Philippians 4:17-20—17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. 19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. 20 Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul was delighted for the gift—but more than the gift, he was delighted at their giving. And even more than their giving, he was delighted that they gave with a pure heart. They were not going around saying, “I gave 100 denarii to Paul’s cause!” Or, “Oh yeah? Well, I gave 150 denarii!!” They weren’t giving in order to move up in the social rankings—in fact, their giving may very well have been quite detrimental to their social standing, and may have even gotten them into hot water with the Roman government. And Paul tells us that this gift was indeed given from Christian love, when he says in verse 18 that it was a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And because this gift was an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God, he goes on to say in verse 19, And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Today, we're going to look at this pasage in light of Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount. The Gospel According to Matthew, starting with chapter 5, and beginning at verse 46. Let me set the scene. When we read the gospels, it’s important to remember something: Mark, Luke and John, when they wrote, they put everything in chronological order (with a couple minor exceptions). Matthew, however, in the first half of his gospel, grouped things according to themes. And when we read Matthew’s gospel, because the Sermon on the Mount is recorded so closely after Jesus’ encounter with Satan, and Jesus calling His apostles, we may tend to think that He delivered this sermon in the earliest days of His ministry. That is not quite true. He had already spoken with Nicodemus and with the Samaritan woman. He had already had many run-ins with the Pharisees. In fact, Jesus had been preaching and teaching for at least a year, and had gained many followers, before He gave the Sermon on the Mount. He had walked among the self-righteous and seen—I guess you could say “first-hand”, although God sees everything “first-hand”—He had been preaching repentance and the kingdom of God for better than a year, and now the time has come for Him to refute the self-righteousness being taught by the Pharisees.
Matthew 5:46-48—"For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." Ever hear the phrase, “You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours?” The Pharisees were experts in that principle. They were more than happy to bend over backwards, to do something for anybody—who could do something for them. If you didn’t have anything to offer in return—sorry, buddy, you're out of luck. Now, what is the right kind of attitude to have towards others? Hold your place here and turn to Luke 6:32-36. Luke gives us some of the details that Matthew leaves out. For example, he records the woes that Jesus prescribed after He gave the Beatitudes. And here, he expands on what Matthew writes. I've underlined the words that Luke includes in addition to Matthew. Luke 6:32-36—“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” That word “merciful” literally means “pitiful, compassionate for the ills of others.” What He's saying here is, basically, “Have pity on others, just as your Father also pities you.” Can you imagine being a Pharisee and hearing that? “What do you mean God pities us? Why, look how righteous we are! We’re so much better than this riff-raff! God is proud to have us serve Him! Why, He should be so lucky!”
Also, the phrase “be merciful” doesn’t mean simply “give”—it means to possess a desire to help others when they need it. Proverbs 22:9—He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor. These Pharisees, who thought that they were doing so good at keeping the Law, had been neglecting much of that very Law they thought they were keeping. Listen to Deuteronomy 15:7-10—“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren…you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs…You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand.” This was what Jesus meant when He said, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” And this is what Paul was getting across to the Philippians—that because they gave a sacrifice that was acceptable to God, He would bless them in all their works in Christ.
Back to Matthew 6:1-2—“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” That must have been like cold steel through the intestines to the Pharisees. “What do you mean we have our reward? Why, didn’t you see—we gave!” And God sees and says, “So? Even heathens give.” What was the problem? They didn’t give out of a genuine compassion for the poor—they gave because they wanted the “attaboy!” Guess what? If they want an “attaboy”—then that’s all they're gonna get.
Not just Pharisees, either. Notice, Jesus says we are not to be like the hypocrites. Another example of Paul quoting Jesus—not word for word, but principle for principle. 1st Corinthians 3:12-15—Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. So if we do some good deed just to get praise from men, we also will “have our reward.” And when we stand at the Bema to get our reward, He will point to that and the conversation will be something like this:
“Remember when you gave this to the poor?”
“Yes I did, Lord.”
"You have no reward for that deed, because you didn’t do it for My glory; you did it to be seen by men."
BUT!! He goes on to say in Matthew 6:3-4—“But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” In other words, do everything you possibly can to make sure no one sees what you are doing. Proverbs 19:17—He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given. Listen to that again. If you give to the poor, you are really lending to God. Hebrews 13:2 (KJV)—Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. That family that needs groceries. That fellow that just needs something in his stomach to live another day. Be careful, because that might just be an angel. Notice what Jesus says—“When you do a charitable deed.” "When"--not "if". We are expected to do charitable deeds and help the poor. We are told many times to help our brothers in need.
I read from Deuteronomy a minute ago. The familiar passage in James chapter 2 where faith is declared to be pretty much useless unless it shows some kind of fruit, and the kind of fruit that James emphasizes is giving to those in need. James 2:14-19 [NASB]—What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works”—and I want to stop right here. It is vital to understanding this passage that we put those quotation marks in the right places. I tend to agree with the NASB on the text itself, but I disagree with where they put the quotation marks--they should end here. Open quote, You have faith and I have works, period, close quote. Then James answers by saying show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. In verse 19, you could almost read it as saying You have faith that God is one. You do well; the demons have the same faith, and shudder. It’s not enough to simply believe that God exists, or to even just believe the fact that Jesus died for our sins. If our beliefs do not spur us on to do good for our neighbors, then believing those facts is not enough to save us.
If our faith does not move us to do good things—for the right reasons—Big deal. That’s no different than the “faith” that the demons have. James 2:14-16 is an almost direct quote from Proverbs 3:27-28—Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,” when you have it with you. If we have it in our power, we are to give to help others—but in the right way. Because there are many people who would not lack food or clothing if they wouldn’t spend their money on sinful things. Been there—done that. If you see someone walk into their house with a 6-pack of beer, then they come knock on your door asking to borrow a loaf of bread because they're broke—you are not necessarily obligated to help that person. If they’ve got money for beer—they should have money for bread. In fact, our pastor has pointed out this fact in a sermon series he gave recently. He said,
“When we indiscriminately give to anyone and all who have an apparent need, we actually have the potential of harming some people by affirming an unbiblical lifestyle. It may be that they are in poverty because of laziness, an entitlement mentality, unwise use of funds that would have been sufficient to meet their basic needs…Sometimes in our culture, basic needs aren’t being met in those who are most aggressive in their asking for help because available funds were spent on drugs and/or alcohol. When we step in and give to meet those basic needs, we are simply making more funds available to them for sinful purchases.” (Phil Jones, First Baptist Church [Powell, TN], "The Bible Speaks to Poverty", delivered 11/22/09. Online Source).If you want to hear more from that series, Click here.
Listen to this part again: “Sometimes in our culture, basic needs aren’t being met in those who are most aggressive in their asking for help because available funds were spent on drugs and/or alcohol.” I've had it happen; many of us have it happen when we minister in the projects. Someone will walk up to you, giving you a sob story about how they don’t have any food, or they haven’t eaten in a couple days—but you can smell the whiskey or the beer on their breath, or the smell of pot lingering on their clothes. Here's the thing--You are not obligated to help that person.
Proverbs 10:4-5—He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a wise son; he who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame.
Proverbs 12:11 [NASB]—He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who pursues worthless things lacks sense.
Proverbs 20:13—Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread.
Ephesians 4:28--Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
1st Thessalonians 4:10-11--But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.
2nd Thessalonians 3:10-12--For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.
That said, if someone is in truly dire straits, then we should do what we can to help those needs, that we may give a sacrifice that is a sweet aroma, well-pleasing to God.
Jesus Christ is Lord.