The Heart of Giving
“What you do with [money], or desire to do with it,” writes John Piper, “can make or break your happiness forever.” It can make or break your happiness forever. Those are serious words.
Money and giving is a difficult subject to talk about, especially from the pulpit. Motives can be called into question; people can think you are only talking about it so the church can get more of it and therefore I will get more of it. But, thankfully, I don’t dictate what we talk about, for the most part, since we are simply going through the book of Philippians and Paul is the one that brought it up, not me.
So I pray that motives aren’t called into question, that no eyes roll, or ears close up. And since what we do with money can make or break our happiness forever, it is good we address it and not skip over it just because it can be a sensitive subject. And however you feel about giving: guilty, anxious, tight-fisted, fine up to a certain amount, maybe you don’t think about it at all until you see the offering plate, however you feel, I hope we will leave here this morning feeling liberated and free to give out of a heart of joy, rather than out of obligation, guilt and drudgery. I pray that we will see the heart behind giving and pursue that passionately and understand that
Giving that pleases God and that he blesses is the giving that comes from a worshipful heart.
1. Giving is hard, vs.14-16
I think it is important to start out by acknowledging the fact that giving is hard. There are those who have the spiritual gift of giving, but that is not the majority of us, I do not think that I have it. But even for those with the gift of giving, without being controlled by the Spirit, giving can still be difficult! It can be scary to give away money in your hand, in your account, money that you need, that you could easily spend on something important like bills, gas, home improvements, savings, the list is endless. And now I take that, what I have, what I worked for and earned, and I give it up, give it to someone else whether it be the church or someone in need or an organization, whatever. It is now gone from me and I don’t have the ability to use it for things I need because I am helping someone else with things they need. That is tough! That can cause some anxiety sometimes, especially when the bills are adding up and the money isn’t, especially when giving is done sacrificially, when I am not giving out of my abundance but out of my own need. When it comes right down to it, it doesn’t make sense to give, it’s counter-intuitive.
Which is why not everyone does it. And I am not talking about just today or just our church. This was the case in Paul’s day as well, as we see in verses 14-16. Paul relates some of the history of the partnership he has with the church at Philippi, how they have been working with him and giving to him from the beginning of his ministry. But he tells them that they are the exception; no other church was giving to him, helping him, supplying his needs. Just think about that for a moment. The great apostle Paul, who planted, nurtured, loved and cared for so many churches and only one of them supported him. Just one.
Why is that? I think because giving is hard! It is not our natural inclination. We want to gather in resources, not send them away. Typically what happens, and I am including myself here, we want to take care of ourselves first, and then if we can, we will help others with what is left over. And remember what is happening in Paul’s day. Increased persecution which included being ostracized from the socio-economic functions of the towns and cities in which these different churches were located. The people are hurting, they are struggling. They can’t find it within themselves to help Paul when they feel that they can’t even help themselves.
And in writing this, Paul is not trying to shame anyone into giving. Remember, he knows how to be content in any situation, whether having a lot or nothing. He doesn’t want their gifts. But he knows that while giving is hard, not giving is robbing ourselves of a chance to worship God and be blessed by him. While giving is hard, we are called to give because it expands and grows our hearts in Christ. That is what Paul is after for his friends at Philippi, not their money, not their gifts, not their stuff, but their growth in Christ. And he shows his readers this by explaining to them two important truths, the first is that giving is worship, as seen in verse 18.
2. Giving is worship, v.18
The Philippian Christians sent Paul gifts, things to help him physically. Remember, Paul is in prison, under house arrest. And while he is not in a dank, dark dungeon, he was probably not getting three square meals a day with a clean change of clothes daily provided to him at the tax payers expense. So, the church at Philippi sent help to keep him going physically; to ease his burden and for that he is thankful. And then he says that their gift is a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. This is an interesting statement, and one that is really foundational to a proper understanding of giving, so please don’t miss this.
Paul is using here Old Testament language regarding the sacrificial system. In the Law given to the nation of Israel through Moses, the people were given very clear directions on how they were to worship God. One of the ways, of course, was through animal sacrifice, and some of the sacrifices were burned on the altar, known as a burnt offering. When this was done, God says that it was a pleasing aroma to him. And Paul uses that same language in verse 18 to describe the giving of the Philippians. He is equating their giving with the worship of God as laid out in the Old Testament. Why is that important?
First, in thinking about the Old Testament sacrifices, what happened to them throughout the history of Israel? They started out as a fragrant aroma to God, something pleasing to him but over time they turned into what? An abomination, something God hated, detested, closed himself off to. Why? Because the hearts of the people were not right before him. They were still giving the same sacrifices, they were following the law, but they were just going through the motions, thinking that they could live however they wanted and then go and make these sacrifices and everything would be ok. Their action, their ritualistic following through of the commands would be enough, it’s the same thing, they thought.
But the point of the sacrificial system was not the act in and of itself. The point of the commands for the burnt offerings and all of the other sacrifices were about what they pointed to, what it meant, what they were to be doing while they brought their sacrifices. These were to be acts of worship. The offerings were to be times of reflection, humility, contrite and worshipful hearts. But the people took the law, followed it by the letter and ignored the point, ignored their hearts.
They were no longer worshiping God through these acts, they did not give him the honor due his name while they did these sacrifices and instead of being a pleasing aroma to him, instead of these offerings being accepted and loved by God, they were rejected and despised by him.
There is a proper heart by which God is worshipped. It is not just the ritual, it is not just the motions, it is not following the commands alone, it is about the heart. It has always been about the heart. God commands worship of him to be done in specific ways, yes. We can’t ignore his explicit commands. But the following through with the commands, are meant to be done with the proper heart behind the actions and that is what makes it worship.
A heart that seeks to honor God, to give him the glory due his name, that humbly comes before him and under him, that desires to know him more through the act of worship, a heart that is contrite, broken, desperate for him. A heart that trusts him with everything we have and longs for him to use all of us for his glory. That is a heart of worship, that is what God is after in all forms of worship, not the action alone, not the ritual, but the heart.
So, for Paul to equate Old Testament worship and giving means that there is a proper heart by which we are to give. It means that giving is an act of worship and that we are to be worshipping God in our hearts through our giving or else we are just going through the motions. There is a way in which we can give that is a fragrant, pleasing aroma to God. There is a heart attitude in which we give that God loves, that he enjoys and accepts. And, just like in the Old Testament, there is a heart that gives, still goes through the action and the motions, but that God rejects because it is not true worship, it is not the proper heart before him.
God wants us to see giving as an opportunity to worship him, to put ourselves humbly at his feet, to trust him, to praise him, to know him more through it, and to express our hearts for him as we give. Giving is so much more than just throwing some money in the plate or sending it to a missionary; it is worship of God himself.
And notice, at the end of verse 18, those two little words, “to God.” Paul is talking about the Philippians gifts to Paul, right? They gave gifts, physical things like money, and probably food and clothing, to Paul. But Paul says they really gave those things to God. Giving is ultimately to God, not to the church, not to missionaries, not to people in need. Giving is to God through these other means.
So, the proper heart to give looks through the means and up to God. We say, I am giving here but this is ultimately and truly to you God because you are worthy or worship. I am giving to bless you, to give you a pleasing sacrifice, to give you glory, not because you need me or my gifts, but because I love you and I want to worship you.
This raises the stakes a bit, doesn’t it? Not on the dollar amount, but on the way in which we think about giving. That’s the point, that’s what Paul is showing us here. Have you ever wondered why the New Testament doesn’t give a percentage amount for tithing like the Old Testament did? In ancient Israel, God commanded the people to tithe 10% of all they had to care for different needs. But the New Testament doesn’t explicitly carry that command over. Why is that? I think one of the main reasons is that since we are now under grace and not the law, we see more clearly that it is about the heart and not the act in and of itself. Giving is still required of us, but if the amount was still commanded, if the percentage was explicit, let’s be honest, we would probably abuse it just like the ancient Israelites did. And instead of thinking about the worship, we would focus on the gift. We would lose sight of who we are giving to, and look instead at the percentage, the amount, and robotically carry it out, thinking we are being obedient, just like the Old Testament sacrifices, when in fact our hearts are not behind it.
What we are meant to see is that God is not after the amount, but our hearts. A right heart is what he is pleased with, not the worth of the gift, but a worshipping heart that sees his worth and is joyfully willing to worship him in all things, even in sacrificing our material possessions for the sake of others to him.
3. Giving is blessed, vs. 17-23
And when we see giving as worship, we will also find that giving is blessed. Now, I have to say clearly here that in these verses and what I will say about them can be easily warped into false teaching. Those that hold to the heretical health, wealth and prosperity gospel love verse 19, at least the first half of it. They teach that if you give you will get. You want more money? Simply give me money and God will give you back ten-fold. If you give material things, God will give you more material things. The motivation to give is so that I can live abundantly, I can get more money and more material things. And one of the many problems with that teaching is that it takes a partial truth and takes it too far, into literal heresy and a false gospel.
I do believe Paul says here, and Jesus said in the Gospels and other New Testament writers echo the same teaching that giving is blessed. God blesses someone who gives with the right heart. But what does that actually mean? Please try to follow along closely and please don’t misunderstand. This is not prosperity preaching.
First, look with me at verse 17. Paul says he is thankful the Philippians gave to him, not for the gift itself, but for what they get out of it, the fruit that comes from the gift to their credit. He says, you gave worshipfully, out of a right heart to God through me. And because of that, there will be fruit. And then he takes it a step further, verse 19: because you gave in this way, God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
He wants them to see that giving is blessed, giving is actually gain. And I think there are two ways that we are told giving is gain: physically and spiritually.
First, giving is physical gain. When we give out of a heart of worship, God will supply all of our needs as he sees fit. Let me say that again, when we give out of a heart of worship, God will supply all of our needs as he sees fit. Notice some key things here. We have to give out of a proper heart. Not just going through the motions. But giving as an act of true worship. Remember, God is not fooled simply by the motions, the action, following the letter of the law. True worship is following the prescribed action with the proper heart.
And then God will respond by supplying all of our needs as he sees fit. Not as we see fit, not as we define need, not so we can live abundantly or extravagantly. Not so I can get rich. It is from his riches, based on his will, his sovereignty, his good heart that determines how he will supply for us. Maybe it will be a lot or maybe a little. There may be seasons or a lifetime of need, there may be seasons or a lifetime of plenty or anything in between. We are not promised one or the other but we are promised God will supply as he sees fit, as he determines what is good in his perfect timing, from his fatherly care over us.
There is physical gain in giving with the proper heart. Not gain to an abundant, fancy life, not for the purpose of living extravagantly like the TV preachers and their false gospel. But there is gain; we are supplied by God again and again. And he does this so that we can continue to give. As we give out of a heart of worship, out of a heart that trusts him and his loving care, and we see him supply for our needs, we grow more and more confident to continue to give. We experience his provision and he shows us we can trust him as we open ourselves up to him in faith and worship through our giving. We give to gain so we can give again! Just as we give to God through other means, God gives to us and to otherd through us, by his giving.
And all of this is so that we can have more opportunities to worship God through our giving, so that we can grow in our experiential knowledge of God and learn to trust him more deeply as we give and he supplies over and over again.
Giving is blessed physically, that is a promise.
And on top of that, there is spiritual blessing and gain in giving, which is even greater than the physical. Physical things, while good, necessary and helpful in this life are not eternal so they are of lesser value. The greater gain, the greater riches, are found in the spiritual which have benefit now, in this life, and for eternity.
Spiritual gain is mentioned by Paul in verse 17, where he said the Philippians gift, their giving, will bear fruit. Our giving to God out of a heart of worship will bear fruit according to God’s will. It will be used by God; it will be blessed by him to further his kingdom. And notice how that happened for the Philippians in verse 22. Again, remembering what is happening: Paul is under house arrest, guarded 24 hours a day by Roman soldiers. The Philippians give him physical supplies to keep him healthy and supplied, so he can continue his ministry even under less than ideal conditions. The result being that some of those soldiers who were guarding him, came to Christ. Paul was able to share the Gospel with them, to pour into their lives, and this happened, in part, because of the Philippians giving.
Their giving bore fruit; the kingdom of God increased in an amazing way. The very household of Caesar was reached by the Gospel. Their giving from a right heart, their gifts to God through Paul were used by God and souls were saved. What a blessing! And only the Philippians could claim that fruit, right? No other churches could say they partnered in Paul’s ministry to see that glorious work of God in the lives of Caesar’s household. The other churches did not give for whatever reason, whether out of fear or not-caring, whatever it may have been, they did not give so they missed out on that blessing, on that gain, on being a part of dead sinners being raised to life and brought into the kingdom of God! What a tragedy, a missed opportunity, a lost gain!
Giving is spiritual gain that bears fruit with eternal blessings.
ii. knowing Christ
And giving is spiritual gain because it helps us to know Christ more. I think verse 19 is interesting. Paul could have said, “God will supply all your needs according to his riches.” That would have been a true statement through and through. But that would be limiting the meaning of his supplying to physical needs. The ending of that verse, however, expands it infinitely. While physical needs are included, as we discussed, it also means that through our giving God will increase our personal knowledge of, relationship to and closeness with Christ.
When we have a heart that is willing to give and to sacrifice to God for the sake of his kingdom, we will grow in experiencing the riches in glory in Christ Jesus. The more we depend upon him and not ourselves, not our wealth, not the world, the more closely we will walk with him.
The more we are content in him and not in our bank accounts, our wallets, our material possessions, the more we will find we are satisfied in Christ and we will come to see the riches of knowing him as far greater than the riches of this world.
We will continually grow in seeing money and possessions as tools not for our own abundance, but as tools for worship, as means for kingdom building. Not our kingdom, but God’s. Not to use on ourselves, but on those who have never heard the good news of the riches found in Jesus Christ.
You see, we give, we sacrifice, we worship God through giving what is lesser, which is our material wealth and possessions, and we gain what is greater. We gain eternal treasures in Christ and the fruit that he grows for his glory and our blessing. We give up our lesser riches, to gain his greater riches.
By giving, we entrust our lesser ability to supply for ourselves and for others, to the greater supplier, the all-sufficient one. We give from our lesser hands, into the greater hands that spill over into riches in glory forevermore.
God can and will do wonderful things when we have willing, dedicated, sacrificial, worshipful, Christ exalting hearts in our giving. Let’s not let fear, financial uncertainty, greed or anything else hinder us from worshipping God with a pleasing offering to him. Let’s not miss out on the opportunity to see God move in a mighty way for the advancement and growth of his kingdom.
Instead, let’s give him worship, not just through our giving, but through everything Philippians has talked about. Let’s worship God with Christ exalting hearts through our fellowship, through our unity, our service, our evangelism, our teaching, our prayers, our encouragement, our words, and our giving. So that we can gain the abundant grace of our Lord Jesus Christ displayed in us for all the world to see.