This morning, as we begin our Giving Review for the year ahead, our subject is Sharing within the overall theme of The Blessing of Giving. Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give [and therefore to share] than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) One little book which is very helpful on this is “The Treasure Principle” by Randolph Alcorn. Do get hold of a copy. It will help to change your thinking as you study Jesus’ teaching. But you don’t have to get a copy of that book to understand the blessing of giving and sharing. It has also been very evident this past week at HTG and here at JPC. So first
1) CHRISTIAN SHARING – AN INTRODUCTION
And it has been an exciting week. Last weekend saw the launch of Holy Trinity Gateshead. The combined attendance at the morning and evening services was 314, which is quite remarkable. Then the Christianity Explored Taster Sessions happened here at JPC. 250 people attended and over 50 have signed up to take the rest of the Christianity Explored course. So we thank God. I also thank God for you – for your praying, inviting and giving, for you being willing to share - for your partnership in the gospel as Paul puts it in Philippians 1, which helped to make it all possible. And I also thank God for the Newcastle Chinese Christian Church, who shared so generously in those Taster Sessions by providing all the food free of charge. Yes it is God who gives the growth but we have a part to play, a part which always involves giving and sharing.
Indeed giving and sharing are fundamental biblical principles and they should be characteristic of someone who has repented and believed in Jesus. In Luke 3:11 John the Baptist said fruit in keeping with repentance is that:
"The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."
In Acts 4:32 we read that in the early church in Jerusalem:
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.”
As Christians and as a church we are to share and not be selfish. In fact we’re commanded to do so. In Romans 12:13 Paul says:
“Share with God's people who are in need. Practise hospitality.”
There are people in need in this fellowship both financially and in other ways. How important that we share with them and practise hospitality. In 1Timothy 6:18, Paul writes:
“Command the rich [which relatively speaking is many of us here this morning] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”
And that means both time and money. You see we are to share the love of Christ with each other and with those who still don’t know him. And love is more than a noun – it’s a verb; it’s more than a feeling – it’s caring, sharing, helping and sacrificing. For example, more leaders are needed for a new Christianity Explored course starting on a Wednesday evening for those who want to do the course but can’t make Thursdays. Can you help?
In Hebrews 2:14-15, we read of the ultimate in sharing. Jesus Christ, God the Son, shared in our humanity. If he hadn’t we’d still all be lost. In response how can we not be generous givers and willing to share?
The church at Philippi had been generous and willing to share with Paul to support his preaching and church planting ministry. And this letter is a thank you letter from Paul to them. He thanks them for their sharing in his troubles (4:14) and for their sharing in the matter of giving and receiving, sending him aid again and again (v15&16).
And God does not want us to stop giving and growing as a church – for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of this needy region and world and for his glory. The materially poor church at Philippi shared with Paul in the spreading of the gospel again and again (v16). Will we? Will we continue to be generous and willing to share? One Christian couple I know give 1% more of their income away each year. Now the Philippians, says Paul in v10, have been concerned for him and his gospel ministry but recently have had no opportunity to show it until now. Perhaps some of you who are relatively new to JPC are still waiting for the collection plate to come round, still waiting for that opportunity to show your concern financially for the work here at JPC. Well don't keep on waiting for that collection plate! Here the collection plate only comes round during Communion services as extra support for World Mission. Instead show your concern by taking this opportunity to give regularly and generously to the work here and overseas by filling in the response form that came with your giving literature, the gift aid form if you're a taxpayer and the standing order form. The vision God has given us is to be a church of 5000 with another 5000 in church plants over the next generation. It is costly both financially and in terms of time but as we’ll see from v17-20 there are many blessings too. So will we be like the Philippians – generous and willing - or like the other churches which did not share in Paul’s needs and ministry? Look at v15:
“…when I set out from Macedonia not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only…”
But before we look at the blessings of giving and sharing we need to understand the importance of Christian contentment, otherwise we’ll always be struggling to be growing in our generosity and in our willingness to share. So secondly
2) THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTIAN CONTENTMENT
The world says that one of the secrets of being content lies in having more things; that things make you happy and content. The adverts tell us that we need to go to the Metro Centre for some ‘retail therapy’. But that secret is ultimately a lie. You can collect all the things you have ever wanted and still feel desperately empty. The Apostle Paul learned that the secret of being content was not things but rather a relationship with Jesus Christ. V11&12:
“…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have plenty. 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.”
What is the secret he has learned? What is the secret of being content we are to learn? That (v13):
“I can do everything through him [through Christ] who gives me strength.”
He can, in other words, meet all circumstances with contentment through Christ. Who needs to hear and learn that? You’re a Christian but life is not easy. Well you can do everything through Christ who gives you strength. In fact that is what God wants you to learn through the situation you are facing. Perhaps you’re not yet a believer. You know you don’t have true contentment. Well why not trust Jesus Christ this morning and begin to learn the secret of being content in him in any and every situation.
You see another myth that the world puts out is that all you need is within yourself. But Paul is clear. We are not self-sufficient but Christ sufficient. No matter what challenges lie ahead, Jesus Christ is big enough to meet them. To be content in need or in plenty, in whatever situation we face is not the product of human skill. The secret isn’t us, it is Jesus in us! The strength that Christ gives is sufficient for anything we face in life. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
In Christ Paul also had discipline of self to be content with what he had and a deep trust in God to provide what he really needed. Note that Paul says he had learned to be content. Christian contentment is not something we have overnight. He had learned the secret test by test. Contentment does not come easily. It takes discipline. For example, we must decide not to covet - like Paul in v 11&17 who didn't covet the Philippians' gifts. Covetousness had been a problem for him but in Christ his heart was weaned away from 'things' and became wholly God's. In fact the opposite of contentment is covetousness. But the person who has Christ has everything.
Paul had also learned to be content because he had learned to trust. He was contented because God is trustworthy.
"I can do all things in him who strengthens me".
In Christ we too can meet all circumstances with contentment. "My God", says Paul, "will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19)".
He will meet our need to the full. And his supply will not be limited to the size of our need but according to his riches in Christ. Indeed one of the factors which makes for Christian contentment is the generosity of others as the Lord uses the resources of one to meet the needs of another. But Christian contentment also leads to generous sharing, which brings me to my third and final heading:
3) THE BLESSINGS OF SHARING
You may never have thought about it in this way before but Christian giving and sharing brings blessing to others, to the givers and it blesses God.
First these verses clearly tell us that the Lord uses generous Christians to help to meet the needs of others and of his work. Christian sharing is a blessing to others. Paul writes (v10):
“I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me.”
Secondly Christian sharing also brings blessing to those who share. Now of course we can’t earn our salvation. That comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. Everything received is a gift of God’s grace. But consistent, generous and sacrificial giving lays up treasure in heaven. Generous giving is not all about meeting the needs of others and of JPC but also about the spiritual growth of the givers and the spiritual interest that will be credited to their account. Look at what Paul writes in v.17:
“Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.”
You see Paul was chiefly concerned with how their gift would affect them spiritually. He sees their gift as an investment that would pay them rich spiritual dividends. It’s a deposit in the bank of heaven that will multiply at compound interest to their advantage. The Lord keeps the books and will never fail to pay one spiritual dividend unlike the fluctuating stock market and Northern Rock. The generosity of the Philippians was an indicator of their spiritual health. So how is our spiritual health? Are you laying up treasure in heaven or on earth?
Thirdly generous Christian sharing is a gift to God as well. It blesses God. Look at v18. Paul abandons the language of accounting and takes up the language of worship. The Philippians gifts are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. In the Bible the fragrant offering or burnt offering expresses obedient consecration to God, and God delights in his people dedicated to himself. So Paul teaches here that when Christians take note of Christian needs and generously sacrifice to meet them, it is, for God, the burnt offering all over again, and he delights to accept it.
And finally, v19, what the Philippians have given to God will be amply repaid by him from the limitless resource of his riches in Christ Jesus.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
Paul says you met my need and God is going to meet your needs. You met the one need that I have but God will meet all your needs according to his riches in Christ. Through the Philippians Paul's need had been met by God. And now Paul says that God will meet all their needs though not their ‘greeds’. And look very carefully - God will meet them according to, or as befits his glorious riches in Christ Jesus, not merely out of his riches. Do you see the difference? A millionaire may donate £1000 to charity out of his riches, but compared to his total wealth it is small. God's giving is in proportion to his infinite resources, it is according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. We need not be in any way afraid of giving generously and proportionately to God’s work here at JPC and to world mission, whatever our income. We can trust God. We can’t out give God. God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Glory be to our God and Father forever and ever.