Phil Radical Giving. SJtL 20/3/16

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1 Phil Radical Giving SJtL 20/3/16 So, a week later than planned, we come to the end of this great letter from Paul and here we find a major piece of the jigsaw to make sense of why it was written. Paul you will remember is in prison and he s been visited there by Epaphroditus, one of the Philippian Christians. Here we discover one of the reasons Epaphroditus came to him. He was bringing gifts from the Philippians to Paul verse 18: I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. We perhaps find it strange that only now does Paul mention this. One commentator goes so far as to say that many take this to be the most puzzling passage in the letter. It s almost as if he s English and doesn t like talking about money and giving. But what he says is illuminating and challenging. And so even though most of us are English and probably don t like talking about money and giving we need to look carefully at what he says. As the observant among you will have noticed, our series titles have all spoken about being Radical. Here too Paul s teaching about giving is radical. It takes us to the roots of the practice of giving and it is challenging and perhaps unsettling for us. It certainly would have been for his first readers. In the ancient world as in many cultures today the understanding and place of gifts is very different from in our Western world. Gifts are central to forming and building, even defining, relationships between people. There is a recognition that gifts do things like set up expectations of gifts in return (leading to enmity if that doesn t happen). Gifts give the giver influence or

2 demonstrate their status. We have an inkling of that perhaps in relation to gifts to political parties or Presidential candidates. But in the ancient world those ways of thinking shaped the giving and receiving of gifts at every level. So responding to a gift is a highly sensitive matter. It s not just simply a case of saying thanks for your lovely gift. One of the reasons perhaps it is left to the end is that Paul wants to make clear to the Philippians that their relationship with each other is not to be defined by the gift. It is instead to be defined by their shared relationship with Jesus being united to Christ, fellowship in the gospel etc. And this points us to the first and perhaps most radical step Paul takes, the radical step we need to take when thinking about giving. Our giving and our receiving of gifts is always to be understood in relation to God and his giving to us. He begins with his recurring theme of joy I rejoiced greatly but make clear that this is in the Lord not simply at the present he received. He then could sound like he was saying about time at last you renewed your concern for me - but makes clear he understands that the Philippians were concerned but you had no opportunity to show it. He then has to clarify that he s not putting out a begging bowl I am not saying this because I am in need and he makes this astonishing statement about God as the one who gives him what he needs: I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,

3 whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. When we think about giving we need first and foremost to think about God the one who gives us strength - as the great giver. The one who gives to us constantly. The one who gives to us whatever our material situations. The one whose giving to us means that we should be content whatever our circumstances. For he give us strength, he empowers us. Paul returns to this at the end in verse 19 when he promises the Philippians not that he will reciprocate their gift but that God will And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Here we see two things that have to be in our hearts and minds as we think about, and participate in, radical giving. First, our giving is to be there not to show off our status or wealth, or to win us influence, or to enable us to benefit in return whether from those we give to or from the taxman. Our giving is to be there because we know God as the great Giver. We have received so many gifts from him who gives us not only strength but life itself that in gratitude to him we should be people who give gifts to others. We are made in his image and so we should be people who give. We want to become more like him and so we should be people who give. We are being made more like him by one of his greatest gifts to us his Holy Spirit who lives in us and so we should be people who give. Second, the reason we so often are unable to give or at least to give as we should is because of fear and anxiety. To give is to hand over something that would otherwise be under our control. To give is to let go of

4 something that otherwise could give us security. To give is to trust God that we can live without whatever it is that we give away. To trust life without it because we are living life with God, the God who gives away even his very self for us. Paul s statements here about God as giver are statements which show that if we really believe in God as giver, if we trust in the God who gives, then giving should not be as difficult for us because we should not be constrained by fear and anxiety: I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. It is exactly what Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Whatever our situation plenty or want, and both are present among us at St James the Less. Whatever our needs and they are many and varied among us at St James the Less. Whatever our situation or our need, Paul is telling us that God the God who gives - gives us strength and will meet our needs according to the riches of his glory in his greatest gift Christ Jesus.

5 Christian radical giving is shaped by, is driven by, is in response to this radically giving vision of God. But what about the actual giving itself? How does what Paul says here about the Philippians gift to him help us as we think about our actual giving in its various forms to individuals, to charities, to the church? I want to highlight four features of radical giving in this passage. First, to give is to show concern verse 10. At one level this is obvious and uncontroversial we give to something because we are concerned about the people, the work, the need to which we give. Our gift is a sign of that concern and, we hope, a means of helping those we are concerned about, of meeting their need. At another level it is an outworking of the principle that our giving is to reflect and witness to the giving of God. God s giving is a demonstration of his love, his concern, his care for us. Obvious. Uncontroversial. But this truth about giving is also at times a radical and often uncomfortable challenge. It gives us a test as we think about those things we can give our time, our talents, our money. What does how I use these, where I give these, how often I give these and how much of them I give, tell me about my real concerns? Second, true, radical giving is not just a material token of concern but properly a sharing in the life of those to whom we give verse 14: it was good of you to share in my troubles. In fact if you look Paul nowhere explicitly thanks them for the gift itself. Instead he praises them for what it embodies their standing with him and sharing in his troubles. The Philippians by giving giving their material gifts, giving Epaphroditus who took them to Paul identified with him and both

6 expressed and deepened their communion, their fellowship with him. And remember that would not have been easy he is a radical preacher in a Roman prison! Here we see that radical Christian giving is not simply a matter of writing a cheque, setting up a standing order, dropping money in the collection bag, filling out a Gift Aid form, important though all those are. It cannot just be a material transaction. Radical Christian giving once again because it is modelled on God s radical giving is not something detached from who we are. It is something in which we give something of our very selves. It is a way in which we express and deepen our relationship with those to whom we give. Third, giving should be a pattern of life and not just an occasional transaction. Paul here recalls his history with the Philippians and how they have consistently stood out as a giving community from the very start of their relationship. Verse 15 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 more than once when I was in need. Their latest gift in other words is simply part of a pattern, a habit, a discipline of giving to Paul and the work of the gospel. Indeed, they are probably behind one of the most important pieces of New Testament teaching on giving 2 Cor 8 where Paul opens with these words remember Philippi is in Macedonia We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy

7 and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. The danger is that we think of giving simply in terms of repeated one-offs. When there is a disaster appeal or when the church has a Day of Commitment or Gift Day. Radical Christian giving is however meant to be woven into the whole fabric of life. The Philippians are marked by that though sadly it seems many other Christians and churches were not. The challenge to us is whether we are like those others or whether we are seeking to be like the Philippians. Fourth, giving is not simply an activity among humans it involves God and impacts our relationship with Him. We ve seen that already in relation to God as giver being a model and pattern for us and our giving. But it is more than that. Those verses from 2 Corinthians reminded us that they gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us and here in verses 17 and 18 Paul also relates their gift not primarily to him as the human recipient but to God. Verse 17 is a difficult verse clearly open to abuse Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. It seems clear that Paul here means credited by God and inevitably our alarm bells ring with the heresy of a prosperity gospel. But like all heresy that particular error is a twisting and perversion of a truth. The Old Testament has various

8 passages which talk of God rewarding those who give. Proverbs for example Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done. But it is not just the Old Testament. Jesus himself teaches about this, for example in the Sermon on the Mount. Criticising those who make great show about their giving he says, when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Similarly criticising those who followed the pattern of giving in order to get gifts back he said Luke 14: when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. So Paul here does not unlike his wider culture give the Philippians a sense that they will get something back from him because of their gift to him. Instead he encourages the Philippians that their gifts will not go unnoticed and unrewarded by God. They are not of course to give in order to get back. It is not a technique, a means to an end, a secret way of getting rich. All that is a terrible distortion. But giving is repeatedly described in the Bible as not just what we are to do to be like God but also as something God sees, remembers and rewards. Indeed, in verse 18 Paul is even more radical the gifts the Philippians sent him are related not primarily to him and his needs but to God: They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. This is Jewish, Old Testament language for sacrifices. Here it is being applied not to killing animals in order

9 to be cleansed from sin Christians have no need for that. Here it is being applied to what we do when we give to those in need. And again this idea, this language has other New Testament support such as Hebrews do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. So here at the end of this amazing letter we find ourselves faced with some very practical and challenging outworking of the good news. Outworking which reminds us that the gospel isn t just about our eternal destiny and our spiritual lives. The gospel is about our relationships with one another and with material goods. The gospel is about radical giving. As we remember in a focussed way in this service and over this coming week, we know God as the great Giver who in Jesus has given us His very self, the greatest gift. As those who have received that gift and the gift of Jesus Spirit we are called to be those who give in response. Those who trust that God will meet our needs and so we can give to others free of fear and anxiety. Like the Philippians part of our giving should be for the work of the gospel and to support those who are called like Paul to be ministers of that gospel. In giving of our time, of our talents, of our money - we not only show concern but we identify with those we give to at a deep level just as God in his giving identifies with us. And this should be not something we do every now and again. It should be a regular pattern of our way of life as individuals, as a congregation just as it was for the Philippians. A way of life which by being one of giving not only reflects God s own way of

10 life but is a way of life in which we please him and which he will in turn bless. As we enter Holy Week at the end of the season of Lent and come to the end of this amazing letter, let s commit ourselves afresh to be like the Philippians to be those who give ourselves first to the Lord, the great Giver, and then to others and to be those who demonstrate the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is truly with our spirit by our lives of rich generosity.

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