Exodus 33:12-23, Philippians 4:10-20
October 16, 2005
As I said last week, I need one more week in Philippians. (So we’ll just have to get back to the lectionary later.) We can’t miss the last of these wonderful words of Paul to the Church in Philippi.
Last week, we heard him say, “Rejoice in the Lord, always… have no anxiety… prayer and supplication with thanksgiving… Peace of God which passes all understanding…” “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things…”
I love those words! Just think what life would be like if everyone lived those things. Wouldn’t we be living on a much higher level? Wouldn’t the world and our society be a much more uplifting and joyous place in which to live? Well, if you think about it, that’s exactly what Paul is saying. He’s telling us we should live on that higher level! In our passage for today, he’s telling us the practical upshot living what he’s telling them. And he does it by using the example of his own life.
I love these words for today, because here he’s saying, in a sense, “This stuff works!” I’m not just talking! I’m living it! And I’m finding the peace, I’m seeing the rewards, I’m sharing the glory! You should do the same! This is the level we all should be living on.
That’s the most important part of this. What we do here on Sunday mornings, can’t be just preaching! It can’t be us just thinking about this stuff! Sometimes we operate that way in Churches. We listen and we think. But we don’t put into practice. James would tell us, “Be doers of the word, not hearers only – lest you deceive yourselves!” (James 1:22) I think it’s incumbent upon all Christians to ask themselves – constantly. Are we doers or hearers?
Sometimes I hear people say, “I’d like to hear a sermon on such and such.” And sometimes I wonder why. Do they just want to learn the right things? Do they just want to be affirmed in what we believe? Do they want to be challenged? Or are they checking out the preacher’s orthodoxy? “Hey, that guy better believe what I believe!” Perhaps they say that because there are “those others out there” who need to hear – “so that they will think the right way about it.” (Meaning “My way.”)
It may not work that way! A sermon may be challenging! (It’s often challenging to me!) It may not be an affirmation of what you “already believe anyway.” It may challenge to you to live on a higher level. It may stretch your mind! From time to time a sermon may even do what has been referred to as “stepping on people’s toes.” I’ve heard it said that a minister has a funny job. At times a minister is paid by people to tell them what they don’t really want to hear!” Maybe what should happen is that the minister’s salary should be paid from neighboring churches. That way we’re more free to say what sometimes is hard to say.
However it happens, though, it can’t be just a sermon. We can’t just “hear about” or “think about” something. We can’t just have a sermon on love, or grace, or joy, or forgiveness, or evangelism, or stewardship. We can’t just hear a bible passage brought to life. That’s all good! But we must also do! We must also live! We must also act! That’s what Paul says here in the 9th verse. “What you have learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do!”
Take a look at how Paul is living these things. He says this to his friends in Philippi. “Not that I complain of want, for I have learned, in whatever state I am in, to be content…” And remember, he’s in prison! Still he says, “…in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Do we think like that? In any and all circumstances have we learned that secret? We can “do all things through him who strengthens us.” Notice the subtlety there. It’s not so much Paul saying, “I can do anything through him strengthens me.” Rather he’s saying, “Everything that I do, I do through him who strengthens me!” Do you see that distinction? Everything we do, not just the things that are greater than our strength. We live every day in the strength of God!
Notice also, Paul is not saying “I’m content to be in hunger and in want.” He’s not saying he doesn’t have anything to complain about. He’s saying he’s not going to live in that “space.” He’s not going to dwell on that. He’s going to dwell on the true and honorable and the just and the pure and the excellent and the praise worthy.
That’s a huge thing! We need to do that! (And not just hear it or talk about it!) We need to live, not in the world’s “space,” a space where people live at the lowest common denominator, a space where they live and say things only on a feelings level, where they complain because they “feel like complaining,” and where they blast some else because they “feel like blasting someone.” That’s a lower level of living. Many people live there. They live in misery. They constantly “feel like life is lousy.” As Henry David Thoreau once described, they live “lives of quiet desperation.” Maybe you live somewhere near there.
We need to choose to live in “God’s space.” That’s a space where we choose to live graciously, we choose not to complain, we choose to be content, we choose to see the highest good in all people, we choose to think of others first, and above all, we choose to live in him who strengthens us! That’s God’s world. And do you see the operative word in each? The world does only what it “feels.” In God’s world we learn to “choose” better!
We need to see that there are great rewards for that! Peace of mind and contentment and joy are at the top of the list. Healing and wholeness and depth of relationships are there, too. And mind you, we don’t necessarily get perfect life situations. No! We don’t live with an “absence of problems.” We do have a better perspective on those problems, and a better outlook on the world.
I heard a person say once, “Life is tough. And it didn’t come with an instruction book.” And I wanted to say, “Yes it did! But you chose to throw it out!” And I don’t mean that little book entitled “Life’s little instruction book.” You know, the one with the little pithy sayings on how to live a happier more fulfilled life. (You probably saw it in someone’s bathroom!) I’m talking about God’s instruction book. And so many have thrown it away. And then they wonder why life doesn’t seem right. It never occurs to them that they’re living a way that’s not what the creator had in mind! By the way, that goes for parenting as well. I’ve heard, “Kids don’t come with an instruction book.” “Yes they do!”
I gotta tell you. That’s a hard image for me. I’m not a guy who reads instruction books! I’ll be going through some things in my house and I’ll find instruction books for things that I’ve never read! Sometimes they’re still sealed in plastic! Sometimes I don’t even have the thing they go to any more! But I’m not missing this instruction book!! And I want to be sure I don’t just read it. I want to be sure I live it. I want to know how to be content in whatever situation I find myself. I want to know how to find peace that passes all understanding. I want to know the secret of facing life, doing all things in him who strengthens me. Are you with me?
I want to know what Paul tells us emphatically near the end. “My God will supply your every need according to his riches.” I want the riches of God in my life! That’s what he’s been telling us about. And notice here it’s God’s riches. Those are not always the same as our riches, are they. I think you know that. But sometimes we lose the handle on the value of God’s riches. We are constantly inundated by what the world thinks of riches. That means material things. The riches of God are found in people, in peace, and in relationships. They may even be riches in material things. But they are things that come our way when we give of ourselves. And those material things then “become riches” to us in a new way, in that they are appreciated more, once we see what is pleasing to God.
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” As Paul knew, God’s riches are found in each other. Sometimes we are too busy looking for things in others that we expect, and we fail to see the riches that are already there! Do you do that?
As God’s people, we should be sharing in the riches of God. That’s what stewardship is about. We don’t just think in terms of dollars. We think in terms of sharing the glory of God’s kingdom here on earth and being good stewards of it. We think in terms of giving ourselves more fully all the time. We think of the riches we have here in this place and the importance of supporting the mission and ministry of this Church, and of helping get beyond the stress of budget shortages, and money worries.
If we focus on God’s riches, if we strive to be doers of the word and not hearers only, if we live in “God’s space” of things excellent, and things praise worthy, and things true, honorable, just, pure, and gracious, then we will live in God’s riches. Then we will realize we have been living in the riches of God all along! We just didn’t see it.
Eternal God, help us to see more clearly your kingdom. Help us to know the glories of our lives lived in you. Help us to give of ourselves fully to the work of your Church. Teach us to be content in all circumstances. Help us to look to your strength, not our own. And help us to see your riches in our lives. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.