At this time of the year, we are encouraged to be generous. Often this makes us feel a sense of duty and obligation. Duty and obligation have their place, but I'd like to propose a better reason for giving. Paul wrote a letter from a cell block in Rome in around 60AD. He wrote this letter to the Christians in the city of Philippi as a thank you note for their financial support. Sometimes we write thank you letters out of duty and obligation. Grandma gave you $20 so you have to write a thank you. One hundred sixty-eight people gave you a wedding gift and so you have to spend 372 hours writing and mailing thank yous.
Paul’s thank you letter to the Philippian church is not driven by duty and obligation but joy and generosity. Even though he wrote it behind prison bars in Rome, his tenor and tone give you the impression he’s writing from a royal mansion in Tuscany. Instead of dull duty and obligation, his words evoke joy and generosity. In fact, he uses the word joy or rejoice at least a dozen times in this short letter.
In Phil. 4:10-20, Paul gives at least five good reasons to be generous with resources in the church:
An opportunity to live out love and concern (4:10): Paul sees generosity not as an obligation, but an opportunity. Obligation says, “I have to.” Opportunity says, “I get to.” Paul writes, “You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.” The Philippian church cared for Paul, loved him, and wanted to help him. Then the opportunity arose for them to show that concern in a tangible way and they took it.
A sharing in the need and troubles of others (4:14): Paul writes, “It was kind of you to share in my trouble.” Generosity is a way to share in the situation of another. Giving resources says, “We’re in this together.” The Philippians were not in a jail cell in Rome, but by giving to Paul, they said, “We join you.” Generosity is an incredibly powerful way to show unity and solidarity. When you have need or trouble, what’s mine is ours.
A partnership in mission together (4:15): As a congregation, our budget unites us on mission together. We each live out the mission individually, but our faithful congregational giving says, “We do this together.” In a society built around individualism, it is so important for the church to do things together. Whether locally or globally, financial giving is a glue that binds missional partnerships.
The fruit of faith (4:17): In the Christian life, faith is an abstract thing. It's hard to express. Faith becomes real when it bears fruit – tangible fruit you can pick and bite into. Paul says, “It’s not about the money you gave me. I can live without it. But I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” As your pastor, I don’t want things from you. I want things for you. I don’t want money and volunteer hours from you. I want joy and generosity for you. I want obedience and faith and love and service for you.
A sacrifice pleasing to God (4:18): You’ve heard this question before, “What do you get for the guy who has everything?” That could be asked of God. The truth is, there’s nothing you can get him or get for him. There is no gift or payback that is measurably appropriate. Nor is it the point to pay him back or get him an impressive gift. That’s not what he wants. Paul says, “I got the gifts you sent. And it’s about more than me. Your joy and generosity are a fragrant offering to God. Pleasing to him. Our joy and generosity say to God, “I acknowledge all that you have done for me. And you are so good.”