Its amazing to watch the change that comes over a person when he or she gets married. The focus of life tends to move from me to us, or at least it should. We can all tell sad stories about situations where that shift in attitude didnt take place. And then, theres another drastic change when children come along. The focus of life moves from us to them. There is now a little person who depends on me for his or her very existence. Making time for us now takes special planning. Money I used to consider mine to spend as I wished is not mine anymore. Its put into a family account to cover the many different expenses that come in. My free time disappears into a list of chores longer than the hours available.
The process Im describing is painful. My old way of life must die and give way to another. Most of us discover in the middle of this transition that we are much more selfish than we realized, and its only when the needs of others force us to change do we actually let go of our self-centeredness. I described how marriage and parenthood press people to mature, but you and I know only too well, not everyone is willing to reorient their life from me to us, and then to them. We all have sad stories about people who quit and went back to me. And no, Im not saying marriage and parenting are the only way such inner development takes place, but it is probably the most common way humans learn a measure of selflessness.
Through our study in Acts we met the church in Philippi. In that city we watched God draw together a very diverse group of people, and then Paul, Silas and Timothy traveled on, apparently leaving Luke behind. If it werent for Pauls letter to the Philippian church we wouldnt know what a powerful ministry this group of believers developed over the coming years. They became far more selfless and faithful in giving to Gods work than other churches Paul planted. Why this was so is not said, but Im suspicious that Lydia and Luke modeled a level of generosity that caught on and became a beautiful part of that churchs culture. They were the church who faithfully supported a missionary named Paul over the next decade, and probably for the rest of his life.
Today well study the Philippian church by reading what Paul wrote to them in his letter. Well learn from his words of appreciation and observe the effect their faithfulness had on his ministry. And in our study well also discover that there were people like these Philippians who supported Jesus and His apostles. Such people are always quiet about what they do. Jesus said thats how we should give (Mt 6:3), but the impact of such people on Gods kingdom is great. Not because of the amount of money they give, but because of the love and faith that goes with it. (Lk 21:1-4).
Have you ever wondered how Jesus could afford to do what He did? Where did the money come from? I always assumed the disciples placed an offering basket somewhere after He preached, though none is ever mentioned. And its quite apparent that, if He wanted to, He could have miraculously provided money without anyones help. Here are examples:
1) A miraculous catch (Lk 5:1-11; Jn 21:1-6). Jesus was providing for the needs of the families of His disciples so they could stop fishing and travel full-time with Him (live wells).
2) A shekel in a fishs mouth (Mt 17:24-27). Jesus paid the half shekel tax for the support of the temple by having Peter throw a line into the Sea of Galilee and open the mouth of the first fish he caught. A shekel was enough to pay for both Jesus and Peter.
3) Feeding the 5,000 (Lk 9:12-17). Jesus took five loaves and two small fish, blessed them, broke them, and kept giving bread and fish to His disciples until an enormous multitude was fed, with food left over.
He didnt need to rely on others, but Luke reveals that He chose to allow others to help support Him, particularly a group of faithful women:
and He journeyed through city after city and village after village proclaiming (announcing) and preaching (calling for decision) the Kingdom of God, and the twelve were with Him, and there were certain women who had been healed from evil spirits and sickness, Mary being called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herods (Antipas) steward (minister of finance), and Susanna, and many others who were ministering to them out of their possessions. (Lk 8:1-3, literal).
In other words, there was a group of women who had been healed or delivered, who regularly gave financial support so Jesus and His twelve disciples could devote themselves to ministry. Were seeing an important principle of Gods kingdom at work: God wants to touch the hearts of His people so that they will give generously and consistently in order to allow others to devote themselves to His service. In doing so, those who give share in the spiritual fruit of that ministry.
Jesus attitude toward wealth*
Jesus had a two-pronged approach to wealth. On the one hand, He was very critical of people who used their wealth to abuse or oppress others, or people who got their wealth by taking from others. Each of us should ask ourselves, Has the wealth I have been obtained in any way by taking advantage of someone else? But on the other hand, Jesus had an appreciation for wealthy people who saw wealth as a tool, people who were willing to share from their wealth to make ministry happen. We should never go into a job or occupation with the attitude of simply making an income. God wants our focus to be on serving Him and people in everything we do. But if God puts us in a place where we become wealthy at what we do, Jesus would teach us that our wealth is not for our own sake, but is to be used by us as a tool to advance His kingdom, just like everything else we receive from God. So wealth is no different than my voice, or my brain, or the talents I carry in my fingers. Its an opportunity to say, I will use my resources to strengthen the hands of others.
(*This section relies heavily on notes from a lecture by Ray Vander Laan entitled Language of Culture in a video series called, Faith Lessons on the Life and Ministry of the Messiah, Focus on the Family, 1998).
Paul had a policy that he wouldnt take offerings or receive gifts from the people he was evangelizing so they would know that he loved them and not their money. When necessary, he would support himself and even cover the expenses of his traveling companions by mending tents. But he would still gratefully receive gifts from churches in other cities to support his mission work. Such gifts freed his time to focus on ministry. And during the years when he was in jail, he could become desperate if no one helped. However, it appears very few churches did send gifts, which can only mean they didnt mature in their attitude to become a resource for others. Thankfully, the Philippian church did. Listen:
1) Php 1:3, 5 from the first day until now
2) Php 2:19-30
Timothy will care about them and not their money.
Philippi sent Epaphroditus to care for Paul in prison, and he worked so hard he became sick and almost died.
3) Php 4:10-19
v11 I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am
after I left Macedonia, no church shared (koinonia) with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone, for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift both once and twice to my need. (literal)
v17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit increasing into your account.
you have sent a sweet-smelling odor, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.
v19 And my God will fill up every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
You cant buy souls, you cant buy ministry, but you can, by being generous and faithful, release people you know and believe in what they are doing (Mary Schell), you can free people from having to work a job to support themselves so they can devote themselves to the ministry God has called them to do. Heres how Hudson Taylor, the founder of China Inland Mission (1865) explained it:
Hudson explained that often money is the easiest thing to give. I think a collection tends to leave the impression that the all important thing is money, whereas no amount of money can convert a single soul. What is needed is men and women filled with the Holy Spirit to give themselves to the work. There will never be a shortage of funds for the support of such people (Janet & Geoff Benge, Hudson Taylor, Deep in the Heart of China, YWAM, 1998, p.158).
Hudson Taylor never told anyone to give, in fact he never asked for money, except in prayer to God. But he did encourage people to ask themselves this question Lord, what would you have me do?
Just as the focus of a young parent needs to move from me to us to them, the focus of a disciple must shift as well. The orientation of our lives must turn from expecting people to serve me, pray for me, and give to my needs, to serving others, praying for others, and becoming a resource for others. As weve seen, not everyone is willing to make this shift, but those who do, like the Philippian church, offer a sacrifice thats well-pleasing to God. As we mature:
each of us should be giving sacrificially to people we know and believe in what they are doing.
each of us should be doing ministry thats so challenging that others will need to give sacrificially to help us (mission teams, children, youth, LMI, school of worship
each of us should be personally involved in the work of winning people to Christ. Financial gifts are not enough, God needs us most of all.
1) Name someone that you know and believe in the ministry they are doing. How has God called you to help them? (You dont have to be specific. Some things are best kept private).
2) Where would you place yourself on a scale of maturing from me to us or them? What events have helped you step away from being self-centered?
3) Have you ever seriously sought Gods guidance concerning your finances and asked the question, Lord, what would you have me to do?