Today we’re wrapping up the book of Philippians. Tomorrow my plan (God willing) is to spend a day on Philemon, then that’ll be it for our extremely abbreviated overview of Paul’s letters.
Before we leave Philippians, however, I’d like to spend just a moment on our attitude towards giving and God’s providence.
Like I’ve mentioned repeatedly and you can see by just a cursory overview of the letter, Paul had nothing but love and affection towards them. They weren’t a dysfunctional church that needed to be salvaged, but a wonderful group of believers who just needed a nudge to "step it up a notch" in what they were already doing. They loved the Lord and Paul, and they’d shown that love by sending Epaphroditus with their love offering. Today’s passage which finishes up the short book is sort of ‘housecleaning,” but from it we can glean some deep insight.
First, we need to understand that when we give to true ministries, the Lord “credits” that to our “account.” Now, to be sure, he’s incredibly gracious in doing this. Everything we supposedly own is really on loan from him, and one day we’ll have to give it back to him and also give an accounting for how we used it. But if he demanded we give everything up for him right now, like he did one prospective follower, the only legitimate response would be to immediately do it with a smile on our face. If we gave him full 100% obedience towards him all of our days (which no one does), he still really wouldn’t owe us anything, since we’d only be giving back to him what he gave us first and that which was owed to him in the first place: The right attitude we have towards any “sacrifice” we make for his Kingdom should always be “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” Perfect obedience and perfect willingness to sacrifice anything and everything for him is only what he’s owed. He’s under no obligation to reward us for anything we do or give.
But he doesn’t treat us like that at all. He delights in showering his blessings on us, and even the faintest sparks and first steps towards obedience he rewards abundantly. Did you read the story I mentioned above from Luke about the nobleman who went to a far country? He came back to his servants, and the one who’d gained him 10 “minas” (a mina was about 3 months average payment), he put in charge of ten cities! In other words, the servant’s reward for faithfulness was way out of proportion to how much he’d actually gained for his Master.
So when we give to the work of his Kingdom, whether it’s talents, time, or treasure, he “credits” that to our “account.” One day, when everyone gives an accounting for what they’ve done for him, he’ll reward us all out of proportion to what we “gave” him. On that Day, no believer will look at his reward and say “That's all you're giving me? It wasn’t worth it.” Quite the opposite.
And in the here and now, while we still live in this sin-wrecked world, he still gives us cause to trust him. I have a confession to make. You know how I always harp on “context context context” when studying the Bible, like I get paid every time I use that word or something? Well, several years ago, I was guilty of taking a verse out of context. Yes, me. When I was in college, I used to post a devotional “thought for the week” on my front door, and one time I used verse 19 by itself: “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” I used that as a blanket promise to believers, trying to encourage them. Another well-read brother gently pointed out that I’d taken the verse out of context. This was written specifically to believers who’d been faithful—even sacrificial—in their giving. Yes, he’s our Father, and he longs to provide for our needs. We have no need to worry, just to trust him like a little child does towards every good father out there.
But verse 19—looking at the context—doesn’t appear to be a blanket promise to every believer. When we’re obedient and faithful to sacrificially give towards the work of his Kingdom, he notices. And he promises that even in this world, we won’t do without anything we need. He’ll provide for our needs not in a stingy way, but “according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
What if I took this perspective towards my possessions? What if I understood that it’s all his, that I’ll have to give it back to him someday in an accounting, and that he’ll take care of my needs super-generously according to his riches when I give sacrificially? How would that affect my giving? Would it make a radical change?
I don’t know. I’m willing to find out what happens when I trust him. How’s about you?
Father God, help me to trust you, and to show it. It all belongs to you anyway, and you promise that you’ll take care of my needs. No one who trusts you, who does things your way, ends up regretting it. I believe that, so help me to live it out. And let that trust show up in my checking account and calendar.