October 14, 2018
I was thinking of moving on from Philippians this week. But as I said lastweek, I just couldn’t! Because I love where Paul ends this!
This is one of the greatest things about Paul! It’s also one of the most important things about living the faith! And it’s something weneed to be reminded of – constantly! Paul tells us he had learned– and I’m glad he used that word – “learned!” – he had learned “to be content in all circumstances.”
Now, I know you keep hearing me say this! But it’s so important! People want peace and happiness and fulfillment in their lives. They want to know their lives mean something. They want to be content. And, as I’ve said, anybodycanbe“content,” can be“happy,” can be“fulfilled,” when life is all good. Although some people chose not to, which I don’t get. But, for most people, when life is good, life is good! We can feel contentment. We can feel peace.
It’s that whole “In all circumstances” thing. That’s the hard part! When the “chips are down,” when everything seems to be going wrong, when life is “not-so-good,” that’s when it’s difficult to be “content” …and all those other things.
As you think about that, consider the guy who’s writing this – Paul. Paul’s life was anything buteasy! Paul was persecuted – by his own colleagues! He was persecuted and oppressed for being a “traitor,” for changing his allegiance to this new faith, this new Savior. Those religious leaders hounded him. They accused him before the Romans. They had him arrested, and beaten, and imprisoned. His reputation was “besmirched.” (I love that word!) Maybe you prefer “impugned.” Paul had to defend himself, his understanding of God, and his newfound faith – all the while helping straighten out the teaching and solve the problems of the new churches he had planted.
And in all that, he said, “I have learned to be content!” And again, there’s that word “learned.” Because this isa learning process! You keep hearing me say that, too! I know there are times when it’s hard for me to be “content.” There are sometimes difficult circumstances in mylife that make that hard. And I’m sure that’s true for you, too!
I cantell you that I’m betterat it than I used to be. I’m learning! All the time, I’m learning! And I hope you are, too! I can alsotell you that I have moreto “learn.” And I hope you realize that, as well! Because, again, it’s not hard to live the faith, to have the joy, and to feel the presence of God when circumstances are good. It’s when times get tough, when we are oppressed, when we’re facing adversity, when we’re feeling the pressure, that’s when it’s hard. Like Paul, we are learningto be content in all those kinds of circumstances.
And by the way! The world is watching us on this one! Because the people in the world are facing the same adversity and pressure. And they are seeking contentment and peace, too! And they’re not all that interested in how joyful you are when you have reason to be joyful. They are interestedin seeing how you react when you’re “up against it!” And when you show that you can be content, even in the difficult times, that’s what they’re interested in!
Think about old Job. Do you remember him? Think about that story and about the devil’s argument with God. “Sure, Job is a faithful man! Why not? You’ve given him everything! His life is wonderful! Of course he’s faithful!” “Just take away his blessings and thenyou’ll see how faithful he reallyis!”
The world thinks that way. They’re often stuck in that old theological mode the people were in in Job’s time. Do you remember Job’s “comforters?” Do you remember Bildad the Shuhite? He was the shortest man in the Bible? (Get it? Bildad the shoe-height?) ok, forget that! Do you remember what he said? “Hey Job, you must have done something wrongfor all this to be happening to you.” “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could!” (“Somewhere in your youth…”)
That’s the way many people see things. That’s what they thought long ago. They asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Their understanding was that “Good things happen when you’re good, and God is pleased with you, and bad things happen when God is displeased.” The world is still stuck there. So, the world is wondering what you did wrong if you’re having troubles. They’re still trying to figure out that part of it.
But all that aside, they’re looking to see how you handle it. How do you get through the tough times? Because if you are able to get through and to be content, they want some of that! And I believe they’re secretly hoping you will show them! I talked a little more last week about the stress and anxiety that’s rampant in our world. So many people are looking for peace in so many places. And we can show it to them. If we learn it!
Just this past week I read this. “What do you do in times of tragedy? Look for the light!” I was actually reading a story about that on FaceBook as I was writing this! (Coincidence?) It was a story about a woman who had lost a very dear Aunt to tragedy – murder, actually! And the woman responded by “looking for the light,” and by giving light to others! In her case, she did that by going around on a her bicycle with a cooler on the front, giving out free ice cream. (This is where I wish we had PowerPoint and we could blow videos up on a screen!) Now I know ice cream may sound a bit trivial, but maybe not! Because as this woman responded by giving light to others, and they responded, too! People gave her money to give ice cream to others. And a whole movement developed around this! In a time of intense darkness, she found a way to look for the light!
So, how do we“look for the light?” And how do we show the light to others? In other words, how do we “Let our light so shine before men?” as Jesus put it. I grew up reading the “Peanuts” comics. How about you? Maybe you remember the one where Snoopy was sitting in the rain, looking soggy and dejected, and Charlie Brown and Linus saw him. And they said, “We should go do something for him.” So they walked up to Snoopy and said, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy.” And then they walked away. And Snoopy’s thought bubble just had a question mark. As if to say, “Really? That’s helping?”
Charles Schultz was a great man of faith, and I’m sure he got that comic idea from James, chapter 2, where it says, “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the anything they need, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16)
Looking for the light. Giving light to others. Learning to be content in all circumstances. Those things are not easy, I know. But the world is watching us. They’re looking to us to see how we get through it, and they’re looking to us to see what we do when we see themgoing through it.
So, as we conclude the book of Philippians, I want us to think about Paul’s “secret,” – his secret for learning to be content. And this is a verse we often see standing on its own. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
That’s his “secret.” That’s the thought I’d like to leave with you. Having given you these thoughts about learningto be content in all circumstances, thoughts about having peace in times of trouble, with all that as the background, I want you to go from here thinking of the title of this message. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Eternal God, you offer us strength, but too often we forget and we try to live by our own strength. Help us to learn to look to you, to feel you by our side, to know you are with us in all circumstances, that we may have peace, no matter what. We as these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.