Preached at Upton 25/2/18 Welland 15 April Hanley Swan 15 April Hanley Castle 27/5/18
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.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
21 Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. 22 All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
One of the hardest but best things I did in my last job was get funding together to employ a youth worker. It added £30,000 a year to our annual costs, but God provided.
Some of the money came from the diocese – who kindly gave us £25000 spread over the first three years. Some came from trusts: I still remember one joyous Friday morning in January 2015 when three posh-looking envelopes arrived in the post – from three different funders – all saying yes. £20,000 in one day! I remember sitting on the bottom of the stairs Crying tears of joy as I thanked God from the bottom of my heart.
And the rest came from the generosity of the Christians in the congregation. They saw the project was worthwhile and they made sacrifices at home so they could give more to fund it. We had people giving regularly from their salaries, one-off gifts from people’s life savings, and we also had our widow’s mites: people who were barely scraping by, who gave only a little but which to them was an awful lot.
Anyway, I want to talk about generosity this morning, as we come today to the final part of our journey through Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, because as I hope you noticed in our reading, the final part of the letter is all about the generosity.
St Paul says,
…When I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.” (Phil.4:15-16)
And Paul has a lovely phrase to describe their generosity, it’s a
fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” (v19)
Some of you when you get home from church today, you’ll be greeted at the door by a fragrant smell –a joint of meat roasting in the oven. It smells rich and good and inviting, and that’s how God sees generous Christians. I wonder if we smell like that to him?
Now normally when a vicar starts talking about generosity its to launch a project. We aren’t doing that today. I don’t have a pile of pledge forms at the back awaiting your signature, or anything like that. So you can relax because I’m not after your money.
Nor am I after your time or talents. A lot of people say
I give my time rather than money.”
That’s great, we’re very grateful for all you do;but when Jesus talks about giving in the Bible he doesn’t see it in terms of either one or the other. Instead he calls us to be generous with everything we have for his sake.
And money is a tricky area –. You might know the old story about how the Church of England invented copper wire – apparently the church treasurer and a parishioner started fighting over a penny.[That was a joke! Want another one? What do you call a rich bear?
– Winnie the Pools
Now it might surprise you to find that the Bible talks more about generosity than it does about any other subject. Apparently someone counted and: the word
- “believe” is used 272 times;
- “pray” is used 371 times;
- “love” is used 714 times;
- “give” is used 2162 times.
Over half of Jesus’ parables have to do with money, and there are more promises in the Bible related to giving than any other subject. And of course the biggest giver in the Bible is God, who
so loved the world that He gave his only Son so that we may not perish but have eternal life.”
God is the chief giver – and if we want to be like him, we need to be generous too.
So let’s think of some benefits of generosity.
Generosity draws my heart closer to God’s heart.
Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.” (Mt.6:21)
He’s saying that what I do with my money shows my priorities. If I put my money in my house, that’s where my heart is. If I put my money into eating out, that’s where my heart is! If I put my money into clothes, into a hobby… that’s where my heart is.
So where is your heart? Or perhaps a better question is where do you want your heart to be? Because every time we’re generous, we are moving our heart in a Godward direction, we’re drawing closer to Him.
2.Generosity strengthens my faith
The Bible is full of promises that God will provide for us, but a lot of those promises depend on us being generous too. So for example, Jesus said,
Give and it will be given to you. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38).
He’s saying, “I dare you to try trusting me! The more generous you are to me, the more generous I will be to you.” So when we give, when we’re generous, it’s not just a financial thing, it’s a faith thing. We’re giving, trusting that God will provide. And the more we do that, the stronger our faith grows.
3.Generosity is an investment in eternity.
We’ve all heard that phrase, “You can’t take it with you when you go.” Well the Christian version of it adds,“but you can send it on ahead.” And that’s exactly what Jesus taught when he talked about storing up treasure in heaven rather than on earth. So how do we store up treasure in Heaven? We do it by generously investing in people who are going there – just like those generous Philippians did.
Back in 1903, James Kraft invented Philadelphia Cream Cheese! And his company Kraft Cheese has gone from strength to strength ever since, making him fabulously wealthy.But what’s striking about the company’s founder is his attitude to investment, he said,
The only investment I ever made which has paid consistently increasing dividends is the money I have given to the Lord.”
When we’re generous with the money God has given us, it’s an investment in eternity.
Apparently James Kraft gave 25% of his income to Christian work. Given what he was earning, he could afford to give that much. But what about us? How much should we give?
A lot of Christians try to give 10% of their income. They call this tithing, a word that comes from a slight misunderstanding of the Old Testament system of giving whereby every Jew was required to give 10% of their income to fund the work of the temple in Jerusalem and all the nation’s priests. I say misunderstanding because actually there were two annual tithes – so it was 20% – and there was another tithe that happened every third year – so really they were giving an average of 23 1/3% of their income – every year.
But Jesus changes all that – to such an extent that the word tithe is never used in the New Testament about giving – except when looking back to the old way of doing things.
Instead the New Testament answer to the question “How much should we give?” relies on giving us some broad principles and expects us to work out the details with God ourselves.
1) giving should be proportionate to your income.
Paul writes in 1Cor.16,
each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…”
So if you’re rich, you bless God by giving more. If you’re poorer, bless God by giving less.
2) generosity should hurt.
Paul writes about the Corinthian church that they,
gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” (2Cor.8:3-4)
In other words they made lifestyle sacrifices so that they could give. Their generosity hurt them.
3) What we give is up to us
Now some churches will tell you that you must give 10% of your income. The Church of England officially recommends that 5% of your income should be given to your parish church, and 5% to other good causes, but what the Bible says is,
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2Cor.9:6-7)
In other words, it’s up to you to prayerfully decide How you are going to respond to God’s generosity to you.
The next thing the New Testament tells us about our giving is that
4) Giving should be anonymous.
when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” (Mt.6:2-4)
With all the paperwork and forms linked in with giving nowadays its sometimes hard to believe it’s anonymous. But it is – virtually. Only one person here knows who gives what – our treasurer I don’t know, and nor does anyone else.
Final thought, we’ve talked principles of giving, and we’ve talked about why generosity is good for us – but what does God want us to be generous towards?
Well there are three broad areas of giving that God points us to in the Bible. First to support the needs of our fellow Christians. Second to support the needs of the poor. And last – but by no means least – to support the mission of the church.
Virtually all of our income here is spent either on our mission to be a Christian presence for the whole of our parish or it’s spent on maintaining our base of operations here – this building.
Most of the mission spend goes on funding me, though of course this cost, along with the cost of training and housing and a pension, are shared between all the parishes in which I work. We call this the parish share.
In the old days churches didn’t have to pay parish share because vicars were paid by a system of rents on land round their church. That’s all gone now and we’ve gone back to the Bible’s system – which is that congregations contribute towards the cost of their clergy, and the Church of England acts like a middle-man to balance out the peaks and troughs in the system.
The rest of our spend goes on the work we do in the community and maintaining, insuring, heating and lighting this building.
So that’s generosity – that’s what those generous Philippians were doing which produced such a pleasing aroma to God and which created such a lasting impact on Paul and on his missionary work. Their generosity paved the road for the gospel to reach Rome and eventually Britain and then the world. I wonder what road our generosity paves? And I wonder if produces a pleasing aroma to God?
I said earlier I’m not after your money today. I’m not, and nor is God. It’s his money anyway. We’re just looking after it for him. No, what God is after is our hearts; and when he has our hearts, then our time and treasure and talents will follow in an outpouring of generosity. So what I’m going to do to finish is simply invite you to offer your heart to God, and ask you to make him your real treasure. For
Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is.”
Some of this material has previously featured in a course I’ve run called Habits4Life, which is adapted from Rick Warren’s 201 church membership course. Whilst the material has been almost totally re-written it is possible one or two sentences survive from Rick Warren’s original text. All credit to him for writing so well!