Sunday 29th November 2020
Riches in Christ
This coming Sunday marks the first Sunday in Advent. Advent as we know is a time of preparation, a time when we prepare our hearts to celebrate God’s greatest gift, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us. And a time also when we think about gifts we might give; gifts that reflect God’s giving to us…
Over these past weeks, we’ve been journeying together through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi. It’s such a joy-filled, encouraging letter that contains some of the best-known verses outside the gospels. Verses like:
- He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,
- For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,
- Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,
- Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal…for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus…
- Rejoice in the Lord always…
- I can do all things, everything, through Him, Christ, who gives me strength…
What memorable and encouraging verses those are…
Today, we reach the conclusion of Paul’s letter, as Paul pulls together his thoughts by speaking about the importance of generosity and giving. Before we ponder these things, I would encourage you to have your Bible open in front of you at Philippians Chapter 4, and let’s take a moment to pray together:
Heavenly Father, we are so thankful for this opportunity to ponder Your precious Word. Open our hearts and minds, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, that we may hear and respond to Your Word with joy, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
In Philippians Chapter 4, beginning at verse 10, Paul spells out one of his main reasons for writing, and it is to say, ‘thank you’. He wants to say thank you to his friends at Philippi for their concern and for their practical support and generous giving. That concern, support and giving made such a difference to Paul, bringing him joy and causing him to rejoice even when in chains for the gospel. And so he writes:
- ‘I rejoice greatly that you have renewed your concern for me’…verse 10,
- ‘It was good of you to share my troubles’…verse 14,
- You sent me aid again and again when I was in need’…verse 16.
The picture Paul gives us is of a caring, sharing, thoughtful and God-honouring church. Paul was in need, and they gladly helped him. And so, Paul wants them to know that their generous giving has been a blessing to him, that they too will be blessed in their turn, and most importantly, their generous giving is pleasing to God. Elsewhere Paul makes this same point when he says, ‘God loves a cheerful giver…’ 1 Corinthians 9:7
Let me pause a moment, because as Paul gave his thanks to the Church at Philippi, so I want to express my thanks to you. This has been such a difficult year. Covid has turned our lives upside down, kept us at home, closed our shops and restaurants and at times closed our churches. But throughout this challenging year, First Donaghadee has shown itself, like the Church at Philippi, to be a place of caring and sharing. You have made phone calls to check up on folks, sent WhatsApp messages, made meals to help out, called at the door of people who couldn’t leave the house, prayed over the phone and on the door step…you have cared for your families, neighbours and friends, making sure everyone was okay and you have continued to give generously to the work of God’s kingdom:
- You have given generously to the work of this church. Saving up envelopes when the church was closed during the spring lockdown, posting cheques to our treasurer, transferring money, making sure the day to day work of the church could continue.
- You have supported good causes such as the local food bank, a wonderful way to help our local community.
- You have given generously to causes such as Christian Aid and Water Aid and in doing so have helped improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
- You have given generously to United Appeal for Mission, an appeal of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland that supports missionaries overseas, home mission congregations in Ireland north and south, supports outreach workers and deaconesses, the work of chaplains, helps older people and those with learning difficulties, pays for youth and children’s events and much, much more.
So, thank you. The promise of Scripture is that your giving will bless others and you too will be blessed; Paul describes such giving as being like ‘a fragrant offering…pleasing to God’ (verse 18).
Scripture calls us to be generous with the gifts God has given us, always remembering that our generosity stems ultimately from God’s generosity to us, and so it is no coincidence that Paul’s letter to this Church finishes as it begins, speaking of the grace and generosity of God. In its opening verses Paul wrote, ‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. Chapter 1:2. And as he moves to a conclusion, he writes: ‘And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’. Chapter 4:19…Another of the wonderful encouragements within this letter…
God’s generosity to us – not because we deserve such riches – we don’t – but because of God’s amazing love for us. That love shown through the sending of His One and only Son to die for you and for me. Christ’s dying that we might be made right with God, and God raising Christ from the dead, conquering death and darkness forever and bringing us new life in Him, life at its very best, now and always. God’s love, joy, forgiveness, peace, strength at work in our lives…These and more, these are our ‘glorious riches in Christ’…Praise God…
As we move into this Advent Season, in a year in which Christmas may be a little different and there may be things we are not able to do, the essential things remain the same, and these we can do:
- We can be thankful for family and friends, and we can continue to be there for them when they need us.
- We can be thankful for the opportunity to give and receive gifts, to spread a little joy around, to continue to show that caring and sharing.
- We can continue to give of our money – there will be an opportunity to further contribute to the important work of United Appeal for Mission through one more envelope, this will be delivered to you…and we will also have the opportunity to support the work of the Presbyterian Children’s Society this December…God loves a cheerful giver…and such gifts are pleasing to Him…
- And there is still the call of Scripture to prepare our hearts, as we ponder the wonder of Immanuel, God with us,
- So why not during this next lockdown, set aside some extra time for Bible reading and prayer…
A very long time ago, the Apostle Paul, in prison and in chains for the gospel, dictated or perhaps wrote himself this letter to a Church, to say thank you and to remind them of the wonderful truths of the gospel. And today, some 2000 years later, we thank God for this Word, His Word, and for His love for us. And as Paul finished his letter, so this is my prayer also for you, may you know the glorious riches of Christ in your life and may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you, Amen.
Let’s pray together once more,
Lord God, We bless You for the gift of Your Word. We pray now for the grace to believe what we have heard and all You have laid upon hearts, and may we always live in ways that bring honour and blessing to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.