Giving: The Ultimate Spiritual Barometer – Philippians 4:10-23

The letter to Philippians is indeed a thank you note. In our passage today we read of Paul’s appreciation for the kindness of the church in Philippi to care for his needs to the extent of sacrificially giving for him.

There is a certain amount of awkwardness in being a recipient of the voluntary and gracious gifts of others, while also being the fellow who is in a responsible position to be the teaching and instructional person on that very subject. I know this. I have lived this. Most pastors struggle to some extent with preaching and teaching on giving, because it smacks of having a rebound effect toward one’s own benefit.

To tell the truth, I don’t actually hate preaching on giving. Since I have not done it at TSF in one-have of forever, it is actually the designated topic for June 1st. Sure, I’d rather preach on the theology of Romans or the fabulous teachings of the letter to the Hebrews. But I have honestly come to the biblically clear position that when I am telling people to give away as much as they possibly can for God, I am telling them to do the very best thing that will bless them. So, I have come to conclude – why should I be embarrassed about or beat myself up for telling people to do the very thing that is going to be the most helpful for them?

Paul tells the Philippians that he is rejoicing greatly because of the gift that they had sent to him. And the first and most natural thought when reading that is to think, “Well, of course he’s happy to receive a pile of money; who wouldn’t be?”

So Paul makes it clear immediately that it is not all about how this will impact his life with some sort of ability to live at ease. For Paul had truly learned to be content with any circumstance of life upon the entire spectrum of having more than enough, to even the extent of living with insufficient resources to even meet his daily needs. His life contentment was unconnected to his circumstances in this matter, even as his circumstances in prison had “turned out for the best” because it gave him a new and unique opportunity to preach the gospel.

He rejoiced because this matter of generous giving had become a pattern for the Philippians. On one previous occasion, they were the only church to support him in a certain endeavor. They had regularly given toward his ministry work on other occasions. This spoke well of them.

And Paul rejoiced for them because it demonstrated their heart and depth of faith. It was a sort of spiritual barometer. They had a concern for spiritual things that transcended their own physical needs. And by being generous, they were displaying a strong and genuine faith and trust in God. And for Paul, this underlying reality gave him far more joy than anything he gained or benefitted from them.

Paul could have this confidence and joy for them because he was convinced of a timeless spiritual reality – that one cannot “out-give” God. He says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”  By the world’s standards it is financial craziness to just determine to give away 10-20% of your total income. But as I have always said, “God is able to do more with 80-90% of what we possess than we are able to do with hanging onto 100% of it.”

So… give it all away!

Next Series

This ends our brief Philippians devotional series. I don’t even need to tell you to do anything special to be ready for our next series over the summer on the book of Psalms – “God’s Playlist.” You are already signed up! The actual series begins on June 8th.

The Appropriately Calibrated Mind – Philippians 4:4-9

It is really difficult to be from New Jersey! No, not just because there is this false notion that it is the armpit of America (because where I was from was totally gorgeous, as is much of the state people never see), nor because you are immediately teased about your non-existent accent. (OK, let me address that before I go on … now I’m riled up! Nobody from the Garden State says “New Joys-sey” – maybe folks from Brooklyn do, but not people from New “Jur-zee” – the proper pronunciation, as are all consonants and vowels from the vocalization of the people of this state!)

No, the reason it is difficult is because the in-your-face, say-anything-to-anyone culture causes you to grow up with the most creative zingers and one-liners to take down anyone in any verbal debate. Therefore, as a Christian from this place, it is difficult to apply today’s passage …

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Gentleness? Peacefulness? Nobility? Loveliness? Really? Oh boy. But what about assertiveness? What about my rights?

Actually, I had several great examples of this passage in my own family – in the form of my father, grandfather, and older brothers-in-law. My dad really embodied this passage. Though he would make a stand for truth and justice when the moment demanded it, his root personality and demeanor could be described by these verses. Among his favorite sayings were, “Just because someone treated me wrong doesn’t mean I should do the same to them,” and “If you don’t have anything good to say about someone, then don’t say anything at all.”  And then when one of the rest of us more creative talkers in the family would speak ill of someone, he’d simply say, “Hmm, that’s odd, he always spoke well of you!”

However, on the women’s side, the creative ability to rant and “take someone out with a verbal hit” worthy of a NJ crime family was a skill I found too easy to emulate. Though on the bottom line these women were committed to the biblical message of God’s truth, they found the gentleness and high-minded nobility of this passage difficult to apply.

They were not, and are not, the only Christians with this challenge. The older I get and the longer I do this “job” that I’ve done, I am amazed at the things too many Christians and church people will say to one another. It is almost as if the view is that, well, we’re all family and have to forgive each other, so I’m going to say what I really think or display what I really feel.

Paul encourages the Philippians to do some more “measuring up” – to state it in the terms of our current series.

He first tells them to essentially calibrate their joy. Note, this is not the same as happiness or pleasure in every circumstance. But it is a calibration of the attitude of the mind to come to a position that, in Christ, there is every reason to have a foundation of joy – knowing we belong to the Lord and our entire lives are in his hands.

A way to experience joy is to be gentle and caring towards all people … to have this attitude as a sort of core descriptor of your life.

Yet it remains a challenge to not fret and worry over circumstances. The mind is again calibrated by bringing all of this to the Lord in prayer. Since it is the very best thing that can be done, and if a person has done everything in terms of appropriate responsibility with a pressing situation, great peace can be found by leaving it with the Lord in prayer. Let God handle it, and with that in mind, an attitude of peace can prevail within.

Having emptied the mind of the concern by giving it to God in prayer, the mind can now be re-calibrated by thinking upon a list of items of great merit. The natural proclivity of the mind is to be negative – to think the worst of a situation or person. But by thinking the best and by genuinely desiring such an outcome in the lives of others, this leads us to be people like Christ – people who “jump in” to the lives of others or serve actively within the church family, rather than “jump out” by critically removing oneself to an aloof position or even another church where there are just better people.

It is a principle of life – when you look to find the people, situations, circumstances or places where you are best served by others, you are always going to be disappointed in a world of sinners and pre-glorified saints; but when you look to use the current situation, circumstance, or place to serve other people, the result is your own joy and peaceful pleasure that you have been a servant of Christ.

This sort of measuring up by re-calibrating the mind is enough to even make a native of New Jersey a gentle and joyful servant. The trick is to yield to the truth when the flesh is so very creative! And there may be some Maryland and Tri-State regional people who might benefit from this as well, as I’ve honestly met quite a few people who could by nature survive well in New Jersey … just sayin.’

Measuring Up Your Problems and Issues of Dispute – Philippians 4:1-3

Closing Appeal for Steadfastness and Unity

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

There is nothing more annoyingly distracting and irritating when you are a leader of something than to have mission-critical people within your organization at personal odds. This has been one of the great difficulties and challenges of my life as a leader in almost every endeavor within which I’ve become involved.

Earlier in this series I told you about a season of political leadership. A reason I dropped that involvement was due to certain frustrations I experienced in trying to be a conciliatory mediator between two factions. I tried to bring together two spokesmen of the varied viewpoints, and each told me they had no ground of commonality to even enter a dialogue with the other. Relative to the opposing Party, they actually had much in common; but their only focus was upon what they held as differences.

I have coached on a number of levels in youth and high school sports. There were times where I would have to get two warring parties or individuals together and get them to understand that their teammate was not their enemy. It wasn’t only with teenage girls, but it was sometimes the worst with them. It was not uncommon for a couple of girls to have an attitude toward one another over one of a host of mostly inconsequential things, and before long, each had a posse of followers that split the team into obvious factions. It could be seen even in the stretching time before practice – where the groups would be on opposite sides of the practice area in their own huddles. Before we could beat other teams, we had to get unified and beat the internal division that was so destructive.

A local church is much the same. Varied factions, tastes, and opinions are inevitable in any group of people – even those mutually redeemed by Jesus Christ. And such is destructive to the team.

Remember that the chapter divisions that we have in our Bible are not part of the original text. Philippians was simply a letter from beginning to end. And remember also that just before today’s passage in 4:1-3, Paul said in 3:13-14, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Hey – Is it just me as a running coach who sees in that passage where Paul is picturing a race with a reward at the end for finishing well and winning?  I know, I know … you all think I see running in everything. But consider our first verse today where Paul says that the Philippians are his “joy and crown.”  The word for “crown” is stephanos = the award given the victor in a race or contest. From that previous context, Paul is encouraging the Philippians to live in a way that copies the pattern of life that he and others had set before them – a life that was focused upon God and truth in the midst of a turbulent world and with the internal distractions of false teachers.

The Philippians needed to “stand firm.”  There were waves and currents seeking to sway their feet and movement into wrong directions. They were pressed hard from an antagonistic secular Roman world around them. And there were false teachers promoting error that sought to lead the church away into wrongful teachings and emphases. Hey, that sounds like our world! Actually, these problems of anti-Christian hostility and errant, self-absorbed false teachers are seen in every age and time. Don’t be swayed – stand firm with one mind.

And as if the people of the world and the false teachers were not / are not enough trouble, there is the internal issue of really fine people who start bickering with one another. In Philippi, where women were a part of the founding of the church and its subsequent leadership, two of them had some sort of well-known community squabble. And probably like my running team’s girls, each likely had their own posse in tow.

Paul takes the unusual route of calling them out by name! Imagine being there in the church gathering when this letter was being read. One can imagine each of them thinking to themselves about how their opponent and her friends had better be listening to what Paul had to say! And then, as the letter takes the final turn toward home, THEIR NAMES ARE READ OUT LOUD!

OK – catch something here that is not generally understood. These women – named Eudoia and Snythche – had their names singled out, not because they were a couple of high-maintenance drama queens. No, it was because they were outstanding people who had “contended” with Paul in some significant way in the work of the gospel. These were really, really fine women of character and value. And now, for some reason, they were not agreeing together on an issue unnamed … well, that was a set-up for disastrous results. Not only did it divide the church, it could bring shame and embarrassment upon it from those who looked in from the unbelieving world.

A nameless, but well-known individual was supposed to help these women get past this problem. The best guess is that this was Luke – who was known to have spent time in Philippi and who would fit Paul’s words here. All of these people, along with some fellow named Clement and a host of others, were dearly esteemed co-workers with Paul in the gospel ministry. They were valuable.

All of us who share the ministry of the gospel in the context of serving Christ in the local church need to get past issues that distract and divide. There is simply no time for it! Fix it! Move on! Drop your demands and expectations of your preferences being fulfilled. Get to work! There is no time for this foolishness on the church team.

Our theme in this series is “measuring up.”  Do that with your preference issue that divides you from another person. Measure that issue against the importance of the work of the gospel message in and through the church to the surrounding community. What is more important – the progress and health of that work, or you getting your preference fulfilled? Yep, you’ll have to give up something … so … measure that against what Christ gave up to make you a part of the church family.

How big is your issue now? You know the answer to that. Be of one mind. Stand firm – together. Under this roof. In this house.