In Part 1, I shared with you some of the joys of the past week, specifically in watching God lay a burden upon the hearts of our church folks to give towards missions. And what a joy it is! In Philippians 4:10-23, the Bible gives us several reasons for this incredible joy, and I shared the first one, “The Partnership with God’s Servants.” Now, I present three more reasons (in an amazingly alliterated arrangement). Missions giving is a joy!
The Principle of God’s Savings (awkward, I know, but keep with the alliteration!)
The partnership is great, and it’s exciting. When it feels like I’m trapped in a rut, that my life is going nowhere and I’m not making my mark for Jesus, it can be so refreshing to know that somewhere, someone’s hearing the Gospel for the first time. And I’m part of that! But it’s an added bonus to know that someday, I will get to see the fruit and receive the reward of the work that I helped by giving to missions.
I mean, I can’t pass by Phil. 4:17, where Paul tells the Philippians that their giving amounts to fruit that is filling up their heavenly account. Of course, this is quite similar to Jesus’ teaching about “laying up our treasures” in heaven and “seeking first the kingdom of God.” Paul just applies it to missions giving.
The point is that whatever we give to missions cannot be lost. Keeping the financial metaphor, we put our money in a lot of places – necessities are consumed, luxuries are depreciated, and even savings succumb to market fluctuations. But money given to missions is a secure investment with a guaranteed return. This is what the oft-quoted Jim Elliot saw when he said, “He is no fool, who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
I love stashing money away in a good mutual fund, envisioning the potential return on investment. But what could compare with the joy of watching the Savior open up that heavenly deposit box someday, handing it to us with a satisfied “Well Done!” and being able to pour it all out at his feet as an expression of our worship?
The Pleasure of God’s Sacrifice
Speaking of worship, that’s exactly what missions giving is. Using Old Testament terminology, Paul refers to the Philippians’ giving as a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is pleasing to God. (4:18) This recalled the ancient Jews’ practice of bringing their various sacrifices to the Tabernacle or Temple in worship of the Lord, as a sign of their faith.
Of course, we shouldn’t misunderstand “sacrifice,” especially in connection with missions giving. Some would say that if we owe everything to God, then nothing can be a sacrifice. (Like in the hymn, “Jesus Paid It All.”) Others would say that nothing could be too great a sacrifice to give to him who gave us his Son. Still others would consider the joy of giving to be worth more than the gift and conclude that such a gift could not properly be called a sacrifice. (This was the thinking behind David Livingstone’s comment, “I never made a sacrifice.”)
Speaking simply, however, I imagine that a “sacrifice” is pretty much anything we give to honor God for any number of reasons. We willingly go without something in order to express our faith in God’s majesty. Of course, nothing is sufficient to do that.
Nothing except Christ.
That’s why we don’t give to missions to make God happy with us, or to somehow earn his favor and blessing. Jesus offered up his life as a well-pleasing sacrifice to God, in our place. (Ephesians 5:2) This has the double effect of removing the burden of atoning for our sins and also purifying our own offerings. Our sacrifices are made acceptable to God by Christ’s blood, which means that we can offer them out of the joy instead of fear. (Hebrews 13:15-16)
And what a joy it is to know that such sacrifices please God! Frankly, I don’t quite know how to process this. God is infinitely happy in his own perfection; how could we possibly add to that? If we imagine that we are somehow filling some lack in God, we are grievously mistaken. God himself says that if he were hungry, he wouldn’t tell us! (Psalm 50:12) Everything in this world belongs to him.
Which brings us back to the idea of a sacrifice. In missions giving, we are only giving what already belongs to him. But by doing this, we are saying that we prefer to see his glory demonstrated in the global proclamation of the Gospel than to keep his stuff for our own personal use. Our giving reveals God himself as all-satisfying, and this magnifies his worth. Ultimately, when we give, we are delighting in God, and God is pleased when his people rejoice in his glory. God’s glory and our joy both converge in missions giving.
The Promise of God’s Supply
Someday, I’m going to write or preach a series called “Twisted Scripture,” and I’m going to expound on various Bible verses that are popularly misunderstood or misused. Philippians 4:19 will be among them. By itself it says that God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Great promise!
Great promise to the Philippians. Great promise to people who were giving sacrificially for the advance of the Gospel. Great promise to people engaged heavily in missions giving.
Read it. Read it again. Read it in its context. This verse is given to comfort Christians who have a history of giving to support missionary efforts. Why would they need this kind of comfort? Well, perhaps if they gave “beyond their ability” because they had first given themselves to the Lord, they didn’t have a lot of money lying around. In fact, that’s exactly what Paul says about them in 2 Corinthians 8:2-5. And if they were poor before they gave, I suspect there wasn’t much left after they gave.
Why give, then? Because it was a joy! They were the cheerful givers God loved so much. (2 Cor. 9:7) Joy in God prompted them to give. (2 Cor. 8:2) And here, in Philippians 4:19, Paul reminds them that God will not let them starve or freeze to death as a result of their giving but will dip into his own wealth to supply their needs. This promise sustains the joy that gave in the first place.
Make sense? Not yet? OK, let me clarify three things.
First, this does not mean that only givers can count on God supplying their needs. Matthew 6 is still in the Bible, and that’s where Jesus promises that God will feed and clothe us better than the birds and the flowers. And David said that he had never seen the children of the righteous begging for food. (Psalm 37:25) Of course, Jesus did say this after telling his disciples to invest in heavenly treasures, and he did conclude by saying that God would provide for us as we “seek first the kingdom of God.” And David did say that the righteous was also generous (Psalm 37:26). Hmmm… Maybe we need to think a little more about this one. I don’t think God will let his children starve, but is it just possible that giving is a mark of his children?
Second (since I failed to clarify anything with the first one), God’s promise to the Philippians did not say that they would become financially wealthy as a result of their giving. I do believe that God often supplies far more than we give, but I don’t think we can always put a dollar value on it. Jesus became poor that we might become rich, but anyone who loves Jesus would gladly trade in earthly treasures for the privilege of casting a golden crown before his feet. When God says he will supply out of his riches, it doesn’t necessarily refer to money. In fact, I’m glad it doesn’t. Those who give for joy gain something far more precious than gold. (Prov. 28:6)
Third, we must remember that all Scripture is profitable for God’s people. We can mis-interpret Bible verses by paying too much as well as too little attention to their original contexts. We mustn’t restrict the Scriptures to their original contexts so rigidly that we fail to find any modern application. In this case, while the promise is clearly addressed to givers, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it only applies to Philippians.
Any more than I would say that Philippians 4:4 is only for Philippians. That verse says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.” And now we know something of where that joy comes from and what it does.
That is the joy of missions giving!