Poor enough to be rich

Text: Phil 4:10-19 Preached at Werribee Church of Christ 12/12/04

Introduction

About 18 months ago, I told you about one of the most challenging expressions of Christian discipleship I’ve ever heard. And I’d like to remind you of it again this morning. I attended a conference here in Melbourne around about 1995, which was run by a team from YWAM. One of the key speakers was Loren Cunningham, the founder of YWAM. I don’t think I was the only one squirming in my seat as he spoke at much length about how to deal with money. He said: “If you ever get any money, the best thing you can do with it is give it away.” He didn’t mean give away a tenth of it or some of it, or what’s left of it .. he meant all of it.

And it was something far more than a nice idea he had for someone else to do. You wonder about that with preachers sometimes, don’t you .. I wonder with myself sometimes… But this wasn’t the buck-passing style of preaching – this was a message with integrity as well as punch. .. Just as we noted with Paul’s testimony last week, when he urged the Philippian believers to make rejoicing a habit – he was simply asking them to do what he had already done when he rejoiced that the Gospel was advancing as a result of his imprisonment.

Loren Cunningham’s challenge about money had just that kind of integrity. He described an extraordinary instance in YWAM’s own international ministry, in which they had been saving over many years to buy a ship to use for their ministry. .. Now please note, the word is “ship” – that’s not a rubber dinghy or a kayak or rowing boat .. something a bit bigger, like an ocean liner! .. like the Titanic only with a longer shelf-life and more buoyant prospects. I’ve been looking out for one in the Target Christmas catalogue, but somehow there just doesn’t seem to be a market for them among the Target clientele. A few too many digits before the decimal point, I think.

YWAM had almost saved all that they needed, when they learned that another Christian mission organisation (OM) had an urgent need to replace one of their ships. So they gave all that they’d saved away to OM.

One of the most extraordinary exercises I’ve heard of, of Jesus’ exhortation: (Mt 6:19-21) 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … [And then he says] 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Don’t store up treasure for now, store it up for eternity, store up what lasts, invest in glory…

A resident of Sanctuary Lakes died and went to heaven. He was greeted at the gates, and escorted to his new residence. On the way, they walked past many beautiful mansions and it looked just like his own street .. until finally they arrived at a weatherboard shack with rotting boards and a rusted roof. He was shocked, and said “Why am I being given a rundown hovel when all of these others have fine mansions?” St. Peter responded, “I’m afraid we did the best we could with the money you sent us.”

Generosity

Paul came to the closing lines of his letter to the church at Philippi, and expressed the same sentiment that Jesus taught. He commends them on their generosity in sharing practically and materially in support of him in his Gospel ministry, especially while in prison. But he says when you exercise generosity in sharing out of your material wealth, it’s not me who gets the chief benefit .. it’s you. He says 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. That’s God’s style of economics, and it doesn’t make a lot of natural sense. We thought last week in 4:7 about God’s kind of peace that doesn’t make much sense .. (Remember that? .. If you let God worry about your problems, then his peace that’s beyond understanding will post a guard over the thoughts of your mind and the passions of your heart, and fight off Satan’s assaults.)

Well now we’re discovering that God’s accounting practices don’t make much sense either. Look closely at what Paul says here: In verse 10 he says “I’m glad that you’ve finally had an opportunity to act on your concern for me.” But then he says in the next few sentences “I’d be content if nothing happened anyway.” (We’ll come back to that a bit later.) Then (v14) he returns to the matter of their practical kindness, commends them for it .. then he says “The profit will be yours”, and ends by saying (v19) “You’ll be rich with glory! .. God has so much glory stored up in Christ Jesus that as you generously invest in the Gospel he will meet all of your needs!” He mentions that their sacrificial generosity has satisfied his needs .. but he puts the final emphasis on their needs, and says those will be completely satisfied by God. So the more they give away, the more satisfied they’ll be.

Where’s the sense in that? You wouldn’t read that in the Financial Review, would you? The shareholders would make short work of the blue-chip company CEO who gave all the profits away as a growth strategy. (He’d get a good handshake, but that’s beside the point and it spoils the illustration.) .. But Paul says when what you’re investing in is the work of the Gospel, generosity pays dividends that by all natural logic shouldn’t occur. Not so very different, is it, from Loren Cunningham’s perspective: The best thing you can do with money/ wealth is give it away.

Contentment

I’ve highlighted before that Jesus had quite a bit to say about money. In fact the only topic Jesus spoke more about than money was the Kingdom of God, which was the core of his preaching. He announced the beginning of his own ministry by declaring (Mk 1:15): The Kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the Gospel. Every word he spoke after that pointed to what was involved in repenting and living under God’s rule. In that vein, he said more about handling wealth (how to view it .. what to do with it) than anything else.

Jesus had plenty to say about money, wealth. So did Paul. And in my reading of all Paul’s teaching, I think there are fundamentally two attitudes to money that Paul modelled in his own life, and that he commended to the churches he taught. Both of those core attitudes feature right here in Philippians 4.

The first is generosity, which is where I’ve put the spotlight so far this morning .. generosity patterned on the sacrificial generosity of Christ in his Cross. The other one is contentment.

One of the Scripture verses often quoted and memorised by Christians is verse 13: I can do all things through him who strengthens me. It’s a great affirmation of faith, and a great testimony to the Holy Spirit’s enabling. But it’s usually quoted on its own, without any reference to its surrounding context. .. Please note carefully what Paul actually meant by it. He didn’t mean he could lift anything .. swallow anything .. solve any problem .. climb anything .. He meant that he had reached a stage in his personal growth as a disciple of Christ, where he could rest and be satisfied whether he was well-off, comfortable and well-fed, or whether he was poor, under-resourced and hungry.

Twice he says he learned this, and at the end he says (v19 again) that God will satisfy them as well. .. In other words, this capacity for contentment isn’t some super quality that only a special class of spiritual giants possess .. There came a point when Paul learned it (which means he wasn’t at that point before) .. and you can reach that point too .. You too can reach a stage in your walk with God. where whether you’re full and rich or hungry and stretched – every need you have is satisfied in having Christ.

Christian contentment isn’t about getting more .. it’s about needing less because Christ and his forgiveness and the joy of belonging to him, are utterly satisfying. Contentment …

Conclusion

In another fortnight we’ll be exchanging treasures under the tree, and singing about snow while we swelter in the sun. Please invest lightly in those treasures, and sing passionately not about the melting of the snow but about the giving of God. And as you do, take a moment to ponder another act of generosity described by Paul in 2 Corinthians. As with Phil 4, in 2 Cor 8 & 9 Paul was again speaking of an opportunity to be insanely generous. He was actually asking cash strapped Christians to give material wealth away. To illustrate his point, he reminds them of the Gospel .. he says: You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. ( 2 Cor 8:9)

We read the same thing in different words in Phil 2 a few weeks ago: We know it well – too well perhaps. It’s also a song .. sung perhaps by the early church, and quoted by Paul .. A song about Christ, our Christ, who though he was God did not demand and cling to his rights as God; but was born a human being, becoming a slave, dying a criminals death, to be exalted to the highest place, confessed as Lord by every tongue. Jesus, entitled to heaven’s glory, Jesus, born to earth’s shame – for us. That’s Christmas .. And all our Christmases really did come at once .. the very first time.

2005 is a year filled with promise not just as a new year but as a fresh start for the Werribee Church of Christ. It may be no coincidence that it will also be the year of Festival Victoria, when if God so determines a whole generation of future Christian leaders may be born into the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile our income through offerings has been lagging behind, as I think it did in the latter part of last year. .. For all sorts of reasons, this is a good time to take stock before God, to ask him to renew our hearts for him by the conviction of his Spirit, to consider whether he is our highest joy .. and whether it’s true today that the portion of the wealth he has entrusted to us that we return to him reflects our satisfaction in him and his worth to us. .. They may not know it .. but thousands of people in this city need this church to be filled with people who are filled with Christ, and overflowing in generosity for their sakes .. How much are Christ and his Cross worth to you? How much … ? The answer should be on this table this morning, and each week.

Money: If you ever get it , give it .. in honour of the great giver. .. If you do that .. if you give away your earthly wealth for heaven’s eternal and glorious wealth stored up for you in Christ .. if you invest in the Gospel and the eternal destinies of the people of Wyndham .. and learn contentment in God and his purposes and what he allows .. then you’ll be poor enough now to be rich for ever.


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