Spiritual Investing, Part Two (Audio Sermon + Transcript)
Preacher, Alistair Begg
Sermon given on Sunday, October 11, 1998
Being aware of our own mortality and God’s promise of eternity should impact everything in our lives, including relationships, finances, and future plans. Paul commended the Philippians for pleasing God by giving sacrificially as they trusted in His provision. God is no man’s debtor, Alistair Begg reminds us; He is committed to meeting our needs according to His riches in Christ. When we give to, care for, and share with others generously, we invest in eternity and glorify the Lord.
Can I invite you to turn with me again, as we did this morning, to Philippians chapter 4? And those of you who were present this morning know that we said that we were going to consider this issue of having an individual eternal account, as opposed to an individual retirement account—that we were familiar with the idea of storing up money that we would be able to use once we had reached our retirement age, but that one of the challenges that the Scriptures bring to us is the storing up of treasure that is eternal in its dimensions. And we began by noting the little doggerel, “There was a man they said was mad; the more he gave away, the more he had.” And we began to try and get our minds around this amazing truth that Paul conveys concerning the way in which the Philippian church had been so generous to him. And in describing their circumstances and in responding to their kindness, he provides for the church in all generations certain principles and patterns that we need to both implement and enjoy.
And we noted first of all, this morning, this matter of the partnership which he enjoyed with these folks, which we said was both outstanding and longstanding. And then we began to consider his perspective in verse 17, which we noted to be quite novel. He says to them, as Phillips paraphrases is, “It isn’t the value of the gift that [I’m] keen on, it is the reward that will come to you because of these gifts that you have made.” And I hope that you were as struck by this as I was—that instead of viewing this somehow as Paul being on the receiving end of their gifts, it was rather a partnership involving Paul using his gifts and them using their gifts, and in every case they were establishing for eternity an account which was accruing interest.
And again, I said this morning, and I feel it just as much tonight, that it is so hard for us to live with eternity in view. The notion of eternity—even trying to get your mind around the idea of a timeless existence, when you think of the statements made in the book of Revelation—all of these things are mitigated against by the express notion which we have that the things that we can handle, the things we can see, the immediate things that we can lay hold of, we think of as the real things, and that eternal dimensions are somehow airy-fairy and unreal. Paul says, in actual fact the reverse is true: that that which we can lay hold of now is perishable and is in one sense unreal, and the things that yet await us are eternal verities.
And I don’t think there’s any question that the shadow of eternity on the life of the servant of God makes a difference—makes a difference to the way we view relationships; makes a difference to the way we view our finances; the way in which we plan, and so on; the things we speak about, that which we make much of. When we’ve been in the company of folks who live, as it were, under God’s smile, who live with this sense of their finitude, then it does make a difference to them. And they are, almost without exception, attractive people, and they are challenging people.
And I’m sure even as I mention this kind of identikit picture, there are folks that will come to your mind. Certainly, throughout the course of my life, I have many people that fit this picture in my thinking. An old man like Dr. Lechler, who was a missionary doctor in China: had graduated very successfully from a prestigious English university, and had gone with the Church Missionary Society—that is, the Anglican Church’s Missionary Society—and had essentially buried himself in Mainland China in the cause of the gospel, until warfare forced him into other territories. By the time I became his friend, he was an elderly man, living first in an apartment in Edinburgh near the university, and then latterly, after the home-call of his wife, living courtesy of a generous man and woman in a small private hotel at the west end of Princess Street.
And whether I saw him in the hospital or whether I saw him in his hotel dwelling, he was always the same, and always had, in the vest pocket that he had, a tiny little New Testament, which was frayed to pieces and filled with all kinds of notes and little quotes and talks that he’d given to doctors and to missionaries everywhere. And although as a young man I was to go there and try and encourage him, the sense of the presence of Christ that marked him left an indelible impression upon me. And amongst some of my small treasures that I like to turn my attention to I have his small New Testament up the stairs in my study. And I never pick it up and hold it in my hand without I say to myself, “Now there is a man who understood this principle.” He was Christlike.
And he was, if you like, Pauline in his approach. He regarded himself as not being in need. He could say with Paul, “I have been paid in full.” He’s not concerned about the particulars of the gifts he receives; he is rather delighted with the fact that in their giving these Philippian Christians were united with one another and they were looking forward.
The Pleasure of Sacrifice
So, there was partnership, and there was perspective, and then the next word that I had was pleasure. And I just want to identify these for you; I won’t work them out in their fullness this evening.
Now, the reason that I put down there the word pleasure is because at the end of verse 18, in referring to their sacrificial giving, Paul is able to say that “the gifts [that] you sent … [are] pleasing to God”—“pleasing to God.” The whole notion of giving God pleasure is an amazing concept. And yet the Bible encourages us to see that that is the case. And we think of living our lives in such a way so as to live underneath the smile of our heavenly Father, rather than living underneath his frown. You will remember, when God looks from heaven and he sees the baptism of his Son, the Lord Jesus, and as he comes up out of the water, and as a dove, the Spirit, descends upon him in the form of a dove, the voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, and I’m really pleased with him.” You can imagine what the people thought as they stood in that environment and heard this voice but saw no source. And the word was, “This boy gives me pleasure.” To follow in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, then, is to bring pleasure to God.
When we give in this way, it is, he says, “a fragrant offering.” He’s using the picture there of the Old Testament sacrificial system. And when people brought these offerings, there was to be a fragrance that attached to them. And there was in the burning of the incense that which was attractive, in the same way that certain perfumes are attractive to us. We’re drawn to them. Some of them have to do with the culinary arts, and some of them have to do with floral décor, and some of them have to do simply with scents and perfumes. But when we smell them, we’re drawn to them. In the same way, God says of his people, “When you offer offerings to me that come from a heart that is in tune with mine, then they are a beautiful aroma to me. And they bring pleasure to me as a sacrifice.”
Now, we ought not to step quickly over the word “sacrifice.” Because as I mentioned this morning, generous giving is not necessarily the same as sacrificial giving. Now, you don’t have to think too hard to work this out. Let me illustrate it, without any sense of unkindness in my mind: I was quite amazed and delighted to see that the YMCA in San Diego had received such a substantial gift from the widow of Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s fast food chain of restaurants. If you followed it in the press, you would notice that she gave $80 million to the YMCA in San Diego so that they would be able to build a fine and wonderful new center for their operation. Every one of us would want to acknowledge that and commend that and be grateful for that. And it certainly was generous; I’m not sure that it was sacrificial. Because if the newspaper report is accurate, then Mrs. Kroc’s personal fortune at the moment is in the region of $1 billion. And even with my math, I know that in giving $80 million to the YMCA, she still has a little bit left.
Now, my comment is not to denigrate in any way what she’s done; it’s simply to distinguish between that which is generous and that which is sacrificial. And it is possible for us to be generous—and, in fact, many of us are generous and have been generous—but the sacrifice that the Philippians made in order to reinforce the ministry in which Paul was involved was not simply generosity at work; it was sacrifice at work. And it had made an impact on their lives and their homes and their circumstances to give to Paul and to the ministry of the gospel in this way.
Jesus, in making the point visibly and forcefully for his followers, drew attention to a lady, you will recall, as she was going into the temple treasury. And “as [Jesus] looked up, [he] saw the rich [who were] putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins,” just about the size of a cent—actually, smaller than the size of a cent. You see that this doesn’t look like very much at all. It isn’t very much. And then he said, “[Verily, verily, I say unto you], this poor widow has put in more than all the others.”
Now, you can imagine the disciples scratching their wooden heads and saying to one another, “How does he figure this out? We saw these rich people coming in, and they were dropping the significant amounts into those large golden urns that funneled down. And here comes this old lady, and she put in those two wee things. We hardly even heard them drop into the drum! And Jesus is saying she put in more than all the others.”
Jesus said, “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” The rich were generous; the widow was sacrificial.
Now, it’s been very difficult for me all through today to avoid the sense of standing on nails or of a gigantic pincushion penetrating me where I’m tender. In other words, as I said to you last Lord’s Day, here is a realm of spiritual geography in which pastor and people are confronted together and moved together, as indeed with every unearthing of the truth of Scripture. I know what my wife and I have done in relationship to the building of Phase One, Phase Two, Phase Three, whatever it is. I mean, I’ve been here fifteen years; I’ve had every phase that we’ve had since 1983, and some of you have as well. Some of you haven’t had a phase at all; we’d like to invite you to have a little phase anytime you’re ready to phase in, you know. We’re about ready to phase out. But I know what we’ve done; I don’t know if it’s sacrificial. I don’t know what you’ve done, so I couldn’t comment on it, but you must decide whether what you’ve done is sacrificial.
As I said this morning, the moving of money from the coffers of the Internal Revenue Service into the church of Jesus Christ cannot be equated with generosity or anything remotely approaching sacrifice. That’s just shrewd, that’s all that is. That’s just using the system. That’s fine, that’s wise, that’s okay. But I don’t think that’s what was going on here in Philippi. And I don’t have a single doubt in my mind that if the 4,269 people who regard themselves as friends or members of Parkside Church as of September 17, 1998—if the whole 4,269 of us—came one Sunday, determined to write a check that was sacrificial, that we would in one Sunday have all the money, and more, to build the next piece of the building.
But this is not a talk about the next piece of the building. It’s just difficult for me to think of the notion of sacrificial giving, and then think of all the palaver that we have with one another, even though we are generous as a congregation. Goodness gracious, we never ask for money. We never need to; we’ve got more money than we require. We’ve got more money than the general fund, more money than the building fund, more money than anything! Because it’s such a generous congregation! But not all of us have understood the level of sacrifice. And that, you see, was what made the partnership the Philippians enjoyed so outstanding.
The Prospect of Provision
Well, that’s the pleasure that comes from a fragrant offering, from a sacrifice. The prospect, then, in verse 19—that’s the fourth word beginning with P. What is the prospect? Well, he shares with them, he says, “The prospect is this: that God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” In other words, he says, God is committed to seeing to it that the sharer doesn’t suffer because she shares. He says, “You go ahead and share, and you’ll discover that God is no man’s debtor.” We tend to think, as I said again this morning, that we can’t afford to share: “Well, there’s this problem, and there’s that problem.” The fact is, we can’t afford not to share.
I had a letter from a lady this week. I don’t tell you this to draw attention to myself, but just ’cause I wish I was there when she opened the envelope this week. But this lady wrote to me from the radio program, and she said she was enjoying the radio program and everything, and that she would like to be able to give to the radio program to help us out. And if she could sort her problem out with eating ice cream—if she stopped her ice cream eating habits—then she would be able to send some money; it would be a bit of a sacrifice, but she was thinking about it. So I wrote her back and told her that I was praying for her, and I included a five-dollar bill with my letter, with a PS which said, “Have a large chocolate chip cone on me. See you later.”
But I wanted her to know that there’s freedom in the Lord Jesus. You know? Unless she’s 780 pounds and looks like an ice cream cone, it’s probably okay for her to have ice cream cones. And we don’t want to put her on any kind of trip. She’s got to work out her own salvation with fear and trembling. But at least she was thinking: “If I gave this up, then I could do that. But I wonder what would happen to me.” Well, let me tell you what would happen to you: “God will meet all [of] your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ.”
Common wisdom says if you don’t receive, you won’t be able to give. Jesus turns it on its head, and he says if we don’t give it away, we will never have it to keep. So the real crux question is this: Do I personally believe that God will supply all that I need if I give sacrificially? That’s the question. Now, the Philippians had obviously concluded yes to that.
And the degree of sacrifice that we may have differs from person to person. I’ve been trying all week to remember the way that story about the pig and the chicken goes. Do you remember that? That the pig and the chicken are talking together about what’s involved in providing a meal of bacon and eggs for the farmer? And I can’t remember the story, but essentially, the pig says, “Well, you know, it’s a lot easier for you than it is for me. I mean, you just drop a few eggs, but for me it costs me my life.” And we recognize that sacrifice is different for different folks, but we can’t out-give God. And the way in which God reimburses his children is never skimpy, it’s never shoddy.
The Praise of God
And as Paul reflects on that, he moves to his final statement there in verse 20, and he lets loose with praise: “To our God and Father,” he says, “be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” When God’s people live and give, when they care and share in this way, then glory comes to God the Father. When we’re on the receiving end of generosity, we are thankful for the giver, but we give glory to God. When we have the opportunity to give sacrificially, we are thankful for the privilege, but we give all the glory to God our Father.
And while we’re here, just let’s wrap these last couple of verses up. Having mentioned this, he then extends his greetings: “[Greetings from Paul to] all the saints in Christ Jesus.” No distinction. Not because they were all at the same level. Not because they were all wonderfully mature. Not because they were all united; after all, there was Euodia and Syntyche, there were various things that were fracturing the church at Philippi. But he says, “I greet all the saints that are in Christ Jesus.”
And then there are greetings that come via Paul: “The brothers who are with me send greetings.” He lets them know that he’s not on his own. And then he says, “All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.” What an encouragement that must have been! To recognize that the power of the gospel was penetrating the mechanism of secular government—that not only have soldiers come to faith in Christ, but civil servants had, and people within the structure of government were the Lord’s own people. And Paul writes back to Philippi and he says, “I’m greeting you, and via me all these folks are greeting you—even the ones that are members of Caesar’s household.”
And then he finishes in the same way that he had begun: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” That’s exactly how, as we’ll see, he begins Philippians: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, the whole Christian journey—in receiving and in giving, in caring and in sharing—is grace from start to finish.
Father God, these are practical things. These are pressing matters. These are issues that we have to work out personally. And so we pray that in this realm of intense practicality you will enable us, in response to your grace, to give in such a way that it will be given unto us in “good measure, pressed down, shaken … and running over.” We pray that you will help us as a church family together to know what this means in the use of our resources, in our care for each other, in our praying and our planning for the future. Help us, Lord, not to assume that everyone else will take care of it, but to enter joyfully and gratefully into partnership with one another, investing for eternity. Hear our prayers and let our cry come unto you. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.