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Giving and Receiving

Philippians 4:10-23

We close the study of this letter with Paul’s “thank you” note. In it, he explains much in the relationship between giver and receiver, and comments on the art of receiving and having.

(Phil 4:10-23 NIV) I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. {11} I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. {12} I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. {13} I can do everything through him who gives me strength. {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 again and again when I was in need. {17} Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. {18} I have received full payment and even more; 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 his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. {20} To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. {21} Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. {22} All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household. {23} The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Giving is for the giver

You cannot help but notice in this passage how politely Paul thanks his hearers. He’s glad to have the gift, but he really doesn’t need it – and the more you read it, the more it seems Paul is fumbling over the words. He’s not. He’s trying to strike the correct balance of words which properly portrays the right relationship between giver and receiver, and the value of giving. He must do this because we are so steeped in the world’s view of giving.

World’s view of giving

So what, then, is the world’s view of giving? It is simply this: the primary beneficiary of giving is the receiver. Now that sounds so obvious that we might need to recall the Scripture to understand that it is proclaimed false:

(Acts 20:35 NIV) In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

So the common world view is at odds with what the Scripture has to say. This is not so unusual, but it strikes us as such because we are talking about giving – charity, in the modern sense of that word.

You can see this best in its corollary. If the recipient is the primary beneficiary, then the recipient must be, somehow, “worthy.” You don’t given money to keep drunken bums on the unemployment rolls – because they aren’t worthy.

A great example of this came from Jocelyn Elders, one of the women nominated to become Surgeon General of the United States. In her testimony before Congress, she said that the reason we had not achieved a cure for AIDS (this was 1992) was that “right wing fundamentalist Christians” were responsible. Her reasoning was straightforward:

  1. You don’t give money (either by charity or tax dollars) to those who are not worthy.
  2. “Right wing fundamentalists” are so judgmental and wrong-headed they actually think homosexuality is morally wrong.
  3. Therefore, they would not want their tax dollars going to help homosexuals – they got into this mess by themselves, they can get out by themselves.
  4. Hence Congress had not approved enough funding, hence the disease still exists.

Now – ignoring her ignorance of how Christians think – this is exactly a picture of the world’s view of charity. She simply projected it upon Christians.

But wait! What about the giver? If the beneficiary is the recipient, what motivates the giver? Public charities have given much thought to that!

  • One motive is ego. Get your name on the plaque on the wall, your photo with the mayor at the dedication. Be applauded by the crowd.
  • Another is relief from guilt. Have you made your millions by sharp practice and fraud? Do you know yourself to be living on the ragged edge of right and wrong? Give a few million to charity, and become a wonderful, righteous guy.
  • Curiously, a third is vengeance – vengeance upon the misfortunes you suffered in life.

A story is told of this about Andrew Carnegie. As a little boy in Scotland, he found that the rich man in town invited all the children to his estate once a year for a grand party. All the children, that is, except his family. His mother had rejected the rich man as a suitor in younger life. When he had made his fortune, the rich man’s castle came up for sale. Carnegie bought it – made it his own – and opened it up to all the children of the town, without exception.

Much earthly good is done by such charity. Carnegie was a generous man who influenced many other American millionaires to participate in charity in a generous way – he started a fashion for it. But this is not the way of the kingdom, for the kingdom of God deals with the heart.

The view from the kingdom of God

You will have no trouble in guessing the view: the primary beneficiary is the giver. How can this be?

  • First, the giver becomes more like God. If I give so that you may eat, and I become like Christ, which of the two of us has benefited the most from the gift?
  • In so doing, love – the primary virtue – abounds.
  • Likewise, if I give for God’s sake, then it is God who will reward me. And whose reward could be greater?

This also changes the requirement that the recipient be “worthy.” We were not worthy when our heavenly Father sent his Son. We are thus relieved of the burden of determining worthiness.

  • Our recipient may be very worthy (say, a missionary).
  • Our recipient may be completely unworthy (the unwed mother).
  • But one thing for sure: the poor we always have with us.

The virtue of little, the virtue of much

We must now examine one of the great virtues proclaimed to the Christian: contentment. Whether we have very little, or very much, contentment is both commanded and given. Here is the secret of being the recipient of the giver’s gift. What can we see about this thing called contentment?

  • First, it must be learned – it is not something that happens automatically. We must study how to do it, and practice it. So many people think it will fall out of the sky
  • Next, this is not the denial of trouble (“nothing’s wrong”) but the art of leaving that trouble with the Lord.
  • How does one do this? By relying on God’s precepts and promises.

“A gracious spirit is a contented spirit,” said Chrysostom. If we are full of the grace of God, exhibiting his mercy and kindness, then we shall find contentment a normal outcome.

We need to know how to do this, both with very little and very much.

Contentment with little

The secret to contentment with little is this: we must become rich. How? The matter is simple: when your possessions exceed your wants, you are rich. So therefore, the secret is in the control of our wants.

For those with little, this means recognizing and conquering the sin of envy. We see others around us with more, and we ask, “Why can’t I have a 75’ yacht too?” Is the problem that we don’t have the yacht, or is the problem that we want the yacht – especially because someone else has it? (Have you ever wanted what no one has? Did anyone in Paul’s time envy you because you have a television set?)

How can we control such envy? “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Contentment with much

Those who think they have little often imagine they would be content if they had much. Those who have much know better. How then does the rich man achieve contentment?

Begin with this: to whom do you give thanks for your blessings? A thankful heart places your wealth in its proper perspective.

Why is this so necessary? Because of the sin of greed – the ever-present desire for “more.” No amount can be enough for those who have fallen into greed, but the thankful heart knows: “if more is needed, more will be provided.” After all, the Lord’s been mighty good to you so far, hasn’t he? What makes you think he will stop now?

The secret, again, is “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

The fellowship of troubles – and giving

So now we come to the building of the church – fellowship. The word translated “sharing” in verse 14 can also be translated ‘sharing in fellowship”. The secret of this fellowship is simply in the purpose of mind. Paul, the poor recipient, shares the same purpose of mind as the rich Philippians who are giving to him. God, who looks on the heart (remember the Widow’s Mite?) acts accordingly to both.

The desire of their teacher

Paul is their teacher, and in this matter of giving he gives us two practical lessons:

  1. We should not wait for others to give. The Philippians were the first and for some time the only ones supporting Paul in his work.
  2. We should give repeatedly. This is not the first time the Philippians have provided for Paul.

In this we need to see that such giving is an offering to God. Now we know that God does not need such offerings (see Psalm 50), but that he rewards such giving. It is this reward that Paul desires for them.

Fellowship of affliction

We view affliction and suffering as terrible things. But this is not always the case. Chrysostom put it beautifully: “Affliction is an unbroken bond, the increase of love and the occasion of compunction and piety.”

  • Unbroken bond – is there anything like shared suffering to bond you to another person? Does not affliction weld the church together in times of trouble?
  • Increase of love – when affliction comes to one of us, it is the chance for all of us to show our love for that one. In such, love increases, the world sees it – and by this they know we are his disciples.
  • Occasion of compunction and piety – in all these things we have a chance to give with good will for the recipient and honor in the sight of God. Think of it: if I gave you a chance to be blessed by both man and God, would you not take it? Giving blesses the giver most.

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