14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus
Dear Friends in Christ,
I would imagine that most of you probably have a pretty good idea of what a lie detector, or polygraph, is. Maybe you’ve seen pictures like this of wires and electrodes attached to a person’s body to measure skin responses to questions that are asked. A needle on a gauge registers those responses and reveals whether the person is telling the truth or not.
Lie detectors today are pretty sophisticated pieces of equipment. Certainly a lot more technical than the lie detector test that I recently read about and that was used in ancient times. If a person was accused of a crime, he was taken into a dark room where there was a donkey. He was told to stand behind the animal and grab its tail. The accused was told that if he lied while answering the questions, the donkey would bray. What he was not told was that the tail was covered with soot so that when the accused exited the interview area, if his hand was clean, they’d know he hadn’t taken hold of the tail and therefore was not telling the truth. His clean hand then would convict him of his dirty deed. Now some of you might think I made that up, but I understand Paul Harvey shared this on his show years ago and when he was alive Paul Harvey did not lie.
Well, as I thought about that, I got to thinking about something else. I got to thinking about what if there was a lie detector test for our faith. What if there was some way of telling whether or not a person was truly sincere about their self-professed belief in Jesus Christ? And then I came across our text for today where Paul in essence tells us there is. It doesn’t involve wires and electrodes. It doesn’t make use of a donkey’s tail. Instead, it involves something much simpler. It involves our pocketbook and the offering plate that is passed each Sunday morning.
Now I know what some of you are thinking right now: “Here we go. Pastor Meyer’s going to preach on giving today.” And that’s true, but before you tune me out, let me ask you a question. When is the last time you heard me devote an entire sermon to giving? In all honesty I can’t remember. It’s probably been 5 years at least, maybe even 10 or more. You see, I don’t preach on giving very often because quite frankly I don’t think this congregation needs to hear a lot of sermons on giving. You are a very generous church family. During my 23+ years of ministry here we have rarely failed to meet our budget. We more than adequately make our mortgage payments each month. If some unforeseen need arises, usually one announcement or one door offering takes care of it. I’ve always been more than satisfied with the way you have provided for my family and me. You are a very generous, very giving congregation. And in all honesty, I sincerely doubt I would have preached on giving today had the subject not come up in our text, where Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians that we’ve been studying for several months now by talking about giving.
So let’s spend some time this morning taking a look at this subject which interestingly Jesus spoke more about than any other topic. Did you know that? Did you know that he talked more about money and material possessions and what we do with them than he did about heaven, hell, prayer, or faith? So if Jesus thought it that important, maybe we should too. This morning then I want to share with you 3 very basic principles for giving in order to help you see more clearly how you might be able to get more out of your giving.
But before we get to those principles, let me ask you a question. What is your favorite part of the worship service? What is the part of the service you look forward to maybe even before you arrive at church? For some of you it may be the singing or the special choir music we sometimes have or when the praise team does its thing. Maybe it’s the Confession of Sins when we humble ourselves before God, lay our faults at the foot of the cross, and receive his cleansing and powerful forgiveness. No doubt for most of you the favorite part of the service is the sermon, right? And if you don’t say yes to that, I may have to preach an extra 20 minutes or so. But I really doubt that any of you would say that your favorite part of the service is when we pass the offering plate. Most would probably see it as a necessary part of the service, but not a necessarily inspirational part of the service. But I’d like to suggest to you this morning that God sees it as a very holy and special time. Other times may be more inspirational. Other times may be more instructional. But nothing is more revealing than when the plate is passed. For when you and I give, we make 3 statements.
First of all we say: I want to participate in the work of the Gospel. I want you to imagine for a moment that I’m starting a new business. Since I like tennis, let’s say I’ve discovered a new way to make a longer lasting tennis ball. And I come to you and say, “Would you pray for the success of my new business endeavor?” “Absolutely!” you reply. Then I come back a week or two later and say, “You’re so good with numbers. Could you look over these figures and make sure that we’re going to be able to stay afloat financially?” “Absolutely!” you reply. Then a few weeks later I come to you with a third request. But before I get to that one, let me ask you, are you a partner yet in my business, having prayed for it and having given me some advice? Not really, right? But you do become a partner if you answer my third question the way I’m hoping you will. And you know exactly what that question is going to be, don’t you? Could you float me some cash for my business? Could you invest some capital in it? Could you write a check?
With that question, what have I done? I’ve drawn a line in the sand, haven’t I? And when you actually cross that line and write that check is when you have crossed over into partnership with me. That’s what the Philippians had done with Paul. One translation renders v. 15 of our text: “Only you Philippians became my partners in giving and receiving.” So when we place our money in the offering plate we are in essence saying, “I want to be a partner with God in his worldwide enterprise of saving souls.” What an honor that is! What a privilege!
But then secondly, we’re also saying: I am anticipating heaven. This past year was a rough year, financially, for a lot of people in our country. At times the formerly bull stock market turned into a real bear. And it’s continued that way since the start of this year. And many people have lost a lot of money. But you know what? It’s going to get worse. Now that’s not a Wall Street prediction. It’s not a statement issued by Edward Jones or A.G. Edwards or any other financial advisors. Rather it’s a spiritual truth contained in Scripture, that the money you have right now is one day going to be absolutely worthless. When Jesus comes again or when you die, whichever comes first, your money is going to have no value whatsoever for you anymore.
So do you want a good investment tip? Invest in something that is going to last. Invest in eternity. Invest in heaven. One of my favorite Christian singers years ago was Ray Boltz and one of the most popular songs he did back then was entitled “Thank You.” In that song he describes an individual who invested in heaven in different ways. I don’t want to take the time to play the song, so just listen to the words…
I dreamed I went to heaven
And you were there with me
We walked upon the streets of gold
Beside the crystal sea
We heard these angels singing
Then someone called your name
You turned and saw this young man
And he was smiling as he came
And he said friend you may not know me now
And then he said, but wait
You used to teach my Sunday School
When I was only eight
And every week you would say a prayer
Before the class would start
And one day when you said that prayer
I asked Jesus in my heart
Thank you for giving to the Lord
I am a life that was changed
Thank you for giving to the Lord
I am so glad you gave
Then another man stood before you
And said remember the time
A missionary came to your church
And his pictures made you cry
You didn’t have much money
But you gave it anyway
Jesus took the gift you gave
And that’s why I’m here today
One by one they came
Far as your eyes could see
Each life somehow touched
By your generosity
Little things that you had done
Sacrifices you made
They were unnoticed on the earth
In heaven now proclaimed
And I know that up in heaven
You’re not supposed to cry
But I am almost sure
There were tears in your eyes
As Jesus took your hand
And you stood before the Lord
He said, my child look around you
For great is your reward
I am so glad you gave.
That’s what we mean by investing in heaven – using the gifts, the time, the talents, and the treasures God has given us to help other people find their way there through Jesus Christ. John Tillotson, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury back in the 1600’s, once put it this way: “He who provides for this life but takes no care for eternity is wise for a moment, but a fool forever.”
So your giving is a way of saying I want to participate in the Gospel and I am anticipating heaven. Then thirdly, it is also your way of saying I’ve dedicated my heart to Jesus. Many years ago a lady slipped into a large church. No one noticed her which was understandable because this was a big day and the church was crowded and she was just one person among so many. It wasn’t that long ago that she and her family occupied an entire row. But then her kids grew up and moved away and most recently her husband had died. So there she was all alone.
In stark contrast to her was the silver-haired man up front whom everyone noticed. You see, this was the big day, the day they were taking up the collection for the new wing of the church. That wing was going to be named for this fellow, this benefactor, whose check in the offering plate that day would pay for a substantial portion of it. Finally, the moment arrived. After the singing and the preaching and the praying, the collection plate was passed and the wealthy man reached into his pocket, pulled out the check, gave it a little wave, and with a smile on his face dropped it in the offering plate. And everyone noticed. But no one noticed the poor widow who reached into her tattered purse and dropped in 2 pennies when the offering plate reached her. Obviously it wasn’t much, but it was all she had. And nobody noticed, except one. Jesus noticed. And when he saw that poor widow open her heart as she opened her pocketbook, he raised a hand to silence his disciples and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.”
If that kind of updated version of the story of the widow’s mite tells us anything it tells us this: God is touched by the honest gift that comes from a giving heart. In fact, Paul describes such a gift in our text as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”
So as we wrap this sermon up, let me give you very quickly 3 suggestions to assist you in your giving. First, be prayerful about your giving. Maybe some of you who have heard this message today are feeling very guilty about now because you’d like to give more to God, but at this time you just can’t. The money simply isn’t there. It’s not that you live an extravagant or wasteful lifestyle. You’re just having trouble surviving financially these days. And if that describes you, the last thing I want is for you to leave here this morning with an unnecessary burden of guilt. So if there’s a struggle there, talk to God about it. Let him know what’s on your heart. That’s what I mean by being prayerful about your giving. Trust me. He’s not out to hurt you. He’s there to help you.
Then secondly, be careful about your giving. How would you feel if your spouse came home one day and said, “Oh, I forgot. Today is your birthday, isn’t it? Let me see what I have here for you.” And they dig in their pocket or purse and pull out some change and say, “Here! Happy birthday!”
Well, is there anyone here today who has done the same with God? You hear the offering announced and you say, “Oh, man, I forgot.” So you reach in your pocket or your wallet and you give God a tip rather than a carefully thought out offering that truly reflects your love for him.
So be prayerful about your giving. Be careful about it. And finally, be cheerful about your giving. What does the Bible say? God loves a what? A cheerful giver. We should smile as the plate is passed, if for no other reason than the crazy absurdity that we’re giving something to God. What a joy to be able to give something to the One who owns everything already and who has given so much to us, especially through his Son Jesus Christ through whom all the riches of heaven will one day be ours.
I pray God will take this message today and drive it deep into your heart so that as you prayerfully and carefully and cheerfully respond to all that he has done for you, you might also discover what Paul shares with us in our text when he says: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”