Summary: If you give out of love for God, you will get what you desire most. You will get God's riches in Christ.
I once missed a great blessing. I was part of a student organization in college, and we were having a clothing drive. Our leader encouraged us to donate an article or two of clothing, but, when he did, he said, “Don’t give away something you won’t miss. Give something you really treasure.”
I went back to my dorm room and looked in my closet. I didn’t have many clothes at the time, but I did have this one shirt, and it was my favorite. It was a red- and white-striped button-down Oxford, and – for the life of me, I don’t know why – but somehow I had the idea that I looked pretty good in it. I realize now that I was probably fooling myself.
Nevertheless, I really liked this shirt. I passed over it a few times, thinking I would give away one of my other shirts, but our leader’s words stuck with me. “Don’t give something you won’t miss.” So finally, I pulled it out of the closet and laid it aside. I was going to suck it up. That’s the shirt I was going to donate.
So I did. And, after I did, I really started missing it. No one else appreciated the sacrifice I had made, and I got no joy out of it. I was miserable. I seemed to have this unhealthy attachment to that shirt. It was terrible. My donation may possibly have helped someone else – I hope it did! – but what could have been an occasion of blessing for me – it definitely wasn’t! The shirt was gone, but I couldn’t let it go.
I needed a good dose of “Philippians 4 Thinking.” You know what I mean? Paul says here in Philippians 4, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (v. 11). I needed to learn the secret of being content – whether I had my red- and white-striped button-down shirt or not. I had other shirts. I could get another shirt. I wasn’t in any kind of extremity. But, the way I was moping around about that shirt, you would have thought I was.
You would never have seen Paul overtaken by this kind of silliness. Here in Philippians, chapter 4, he talks about giving and receiving – actually, in the reverse order. The first thing he talks about is what he has learned about receiving, and then he talks about what he looks for in giving. Since this is Stewardship Commitment Sunday, it may be a good time for us to listen in. He certainly has something to say to those of us who struggle with this business of giving.
So, let’s start with what Paul says he has learned about receiving. To do this, we need to look at verses 10 through 14. In verse 10 Paul acknowledges his readers’ concern for him. They had heard that he was in jail in Rome, and, in response, they sent one of their own number – a man named Epaphroditus – and along with him they sent an undisclosed amount of money. This would help; there’s no doubt about that. And Paul appreciated it. But he tells us that he didn’t consider himself to be in need. “I have learned,” he said, “to be content with whatever I have.” In other words, he was happy about his life, no matter what the circumstances were. “I know what it is to have little,” he said, “and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”
When you consider the kinds of things that Paul had endured, it makes you wonder just what his secret was. In another one of his letters, he talks about his “imprisonments,” his “labors,” the “countless floggings” he had suffered, and how he was “often near death.” This wasn’t because he was unlucky in life. This is because he was out sharing the gospel and planting churches. He was undergoing all these things because of his service for God. He says, “Five times I have received…the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, …bandits, …in danger in the city, …in the wilderness, …at sea, …; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked…” (2 Cor. 11:23ff.). And now here he was in jail. But in spite of all that, he says, “I have learned the secret of…having plenty and of being in need.”
Now, think about this. When we serve God, we want the conditions to be right. We insist on having everything we need. We expect to be appreciated. And we don’t want it to cost us anything. Apparently, we haven’t learned what Paul says he has learned. We haven’t “learned to be content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:12, NIV). We haven’t learned Paul’s secret.