God’s Promise to You
January 10, 1999
With this sermon we come to the end of our series from the book of Philippians. I have mentioned several times that this book is essentially a thank-you note from the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi. He is writing to thank them for the gift they sent when they heard he was a prisoner in Rome. The final paragraph of his letter contains a direct statement about the gift he had received from them. A careful study of his words reveals some wonderful truths about Christian giving.
That’s an appropriate subject for the second Sunday of 1999 because we have just wrapped up the greatest year of giving in the history of our church. We ended up approximately $65,000 over budget—which has never happened before. We also received the largest bequest in the church’s history, and by the grace of God, our largest Christmas missionary offering. I could add to that your generous giving to the Russia Relief Fund, to the Benevolence Fund, and to the Christmas offering for the staff. In every way it was a remarkable year—made so in part because it was unplanned and completely unexpected. I attribute it solely to the grace of God at work in the hearts of his people. As our text says in verse 20: To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Since our text is about Christian giving, that’s what this sermon is about. But instead of being a sermon occasioned by a financial crisis, this is a sermon to a congregation that has proved itself generous. With that background, let us seek to hear what God is saying to us.
I. A Gift Given 14-16
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 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; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need (14-16).
This is the story of a church that cared. When Paul first visited Philippi (some ten years earlier), he had planted a church there amid enormous spiritual opposition. He and Silas ended up being beaten, arrested, thrown in jail, placed in chains, and then were miraculously delivered by a midnight earthquake. The next day they were escorted out of town by the authorities to avoid further disturbance (Acts 16:11-40 tells the story in vivid detail). Evidently these new Christians never forgot what it cost Paul and Silas to bring the gospel to their city. When Paul traveled on to Thessalonica and later to Berea, Athens and Corinth, they sent him gifts time and again.
We know that Paul kept good records of their gifts because he uses accounting terminology when he mentions the matter of “giving and receiving.” In Paul’s mind, Christian ministry was a two-way street. He preached the gospel—which benefited those who heard the message. As the hearers supported him financially, he received a blessing from them.
I take from that an important principle of Christian giving. You should give where you are blessed because when you do, you will receive a blessing. That’s the background of the famous statement in Malachi 3:10, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” The temple in Jerusalem contains certain rooms where the grain given by the people (in payment of their tithes) was stored. The priests received an allotment of that grain—which freed them up to minister directly to the people. The poor were also given food from those same storage rooms. When the people of Israel failed to tithe, the priests were not paid and had to begin farming. This meant that the religious life of the nation was hindered and the poor were not cared for. Ironically, by failing to tithe, the Israelites were ultimately hurting themselves.
Giving where you are blessed is an enormously important guideline to remember. Are you blessed by your church? Then give there. Are you blessed by a radio or TV ministry? Then give there. Are you blessed by the work of a missionary in a distant land? Then give to help that missionary. Do you see important things being done by an inner-city ministry? Then write a check to help them out. Do you believe that a certain Christian college or Bible institute is doing something worthwhile to train the next generation of Christian leaders? If you do, then let your support be seen in a visible way.
Just to make it perfectly clear, we do not believe that all your giving should be done through Calvary Memorial Church. We know that a large part of your giving comes through our church—and that’s fine. But we also encourage you to give to worthy causes apart from this church as the Holy Spirit directs you.
Give and Be Blessed
Give where you are blessed…and you will receive a blessing. This is nothing more than what Jesus said in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Sometimes I think we read this verse and don’t take it as literal truth. When Jesus said, “It will be given to you,” he based that promise on the truth of who God is. He is a generous, benevolent God who loves to give good things to his children. Because it is in his nature to give, he will always give more to us than we will to him. This to me is the First Law of Christian Giving: You can’t out-give God.
In the end this is the great motivation for Christian giving. We give because we have received. God gives to us…and then as we are blessed, we give to others…and as a result we receive a blessing…which causes us to keep on giving. While I believe that giving is a matter of obedience, it should never deteriorate to the level of guilt-ridden duty. God never intended for you to grunt and groan as you put money in the offering plate. God loves a cheerful giver—and rewards those who give because they want to.
Yesterday we had the memorial service for Dr. Gus Hemwall who died in November at the age of 90. Almost 300 people gathered from many places to pay tribute to this noted physician, humanitarian, and supporter of God’s work around the world. In his own quiet way, he lent his support to a multitude of Christian organizations and to missionaries in many countries. About seven years ago I preached on tithing for the first time at Calvary. Afterwards he came up and told me that he and Helen had learned to tithe back in the early 30s under the ministry of Dr. Billy McCarrell, pastor of Cicero Bible Church. “I am so glad I learned it back then. I’ve been tithing ever since and God has always taken care of us.” It was pointed out yesterday by several speakers that he was a frugal man who lived beneath his means, which meant he had money to give to support God’s work and God’s workers around the world. He’s been in heaven now since November 22. I wonder if he regrets any of his giving. I wonder if he wishes he had that money back. I don’t think so.
Make sure you get this principle: Give where you are blessed…and you will receive a blessing.
II. A Gift Received 17-18
Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 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 (17-18).
Paul here reveals the greatness of his heart. He wants them to know that while he appreciates their gift, he wasn’t depending on it. Because he had learned the secret of contentment, he was willing to live with a little or with a lot. He had done both and would do both again. This is quite different from many fund-raising letters that cross my desk. Far too many of them are crisis-oriented in a negative sense. “We’re in trouble and we need your help to survive. If we don’t hear from you in the next ten days (or two weeks, or whatever), we’ll have to close our doors.” While that may be true from a human point of view, it’s not the approach the Apostle Paul took when he made his appeals. Some Christian organizations may serve the Kingdom best by going out of existence. I know that’s a hard thing to say, but not every group or ministry necessarily needs to keep on going year after year. Some do, but others having served their purpose, would be better off closing their doors or merging with another ministry.
Paul was glad the Philippians gave because of what it did for them. Every gift was an investment in their heavenly bank account. Jesus mentioned the same thing when he talked about laying up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). I’m sure many of you have heard the Ray Boltz song that goes like this: “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 the angels singing / Then someone called your name. / We turned and saw a young man running / 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 am here today.’ / 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.”
That song has been enormously popular ever since it was released ten years ago because it vividly pictures an important truth. When we give to God’s work, we are touching lives for eternity. We don’t see it now, but someday we’ll stand before the Lord and see people in heaven because we gave. For many years I’ve heard that preached—in fact, I’ve preached it myself—but I don’t know that it ever sunk in until our recent trip to Nigeria. On our first Sunday in Jos, I preached at the Bishara #3 English Church to a lively and enthusiastic crowd of 800-1000 people. Before I got up to preach, they asked the children’s choir to come forward. A group of perhaps 12 or 15 African children walked to the front in rhythm, snapping their fingers as they came. With no instruments behind them, they sang that Ray Boltz song “Thank You.” This time the Lord gave me ears to hear it in a new way. Those African children singing in a church on the other side of the world—they were the ones Ray Boltz was talking about. I was seeing with my own eyes children going to heaven from the mission field because someone cared, someone gave, someone went, and someone preached the gospel.
That’s what our giving does. When we invest in God’s work, he keeps a record—and he credits our account. He doesn’t just keep track of what we give, but of the good that is done with our money and the lives that are touched through our gifts.
Paul uses a beautiful picture to explain how God views our giving. It is like a fragrant offering, an aroma that reaches up to heaven, a sacrifice that pleases the Lord. There is a wonderful symmetry is all this: When we give, God is pleased, lives are changed, and we are blessed. In management terms, generous giving is a win-win proposition.
III. A Gift Rewarded 19-20
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen (19-20).
Verse 19 contains a famous promise. James Montgomery Boice says that this may be the greatest promise in all the Bible because it contains within it every other promise. There are three parts to this promise:
First, there is the source of the promise. “And my God.” This is an unusual expression because Paul could easily have said “And God will meet all your needs.” But when he says “my God” he is making it exceedingly personal. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is “my God.” The God who raised up Moses is “my God.” The God who led Joshua around the walls of Jericho is “my God.” The God who enabled David to defeat Goliath is “my God.” The God of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and all of the prophets is “my God.” The God of the Virgin Birth is “my God.” The God who raised Jesus from the dead is “my God.” The God of the apostles is “my God.” In short, when Paul says “my God,” he wants us to remember that the same God who worked all the mighty miracles in the Bible is the same God who makes this amazing promise.
Second, there is the statement of the promise. “Will meet all your needs.” The most important word is the little word “all.” Whatever you truly need, God has promised to supply. Do you need forgiveness? He will abundantly pardon. Do you need more grace? His grace is sufficient for you. Do you need hope? He is the God of hope. Are you tired and about to give up? He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Are you confused about the future? In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. Do you need a miracle? Nothing is impossible with God. Are you worried about what may happen? Fear not, says the Lord, for I am with you always. Do you need salvation? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. This promise is as comprehensive as the needs of your life. And you may claim it at any time.
Third, there is the sufficiency of the promise. “According to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” This is God’s way of saying, “You can always come back for a second helping. There’s plenty more where that came from.” Do you ever worry that you might be asking too much from the Lord? It is not possible to do that. We are like children with a plastic pail trying to drain the Atlantic Ocean. After we have done our best, the ocean is still there, untouched by our efforts. So it is with God. He will supply what we need not according to our resources—which are limited and finite—but according to his riches in Christ—which are unlimited and infinite. In this promise we come to an ocean without a bottom or shore.
How Harry Ironside Learned This Truth
Lest we misunderstand, Philippians 4:19 is a promise that God will supply all our needs. But that doesn’t mean our prayers will always be answered the way we would like. Often we don’t really know what we need. In the early days of his ministry Harry Ironside went to preach for two weeks in Fresno, California. As was often his custom, he didn’t ask for any financial guarantees but simply went on faith that God would supply. For some reason things didn’t work out and in the middle of his meetings, he ran out of money. Hungry and broke, he was forced to leave his hotel room and put his bag in a drugstore until he found a place to stay. By his own testimony, he thought about the words of Philippians 4:19 and got angry with the Lord. “You promised to supply my needs. Why don’t you do it?” That night as he rested under a tree in front of the courthouse, the Lord spoke to him about areas in his life that had become sloppy. He confessed his sins and asked God for the strength to make a new start. The very next day things began to turn around. People came to the meetings, friends invited him for meals, and he never again lacked a place to stay. When the meetings were finished, he went to the post office and was surprised to find a letter from his father. In the P.S. his father said that he had been meditating on Philippians 4:19, “And my God shall supply all your needs.” He added these words, “The Lord has promised to give me whatever I need, and if I ever need a starving, I’m sure he’ll give that to me too.” The Lord spoke to Harry Ironside and said, “That was for you.” In that moment he realized that his greatest need had been to go without food and a place to stay so that he would turn his heart back to the Lord.
This is the true meaning of Philippians 4:19. It is not a blank check that guarantees an easy road or an answer to all our prayers. But it does guarantee that our God will supply whatever we need when we need it. Sometimes that means miracles and sometimes that means a visit to the desert. But whatever it is we truly need to make us what God intended us to be, he will supply that for us. Every time. All the time.
One final point and I am done. This verse has a very specific application in its immediate context. Sometimes we fear to give because we think we’ll go broke if we do. That’s a legitimate concern if we are running the show. After all, who can afford to give when you’ve got mortgage payments, school bills, credit card debts, alimony, child support, and the rest of the monthly expenses? The answer is, you can’t if it depends on you. You’ll never have enough money to give if you wait until you have enough money. But this verse is God’s promise to generous givers. When you give to support God’s work, he promises to meet your needs. You may not get rich by giving to support the Lord’s work, but I’ll bet you’ll get rich quicker by giving it away than you will by hoarding your possessions and keeping it all to yourself. My friend Howard Harvey says it this way: “God shovels it in, and I shovel it out. And he’s got a bigger shovel than I do.” Just remember that God pays off in many ways—and money is generally the least important of his blessings.
How should we apply this message? Two things come to mind. First, let us give because we have a great God. Second, let us pray to that great God in the confidence that he will meet our needs. If we give, we will be blessed. If we pray, our needs will be met. If we dare to do what God has asked, he will do for us more than we have dared to dream.