Why We Give
“And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:15-19)
At the end of his joyful letter to the saints in Philippi, Paul thanks them profusely for the financial gifts they had sent to him. In his concluding thank you note, Paul drills down to the foundational reasons for our giving to explain why Christians are called to be charitable and generous with our money.
First, we give to meet needs. “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (4:15). As Paul looks back on his history with the Philippian church, he sees a thru line of generosity ever since he baptized the first disciples there in Acts 16. When he left Philippi for Thessalonica in Acts 17, he had no means of support except for Philippi. Standing behind the great spiritual work Paul did were generous brethren who enabled him do less tent making and more gospel preaching. Unless we make independent wealth a prerequisite for all preachers, Philippian-like brethren must support spiritual work.
Second, we give to please God. After personally thanking the Philippians for their support, Paul shows them how God views their generosity: “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (4:18b). When we speak of “the offering,” we are invoking a poignant image from Old Testament worship. Jewish worshippers brought their unblemished animals to sacrifice and burn on the altar, and as the smoke from the offering drifted upward, they were to imagine the scent wafting up to God above who would breath in the pleasing aroma. Paul characterizes the contribution of Philippi in the same way. Our giving will more heartfelt and edifying to us when we realize that much more than the meeting of practical needs is happening. Paul tells givers to imagine God inhaling a deep breath and enjoying the pleasant smell of our offering.
Third, we give to bear spiritual fruit. “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit” (4:17). Paul’s greatest thrill over the generosity of Philippi was not in receiving the actual money, but what it meant for the spiritual well being of Philippi. Their generosity was a sign that spiritual fruit was springing up in that church. He also reminded them that, “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory to Christ Jesus” (4:19). God is rich toward those who are rich toward him. “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Prov 11:25).
While Paul acknowledges that generosity is necessary to meet practical needs, he sees the met need as incidental to the wonderful spiritual developments happening inside of us when we give. Our giving is as much about what it does for us as givers as it is about the person who receives it. It really is more blessed to give than to receive.
From Expository Files 23.6; June 2016