God the Provider

God the Provider

Keith, a pastor-friend of mine, preached a sermon on tithing to his congregation.  One of the members of the church visited with Keith later that week.  “I want to tithe,” he said, “but if I do, I just don’t think I could pay the rest of my bills.”

“Well, how about a little experiment?” Keith asked.  “Commit tithe for one month.  At the end of the month, if you have any bills you can’t pay, I’ll pay them for you.”

“Really?  You’d do that?  That puts things in a different light.”

“So you’ll do it?” Keith asked.

“Sure, since I can count on you to make up any deficit.  Takes the worry right out of it.”

“So let me get this straight,” said Keith.  “You know what I make.  I make less money than you do, and you’re willing to trust me to meet your needs before you would trust God who promises the same thing and owns everything there is?”

As we conclude The Money Challenge today, I invite you to open your Bible to Philippians 4:14-20.  Money may be a challenge for us; it is no challenge for God.  There is no shortage of Scriptures that declare God’s provision for our needs.

  • Proverbs 11:25 – “A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water.”
  • Proverb 3:9-10 — “Honor the Lord with your produce and with the first produce of your entire harvest; then your barns will be completely filled and your vats will overflow with new wine.”
  • Jesus makes the same claim in Luke 6:38 — “Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
  • Paul also speaks to this matter in 2 Corinthians 9:6 — “The point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.”

And Paul speaks to this again in our text in Philippians.  Hear the word of the Lord through the apostle Paul … (read the text).

This is one of those truths in Scripture you need no keen insight to find.  No need to sift through the Scriptures with a fine-tooth comb or know the nuances of some Greek or Hebrew word.  This truth is easy to find.  It’s in there a lot.  It’s flashing neon.  It’s grace in our face: God meets the needs of givers.

I

You’d think this would be an easy sermon to preach.  There are always some in the church who don’t want the preacher to talk about money and giving: “It’ll turn people off.  People will think the church only cares about dollars and cents.”  But that doesn’t mean that preaching God’s provision for those who give is easy to preach either.  It can be a minefield.

  • I’ve got to be careful not to make God look like just another stock in the market—like just another investment or another way to make money.  We don’t give to get.  But some will hear just the opposite.  It’s a minefield.
  • I’ve got to be careful not to sound like some TV preacher who says, “You send me $100 seed, and God will give you $1000 in return.”  I’m with the guy who called the preacher’s hotline to make his pledge and said, “How about this?  Why don’t you give me the $100 and let God give you the $1000?”  They hung up on him.  I don’t want to sound like a TV preacher.
  • Nor do I want to stoke your greed.  It’s hard enough in America to buck up against greed.  We hear 100 messages every day saying, “You’ve just got to have this!”  Owning this car or these jeans or this appliance will enhance your status.  Even the state becomes the tempter with commercial after commercial encouraging you to buy lottery tickets.  I don’t want you to give to the Lord, thinking that in doing so you somehow get God over a barrel and compel him to make you rich—especially when the Bible goes to great lengths to warn against the spiritual peril of wealth.

It’s a minefield, I tell you.  I don’t want you to come away from this sermon thinking, “God wants to make me rich and all I have to do is give a little more.”  See what I mean?  You’d think it would be easy to preach a sermon teaching that God meets the needs of givers.  It’s not.  There are just too many ways our sinful ears can hear it and our deceitful hearts can appropriate it.

II

So let’s unpack our Philippian text to make sure we get it right.

Paul makes the bold promise in Philippians 4:19: “And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  But he makes it in the context of the Philippians’ willingness to give to God.  It’s important to understand that this promise does not apply to every person.  It doesn’t even apply to every Christian.  It applies only to those who give.  As Rick Warren put it, that’s the premise to the promise.

In our text, Paul is concluding his letter to the Philippian church with a thank you note.  Of all the congregations Paul planted or served, none was more generous than the Philippians.  And they weren’t a church full of Gates and Buffets and Waltons either.  They were poor, yet they were generous.  And Paul sort of became their project.  If they became aware of any need Paul had, whether it was a personal need or for one of his mission efforts, the Philippians anted up.  They didn’t do it because Paul asked them.  He rarely did, and never did in regard to personal needs.  So they didn’t give because Paul was begging for their money.  Nor did they give so they would get some return on their investment.  They did it because they had been so touched by God—the King of generosity—that they couldn’t help but be generous too.

And generous is really too small a word to describe their giving.  Listen to Paul in v. 15: “And you Philippians know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone.”  And then in v. 16: “For even in Thessalonica you sent gifts for my need several times.”  Paul wasn’t asking for a gift or looking for a gift, but the Philippians gave anyway.

They weren’t giving to get.  That was not their motivation.  But Paul reminds them in v. 17 that their gifts were generating the profit that is increasing to your account.”  “God notices your gifts,” says Paul.  Apparently, there is some kind of account in heaven with our names on it.  Those in the Philippian church had such an account and we do too.  And when we give to the Lord with the right spirit, we are adding deposits to that account.

Maybe that’s what Jesus is getting at when he talked about storing up treasures in heaven (Mt. 6:20).  The Philippians were making an investment in heaven.  And that’s where our generosity really pays dividends.  What that looks like on the other side, we don’t know.  But Paul makes clear that what we give and the spirit with which we give it impacts eternity and makes real investments in heaven.  Part of our mission statement at church is “impact eternity.”  Your giving is one way you can do that.  “Not that I seek the gift,” writes Paul, “but I seek the profit that is increasing to your account.”  That’s v. 17.

And in v. 18, Paul commends them for the sacrificial nature of their gifts.  “They are,” writes Paul, “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”  In other words, their gifts smell good.  Some gifts smell fishy.  They are the ones given with strings attached.  They are the ones given so the giver can get some special recognition.  Those gifts don’t smell so good, but gifts given from the heart with a spirit of generosity smell better than a whiff of apple pie fresh from the oven, or a walk through a rose garden in a gentle breeze, or like the smell of rain on a scorching August afternoon.  Such were the Philippians’ gifts to Paul and to the Lord—a sweet-smelling sacrifice.  Sacrifice is a key word.  They didn’t have much left after they gave.

So the Philippians were generous givers, sacrificial givers.  And their giving was increasing the profit to their accounts in heaven.

III

But the blessings of giving are not reserved for heaven alone; there are benefits we receive on earth.  The advancement of the kingdom, the gospel to the nations, the growth of the church, the saving of souls, care for the sick and the poor, and ministry to others are great benefits our giving reaps on earth.  But Paul talks about a personal benefit in v. 19: “And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

The premise is our giving with the right spirit; the promise is the meeting of all our needs on earth.  Paul is parroting Jesus here.  In Matthew 6:33, after talking about our basic needs for food and clothes, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”  What things was Jesus talking about?  Our basic needs.  And that’s what Paul is talking about too: “And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Notice the personal nature of this promise: my God,” writes Paul.  God is not some impersonal force who neither knows nor cares about our needs.  God is personal.  Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:8 that “your father knows the things you need before you ask him.”  Our loving Father knows our needs, and he promises to meet them.  The promise is personal.

And the promise is all-encompassing: “And my God will supply all your needs ….”  God doesn’t promise to meet some of your needs or only a need here and there.  God promises to meet all of your needs.  If you give to God, God will meet all your needs.

Notice that God does not promise to meet your greeds.  This is not a promise to make you rich.  Nor is it a promise to help you upgrade your house or your car or anything else.  It’s a promise to meet your needs.  We forget that sometimes.  I read about a sociological study done in 1890 which asked many Americans what they thought were the basic needs of life.  In 1890, the study revealed that Americans believed there were 16 basic things every American needed to survive—16.  A little more than a hundred years later, a new survey was commissioned.  And guess how many things Americans believe they need to survive these days—98!  The study shows how easily we Americans confuse our need and our greed.  James warned about that in his epistle: “You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (4:3).  God doesn’t promise to give you everything you want.

What loving parent would do that for his child?  It’s not wise.  If you’re 5-year-old asks for a shotgun on his 5th birthday what parent will get it for him?  (Well, this is Arkansas, so who knows?)  If a 12-year-old asks for a car on her birthday what parent would make that her present.  A wise and loving God doesn’t give unwise gifts to his children either.  God doesn’t promise to bankroll a bunch of luxuries you want for yourself.  And God doesn’t promise to underwrite a bunch of credit card charges you make to try to keep up with the Joneses.  God doesn’t promise to meet our greeds.

But He does promise to meet all of our needs.  If you’re a child of God and you give generously and faithfully of the resources God has entrusted to you, God will meet all your needs.  It’s a promise.  And financially that means that God will see to it that you always have enough.

God certainly has enough.  God’s supply is plentiful.  He meets our needs “according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  That’s an inexhaustible supply.  God never comes up short.  He doesn’t have to worry about balancing his bank book.  He can’t overdraw his account.  His riches in Christ are inexhaustible.  That’s what God has to draw from to meet your needs.  Your supply and my supply can run out.  We can use it up and find ourselves in a very deep hole.  But God’s supply never runs out because it’s built on God’s riches in Christ.

If God can send his Son from heaven to earth, from eternity to time, enter this world as fully God and fully man, be born to a virgin as a baby, grow up to heal the sick, cast out demons, calm storms, walk on water, raise the dead, live a sinless life, die on the cross to save us from our sins, rise up from the dead on the third day after, appear for another 40 days before ascending back to the Father in heaven—if God can do that, and he did—then helping you with your house payment or putting food on the table or clothes on your family’s back is a piece of cake.  If you’re willing to trust Jesus with your eternal salvation, surely you can find the faith to trust him to meet your temporal needs.  “And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

IV

And God can supply our needs in any number of ways.  Here are a few of the ways God supplied the needs for Dayna and me across 40 years of marriage and ministry …

  • The mysterious check in the mail, gifts given to us we had no idea were coming but came at just the right time.
  • And God has provided extra part-time jobs on occasion when we needed extra money to give to his work or to meet an unexpected need of our own.
  • And God has provided paid-for stuff that refused to die—like a refrigerator we bought in ’81 and kept till we gave it away in 2003.  Never had it worked on once.  We gave it away to get a fancier refrigeration with an ice-maker, and we had to replace the compressor 4 years later.  And then there was the blue Dodge Spirit we kept for almost 200,000 miles so we would have more money available to help pay for the Family Life Center here and for the kids’ college expenses.  That Dodge had peeling paint so it looked bad.  It had a bad connection in the battery that couldn’t seem to be fixed so to get it to start I’d have to pound a hammer on the battery connections to loosen the corrosion—kind of embarrassing when you have to do that in a cemetery after a graveside service.  “Who’s that beating on his car engine over there?”  “Oh, that’s the pastor of First Baptist Church.”  But God kept that car running till I could afford something newer.  God provides by making stuff that should be dead stay alive and do its job.
  • And God has done the same kinds of things for our kids who are also faithful in their tithes and offerings.

God’s resources are inexhaustible.  You don’t have to worry that God will use up his resources before he gets to you.  It’s not like God says to his children, “All right, now line up.  I’ve got a bag a blessings here and I’m going to pass them out.”  Sadly, God starts passing out the blessings at the opposite end of the line in which you’re standing.  You watch the bag get lighter and lighter.  And about three people before God gets to you, he runs out of blessings.  “Sorry,” God says, “you just got stuck at the wrong end of the line.”  Nope—nothing like that.  God doesn’t have to divvy things up so everybody can get a little.  His resources are endless.  He provides what you need.

And I love it when God gets creative in doing it, drawing on resources we’d never expect.  Jimmy Smith was pastor of First Baptist Church in Lolita, Texas.  He was also a student at Houston Baptist University.  Smith believed that God may be calling him into international missions, but he wasn’t sure.  The next year, God arranged it so that two foreign missionaries from Guatemala sat at the same lunch table as Smith.  They told him about a project going on in their country and invited Smith to come help out.  A short-term trip might be just the thing for Smith to see if he could adapt to the missionary lifestyle and live in another culture.  But one big problem stood in the way: Smith had no money and he didn’t know how he’d get it.  He could have asked the church or others to help him, but he and his wife chose to go a different direction.  They told God that if he wanted them to go he would have to provide the money.

A few weeks later, Smith went fishing with Gene Alexander, a deacon from his church.  Alexander knew about Smith’s desire to go to Guatemala and told Smith about an upcoming fishing tournament at Lake Texana.  Alexander explained that a large fish bearing a metal tag on a fin would be released into the lake, and a $20,000 prize would be awarded to any tournament participant who caught it.  Three businessmen organizing the tournament paid $1000 for an insurance policy covering the prize money should anyone catch it.  But they weren’t too worried about that.  A New York firm handling the insurance used the size of the lake and the number of participants to calculate that the odds of anyone catching the fish on that one day were 6.8 billion to one.  And Alexander, who was registered for the tournament, said, “If I catch it, I’ll give you $5,000 and you could go to Guatemala.”

Smith and his wife decided to pray that Alexander would catch the fish.  The first fish Alexander caught on the day of the tournament was the $20,000 fish.  Not wanting to believe the fish had been caught, the New York insurance firm sent a representative to Texas to administer a lie-detector test to the man who tagged the fish and released it, the newspaper representative who witnessed the release, the sheriff’s department official who was there, and Alexander.  All four passed the tests, and the firm gave Alexander a check for $20,000.

Alexander kept his word and gave his pastor Jimmy Smith $5,000 of that money so that Smith and his wife could go to Guatemala.  They went.  They fell in love with the country and the people.  They felt God’s call to go and serve there as missionaries.  It cost them about $1,600 to make the trip.  And they used the rest of the $5,000 to pay off debts and move to seminary so that they could prepare for a career in missions.  Smith and his family prepared at seminary and went to Guatemala as missionaries.

“And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  That’s a lot of riches.  And that’s a lot of promise.

V

But to enjoy the promise you need to be faithful to the premise: give generously to the Lord from whatever he’s given you.  That goes for the poorest to the richest.  Most of the Philippians were barely scratching by.  Some of the most generous givers and happiest people I’ve known across the years lived pretty much paycheck to paycheck.  But God gives them everything they need and more.  He gives them joy in giving to a kingdom that lasts forever and storing up treasures in heaven.  And you know what else?  These folks don’t fret and worry about things and about life near as much as some of the wealthier people I know.  I think it’s because they live by a simple biblical truth: when we keep the premise, God keeps the promise—when we give faithfully to God, God meets all our needs. “And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  That’s a promise from the Lord, and it’s a promise you can take to the bank.

Preached: January 28, 2018

First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR

John Scott McCallum II