Generosity

Audio Player

Good morning everyone! Have a seat. Now please pick up a Bible and turn to page 982.

What we're going to do now is think a bit more about that reading from the book called Philippians that we heard read to us earlier. We want the truth from it to sink deeper in to our hearts and minds and to make time to respond to and then act on what God says to us through it.

If you've been coming over the last few months, you'll know that we've been getting to know this book - each week looking at a small part of it. This week is our last week and we've come to the final few paragraphs of the letter.

Remember the book of Philippians is a letter, written by a man named Paul who lived around the same time as Jesus. Paul was one of the leaders God used to spread the church from Jerusalem where it first started to the whole world. Paul had visited Philippi, a city in Greece, on his travels and while he was there he helped start a new church. After he left, they continued to send him gifts to help him start new churches and tell others about Jesus. However, eventually telling others about Jesus got Paul locked in a prison in Rome and that is when Paul wrote this letter to the church he started 10 years earlier.

One of the reasons he wrote the letter was to say thank you for gifts that that the church had sent him. A man called Epaphroditus had come from Philippi - he almost died on the journey - to bring him food and money - supplies for his time in prison. In ancient Rome, and this is also true in some countries today - prisoners were imprisoned by the government, but the government did not look after their needs. So food and clothes needed to be given to the prisoner from those outside the prison. One of the ways the Philippian church had helped Paul was by sending food and money for food while he was in prison, as well as Epaphroditus himself who was sent to help look after him.

Look back to Philippians 2.25-30:

" I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honour such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me."

So the Philippians send Epaphroditus with a gift to Paul and now Paul was sending Epaphroditus back with a thank you letter - which is what we know today as the book of Philippians in the Bible.

And here, at the end of the letter, he comes back to topic of the gift they had sent him and he ends the letter by saying thank you. Look at Chapter 4 verse 10:

"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity."

and in verse 14:

"it was kind of you to share my trouble."

and in verse 18:

"I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God."

Paul is Grateful for Their Help and He Tells Them That He is Grateful. That is the first thing to notice here.

The Philippians are a great example for us to follow. They saw someone trying to tell others about Jesus and they gave generously to help make that possible. God loves a generous heart. So how can we do the same?

We can look for those in need and help them. We can look for those wanting to tell others about Jesus and support them.

1) You can see a great example of this in the notice sheet where we are asked to support Tabitha's Place, who provide free, good quality children's clothing, books and toys to people in this area in Jesus' name. Another good example is the need for leaders for Scramblers, Climbers and Explorers and volunteers to help run Sunday services over the summer holidays. Can you help with one of those?

2) It's not all about church or formal programs though. It's important to get together like this each Sunday. But for many of us, during the rest of the week we're pretty much on our own - there are not many other Christians in our school, or at work or family. So how can we help one another to live and speak for Jesus Mon to Sat? How can we share each other's troubles? Maybe in the coffee break afterwards you could ask someone how you can pray for them this week and then follow that up with a text during the week.

3) We can give money to help support those who have stopped earning a living so they can devote more time and energy to leading and organising the church to tell others about Jesus. Some are in this country like the church staff. Some are in other countries, such as our mission partners. There's information about how you give in the notice sheet and on the stands around the building But it is not just about money. The Philippians showed their love for Paul by writing and sending someone to visit. They also prayed for him. There are lots of ways you can support church workers and missionaries in other countries.

However we do it, it's good to remember that when we give to others - like the Philippians gave to Paul - we are giving to God. Verse 18:

"I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God."

That means it is also true that that when we receive help from others they are the way that God is looking after us and meeting our needs. Paul is grateful to God for their help and he tells them that he is grateful. We too should be generous like the Philippians were.

One of the things I've learned by meeting people from all over the world is that there are lots of differences in the ways gifts are given and received. In some countries, it's polite to open the gift immediately in front of the person giving it to you. In others, the polite way to do it is to open it later on, once they have left. In some countries it is polite to refuse a gift several times before accepting it. If a gift is accepted right away, it can be seen as being greedy. These difference can sometime cause confusion! For example, traditionally in Mexico you would not give yellow, purple or red flowers as a gift. White flowers however are good. In Hong Kong however, white flowers are not good! Red very good. In Poland red and white flowers are bad! Whatever the differences we might find in giving and receiving gifts, I'm sure everyone agrees that the right thing to do - the polite response is to say thank you and tell everyone how much you like the gift.

A few years ago when we came to move house I found a box full of thank you cards that we had written to say thank you to those who gave us presents at our wedding. This was 3 years after the wedding and I suddenly realised I had forget to post them. My wife was not happy because the polite thing to do is to say thank you when you receive a gift!

So why does Paul write a letter and say 'I don't actually need your gift'! Did you spot that in chapter 4, verse 11?

"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

In other words - thanks for your gift but I was just as happy before I received it as I am now. I don't need your gift and your gift does not make me content. Can you imagine someone saying that when you get them a gift? I don't actually need your gift.

When my brother was a teenager and just before he left home I bought him a little coffee machine. He liked coffee but I later found it in the bin – It seems he though 'who needs the phaff of a coffee machine when you can have instant coffee'. What he communicated was 'I don't need your gift'. My mum fished it out and he later learned to appreciate real coffee! My point though is this: why does Paul say this? He's just said thank you. Why spoil it by saying something like that! Of course, he's not really being rude here.

Paul is doing two things here. He is saying thank you for their gifts, but he also wants to teach them the lesson that they should Depend on the Lord Rather Than Human Help. Their gifts were a joy and an encouragement to him. But he was not relying on them. He loved their gifts, but he was also happy without the gifts. In fact, he had learned to be happy when he had nothing.

He knew that God would provide him with everything he needed and would give him strength to face every situation.

Verse 13:

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Verse 19:

 "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."

Sometimes we are not happy with what God had given us. There's all sorts of reasons why we might feel like that. Paul however, had taught himself to find his contentment in the Lord and in all the things he had because he was in relationship with the Lord, rather than in his circumstances. He knew that whatever else happened he had blessings to count which were always true. We've seen some of those already in Philippians haven't we?

So Philippians 3.9:

"I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith."

Paul knows that whatever is happening to him God is not against him. In fact he is very much for him! Jesus came, lived a perfect life and then died on the cross instead of him. The punishment for his sin has been paid for and he received instead the status of a son - adopted into God's family, loved, forgiven, transformed and he could be sure that his future was with God in heaven. The Lord is in control of everything and he is near. The God of peace is with him. Even situations that looked bad were under God's control and we have proof that he is for us. 

Paul has experienced good times and he has gone through hard times. Through it all, Paul taught himself to trust in God, to remind himself that God was still caring for him even if it did not look like it from the circumstances around him. It's amazing to think isn't it that when Paul was sat in that prison in Rome almost 2,000 years ago writing his thank you letter to the Philippians God knew that on 10th July 2016 St Joseph's church in Benwell would be reading these words and that God arranged it so that those words were not just Paul's words but his God's message for his people at all times but specifically for us today.

So I don't know what is going on in your life right now, but I do know that this week I have really, really struggled with this issue of contentment. And I am so grateful that God arranged for me to speak on this passage today because I've really needed it. I've been asking myself 'Why God? Why are you making me go through this? Why can't I have what I've been praying for?' Verse 11: I have had to learn that "in whatever situation I am to be content". And I have prayed that whatever you are going through, God would speak to you through this part of his word this morning.

Verse 11, Paul says: "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." I don't know exactly how Paul taught himself to be content, but I know that the Bible - God's word – is what we need to correct our vision so that we look at our life from God's perspective. Let me show you what I mean. Turn to page 453, which will bring you to Psalm 16 which was read for us earlier. I have read this psalm many times this past week - it's one of my favourites and I come back to when I'm struggling with contentment, which is why I asked for it to be read in this service.

Psalm 16:

"Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."

You are my Lord – that is 'You're the boss'
I have no good apart from you – you're all I need
Devotion to God and delight in him.


Philippians 3.8, "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."

"The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure."

God is in control and that he is a good God. He will guide us.
We are where we are because that's exactly where God planned for us to be;
What we are going through is good for us and for God's purposes (even if we currently don't see how);
What we don't have is either not necessary for us or not good for us.

So as we end this series in Philippians can I ask you? Have you learned with Paul to say (4 verse 11) "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." Maybe there is a specific issue you're struggling with right now? Can you say, with Paul (3 verse 8) "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ"?

If so, I'm going to suggest you express that is a short prayer.

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you that because you gave yourself fully for us on the cross, I can give my life fully to you.You have a right to everything and anything I am and have I trust that you have my best interests at heart, And I don't need to be afraid to lose, because I have you. Take my life, my loves, my ambitions, my future, my family and my finances and use me for your glory. For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. Amen

It may be that you have never yet made the step of trusting in Jesus to forgive your sins. You may not be ready yet: you may still be thinking about what you have learned, you may have lots of unanswered questions. Keep coming, keep thinking about what you're reading in the Bible and keep asking God to show you that he is real. But it may be that as we've read Philippians, you've understood more clearly what Jesus has done for you and you're ready to

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you that because you gave yourself fully for us on the cross, I can now be forgiven and become part of your family. I trust that your sacrifice on the cross is enough to make me clean before God and accepted by Him. Forgive me for not loving you, and not honouring you in my life before now. But now I want to follow Jesus. Fill me with your Holy Spirit now and help me live as a follower of Jesus from this day forward. Amen

Back to top