Communion in Giving

Text: Philippians 4:10-23

As we come to the end of our study of Philippians, it is interesting to note that we come back to where we started. In these final verses, Paul returns to his very first point—communion and real unity in the Spirit. All Christians share their lives together, including ministers, laypersons, and missionaries. This doctrine of communion sits before and after the letter’s central point of submitting to others and the mind of Christ, and there’s something to learn just from that. We can only properly submit to one another when we understand our unity. But here we also see a particular expression of Christian partnership, and it is a very important one. We share even in our finances. Our money is an extension of ourselves and our service, and that means it is involved in Christian communion. Paul is calling us to communion in giving.

We are in it together

The beginning of Philippians emphasized our “partnership” in the faith. In verse 5 of chapter 1, Paul wrote about “…fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” The word “fellowship” is the very same word translated “partaker” in vs. 7, “you all are partakers with me of grace.” Both times it signifies partnership, unity, and communion. And that’s the same word which appears in Philippians 4:14 and 15 where Paul says that the Philippians “shared” with him. All this means that wherever Paul goes, the Philippians go too. They are united in the gospel through the Spirit. What happens to him happens to them, and what happens to them happens to him.

But this also applies to financial giving. Paul writes, “you shared in my distress.” In context this means that the Philippians gave money to Paul, however little they were able, when no one else did, and thus they were united to him when no one else was. When Paul was poor, the Philippians were also poor, because they were giving to him. Now that he abounds, the Philippians too abound because of their unity with him. He is a part of them, and when they give to Paul, they are giving themselves and joining his ministry abroad.

Here we see something very important. The giving we give to our ministers is a giving which we give to our own ministry, to the shared mission we have in Christ. We are not really subtracting from “our” money and adding to “their” money, but instead we are using “our” money for the gospel. And this giving will be given back to us, by God, according to our needs:

I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (4:18-19)

It’s ok to talk about money

Before we go too far into this subject, however, we should clear up one common misconception. There is nothing dirty or worldly in talking about money and financial giving. Paul is cautious when he talks about money, so as not to appear self-serving or greedy, as can be seen in his qualifying comments— “not… in regard to need.” (vs. 11) “not that I seek the gift…” (vs. 17). But he still talks about it all the same. And he is asking for money in order to continue his ministry.

Paul even says that the money given to him produced fruit. If evangelism is a sort of harvest, then the financial giving of God’s people is a fertilizer that helps it to grow. But even more than this, Paul says the giving is “an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (vs. 18). What this means is that money can be a spiritual thing. If done in faith, the use of money is a religious exercise. Fundraising too is perfectly biblical. Giving to the church is necessary, and there’s no violation of protocol or etiquette to talk about it.

Interestingly enough, studies show that churches appreciate it when their pastors talk plainly and respectfully about money. After all, it’s a big part of the Christian life. It’s a major factor in our jobs, families, and recreation. We all know that we have to have money, and we all know that churches have to have money to work properly. We all know that the pastor knows this and is thinking about it. So why pretend otherwise? Pastors and churches can and should talk openly about finances, and they should do so, not with a “conservative” or “liberal” philosophy, but rather a Biblical one, understanding that the money is God’s to begin with and that He entrusts it to us in order for us to use it as an offering back to Him.

Of course, there is an improper use of money in ministry. Churches are not for profit, after all, and when Simon Magus thought that evangelism might be a pretty good start-up venture, he was condemned in no uncertain terms—“Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:20-21). In 2nd Corinthians, Paul is clear that the preaching of the word cannot be tailored to fit the best donors. “For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:17). But the fact that the gospel is not for sale does not mean that money is out of bounds.

Financial giving is something that the Bible talks quite a bit about. Just listen to a small sampling of verses on this topic:

 He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given. (Prov. 19:17)

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matt. 25:37-40)

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:13-14)

I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:6-7)

And so, in order to be faithful to the word of God, we have to talk about money, and we have to use money appropriately. This all means we have to think about money, and we have to think about it biblically.

Your giving is an acceptable sacrifice to God

We have to keep in mind that our communion—our partnership—in the gospel goes all the way down. It is spiritual, but that means empowered by the Holy Spirit. And so our money is “our” money in this way, not by compulsion but by the call of Christ. When we give to the church we are making a priestly offering, an acceptable sacrifice to God. It is an act of worship.

It’s important not to interpret this language of sacrifice as merely a figure of speech. After all, the Epistle to the Hebrews makes it clear that it was the Old Covenant sacrifices which were the types and shadows. They were fulfilled in the work of Christ, but now we continue to share in that work through our priestly work, namely prayer, praise, and worship, but also giving. When we give to the church, we enable it to preach the gospel and thus to offer the sacrifice of Jesus Christ himself. The priesthood of all believers does not mean that there are no longer priests. It means we are all priests. And so we have priestly work. We are the temple, and that means we have temple work.

So why don’t we use our money in this way more often? Listen to what John Calvin had to say about this verse:

Alas for our indolence!— which appears in this, that while God invites us with so much kindness to the honor of priesthood, and even puts sacrifices in our hands, we nevertheless do not sacrifice to him, and those things which were set apart for sacred oblations we not only lay out for profane uses, but squander them wickedly upon the most polluted contaminations. For the altars, on which sacrifices from our resources ought to be presented, are the poor, and the servants of Christ. To the neglect of these some squander their resources on every kind of luxury, others upon the palate, others upon immodest attire, others upon magnificent dwellings. (Commentary on Philippians 4:18)

The short answer is that we have many other things on which we would rather spend our money. We do not think of our money as a lamb or bull to be brought to the altar, but instead as “ours,” something in our possession and under our control. Charitable giving and donating to the church is seen as an “extra,” an option to be chosen or not after everything else is taken care of.

But even for those of us who acknowledge that we ought to give, we often have questions. How much should we give? What are the principles of giving, the when, where, and how? How should make these decisions in light of our budgets?

The old tithing principle is probably the best-known, and it is a good rule of thumb. Having a specific figure helps people know how to get started, and so 10% is a measuring stick. But here we should be careful. There is actually no law for tithing as we know it in the Christian church. The session cannot tell you how much you have to give either, though churches can give guideline and general expectations if they wish. But there is no “Thou shalt” when it comes to the amount of giving in the New Covenant. Perhaps more importantly, it would totally contradict the spirit of the gospel to assume that once you had paid your 10% you were then free from any further need to give. “10% and not a penny more!” is the expression of legalism, selfishness, and sin, not Christian charity.

It’s also wrong to think of Christian giving in terms of worldly budgeting. You often hear people say that they cannot afford to give to the church. But that assumes that the money is theirs and that they are in control of the profits. No, it is God who gives. If you wait until your needs are met to give, then you will never do it. You will always find more needs, and giving will always be hard. The truth is that you cannot afford to not give.

In fact, our “needs” have to be critically investigated. We make too many things into needs. Is college a necessity? What about retirement? What about an entertaining budget? If we wait until we feel like we can spare it, we will never give. And really, the whole point is to be dependent on God. All of our money is His to begin with, and when Jesus tackles this question He gets downright extreme. Do you remember the example of the widow and her two mites?

Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mark 12:41-44)

Giving out of poverty is greater and more spiritual than giving out of surplus. And since Jesus demands everything that we have, He expects us to give up our money too. Sell everything that you have and give it to the poor!

“Now, now,” you say, we all know that was hyperbole. Jesus was just trying to get at our heart. And yes, that is quite right. But are you being honest about your heart? Are your motives correct? How about giving regularly to your local church? That’s not nearly as extreme as giving all that you have, so why don’t you start there? If you’re not ready for 10%, then why don’t you try 5%? Start with something. Just give.

If you always have a ready answer as to why you don’t give, then your heart really isn’t right in this regard. Trust God and make your sacrifice. It’s your priestly duty. It’s just as important as prayer and worship. It’s an expression of your communion with fellow Christians in the church.

Conclusion

The basic rules of Christian giving are actually pretty simple. First, give. You have to give something. Anything. Make it practice, and start now.

Second, you should give freely, because you want to. If you don’t want to, then you have some bigger questions to ask yourself. What is important to you? What do you really love in this world?

Thirdly, you should give liberally. By this, I mean that you should be able to give generously and without worrying about it too much. Go ahead and give a little more than you might initially think and see how it feels. Your goal should be to be able to give cheerfully, no matter what, and this can only happen when you give in faith. It’s God’s money. He gave it to you. He decides what happens to it and what happens to you.

This is why Paul says that God will make sure our needs are taken care of. He doesn’t want you worrying about what happens to you. He wants you to believe. “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (vs. 19). And so give and believe. Have faith and make your offering to God.

Let us pray.

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