyone in financial matters, but to keep his focus on ministry (2 Cor. 7:2; 11:7-12; 12:18; 2 Thess. 3:8). So look for faithful servants or ministries who are focused on the furtherance of the gospel and give faithfully to them.
3. Faithful giving is investing in eternity.
Paul says, “I’m looking for the profit that increases to your account” (4:17). These terms were common accounting words. Paul is saying that when you give to the Lord’s work, you’re putting money into your account in the Bank of Heaven, and it pays guaranteed high interest for all eternity. If you have any money invested in stocks or mutual funds, you realize that the more risky the investment, the greater the chance that you can make high returns, but also the greater the chance that you can lose a lot. And, even the “safe” investments have no guarantees. But 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!
In Luke 16:1-9, Jesus tells the parable of the crooked steward. He was being called on the carpet for squandering his master’s possessions. He knew he would lose his job and he didn’t want to become a beggar or to dig ditches. So he quickly called his master’s debtors and reduced their bills. Since he knew that his time was short, he made friends for himself in high places, so that in the future they would welcome him. Jesus isn’t praising the steward’s dishonesty, but rather his foresight. He is telling us for the short time we have left on this earth to use our Master’s money to make friends for eternity, to see people come to Christ. Then, when we step into heaven, they will welcome us. By giving to the Lord’s work, you are investing in souls for all eternity. It’s the smartest investment you can make.
4. Faithful giving should be motivated by worship.
Paul calls their gift “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (4:18). These terms come out of the Old Testament where they describe the sacrifices that worshipers offered to God. They also are used in the New Testament to describe Christ’s offering of Himself for our sins (Eph. 5:2). The point is, you aren’t giving to the pastor or to the church; you aren’t giving to the missionary or mission organization. You are giving to God Himself. If Jesus Christ bodily walked into this church, if He was the usher handing you the plate, and you saw the nail scars on His hands that were pierced for you, and if they money was going to Him personally for His support, would you give any differently than you do now? Would you grudgingly say, “All right, here’s a few bucks!” Or, would you give gratefully out of a heart of love and worship because He gave Himself for you?
Suppose I gave my wife a gift on Valentine’s Day. How would she feel if I said, “I didn’t really want to, but I hadn’t gotten you anything for quite a while, and I was feeling kind of guilty. I know that our neighbor got his wife something and I know it’s my duty as your husband to give you something.” She wouldn’t be “well-pleased,” because my motive was wrong. But if I said, “Honey, you deserve even more than I can give, but I love you so much and I was thinking of how much you mean to me when I bought this,” the very same gift would be accepted as well-pleasing to her. That’s how we should give to God, out of a heart of love and gratitude, to glorify Him (4;20).
If our giving is done as an act of worship to glorify God, then we won’t want it advertised how much we’re giving. Many Christian ministries cater to the flesh when they put up plaques or memorial books with the names of donors. The best plaque I’ve ever seen is one at the village at Campus Crusade’s Arrowhead Springs that reads, “This village was donated by five businessmen who want the glory to go to God.” Amen!
Thus we are to give faithfully to the Lord’s work of furthering the gospel, out of a heart of worship to our Lord who gave Himself for our sins. If we do, God promises something:
The promise from our faithful god:
Faithful givers can count on the faithful God’s faithful supply: “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19). What a magnificent promise!
1. The source of the promise is our God with whom we are in union in Christ Jesus.
“My God,” “in Christ Jesus.” Here again is Paul’s intimate, personal relationship with his Savior. Giving to the Lord’s work is not for anyone who does not know Him through the cross. If you know Him as “my God,” if you know that by faith you are “in Christ Jesus,” then the privilege of giving and the promise of God’s faithfulness apply to you. If you do not know Christ, you can’t give to Him until you receive from Him His gift to you.
It is none other than the God who spoke the universe into existence who promises to supply your needs when you give faithfully. Even though, as Paul himself experienced, you may suffer some tight times, your needs (not luxuries--this isn’t prosperity theology!) will be met, and you will have far more, namely, the great joy of fellowship with the Creator and Savior.
2. The sufficiency of the promise is the riches of God for all my needs.
He promises to supply all our needs according to (not “out of”) His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. What a staggering promise! The God who owns the whole earth says that He will meet our needs if we give faithfully, and it is a blessed thing to know this in your experience as you watch Him do it.
The American pastor Wilbur Chapman had a family tragedy occur that made it necessary for him to travel to the West Coast. A banker who attended his church visited with him just before he left. As they talked, the banker took a piece of paper out of his pocket and slipped it into his pastor’s hand. Chapman looked at it and saw that it was a blank check made out to him, signed by the banker. Momentarily stunned, he asked, “Do you mean you are giving me a signed check to be filled out as I please?” “Yes, exactly,” said the banker. “I don’t know how much you might need, and I want you to draw any amount that will meet your need.” Chapman gratefully took the check, but he didn’t need to use it on his trip. Later he commented, “It gave me a comfortable, happy feeling to know that I had a vast sum at my disposal.” Our supply is as sufficient as the Bank of Heaven, a blank check for all our needs. But how do we know the check is good?
3. The certainty of the promise depends on God Himself.
Blank checks are no good if the person who signs them is destitute or a crook. But if the check is signed by “my God,” the God I know personally, the God who is also our Father (4:20), the God who has never in human history failed His children, the God who demonstrated His great love for us by giving His only Son on the cross, then the check is good! “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). If we meet the condition by giving faithfully, the promise is certain--our God and Father will meet all our needs. You can count on it!
There is probably no more accurate gauge of your spiritual life than your giving to the Lord’s work. Do you give only grudgingly and under pressure? Then you’re not focused on the abundant grace of our Lord in your life. Are you hit and miss about your giving, doing it once in a while, but not systematically? Then you’re probably not faithful in other disciplines of the Christian life, such as devotions. Are you stingy and tight with your giving? Then your love for the Lord is probably cold and sterile. Do you religiously give ten percent and take pride in it? Then you’re probably legalistic in your spiritual life, judging yourself and others by the performance of certain duties rather than by a heart of love for the Savior.
The reason your giving is a pretty good gauge of your spiritual life is that your heart is bound up with your treasure. Jesus taught, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). If you want your heart to be with the Lord, put your money in the Lord’s work. If you want your heart to be in this evil world, put your money in the things of the world. It’s a simple principle to state, but not so simple to implement, because it requires faith.
To give generously to the Lord’s work requires that you believe that there really is a heaven ahead. Since you plan to spend eternity there, you put your money over to the other side in advance, where it’s earning interest in heaven’s bank, awaiting your arrival. Jesus called it “laying up treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:19).
It’s like the story of the sailor who was shipwrecked on a South Sea island. He was seized by the natives who carried him to their village and set him on a crude throne. They treated him as royalty. Soon he learned that their custom was once each year to make a man king, king for a year. He thought this was a pretty good deal until he started wondering what happened to all the former kings after their year was up. He found out that after the year, the king was banished to a deserted island where he starved to death. That worried him, but he was a smart king, so he put his carpenters to work making boats and his gardeners to work transplanting fruit trees and other crops to the island where he would be banished. His carpenters built a nice home there. So when his year was over, he was banished, not to a barren island, but to an island of abundance. In the same way, if we really believe that this life is temporary and eternity is ahead, we will be sending our treasures over to that side by our giving, so we’ll have something there waiting for our arrival.
Giving generously also takes faith because you have to trust that when you give away your money, God is going to make up for it by providing for your immediate needs. What if I give and then some unexpected emergency comes up? What if I give and lose my job? I heard of a fellow who was struggling with the idea of giving ten percent of his income to his church. (I believe ten percent should be the base, not the ceiling.) He told his pastor that he didn’t see how he could do it and keep up with his bills. The pastor replied, “If I promise to make up the difference in your bills if you should fall short, do you think you could try tithing for just one month?” After thinking about it for a moment, the man replied, “Sure, if you promise to make up any shortage, I guess I could try tithing for one month.”
The pastor responded, “Now, what do you think of that? You say you’d be willing to put your trust in a mere man like myself, who possesses so little materially, but you couldn’t trust your Heavenly Father who owns the whole universe!”
That’s the issue at the heart of this matter of faithful giving. Will you trust the living God who gave His Son for you by giving generously and systematically, out of a heart of gratitude, love, and worship? If you do, He promises to meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
- Should a Christian who is in debt give to the Lord’s work or first pay off his debts?
- In light of all the needs, how can we know where to give and how much to give?
- Is it a lack of faith for Christians to have savings and investments? Should we give everything and trust God for the future?
- Is tithing the standard of giving for those in Christ? If not, how do we know how much to give?
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © The Lockman Foundation
Where Should You Give?
How should we determine where to give, since we are confronted with so many ministries and needs worldwide? Of course, waiting upon the Lord in prayer is crucial for determining where to give and how much to give. But also, there are some guidelines. The local church is God’s ordained means for propagating the gospel (Matt. 16:18), and so you ought to support its ministries. Beyond that,
- Support individuals whom you know personally to be faithful.
- Consider giving to those who are serving in difficult places.
- Consider whether a person is helping reach those with no gospel witness. They may be serving at the home office of a mission, but if they are part of an outreach to those who have no indigenous church in their midst, they ought to be higher priority for support than those who are reaching the already reached.
If you’re giving to a Christian organization (rather than an individual), ask some questions:
- What is the organization really aiming for? Is their doctrinal statement sound? Are they using biblical methods? Is their focus on the gospel as essential, and not social ministry for its own sake?
- Is the organization using sound financial methods? Do they belong to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability? If not, are their books audited? Will they send you a financial statement? Do they use proper fund-raising methods?
- Do you know and trust any of the leaders in the organization? Are they godly people of integrity? Is the leader accountable to a board, or is the board a rubber stamp?
- How does the organization function? Do they strive for excellence without extravagance? How much of their income goes to overhead and fund-raising (more than 25% is suspect)? Do the leaders live simply or in luxury?