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A Gift for the One Who Has Everything

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts          February 8 , 2004

Preached at Irvine Presbyterian Church

Copyright © 2004 by Mark D. Roberts

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Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:15-23

     15 You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone.   16 For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once.   17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account.   18 I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.   19 And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.   20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

     21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The friends who are with me greet you.   22 All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor's household.

     23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

A Gift for the One Who Has Everything

     Every year at Christmas a bunch of my old friends and I do a gift exchange. Months earlier we draw a name of one person so we can focus all of our gift-giving energy in his or her direction.

     Two years ago I drew Charlie's name. As soon as I saw it, I knew my goose was cooked. Charlie loves music, but he owns thousands of recordings. I'd never risk giving him a CD because odds are he already owns it. Charlie also loves Hawaiian shirts, but his collection is prodigious. It would be almost impossible to give Charlie a shirt that isn't just like one he already has. And so it goes with rest of potential gifts for Charlie. Though he isn't quite the man who has everything, if he likes something, he seems to have almost everything in that genre.

     You can imagine how thrilled I was when, as I was walking through Barnes & Noble, I spied what seemed to be the perfect present for Charlie: a pictorial history of Hawaiian shirts. Snatching up the book, I hoped and prayed that Charlie didn't already own it. My gamble paid off. When he unwrapped the book, Charlie was delighted. And, no, he did not have it already!

     It's tough to give a gift to someone who has everything. I'm sure many of you go through a trauma like mine with Charlie as you try to come up with just the right gift for your spouse, or your boss, or your rich uncle.

     I wonder if the Philippians felt any of this trauma when trying to give gifts to the Apostle Paul for his ministry. After all, he's the one who, when thanking the Philippians for their financial support, said "Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be [self-sufficient] with whatever I have" (Phil 4:11). Moreover, Paul's the one who confessed "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). And then in today's passage, he said, "You sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift . . . ." (Phil 4:16-17). So how do you give anything to one who is self-sufficient, who can do all things without your help, and who doesn't seek a gift? It's not easy to give to the man who has everything, is it?

     But let's up the ante a bit. Suppose you want to give a special gift to God, something to express your love or gratitude. What can you give that God doesn't already have? After all, he is the one who said through the prophet Haggai, "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine" (2:8). And through the prophet Isaiah he added, "Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; . . . All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine" (66:1-2). Talk about someone who literally has everything! Does this mean all of our efforts to give to God are empty? Can we give anything that will be truly pleasing to the One who owns everything in all creation?

     Philippians 4:15-20 answers this question. But before we discover how we might give something to God himself, first we'll learn how we ourselves profit through giving. So let's turn now to the text.

The Profit That Comes When We Give Away Our Money

     Philippians 4:15-20 begins with Paul's acknowledgement of the Philippians' financial participation in his ministry. He uses the language of a business partnership when he says "no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone" (4:15). The Philippians and Paul had a unique joint venture, in which the believers in Philippi helped to meet Paul's material needs on several occasions (4:16).

     Yet even as Paul received Philippian philanthropy, the Philippians themselves gained. In a curious turn of phrase, the Apostle explains, "Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit the accumulates to your account" (4:17). In other words, even though Paul received the material profit, the Philippians also profited through the very act of giving.

     I want to pause for a moment and ask what the Philippians gained through handing over some of their money to Paul. But first I want to note what they did not gain. They didn't gain financial prosperity, at least as far as we know. In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul speaks of the Philippians as experiencing "extreme poverty" (2 Cor 8:2). And, though 2 Corinthians was written several years before Philippians, nothing in Philippians suggests that the congregation had become wealthy. Rather, their giving was truly sacrificial. Because they gave, they had even less money than they would have had if they had been stingy.

     So if they didn't gain financial blessing, what was the profit that accrued to the Philippians' account by supporting Paul financially? Once again, 2 Corinthians 8 supplies a couple of clues. There we discover that the Philippians were eager to participate in Paul's ministry of benevolence for the Christians in Jerusalem. What motivated this eagerness was their solid commitment to God and their abundant joy even in hard times (2 Cor 8: 2, 5). No doubt the Philippians' joy increased as they gave, knowing that their money was underwriting a worthy cause, and that they were participating in God's work in the world. So joy was part of the Philippians' profit.

     Many of us understand this joy from our own experience. As we have freely given of our hard-earned money to the work of this church, or through this church to our mission partners, we have rejoiced in the knowledge that we are investing in the work of God's kingdom. Through our financial sacrifices, we have built a marvelous sanctuary for God's glory. We have helped hundreds of children in this church family to become disciples of Jesus Christ. We have reached out to teenagers in our community. We have helped provide a home for orphans in China. We have built more than a dozen homes for families in Mexico. We have touched the lives of people in South Africa, Indonesia, and Romania, not to mention many other nations throughout the world. And so on, and so on. As we think of what God has done with our financial gifts, we rejoice just like the Philippians. Joyful profit is added to our emotional account.

     There is yet another "profit" that accrues when we give away our money to God's work. Money, as I'm sure you know, holds the soul of our culture in a powerful death-grip. We can't live in the United States, let alone in South Orange County, without feeling the magnetic lure of materialism. It's not that we love money per se. But we love what money buys: great stuff, entertainment, space, freedom, status, and security. For many of us, that love becomes a virtual obsession. We live in bondage to the demon Jesus calls Mammon.

     But giving sets us free. Jacques Ellul, in his marvelous book Money and Power, explains that giving breaks the power of Mammon over us. When we give away our money, we deny its power and experience new freedom. Again, I know many of us have experienced this liberation. As we have struggled with giving away our money, we have found that the choice to give out of obedience to God often leads to the feeling of freedom. Even if we give simply because we know we should, the very act of giving breaks the chains of Mammon that bind our heart. Through the act of giving we discover freedom and joy. Thus, as Paul says, through our generosity "profit accumulates to our own account."

Giving to the God Who Has Everything

     As we continue on in Philippians 4, we read: "I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God" (4:18). Notice how Paul describes the financial gift he received from the Philippians: "a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God."

     Here he draws liberally from Old Testament language for literal sacrifices offered to God. The phrase "fragrant offering" appears forty-nine times in the Greek Old Testament, where it describes burnt offerings that give delight to the Lord (for example, Gen 8:21). Similarly, there is a pervasive concern in the Old Testament that sacrifices be "acceptable" and "pleasing to God" (for example, Lev 22:21). An offering is acceptable to God if it is given according to God's instructions. Yet a life of disobedience can lead the Lord to reject an offering even if it is presented in literal fulfillment of the Law (Malachi 2:13-16).

     Paul appropriates the language of God-pleasing sacrifices to describe the Philippians' financial support of his ministry. Though their gifts are intended for Paul's use, at a deeper level they are gifts for God himself. And these gifts are both acceptable to God and pleasing to him. To put the matter bluntly: our financial support of God's ministers gives pleasure to God. God receives our gifts as if they were especially for him.

       What can you give to the God who owns everything? You can give that which God does not have unless you give it: your obedience, your faithfulness, your generosity, your love. And as you give these things, God is pleased.

     Of course we can please the Lord in other ways as well: through genuine worship, through obedience to his Word, and through living out our salvation each day. Remember a passage from Philippians 2 that we studied several weeks ago: "[W]ork out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). Did you catch that? God is at work in you right now, so that you will live "for his good pleasure"! What pleases God is not just our financial giving, but our wholes lives when they are lived for him and his glory.

     For many of us, the financial realm is one of the toughest areas in which to glorify God. In principle we'd like to give pleasure to God through our giving, but in fact we struggle to part with our money. If this describes you, take heart. According to Philippians 2:13, God is a work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. This includes the matter of your financial generosity. So if you struggle to give faithfully and generously, seek the Lord's help. Ask him to open your heart so that you might open your wallet.

The Promise of God's Generosity to Us

     As Paul wraps us his thank-you note to the Philippians, he adds yet another thought about giving: "And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen." (4:19).

     Now here's magnificent promise. God himself will "fully satisfy" (the Greek verb means "fill up") every one of our needs. Yes, I'm sure you noticed that God won't necessarily fulfill all of our wants. But what we truly need, God will supply.

     Yet God's gifts to us aren't measured out in teaspoons. Rather they're poured lavishly upon us. God gives "according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." The New Living Translation rightly renders the sense of this language: God "will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus" (4:19, NLT). Therefore, if you want to envision God's generosity to us, you need to look no further than Jesus Christ. In another marvelous text from Philippians 2, Jesus, though sharing in God's own nature, empties himself and becomes human for our sake, even dying for us on the cross. This is the ultimate gift, the greatest gift of all. Yet this is not the end of God's gifts to us, but just the beginning.

Real Life: In Christ . . . for God's Glory

     With this sermon we conclude our series, which I entitled "Real Life." At the very beginning of the series I asked the question: How can we really live? How can we experience life in all of its fullness?

     Time and again throughout this series we've seen that real life is to be found in Jesus Christ. As we receive his grace, as we experience intimate fellowship with him, as we imitate his self-giving love, as we act in his mighty power, as we make knowing him the target of our living, then and only then will we know real life. Everything else outside of Christ is at best a counterfeit of the true life we find only in Christ.

     So let me ask you: Do you want to experience real life? I know this may sound like a stupid question. It reminds of those times in the gospels when Jesus encounters a sick person and asks, "Do you want to be well?" Isn't the answer so obvious you don't need to ask?

     But in fact Jesus' question is right on target. And I think mine is too. Even as Jesus offered new life to the sick, so Paul offers new life to us through his letter. Philippians shows us how to be really and fully alive. But it's up to us to decide to live that way. It's our choice to realign our living so that we might say, with Paul, "For me to live is Christ."

     Why would we want to do that? Because that's the life for which we've been redeemed. That's what God desires for us - the best sort of life there is. Yet there's another reason to experience real life in Christ, even beyond our desire to live most fully and meaningfully. This reason is aptly summarized in verse 20: "Now glory be to God our Father forever and ever." As we really live in Christ, we get to experience the best kind of life, and God gets the glory. We find ourselves living, not for our own glory, but for God's. Our life finds meaning, not when we are praised, but when God is praised because of us.

     The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks "What is our chief end in living?" Answer: Our chief end is "to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1). Real life is found when we live for God's glory, when every thought, every activity, ever dream of our life glorifies God. It begins when we trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and it continues as we live under his lordship and live out our salvation each day. If you want to live more richly and completely, then seek God's glory above all.

     May you live for God's glory, not only here at church, but in your home, and at work, and at school, and in your neighborhood, and when you're out with your friends, and when you're paying your bills, and when you're dreaming about your future.

     I want to conclude this sermon - and, indeed, this series - by praying Paul's prayer from Philippians 1. This is my prayer for you and for me and for our church. Please join me as I pray:

And this is my prayer,

that your love may overflow more and more

     with knowledge and full insight

     to help you determine what is best,

so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless,

having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through

     Jesus Christ

for the glory and praise of God.

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