This is a song this man could not sing. "For the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." He was young, powerful, and rich. But there was an inner sense that said, "I am not sure if I were to die tonight what would happen to me. Would God receive me? Or would I be rejected? Because God is perfect and I am not perfect and I am not sure how God is going to deal with that." He had always been able to take care of everything else in his life by taking it head on, working it out, so he took that approach this time. He went to the smartest man he knew. He went to Jesus and asked, "Good master, what must I do to have eternal life, to have peace with God?" Jesus answered, "Take everything you have and give it to the poor and come follow me." Scripture records that this man turned and sorrowfully walked away because he had great wealth that he was unwilling to give up. He had everything, but no peace with God. And he was fearful that if he lost the things he had, the peace with God would not be enough for him. He trusted his money and status to do more for him than what God had to offer. For that man, something stood between him and God.
I want you to reflect on your life. What are you letting stand between you and God? Not that you are aggressively walking away from Him, but you just neglect to follow His leading in your life. "Oh yeah, I am going to do that." The good ideas, the hopes, the dreams, the commitments, the decisions you make somehow lose their strength within days or weeks. What are you letting stand between you and God? Are you willing to tell it to "get out of my way?" Or are you telling God to get out of your way because you want something else? That is pretty serious. But I want you to know it is also serious to say, "God, I want to go where you want me to go" and then not get there. The rich young ruler was not rude to Jesus. He did not say, "Ok, Jesus, I heard what you had to say, now get out of my way because I am going my own way." He rejected Jesus politely. He just quietly walked away.
Turn to Philippians chapter 4. In Philippians 4:9, Paul writes, "Whatever you have learned or received from me or heard from me or seen in me, put it into practice and the God of peace will be with you." We have studied Philippians. How much of it have you put into practice? How much of it has changed your attitudes and actions? Are you putting anything into practice? For example, think back with me. Paul opens Philippians by encouraging the Philippian believers. We learned several things about encouragement. We can be encouraged because we have a heavenly Father who engineers our circumstances if we trust Him. He knows how you should grow and what you need to be fulfilled. You have a heavenly Father who is invested in your life. He personally cares for you. You have a heavenly Father who never gives up on you. Are you practicing that outlook in life? Have those truths saturated your heart? If not, why not? Think about it. What is standing in your way? Time? Effort? Other priorities?
Then we looked at how to be an encourager, how to express the positive impact people have on us and to remind them of their potential with God. I taught this by using three verbs--I saw, I felt, I see. "Son, I saw you open the door for your mom. I felt so proud seeing you grow up and caring for others." Are you becoming an encourager? Are you following through on those opportunities to lift others up? Or do you just point out their failures? Are you a critic or are you becoming an encourager? What is standing in the way of you doing that? Effort? Time? Understanding? Maybe laziness?
I could go all the through the series. When storms arise in your life, are you discovering ways to redeem them--pulling something good from each and every circumstance. When you face a no-win situation, a dilemma that you cannot resolve, do you fret and stew and worry? Or do you trust God that He will give you the answer that you need in His time. Are you monitoring your life's priorities so that you can live consistent with them?
Are you building nurturing friendships? Are you less worried and frustrated because you remember that you have Jesus in the boat with you? Are you growing contentment in your life knowing that He always gives you everything you need to do everything He wants you to do? Anything He wants you to do, He will provide the resources. Where He guides, He provides. Are you developing a generous spirit with your time, with your feelings, with your resources? If not, what is standing in your way?
All the sermons that I can ever give and all the Bible reading you can ever do can get stuck in the elbow. Halfway between the head and the hands. Halfway between deciding and doing. Remember the three frogs? Three frogs on a branch, one decides to jump off, how many are left? Three. He just decided, he never did it. It is one thing to decide something. It is another thing to follow through. So, what is standing in the way of your spiritual growth? For the rich young ruler it was his great wealth. Following Jesus, he determined, was not worth the cost. The sacrifice of pride, fear, of needing something he might give away. So he says, "Excuse me, Jesus," and walked away. And I think that is the key to identifying what may be standing in your way. What do you value more than spiritual and moral growth? What do you allow to creep in? TV time? Golf? Financial security? Playing with the kids? Organizing your tools? Talking on the phone? Building an awesome car? Creating a decorator-perfect home? These things are all 'ok'. God loves to see His children enjoy these things. But when they get out of balance, they become a barrier between you and God. They can monopolize your time, your heart, your finances. They end up standing between you and God. If you start to think that something or someone can satisfy your heart, that thing or person is standing between you and God. If you hold them too tightly, they can stand between you and God.
Look at Luke 18:28. It holds a surprise that I think will encourage you. Verse 28 occurs immediately after the story I told at the beginning of this paper. After the rich young man turned and walked away from Jesus, Peter got excited. Peter said, "We have left all to follow you." But then Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and in the age to come." Let this truth take root in your heart so that it will color everything you do. You can always trust God. When it does not look like things are going the way that you want them to go, you can trust God to be with you through it. Live your life with Christ bravely and courageously.
In verse 11, Jesus is finishing the story about a Pharisee and a tax collector. "The Pharisee stood up and prayed to himself." Some versions say "prayed about himself." He is saying this to himself. He is not saying it out loud because this would be totally arrogant but in his heart he thinks, the same way sometimes we think, "I am not as bad as somebody else." In his heart he prays to God, "Lord, I thank you that I am not like other people, the swindlers, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax gatherer." Beware of pride, of thinking that you have arrived and have nothing left to learn.
And now for the surprise. Look down a little farther. What comes right after this story? When Jesus heads off to Jerusalem, where does He go? He goes to Jericho. And traveling through Jericho he sees a man in a tree. Remember? The story of Zaccheus. Remember Zaccheus' profession? He was a tax gatherer. And do you remember what Zaccheus did when Jesus was in his house? As soon as Jesus arrived, Jesus does not have to scold him, does not have to lecture him, it says in verse 8 or chapter 19, "Zaccheus stood up and said, "Lord, here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." He was unwilling to let anything stand between him and Jesus, between him and God. His whole life had revolved around building a fortune. But when he met Jesus he let it all go.
Zaccheus knew what stood in the way between him and God and he took care of it. Let me ask you, did he lose that day or did he gain? We do not know the rest of the story. We do not know whatever happened to him. Scripture does not tell us. It does not say what happened the next week, the next month or the remaining years of his life. But do you think he lost or do you think he gained? Is it not amazing how easy it is to see truth for somebody else? How easy it is to see the right thing to do, the thing of faith, the thing that will make the difference, the thing that will be a wonderful movement of God for somebody else. And then you look at yourself and say, "Well, but." "Yeah, but." Whatever represents that "but" is standing between you and God.
Do yourself a favor. Do the right thing for God. Zaccheus did not lose out. You will not either. Identify what is standing between you and God and tell it, "Get out of my way." God has good things for your future. He has good things for your next year. Tell fear, "Get out of my way. I want to follow where God is leading." Tell pride, "Get out of my way. I am nothing without God in my life." Tell whatever consumes your time, "Get out of my way. You are not worth it." Or whatever consumes your heart, "Get out of my way. I do not want anything between me and my God." Philippians 4:9: "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me, put into practice and the God of peace will be with you." You want to be right with God, you want a closer relationship with God? Tell everything else, "Get out of my way!"
Philippians 4:10-13: Contentment
What is contentment? Sometimes to understand one thing it is helpful to understand its opposite. I want to look at contentment's opposite so we can clearly identify what we are trying to prevent. The economic world, especially in America, seems to foster envy and jealousy all too easily. Envy and jealousy have the same basic root but slightly different focus. The difference in focus is that envy looks at the thing and jealousy looks at the person. Envy says, "I want what he has." Jealousy says, ""I want to have what they have in their life. I want their life." Envy looks at the thing. "I want that." It is thing-focused. Jealousy is person-focused. "I wish I was them. I wish those things had worked out for me." Resentment is the root of both. Resentment voiced says, "God, you are not fair. It is not fair that they should have that and I do not." A dislike of the other person also arises--even if he or she has done nothing to offend or hurt. Envy and jealousy destroy relationships and if allowed to proceed to their logical end, inflict harm on the other!
Our fallen world challenges you with a question: "How in the world can you be happy if you do not have everything you want? You deserve it. You need to get it. Get this and it will satisfy you." Look at the faces of the models and actors. They look so happy. With their looks they are selling us happiness-in a bowl, a jar, a box, or with four wheels and an automatic transmission. "This is what you need." But instead, often, we end up feeling envious because we say, "Well, I want that but I cannot have it." The first error we make is buying into the message. The second error we make is indulging envy and jealousy aimed at those who can afford it. Then we feel resentful. That is not a very pretty picture. That is not who you want to be. But I want you to recognize that it is part of all of us. Sad to say, but those things are absolutely natural. We come by them naturally. Look at your children. They do not have to be trained how to want somebody else's toys. They do not have to be schooled in how to be jealous of another person because they got picked first. They do not have to be educated about being resentful, about being mad at somebody else because they have more.
Jesus told a story about envy, jealousy, and resentment. A very simple story. It is about two brothers and their relationship with their father and each other. The younger brother said to his father, "I want all my stuff. I want all that stuff, Dad, that you have, that is going to be mine someday. I want it now." The father distributes the inheritance to each son. The younger son takes it, leaves, and squanders it all indulging every whim. Following the promises of happiness offered to him. Envy got the best of him. But then, he comes to his senses and goes back to his father and the father amazingly welcomes him back because he loves the son more than the stuff. Losing the stuff was not nearly as painful as losing his son. But the other brother says, "Dad, that is not fair. He has squandered all that you gave him and look what you are doing. You are giving him a party. You never gave me a party. You ran down the road when you saw him and hugged him. You never run down the road when I come in from the fields."
The oldest son was responsible, dutiful, he was the "Martha" of the family. He was doing the right thing and yet he felt like he was not loved as much as his younger brother. "That son of yours," he said. Not "my brother," but "that son of yours." "That son of yours has gone out and squandered it all." But the father responded, "Son, do you not know. I have enough for both of you. I value you as I do him. Do not worry about fairness. I have enough to make it completely fair. I rejoice not because I approve of his indulgent lifestyle but because I have my son back home. Before he was lost to me but now he is found!" The younger brother was felled by envy. The older brother was consumed by jealousy. And both resented their father. The younger one, when he did not have what he wanted. "Dad, I want the stuff. I do not care about you. You are not important to me. I want the toys." And the older son was jealous and resentful of the father for what he perceived as unfair treatment. He felt underappreciated.
How do you feel when you are standing in line at Target or Wal-Mart or Burdines or Dillards and you have three items in your Christmas shopping cart and in front of you is a lady with her shopping cart loaded with stuff--electronics, toys, games, clothes, shoes, all kinds of things. Do you feel a little envious? Guys, how do you feel when you go to your college or high school reunion and you see that guy that was the complete nerd, the complete jerk that nobody liked, and he is now the mega success. He runs a multi-million dollar company or multi-national corporation. His name is plastered all over the papers. He is listed in Wall Street. How do you feel? A little jealous? "Why did he make it? God, I have been doing all the right things. What is up with this?"
Feelings like these are natural. Natural, in the sense, that they come all too easily. They are part of our fallen nature. But because of our connection to God we can overcome the negative pull of these destructive emotions. He wants to weed out those things that will destroy our lives. And envy and jealousy can do just that, they can destroy us. They can make us into less than what God wants us to be!
Look at Philippians chapter four and I will show you. I want you to recognize how important God believes this topic is. God is serious, deadly serious about the negative attitudes of envy and jealousy. He includes it in the Ten Commandments. He lists it alongside "Thou shalt not murder, Thou shalt not lie, Thou shalt not worship any other God before me, Thou shalt not commit any graven image, Thou shalt not bear false witness." And number ten He says, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, his wife, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or his donkeys." Or, put in modern language: "You should not covet your neighbor's house, wife, employees, farm tractor, nor his new Suburban." God cares about what is going on inside of us not only because it affects our behaviors but also because it affects our relationship with Him. A heart that is absorbed with the things of this world, which includes envy and jealousy, cannot concentrate on the things of God.
Philippians 4:10 says, "I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me." They sent Paul financial support to help him with his needs while he was in a Roman prison. A man named Epaphroditis was their ambassador to Paul. Paul continues: "Indeed, you have been concerned but you really had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, but I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." Catch that. He says, "I have learned to be content." Contentment is not natural to us. Parents, do you have to teach your kids to say "thank you?" And teach them and teach them and teach them. It needs to be learned. It is not a natural ability. Contentment is an attitude and ability that we can learn. It is something you must put into practice before it becomes a solid part of your life.
Contentment is a learned ability. And he says in verse 12, "I know what it is to be in need. And I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content." I read that and it caught my eye because he is kind of intimating that "I know a secret. I know the secret of being content." And contentment is something we all want in life. And Paul says, "I have found the secret. I have learned the secret of being content." And I said, "Great, what is it?" I started through the next verse and it keeps on going. "In any circumstance, in every situation, whether I have been fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or living in want, I can do everything through him who strengthens me." Ok, where is the secret there? He is going to tell me the secret. What is the answer? And I did not see it. I read down further thinking, "well, maybe it is farther down there because he is not going to tease us with, "I know how you can be perfectly happy for the rest of your life, but I am not going to tell you." Paul would not do that. God does not do that. When he says "I know the secret," he is going to tell us because he wants us to know. Where is it? I looked down a little bit farther and then I looked back at verse 13 again. "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." And I had to look at that to find it because I have always been taught that verse as a stand-alone verse. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I remember running cross country in high school. "I can do this God. Give me strength. Help me, help me." You know, I would use that verse to get me to the end. I do not think that is what God had in mind. Here is what you need to do. Take your pencil and put a colon after the word "content" in your Bible. "I have learned the secret of being content." He is going to give it to you now. Then put a parenthesis around that next prepositional phrase-- "In every situation, every circumstance." It is telling us when he finds his content, not just in easy times, not just in good times. But when you need contentment, He will give it.
And then verse 13, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Put the arrow from the colon down to that verse because that is his secret to contentment. It is not simply "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." The word there that is translated "through" is the little word "en" just like we have the word "in." And 2,000 times in the New Testament it is translated "in." Thirty-some odd times it is translated "through" depending upon the implication. But the implication here is not that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Can you do everything through Christ who strengthens you? No matter what it is you want to do, can you do it through Christ? If you have never trained in athletics can you will yourself to victory over an Olympian simply because you appeal to Christ to help you? God usually does not work that way. He does not simply endorse your desires with His strength! I do not think I am going to defeat an Olympian and it is not God's fault. I think we should understand this verse as "in Christ we can do all things." The Living Bible hits it on the head. "I can do everything God wants me to do because He is the one who strengthens me to do what he wants me to do." It is what He wants me to do that He gives me the strength to do. He has not promised to endorse and strengthen us in whatever we want to do but he has promised to strengthen us in Christ for everything He calls us to do!
"Hey, dad, I want to go out and get stoned this weekend. Give me $100, will you?" Do you think a father is going to give his son the money to get stoned? "Dad, I want to go blow $1,000 at the casino. Can I have it?" Will the father give the child something that is going to cause their ruin or downfall? No! He gives what is good for him. God wants to give you what is good for you and He wants to withhold those things that will destroy or ruin your life. Everything that He desires for me, I can do. And so the question is not, "How in the world can I be content if I do not have everything I want?" The real question for the Christian is, "How in Christ can I be unhappy if I have everything I need?"
Christ has promised to satisfy my every need. I have a lot of selfish wants. I can see all kinds of things I want, but are they right for me? Are they good for me? Absolutely not! And the same for you. But in Christ, how can I be unhappy if I have exactly what I need? Enough is the key word. He does not call you to do anything that He will not fulfill the desire and the needs for you to fulfill it. The only person in this world that can stop you from being the man or woman that God wants you to be, that God dreams that you can be, that God hopes and desires for you to be, is you.
Do you say, "No, I do not want to go there." God says, "Oh, I have such good things for you. If you can just get that part of your life straightened out then we can move over here and look at this vista." The only person that can stop you from being the complete man or woman, husband, wife, student, mother, father that God wants you to be is you, by being unwilling to follow His desire and putting your desires in front of His. How in Christ can I be unhappy if I have everything I need? The secret that Paul is talking about is to be focused on what God wants. Being where God wants you is the highest place you can ever be. It is not second best. The secret is focusing on what God wants. Say, "Lord, what do you want from me? I need your strength, I need your wisdom, I need your patience, I need your understanding to do that and to get there." Then walk with Him through it.
And that is the beauty of God. He will walk with you through it. He does not say, "Ok, here is the list. Tell me when you are done. I will come back and see you. Just go out and gut it out." He says, "I will be there to help you. I will lift you up. I will bring someone alongside to give you a hand. I am on your side. I want to see you get through this because I do not want your life to be controlled by envy and resentment and greed and anger. I want it to be filled with what I have for you, with contentment. I want you to be content. I want your heart to be at rest. I want you to have peace. I want you to be able to focus on Me and what is good in life. I want you to have joy in your life."
Contentment. How do you get it? We have talked about the secret of focusing on God's desires for you. The next logical question is: What does He want? "Lord, what do you want from me?" How does it work? What do we say to ourselves? The goal is to build self-discipline and learn to focus on what God wants and controlling our minds and conforming it so that it more and more resembles the mind of Christ Jesus.
Is there something inside you, inside of me, that inadequacy, a sense of if I have this then I will be more complete? I will stand out in the crowd. What about when we buy things for our children? Do we make decisions based on what will help them be better people and experience the wholesome joys of life or on what will make them look better than others, gain status with their peers? What is the motivation for the decisions you make? You have to do some internal evaluation. You know how you do that? By praying. The same way David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life." We see three things in David's prayer. First, he prays and invites God into his life and offers his inner life up to God so that He can examine it. Second, David watches for God's answers and direction--"Point out anything in me that offends you…." And third, he follows through and does what God shows him to do. Pray, watch, and do! I have the strength in Christ to be the husband, the father, the man, the pastor that God wants me to be. The strength rests in Him, not in me. I have to talk to Him. I have to watch. And I have to be sensitive to His leading.
So many times people pray but forget the watching part. Prayer is not so much about telling God what you need. It is more about listening and watching for His answer. "Lord, you know my needs. You know I have all these things going on and I need your help, Amen." And then you go off and do it yourself. "Pray and watch" means watching for what God is going to do. If you watch you will often see little situations in which He brings answers, help, guidance, good advice. Sometimes it may be in what you read and other times He may bring a person into your life to help. "Oh, I ask God for help but instead Bob Porter gave me the help I needed. I asked God, but Bob Porter fixed it instead." Do you think maybe God worked through Bob Porter to fix it, to give me the answer I was looking for? Pray and watch. Pray and look for what God is doing. You have enough strength to be what God wants you to be.
There is a danger in this watching. Because some of you have enough money to do whatever you want there is a danger that you misinterpret God's leading because you can basically afford to do whatever you want. And some of you have enough time to do whatever you want. But remember that being able to buy or do something is not reason enough. Having enough is not the measure of whether you should do it or not. Can you be satisfied with God's desires for your life? Do you trust God as much as you trust yourself? Hopefully, you will come to trust God more than you trust yourself. "Lord, I want this but I trust your provision for me and so I am going to do without this and watch what you are going to do with me. I want you and I want what you want for me, Lord, more than what I want. I know how my heart can be drawn away and enticed by the wrong things. Lord, I also recognize that you know where you want to take me and whether this thing or activity will fit into that process." Having this attitude will bring contentment to your heart. Can you be satisfied with God's desires for your life?
Philippians 4:14-19: Generosity
Jesus talked about generosity in a story that was controversial to its hearers. It is about a landowner who had a big harvest. He planted his grapes early in the season and had seen them grow. He tended the vines and nurtured them and then it comes time to harvest and he cannot do it himself so he heads to town at 6:00 in the morning to find laborers for the harvest. He went to the marketplace to find people who needed work. "Anybody here want to make fifty dollars a day picking grapes?" And a bunch of strong, sharp guys who had been hoping and waiting for a job stood up and said, "Yes, I want to go. I can do that." A little later the landowner went back into town and saw more guys standing around waiting for work. And he said, "Hey, you guys want a job? Come on, I got a place for you. I will pay you whatever is fair." He also came back at noon, that is what is called the sixth hour. He returns again at 3:00 and then 5:00, the eleventh hour. They worked twelve-hour days then. And this landowner tells them, "I can use you today and I will pay you whatever is fair."
The whistle blew at 6:00 p.m. He instructs the foreman to pay all the workers and to start from the last hired to the first hired. Because those last people were rundown and really needed the money he paid them first. The foreman pulls out his wad of bills and peels off a fresh new fifty and gives it to the guy that just worked an hour. He gives it to the lady who can barely walk down the rows and pick anything. He gives it to the teenager that needs to work for his poor family. And he keeps peeling off fifties and as the people at the back of the line see that, they start getting excited. "Hey, he is paying those guys fifty bucks. This guy really pays his workers well. Imagine what we are going to get." And the line keeps going by and the foreman keeps peeling off fifty-dollar bills. And when those guys got their fifty, the guys who had worked first, the strong, the smart, the ones who came prepared, anxious to work, they took the fifty dollar bill and looked at it. They looked at the foreman, looked at the landowner and said, "This is not fair. You paid us the same as all those other guys who did hardly anything or did nothing. And we stood out in the sun all day long, we bore the burden of the day. And you are giving us the same as them? That is not fair." The landowner turns and says, "Hey, I told you at the start I was going to pay you a full salary, fifty-dollars. A great wage for a day laborer. And it is my money and I can do what I want with it. And if I want to give these others fifty also, that is my business. Are you envious because I am generous?"
The story teaches us about the generosity of God. And I do not know how you feel this morning, but I am mighty glad God is not fair. I do not know whom you identify with in this story. Do you identify with the first crew that is strong, young, virile, prepared, and ready to do a great job; educated, ready to make their way in a competitive world. They need to be reminded of the giftedness they have. That they are strong, they are smart, they have been given advantages that so many others have not. There, but for the grace of God, they could have been born someplace else. There, but for the grace of God, they could have been born of different parents, with no advantage. We should not be indignant when we see God's grace extended to someone who does not have the advantages.
Most of us are part of that second crew. Joe and Mary Average who get along pretty well and do all-right. Are you not glad you do not have to be an achiever to be part of God's family? That you do not have to be the best of the best? God does not say, "Only the perfect ones can come in. Only those who do everything right can come in. Only those who are sold out completely do I want with Me." He says, "I will take you as your are. I receive you as you are. I want you in my family. I want you as part of my team. Not simply for what you can do but because I love you." As parents who love their children, whether they get As or Bs or Cs, as long as they are doing their best, as long as they are caring, so God loves His children. And even when they get Fs, you love them. That is why it hurts so much. Our Father loves us despite our performance.
And then there are a few who are in that ninth hour or eleventh hour who have a life that everything seems to have gone wrong. Their kids get sick twice as often as everybody else's. The medical bills seem to pile up. They cannot get insurance. Relationships just seem to be plagued with problems. They often feel alone and inadequate. And the Master comes along side them and says, "Climb on in. I have a place for you. If you can pick the grapes or you can stand there and carry water for someone else or mark the place for what row gets picked next. I have a place for you. I love you not for what you can do, but I love you. It is you that I love." Are you not glad God is not fair and that He is generous? He loves you with that kind of love. You do not have to be perfect. His Son was perfect and He died for us so that we would not have to be. We all have so much more than we deserve. God has blessed us with so much. Even the strong and advantaged get more than they could ever earn.
This story represents three traits about God's generosity. First, it is purposeful. Did you get the sense that God is looking for people? He is seeking after them. He is wanting to find laborers. He cares, seems to care more about the workers than getting the work done. He is purposeful. Generosity is purposeful. Generosity has an end in view. It has a productive intent. The Master in this story wanted to change the worker's heart and help them provide for their needs. He wants to encourage a sense of value, of purpose, of meaning. Generosity looks for something it can do well that will be a genuine help to another.
Secondly, generosity is sacrificial. This landowner paid for far more than he got. It was not a fair exchange. He cared more about the worker than the work. He cared about the person, not the money. He gives. He said to those who had been there the full day, "It is mine to give. Are you envious because I am so generous? I am willing to sacrifice." God is a generous sacrificer. He gives of Himself for us. Remember John 3:16, a verse you have heard a thousand times, "For God so loved the world He gave His only Son," why does it say "only?" Why "only?" Yes, He only had one son, but what is the significance of "only?" It was everything He had. He could have made some other kind of sacrifice. He could have created something out of His abundance but His Son was the only thing He had that He could not replace. He loved Him enough, He loves us enough to send Him as a sacrifice for us. He was generous at Christmas. He was generous at Easter. He is generous today by giving you the presence of His Son and His Holy Spirit to live and walk with you.
God's generosity is purposeful, sacrificial, and it is also persistent. Five times he said, "Go into town to find more laborers." He does not want to miss one that is willing to come to Him. He does not want to see anyone left out who is willing to come. Some of you have been fighting against God for a long time. You go to church but you are not willing to go to God. Do not run from God anymore. He invites you. He is looking for you. He has nothing but good to bring to your life.
God's generosity is reflected in Philippians 4:14. Paul says, "Yet it was good that you all, the people of Philippi, share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me. No one was supporting me except for you only." They were attached to his life. They stood out from everybody else for what they did and their love for him. Not just because they gave him money, but because they wanted to be part of what he was doing. They cared about what was happening. "For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again, whenever I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift now, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. It is for you that you give. I have received full payment, even more. You do not owe me anything, folks, he says. I am amply supplied. Now that I have received from Epaphroditis the gifts that you have already sent." They are still sending him gifts years later. "And they are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God. They make God smile and my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches. I do not feel bad that you are giving so much because I know God is going to take care of you faithfully because you are faithfully taking care of his needs."
Can you see the Philippians' generosity was the same as God's? That it was purposeful and it was persistent. They want to be part of what God was doing through Paul. Over in the very first chapter when he starts this letter he said, "I thank my God upon my every remembrance of you. In all my prayers for all of you, I pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from this day until now." The believers at Philippi had a stake in everything that Paul did, in every church that Paul planted. The Philippians had a stake in, they were part of the cause, they made it happen. Their sacrifice bore that fruit. It was purposeful and persistent.
In 2 Corinthians Paul tells the Corinthians, "Now brothers, we want you to know of the grace that God has given through the Macedonia churches." He is telling the Corinthian churches, he is bragging on what the Philippian and Thessalonica churches have done. He says, "Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and extreme poverty welled up to rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints." Their giving was purposeful and sacrificial. They gave out of their poverty because they had a passion for the purpose of Paul's ministry. They found something they wanted to be part of and so they sacrificially pursued it.
What should a generous church look like today? What might your generosity look like? What are the traits of a generous person? The traits of a generous person are the same as the traits of God and the Philippian church--purposeful, sacrificial, and persistent. So, think with me, how will those things look in your life? What will it be doing? How will it unfold itself to others?
Trinity Evangelical Free church is not a charity. We have a purpose, we have a mission and it is not just to help out the less fortunate. You need not give to Trinity out of obligation, because you have to. You do not give to Trinity because of a service you get. "Well, they do this for my kids and so I need to give them something back." You do not give to Trinity because you want to get a bigger blessing. "Well, I am going to drop in a hundred dollar bill and see what God will do with that, see what God will give me if I give Him a hundred dollars." You should give because you believe in the ministry and what is going on here has real significance in the lives of people. You give because you are thankful for what God has done in your own life and you want to see that duplicated, replicated in other's lives. You want others to know the Savior that you know, to have the relationships that you are having. You give because you love God and care about the ministry and the lives that this ministry touches.
Secondly, your gifts will be sacrificial. Sacrificial giving means you are getting by on less. You have made a decision to do with less so that God can have more, so that God can do more, so that more can be accomplished. Generosity means that you sacrifice for another person's benefit. It means you decide to do without that 52-inch plasma Sony that is on sale. "But, but, but, the big game is coming up and it would look so good." Is there something else that is more important to you? That is when the sacrifice is made. It means you decide to try and squeeze another 20,000 miles out of that old car. It means you have to let go of something temporal so that God can do something eternal.
Thirdly, it is persistent. Giving becomes a pattern in your life. It becomes a rule rather than the exception. It becomes a pattern in your life. A biblical pattern was started by God's command to Israel to give the firstfruits to Him. As you get something, you take the firstfruits, you take the first portion, and give it back to God. You say, "I will live on the rest. I will trust God to supply the rest of my needs through what is leftover. I will give to God first rather than give God my leftovers."
How can you generate a generous spirit? How can you develop it? How does it work? It does not happen by simply feeling bad and wanting to. It has to be a process by which you decide and commit to develop a generous spirit. It starts with your heart, your heart attitude, and it is about far more than simply money. It is about your time, your relationships, your attitude toward others. It has to do with your ability, of using the giftedness, the strengths, the wisdom God has given you to be of help to others. It also means using your resources to help others--sharing a car, sharing tools, offering hospitality.
Generosity goes far beyond money. It is a lifestyle, an attitude. And then it moves from your heart to your head where you reorder your priorities and say, "I am going to choose to do this instead. I am going to make a decision to do this instead." And then eventually if you do this often enough it becomes part of your life. It starts with the heart attitude, it moves to the head for planning and approval, and finally moves to your body by which you enact generosity to others.
A five-year old little boy went to his daddy one day and told him a riddle. You know how kids love riddles. And he said, "Dad, if there are three frogs on a branch and one decides to jump off, how many frogs are left?" Dad says, "Ok, there are two frogs left." And the kid says, "No, no, dad, you are wrong. You are wrong." "Ok son. If there are three frogs and one decides to jump off, he probably shakes the branch and the others fall off, so there are no frogs left on the branch." "No Dad, you are wrong. You are wrong." "Well son, what is the answer?" "Dad, there are three on the branch because that one frog decided to jump off, but he still has not." You can decide something and never do anything about it. You felt like you wanted to get closer to God. You felt like you wanted to grow. You feel like you want to do more and be different but unless you follow through with those feelings not only will the feelings eventually go away but you will never be changed. Do not be left on the branch. Respond with your heart. Respond with your head and put it into action with your hands. Cultivate generosity in your life by being generous to others. But realize, like God's generosity, it is not indiscriminate and undisciplined. It gives with purpose--a true goal in mind. It gives sacrificially--to support someone or something important. It is persistent--actions born of a generous outlook on life.
Philippians 4:21-22: Greet One Another
He was one of those eleventh-hour guys. He felt left out and rejected by everyone. He found a career that few wanted but it seemed to suit him. Somehow it felt like it took some of the sting away because now people would not like him because of what he did instead of how he looked or who he was. And somehow that seemed to hurt just a little less.
Jesus had passed through his town a number of times and he had heard Jesus but he had never seen Him. There was always a crowd around Jesus and he could not see. He would hear His voice and hear His stories and sense there was something He was saying that attached to his heart. Something he wanted to know more about. This Jesus seemed different than everybody else he had known in his life. He seemed like a man that would look at him and love him for who he was despite what he did. That day, he heard that Jesus was coming to town. He heard the crowd outside spreading rumors and running down the road to see Him. He closed his office early and went outside, but he knew he would not be able to see over the crowd again, so he climbed up in a sycamore tree that he might get a glimpse of this man that seemed so different than everyone else.
Jesus was making His way through town. There were throngs of people crowding the way. People were crying out, "Lord, save me. Lord, heal me. Son of David, fix me." Jesus stopped and helped and cared and loved. And then Jesus turned onto the main street in Jericho. And amid the crowd and hubbub and everybody chanting and cheering and people crying out, somehow Jesus saw this man in the tree. A man He had never met. And He said, "Zaccheus, come on down because today I am going to stay in your house." The crowd fell silent, totally shocked. Of all the people in town that Jesus would stay with, he would be the last one anyone would predict. They were shocked. They could not understand it.
"Does He know? Is He aware of what He is doing?" "Does He know who this man, Zaccheus, is?" Jesus started to be criticized for what He was doing. "He is hanging out with sinners." "He is hanging out with these people that nobody wants." "He is never going to accomplish His task if He does that." "He is never going to amount to anything if He keeps doing things like this." "He is never going to draw a crowd if He hangs around those kind of people because we do not want anything to do with Him if He does." But Jesus said throughout His ministry, "I have come to rescue the lost." "Zaccheus, come on down. Today I will stay in your house."
Can you imagine what went through Zaccheus' heart? When that man said, "Zaccheus," and called him by name in front of everybody else. By stopping, Jesus was saying, "I want you. You are worth something to me. I think you have something to offer. I want to be involved in your life. I care about you and your heart and what you are going through and I think I have something to offer you, Zaccheus. I want to bless your life." By simply calling out his name and saying, "I am going to be in your house," Jesus changed Zaccheus' life. Zaccheus found out that he was worth something. He was valued. He was cared about.
You may feel similar to Zaccheus. You may not always be the last one chosen, but often you a part of a crowd that does not know your name, that you are not important to anyone. No one cares if you are there or not. That needs to be fixed. We want to fix that. Everyone of you is valued by God. More than the other things He has created in our world He values you and me--people.
The early church in Acts chapter two is described as "devot[ing] themselves to the apostle's teaching." They focused on God's Word. God's Word was important then and it is important now. It was relevant then and it is relevant now. But the very next thing it says is: "and to fellowship and the breaking of bread and prayer together." The early church was built on the teaching of Christ and caring for each other. It should be the same today.
In Philippians 4:21 it says, "Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus." That was Paul saying, "Greet them all. Whoever is reading this letter, I want you to say 'hi'." And then continues, "the brothers who are with me (Epaphroditis and Timothy) send greetings. And all the saints who are here send greetings especially those of the household of Caesar." Basically he is saying, "Everyone here who is a believer is saying 'hi' to you all." He is writing from Rome to Philippi and is expressing his appreciation for them and his affection and desire for their blessing.
A little while later, Romans 16 records the greetings coming back to the Roman Christians. Romans is that great theological treatise. Pastors have spent five years going through Romans to cover it thoroughly. It explains who God is, who Christ is, who we are, how we all work together, how God's sanctification works in our lives, how God's will is worked out even amid trying circumstances. And amid all the theological teaching is chapter 16; a whole chapter that is completely devoted to greetings. Paul thinks relationships within the church are important.
Romans 16:1 says, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints to give her any help she may need for she has been of great help to many people, including me. And greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me, not only I but all the Gentile churches. Greet also the church that meets in their house and greet my dear friend Epenetus who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. And greet Mary who has worked very hard for you. And Andronicus and Junia, my relatives, who have been in prison with me. They are respected among the apostles and they were in Christ before I was." And then it goes on. Verses 8-15 are the same. Name after name of greeting. In this section you have over 35 people who are greeted by name, personally greeted because they are important to Paul. Names are important. And Paul remembers each and every one of them. And then in verse 16 it says, "Then greet one another with a holy kiss." Tenderness, intimacy, care, touch. "All the churches in Christ send their greetings." Paul wants them to be kind and compassionate, to grow in kindness, compassion, and courage. They need one another and they need to get together regularly. The church is not to be a closed club for members only. You get a group of people that like each other and then they often close the doors. The church is designed to be God's outreach into the community. It is to be a welcoming place, for all who want to come and learn about God's truth and His love for them. We are to be a welcoming, affirming family for Christ.
There is much in a simply greeting. First, in a simple greeting you express worth. When you greet someone, you say "You are worth knowing. You are worth my breath to say 'hello' to." You affirm and acknowledge them. Look at Romans 16:1: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints." She is worth knowing, greet her, say "hello" to her. Do whatever you can for her. She is worth the investment of your time. Secondly, when you express a greeting, you express appreciation. Verse three says "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them." Paul is saying, "Look at what they have accomplished. The churches in Rome, in Galatia, in Philippi, in Corinth, they are all indebted to this one couple, Priscilla and Aquilla. They have invested in ministry and many have become believers because of them. You are indebted to them. Appreciate who they are and what they have done." Many in our church are reaping the benefits of people who have sacrificed finances, time, effort over decades to make this church what it is, to keep it on track for Christ. Greet them; respect them; appreciate them. Thirdly, when you express a greeting, you express involvement. Verses 5-7 say, "Greet my dear friend Epenetus who is the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia." The very first one in the whole area. How would you like to be known as the first believer in Florida? The first Christian in all of Florida? That is what he was. And then it says "greet Mary who worked very hard for you." I know it is easy to forget about Mary because she is always in the kitchen. She is always running around doing something. She is busy, picking up the papers after service, making sure things are locked up, getting things ready. But greet her, recognize, appreciate her for what she has been doing. She is involved in your life. "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives, who have been in prison with me." They are part of my life. Do not recognize them simply because they are part of my family, but recognize the importance they have played in my life. "For they were believers even before I was."
Did you have a grandmother or a mother or a father or uncle who was praying for you before you became a believer? Someone in your past who was praying for you, who helped you walk into the faith. That is what he is saying. Paul is saying, "When I stood in Jerusalem and held the coats for all those guys that stoned Stephen, when I was going from church to church and putting Christians in jail, Andronicus and Junia were praying for me.
When you greet one another, you also express care and affection. Verse 16 says, "Greet one another with a holy kiss." We are not going to start a new tradition here at Trinity, but a handshake and a hug is culturally appropriate for us. That sense of touch, of care, that sense of safety, that you are willing to get close. That is a big thing. In our society today touch is so needed. A hand on the shoulder or a pat on the back means a lot.
Then finally, when you express a greeting, you express a blessing--that you want something better for them. Most times we just say, "God be with you" or "God bless." Paul says to the Romans, "May the peace of God guard your hearts." Verses 31 and 33 of Romans 15 say: Verse 31-- "That the peace of God be with you all." Verse 32--"May the peace of God guard your hearts and minds." And in the last verse of Philippians, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." In other words, "May the grace of God, the gift of His generosity, of God's generosity affect your life and cause your life to overflow with grace to others around you. Because you have received grace, may it fill your spirit and make you become gracious to others around you."
Do you get the idea that greetings are important to Paul? And that greetings should be important to us? We just take it for granted. "Oh, hi," and we nod or wave. But the chance to say "Hey, I know you and I value you. I thank God you are part of our fellowship." We are all going through this adventure at the same time. Many of us are raising teenagers at the same time. Many of us are questioning, "Well, how do we discipline our kids? What should we do? How do we deal with that?" Some of us are wondering, "What is the right thing to do with my parents right now? They are going through a hard time and my dad does not want to go into a rest home or I am not sure how to speak to my mom in a respectful yet firm way to let her know she needs to make some changes in her life." We are going through this life together and we can really help each other. In this rapidly changing world, we need each other's help and presence.
Many of us move around this country. Katie and I came all the way from California, and Katie seldom gets to see her family. You have become her family. You have become my family. And many of you have similar situations. As early believers became Christians, many were ostracized from their families and culture. The church, its members, became their family. This church, our members, can help you. It takes work but it is worth it. I am willing to work at it if you are.
I am going to ask you to do something difficult. First, I am going to ask you to change your perspective when you walk into your church. That is hard. Change your mindset. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of people that exist when they come into a building. There is the "here I am" people. You walk in, "ok, here I am." Ok, here I go. These come in waiting for someone to come up to them and say, "Hi, how are you? Who are you? We are glad you are here." And hopefully we have somebody doing that, but if we do not, we do not want you to just walk away. So let me ask all of you to turn that around and stop being "here I am" people and be "there you are" people. When you come in the door, you are looking for someone to greet. You are looking for someone to appreciate. You are looking for someone to get involved with, to express affection and care for, someone to bless. Rather than waiting for someone to come to you, you are going to them saying, "Hi, I know we met for the last three weeks, but I forgot your name again and my name is Dave and I am really glad you are here. And how is your son doing this week?" You get involved in each other's lives a little bit. Jesus saw the Pharisees who got all dressed up and went to church. They walked as "here I am" people. "You need to come meet me. You need to come know me." We are not called to be like the Pharisees. We are called to be like Jesus. Jesus walked along and saw somebody and said, "There you are. I have been watching for you." "Zaccheus, come on down." Become "there you are" people. Reach out to lives.