As I write we are drawing our 9-week sermon series on the book of Philippians to a close. We have tried to present consistent and relevant teaching on this wonderful letter, which is full of joy. It is amazing that Paul writing from prison in Rome can use the word joy 16 times in his epistle, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice’. Yet Paul is not afraid to call out those who are causing serious division in the church at Philippi, and to encourage the Christians to stand firm against rising persecution from outside the church. Joy in the individual believer and the Christian community is the result of living faithfully to the teachings of Christ. It is not dependent on outward circumstances, but in the vitality of the presence of the living Christ.
In the final segment ‘New generosity’ Phil 4:10-23 Paul says, ‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance’. He goes on to thank them for their generosity because they sent a large financial gift to Paul in Prison. Note that prisoners had to pay for their own upkeep and Paul was able to continue ministry even from jail. He says that their gift is credited to their account. God is no ones’ debtor, because you can’t out-give God! This does not mean if you give God €100 you will get €200 back. But there will be blessings, the chief of which is hearing about the advancement of God’s work in the world, the relief of suffering and the growth of the kingdom of God. Paul also calls their gift ‘a fragrant offering’meaning that because it is a voluntary additional gift focused on a specific need it is very pleasing to God.
I believe that we cannot claim to be followers of Jesus unless our finances are submitted to his lordship. Giving to the local church should be disciplined, ‘On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income’. I Corinthians 16:2 Most people can automate their giving now in pounds or euro but there is something special about placing something on the offering plate before it is offered to God in the service. We also should be ready to give beyond the tithe (literally 10%) to the local Church and support missionaries and Christian charities outside the Church. Each of our four congregations has selected a missions project and that is a good place to start. You will probably take a more prayerful interest in a project after you give and want to hear how the ministry is proceeding.
The best gift, and the hardest to make, is always time. The sands of time are running out for each of us, but remember that what we do for the Lord on this side of eternity will be a blessing to others now and will become fruit we see in the next.