Sacrificial Giving Smells Good to God: A Biblical Perspective on Money (3)July 2, 2014
We’ve been looking at Philippians 4:10-20 and Paul’s perspective on money. I’ve made three comments thus far and will bring this to a close today with my final two observations. Continue reading . . .
We’ve been looking at Philippians 4:10-20 and Paul’s perspective on money. I’ve made three comments thus far and will bring this to a close today with my final two observations. But first let’s read the text again.
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
(4) My fourth observation comes when Paul shifts his metaphors in v. 18. Before this he has used the terminology of banking and business, but now he employs the language of OT ritual sacrifice and the priesthood. And what he says in doing so is nothing short of shocking.
Most of you probably think of money as just that, money. It’s nothing more than a medium of exchange, a way of purchasing what you want. It hardly suggests anything spiritual in nature. But Paul begs to differ. When Christians give generously and sacrificially to the work of ministry their gift is nothing less than “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (v. 18).
During the time of the OT, God was portrayed as delighting in the smell of the sacrifices offered by Israel. When an offering was made it was to be burned on the altar, the smoke of which would rise to heaven as a pleasing aroma to God (see Exod. 29:18, 25, 41). My favorite smells growing up were those of fried pork chops on Saturday night, and the fragrance of freshly cut grass on a baseball field, and the mint from our back yard.
Paul wants you to picture God looking upon our offering boxes as you walk by, dropping in your contribution: “Sniff, sniff. Mmmm. I caught a whiff of that! Whew! Sweet!” Generous, sacrificial giving by Christians smells good to God! Reluctance to give, or even outright refusal to do so, also smells to God, but I won’t explain precisely how. I’ll leave it to your imagination.
But there’s more. He goes on to describe their financial gift as a “sacrifice” that is “acceptable and pleasing” to God (v. 18b). Just as in the OT Levitical sacrifices, where God was “satisfied” and “pleased” by the offerings of the people, so too his heart is warmed and filled with joy at the generosity of his people today.
How else can it be said? There is nothing mundane or merely material in sacrificial giving to the cause of Christ. It may not feel special to you (although it should). It may not smell good to you. But as we see in 3 John, God says it is a “faithful” thing, a “beautiful” thing, an expression of “love,” as he also now here in Philippians 4 says it is a sweet-smelling aroma that makes God happy.
Dear friend, if knowing the effect on God of your generosity, not to mention knowing the immeasurable sacrifice Christ made to save you from eternal damnation, and you are still not stirred to regular and sacrifical giving, nothing else I can say will make a difference. You are the one who stands to lose the “fruit” that would otherwise abound to your account.
“But Sam, I’m so afraid of poverty. I’m terrified that if I give I won’t have enough to get by.” I know the fear you’re describing. Almost everyone does. And Paul knew it too. That’s why he says what he does in v. 19, which leads me to my final point.
(5) Paul deliberately repeats in v. 19 two words used in the previous verses. In v. 18 he said “I am well supplied.” Now in v. 19 he declares that God shall “supply” every need. Same word. Again, in v. 16 he referred to his “needs” being met by their gift. Now in v. 19 it is God who will supply every “need” of the Philippians, and every need of yours and mine.
I think Paul is telling us two things by this. He first wants us to understand that if we find in our hearts the desire to give, he will more than amply supply the resources to do it. You’ve heard the old saying, “You can’t out give God.” That’s his point. You can’t give beyond God’s ability to provide you with what is needed. He also wants us to know that the “every need” you and I have is also spiritual and emotional in nature. He’s talking not only about financial supply but also the strength and endurance and hope necessary to persevere in the face of hardship.
“But Sam, are you sure God really has enough to go around?” Well, let’s listen to what Paul says. He declares that God will supply us “according to his riches” in Christ Jesus. If I may be allowed to render this as I think Paul intended: “God will gloriously supply every need of yours in proportion to his eternal and infinite riches in Jesus Christ.” He doesn’t give “out of” his riches, as when a millionaire donates $100 to a local charity. No, he gives “according to” his wealth, which is to say, on a scale befitting his wealth, in a manner that reflects how infinitely wealthy God is.
Simply put, all our needs combined cannot even begin to plumb the depths of God’s infinite resources to meet them.
Let me close with this one final point.
This assurance of God’s faithful supply is no justification for being lazy or disregarding God’s commands to be generous. Yes, God was taking care of Paul’s every need, and he will take care of ours. But how did he do it? He supplied Paul’s every need through the obedient, diligent, responsible, active, loving financial generosity provided by the Philippians! God uses people. He employs means. He doesn’t drop cash or coin from heaven. He uses us! Consider the privilege.