Last week we started looking at Philippians. Bruce spoke about the koinonia which Paul lived out as he shared the gospel in words and deeds. It's a personal letter written by Paul in very difficult circumstances. Surprisingly, it's a letter that's full of joy and encouragement! It’s the type of letter we would like to receive when going through tough times. This week we will be looking at this letter to try and discover how we – no matter what circumstances we are living in; can live beyond the mundane to live joyful and encouraging lives.
If you think back to days of old, most of the people who accomplished great things did so in the context of very difficult circumstances. Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Corrie Ten Boom, our Olympian and Paralympian’s, the aids agencies and people in Iraq to name just a few. Some people are able to accomplish great things in very difficult circumstances. What's more, they're able to maintain a sense of calm and purpose. This matters to us because we spend a lot of time looking for reasonably good circumstances before we make our mark. How is it possible to rise above the circumstances of life? How is it possible to make a mark and live a life that's not only joyful and encouraging but significant?
As we read through Philippians, we will discover just how Paul was able to rise above his circumstances.
One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is what is important and what isn't. What are our priorities? One of the reasons Paul was able to withstand so much was that he knew where to place his priorities. His mission mattered more than his problems. His problems of being in prison, facing opposition, facing possible death. BUT Paul says: ‘And I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters; that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.’ Does our health or family or financial or jobs or possessions, social problems, help us to spread the Good News? Do we use our circumstances to live for something that is bigger than our circumstances?
Often in life, we give up a present benefit for a larger future benefit. The student gives up his leisure for the sake of an education. The lover gives up his freedom for the security of marriage. The dieter gives up foods he likes for the sake of health and a longer life. The person in the military gives up civilian life for the benefit of his military career. The jogger gives up comfort for health. The saver gives up some purchases for the sake of a larger one later on. That is what separates man from animals. Cattle will eat until they die. The problem with all of these is that they're not big enough or permanent enough to overcome the obstacles we face in life. The problem is - most of us have nothing bigger to sustain us; that give us purpose and joy or encouragement. BUT Paul saw the larger eternal benefits and gave up the present, smaller benefits.
Paul used his problems served to advance the gospel. Used his problems served to inspire others. Paul's prison was a literal one. We may be facing circumstances we didn't choose, which wasn’t part of our plans, from which we can't escape. Paul faced opposition, others were preaching with selfish ambition, not sincerely. BUT whether or not their motives are pure, the fact remains that the message about Christ is being preached, so Paul rejoiced and would continue to rejoice. Paul knew that the gospel could be preached from dual motives and it can be preached amid misunderstandings.
Paul’s MASTER mattered more than his person. Although Paul was under threat, of being tortured and his life in danger, Paul knew that his Master gave him meaning for life and meaning for death. In death or life, all that mattered to Paul was that his master be glorified. ‘For I (Paul) live in eager expectation and hope that I will never do anything that causes me shame, but that I will always be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past, and that my life will always honour Christ, whether I live or I die. For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better. Yet if I live, that means fruitful service for Christ. I really don't know which is better. I'm torn between two desires: Sometimes I want to live, and sometimes I long to go and be with Christ. That would be far better for me, but it is better for you that I live.’
We do know that Paul was released from this imprisonment, and even anticipated this release. When Paul wrote this letter, the outcome of the trial was still uncertain. His thoughts turned to the possibility of death.
What would give someone in jail, betrayed by his friends, with his own life in danger, be filled with joy and encouraged? What would cause him to see himself as part of a pioneer in spreading the gospel? To see the good that was coming from people who were promoting themselves at his expense? To even view the possibility of death without alarm or fear? The answer is: Paul had a purpose that was bigger than his circumstances.
If we live as if earth is all there is, and we live for only what lasts here - money, popularity, pleasure, prestige - we won't have enough to live for. We don't have something worth living for until we have something worth dying for.
There's freedom in coming to the place at which our purpose is so huge we've got nothing to lose. "But my life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus-the work of telling others the Good News about God's wonderful kindness and love." (Acts 20:24)
So how can we rise above the circumstances in our life? It starts with a relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul's priorities changed when he met Jesus on a road to somewhere else. Meeting Jesus changes everything, and it elevates your life from one of temporary impact to one of eternal impact. Paul had three attitudes that helped him to rise above his circumstances:
Paul had a BELIEF! That God is in control of every circumstance. (v19) ‘For I know that as you pray for me and as the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will all turn out for my deliverance.’ We only have two options: to believe that this is all a series of co-incidences and mistakes, or to believe that God is at work in our lives, even in and through (not despite) our difficult circumstances. Think about circumstances of the past and look at the past to see how God has been at work in difficulties. Is God in control of the circumstances or our lives?
Paul thought through and found his PRIORITY! I'm part of something bigger than my life Paul didn't measure what was happening in his life according to how it affected his comfort or his plans, or even his life. He measured everything according to how it accomplished his life mission. (v12) ‘And I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters; that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. What’s our life mission? Do you know yours?
Paul changed his PERSPECTIVE! It became the wider, longer view. Often we live as if this is all that there is. If this is true, then it does make sense to live like everyone else. But if you believe in eternity, that changes everything.
Our jobs, possessions, hang-ups become pretty insignificant compared to the realisation that we're members of and contributors to heaven. What changes do we need to make to be like Paul?
· How would you rate the level of joy in your life? (score of 1-10)
· How often do you remind yourself that God is in control of every circumstance? Often or not so often?
· Do you see the bigger purpose of your life is to join Jesus in what he is doing?
· How often do you think from a longer (eternal) perspective?
· Does your health or family or financial or jobs or possessions, social problems, help you to spread the Good News?
· Do you (as Paul did) have a belief, a priority, a perspective?
Maybe we need to recite this prayer below on a daily, weekly basis?
That we would rise above our circumstances; realize the power of a life well lived for an eternal purpose
Remind ourselves that God is in control; that we're part of something bigger; that eternity is much bigger than our lives.
Pray that our meeting with Jesus Christ would change our priorities forever.