The Motivation to Give

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 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. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 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. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – Philippians 4:14-23 ESV

Paul was grateful, and he expressed that gratitude to the Philippian church. They had lovingly and generously reached out to him in what they believed to be was his time of need. Paul didn’t want his admission that he had no needs to come across as ungratefulness or to offend his brothers and sisters in Christ. They had seen Paul in trouble and had reached out in love and concern.

And Paul wanted them to know that he was appreciative because not every church had been as kind and caring. Not only had some of the places in which he had preached failed to give toward his ministry, that had rejected his message. While Paul had been in Macedonia and Thessalonica, it had been the Philippians who had donated toward his ministry and provided for his needs.

Yet Paul, always trying to keep their minds focused on what is truly important, reminds them that their eternal reward is of far greater importance value than any temporal benefit he may have received from their gift. God was going to reward them for their generosity. He would bless them for their willingness to sacrifice on Paul’s behalf. The gift was not the important thing. It was the condition of hearts behind the gift.

The generosity of their gift had left Paul well-supplied and in need of nothing. But,  more importantly, their gift had been “a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18 NLT). Paul was blessed, God was pleased, and the Philippians were fruitful. What more could Paul ask for?

And Paul wanted the Philippians to know that the God who had met for his needs through them would be faithful to do the same for them.

“…this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19 NLT

God loves a cheerful giver. And God expresses His love for that giver by generously meeting their needs. Paul expressed this very same idea to the church in Corinth.

Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 NLT

Paul was not preaching a prosperity gospel. He wasn’t suggesting that we should give to get. Personal reward should not be the motivation behind our generosity. That is a totally self-centered and selfish approach that does not gel with Scripture. But it is important that we understand that gracious, selfless giving is proof of the Spirit’s work in our life. It reveals His presence and power.

But if the things we do are motivated out of a desire for reward and recognition, we will never enjoy the blessings of God. Jesus made this perfectly clear in His Sermon on the Mount.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” – Matthew 6:2 NLT

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. – Matthew 6:5 NLT

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. – Matthew 6:16 NLT

Paul expressed his thanks, but he didn’t want the Philippians to mistakenly assume that it was the nature of their gift that had earned them a reward from God. He didn’t want them to think that God was now somehow obligated to them or owed them a blessing. It was their love for Paul that was important. The gift was simply an expression of that love. We can all give, pray, and fast, expecting God to reward us for doing so. But if we don’t do it out of love, our giving, praying, and fasting have no value in God’s eyes.

Paul was able to declare that God had met each and every one of his needs. And Paul knew that God would continue to do so. God Almighty wasn’t reliant upon the Philippians to meet Paul’s needs. He could have sent an angel to minister to Paul. But God allowed the Philippians the joy of knowing what it is like to be used by Him. They got to experience the blessing of being His hands and feet. And their sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading, as evidenced by their gift to Paul, was meant to remind them that God was at work in them. And this brings us full-circle to a statement Paul had made earlier in his letter to them.

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. – Philippians 2:12-13 NLT

They were, and God was. Their gift blessed Paul, pleased God, and rewarded them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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God’s Brand of Righteousness.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:21-26 ESV

Inevitably, the book of Romans is about how man can be made right with God. The first few chapters build a case concerning man’s unrighteousness, proving that no man is capable of living up to God’s holy standards. Man’s sin nature prevents him from keeping God’s law. Even those parts he does manage to keep, he does so from a wrong motivation, out of a sense of obedience or obligation, not love. His law-keeping ways are insufficient to earn him any merit with God. His acts of goodness come across as worthless to God because they are tainted with sin. So Paul concludes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That includes Jews and Gentiles, pagans and the pious, reprobates and the religious, and everyone in-between.

But God’s brand of righteousness has been revealed apart from the law, Paul contends. In other words, God revealed His righteousness through the gift of His grace, not as a form of payment for man’s efforts. Over in chapter four, Paul states, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due” (Romans 4:4 ESV). If our righteousness can be earned, then we are simply receiving what we are owed. If it is based on our own efforts, then God is somehow obligated to pay us what we rightly deserve. But Paul clarifies the truth regarding the gospel and the righteousness God approves of. “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5 ESV). In fact, the Scriptures say of Abraham, “Abraham believed god, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3 ESV). The kind of righteousness God is looking for is base on faith, not works. It is God-dependent, not self-dependent. All “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as the propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25 ESV).

Man-made righteousness is insufficient. It can’t measure up. It leaves us far short of the goal that God has established. Augustine writes, “The Law was given, in order that we might seek after grace. Grace was given, in order that we might fulfill the Law. It was not the fault of the Law that it was not fulfilled, but the fault was man’s carnal mind. This guilt the Law must make manifest, in order that we may be healed by divine grace” (Augustine, Concerning the Spirit and the Letter). We are justified through faith by grace. As Paul says, it is a gift, unearned and undeserved. Christ’s death solved our problem. He paid our debt. He redeemed us out of slavery to sin and propitiated or satisfied the holy demands of God. Until Jesus showed up on the scene, God had willingly overlooked or passed over the sins committed by men. This does not mean that He accepted or tolerated them. What Paul is inferring is that God restrained Himself from dealing with the sins of men according to His own justice. He put off the inevitable. He delayed His wrath in order that He might reveal His righteousness through Christ. As Paul says, “It was to show His righteousness at the present time” (Romans 3:26 ESV). God knew it was “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). So, the author of Hebrews writes, “when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book”’” (Hebrews 10:5-7 ESV). Jesus Christ was sent by God to do His will. He was sent to die for the sins of men. The righteousness God demanded of men was only possible through faith in the sacrifice of God’s Son. The book of Hebrews reminds us that, “by that will [the will of God that He die] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV).

In sending His Son to atone for the sins of men, God was able to remain just. He was able to punish sin in the way that His holy standards required, while at the same time justifying those who, those sinners, placed their faith in His Son’s saving work. God provided the righteousness man needed. It was a gift – unearned, undeserved and unmerited in any way. So that no one can boast. No one can take credit for their salvation. No one can claim to have played a part in their sanctification. And no one can say they had a hand in achieving a right standing before God. It was all done for us and in spite of us.

Day 94 – Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30

Everything Is Possible.

Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” – Matthew 19:26 NLT

If we keep the verse above within its context, Jesus is addressing the issue of salvation. Of course, we could easily say that it could apply to just about anything. With God, everything really is possible. But Jesus made this statement in answer to a question from His disciples. They had asked, “Then who in the world can be saved?” They were confused over an exchange between Jesus and a young man who had come asking what he must do to have eternal life. His exact question was, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NLT). In other words, he was looking for a task to perform or a deed to do. His was a performance-based mindset where actions resulted in rewards. We learn a little later that he is a wealthy young man “for he had many possession” (Matthew 19:22 NLT). His life had been a testament to earning through effort. Sure, he could have inherited all that he had, but he somehow knew that if he wanted something of even greater value – eternal life – he was going to have to DO something to earn it.

Jesus knew his heart. He knew him to be a type-A, driven individual who would take seriously any word of advice or five-step formula Jesus might give him. So Jesus simply answered, “Keep the commandments.” Being a cut-to-the-chase kind of a guy, the young man asks, “Which ones?” He didn’t want to waste time with any commandments that weren’t going to count in his quest for eternal life. So Jesus lays out a few. “You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:18-19 NLT). To which the man proudly replied, “Done that! What else?” Now, let’s be honest. Do we really think this young man had kept all these commandments? I’ll spot him the first two, but I can’t believe he never stole or testified falsely, or that he always honored his father and mother and loved his neighbor selflessly. He may have thought he had kept these commandments, based on his own criteria or standard, but the chances are high that he had not. Jesus’ response to his question, “What else?” is very interesting. “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 NLT). Notice the word, “perfect.” In the Greek it is the word teleios and it means “wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” It is the same word used by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount when He said, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT). The idea is to be complete, lacking nothing. God is perfect, whole, complete, and lacks nothing. This man had it all from a worldly perspective, but was lacking one thing: Eternal life. He was not perfect. And interestingly, Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give the money to the poor. Jesus challenges him to let go of all the things he had pursued in search of the perfect, complete, whole life and give it away. And He follows that up with an invitation to follow Him. Perfection, completeness and wholeness will never be found in this life short of selling out to follow Jesus. Now, this is not a universal teaching truth from Jesus that every single individual must sell all their possessions and give away their money before they can follow Him. He knew this man’s real problem. He was in love with the world and his wealth. He had spent years seeking perfection and completeness in material things. Giving all that up was not a possibility for this man, and so we’re told “he went away sad.”

Then Jesus makes a statement that shocked the disciples, because it went against all that they had been taught. It contradicted their view of life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:23 NLT). They believed wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Now Jesus was telling them that wealth was actually a deterrent to eternal life. Why? Because wealth or material things can easily become a means by which we seek perfection or completeness. Just one more thing. Just a little bit more money. Just a slightly bigger house in a slightly better neighborhood. Just a little bit newer and nicer car. Just a few more additions to the wardrobe. But back in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT). Jesus was inviting this man to do this same thing. He was challenging him to stop worrying about money and stuff, and to start truly seeking God’s Kingdom, instead of his own.

But when the disciples ask who in the world can be saved, Jesus tells them the most important truth in this entire conversation: “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26 NLT). Salvation is a work of God, not man. We can’t save ourselves. It is an act of God made possible through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This man couldn’t earn it or perform some take to merit it. He was going to have to give up all his self-effort and throw aside all that he put his hope in and had based his future on, and turn to Jesus as the only way to eternal life. From a human perspective, salvation is impossible. It is out of our hands and beyond our reach. But God has made it possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son.

Father, thank You that You don’t require us to earn our salvation, because none of us could pull it off. We are incapable of living sinless, perfect lives apart from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. But Father, there are still so many things that distract us from leaning completely on You. We can still put way too much hope in the things of this world and forget that the most important objective of our lives is holiness, not happiness. Keep us focused on building Your kingdom, not our own. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 9d

Don’t Fear the Fear of the Lord.

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.” – Proverbs 9:10 NLT

The fear of the Lord, while a biblical topic, is not a popular one among most Christians today. We find it uncomfortable talking about it because it sounds distasteful and unappealing to our sensibilities. In our minds, fear is to be avoided at all costs. It’s why we light up our homes like Christmas trees, hook them up with security systems, and lock them tight at night. We want to remove all fear by providing as much security as we possibly can. But what motivated our actions? What caused us to put the security system in, install extra locks on the doors, and turn on the lights at night? It was all motivated by fear. You see, in reality, fear can be a very positive influence in our lives. And the fear of the Lord is one of the positively influential attitudes we can pursue. Over in Proverbs 28:14, we’re told, “Happy is the man in whom is the fear of the Lord at all times; but he whose heart is hard will come into trouble.” There is a joy and contentment that comes with learning to fear God. It was the Puritan minister, John Bunyan, who referred to the fear of the Lord as a gift or grace from God. It is HIS fear that He places in OUR hearts. It is a holy recognition and realization of His holiness, righteousness, power, and singular role as the ruler over all the universe. Listen to John Bunyan’s description of the fear of the Lord:

Had God given thee all the world, yet cursed hadst thou been, if he had not given thee the fear of the Lord; for the fashion of this world is a fading thing, but he that feareth the Lord shall abide for ever and ever. This therefore is the first thing that I would propound for thy encouragement, thou man that fears the Lord. This grace will dwell in thy heart, for it is a new covenant grace, and will abide with thee for ever. It is sent to thee from God, not only to join thy heart unto him, but to keep thee from final apostasy—“I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me” (Jer 32:40). That thou mayest never forsake God, is his design, and therefore, to keep thee from that wicked thing, he hath put his fear in thy heart. Many are the temptations, difficulties, snares, traps, trials, and troubles that the people of God pass through in the world, but how shall they be kept, how shall they be delivered, and escape? Why, the answer is, The fear of God will keep them — “He that feareth God shall come forth of them all.”

The fear of the Lord is a grace. It is a gift from God that He places in our hearts and provides for us so that we might live for Him. It is not something to be avoided or feared. It is a motivating factor in our lives that produces wise behavior. It protects us, watches over us, guides us, motivates us, and keeps us centered on Him as our one true source for all that we need. The fear of the Lord keeps us from fearing man. Because I fear the Lord, I don’t need to fear financial loss or even physical death. My God is greater than both. It is when I learn to fear God for who He is that I will begin to grow in wisdom and understanding. Life will begin to make sense. I will see the world through a different set of lenses. I will gain a new perspective on reality. It is the foundation of wisdom. And as I grow to know God better and better, I will develop good judgment. He will give me the capacity to make wise choices and good decisions. I will instinctively know what to do and when to do it. But it all begins with the fear of the Lord. That’s a good thing.

Father, help me to see the fear of You as a good thing, not a bad thing. Help me to understand that it is not an aversion to You or a dread of You. It is a healthy, wholesome respect for and recognition of who You are and a realization of just how much I need You to thrive in this life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org