July 19, 2007

Needs vs. Wants

Everyone has been admonished about the difference between needs and wants. Either father or mother or someone important shook their finger and said, “You might want it, but do you need it?”

I heard a sermon awhile ago about this difference. It used Philippians 4:19, which says, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

This well-known verse is often used to encourage those who are in need, but the sermon looked at it from a different angle. The preacher said that we have no clue (most of the time) of what we need. Besides that, God’s idea of our biggest need might not be our idea. He is at work to shape His people into the likeness of Christ. The ‘tools’ necessary for that shaping might not align with our idea of what should be happening to us. In other words, what we want might not be what we need.

I agree. I might sense a need for patience. I hope God will zap me with it, but to answer that need, He sends tribulation because, according to Romans 5:3 and James 1:2-3, trials and tribulation produce patience. I don’t want that, but I do need the patience it produces.

In my mind, I might need more time; in God’s mind, I may need better time-managing skills, or the ability to say ‘no,’ or to reorganize my priorities, or my need might be something else altogether. God can use the pressures of having too much on my plate to shape in me a character trait that I need but hasn’t entered my mind.

That sermon was good, thought-provoking and helpful. It fit in with something my mother used to say, “We must need it, or we wouldn’t be getting it.” God knows all about me. I can trust Him with what is going on, because He promises to supply both needs and wants.

However, as much as I agree with this sermon, and with the idea of a sovereign God controlling the issues of my life according to what will best shape me into the image of His Son, I don’t agree that Philippians 4:19 says this. The phrase, “great sermon, wrong text” comes to mind.

The verses in chapter 4 before this verse are about Paul being in dire circumstances. The church at Philippi sent him a gift to take care of his need. He expressed gratitude for it, not so much that he worried about himself, but that he was glad to see the virtue of generosity in them. He mentioned that he had learned contentment, then added, “Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress.”

He goes on to talk about how no other church shared with him “concerning giving and receiving” and he complimented their sacrifice on his behalf. While money is not mentioned, the Greek words used in this phrase are “account, expenditures and receipts.” Paul was also well aware that their giving depleted their own supply, so added that God would “supply all their need” in proportion to His great riches. They could count on Him to take care of them.

The verse is not about God’s control over the circumstances we need to shape us into Christ’s likeness; it is about material need, including money. It is an assurance that no matter how generous we give, God is able to supply whatever we might lack because of it. It is a verse that makes putting a generous chunk of money in the offering plate an act of faith. I can give to meet the need of someone else because I know that God will take care of me.

I also know that God will put stuff into my life to shape me into the image of His Son, stuff needed to whack off all that does not look like Jesus. I both need and want that, but the promise of it happening is not from this great verse, but from other parts of the Bible!

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