Book of Philippians, letter to the Philippians.... The Lord has placed in my heart the desire to spend some time with you going over this letter. It’s a short letter, but what a beautiful, deep expression of Paul’s spiritual outlook and of his relationship with Jesus Christ and there is so much there to call us into a greater walk with the Lord and as we make that journey you will begin to see what a beautiful, beautiful letter. It’s a little jewel of 4 chapters but it certainly has a huge amount of contents and of a spiritual encouragement.
So, you’ll be blessed by it. Carmencita…. Is that your mom? It is your mom, what is her name? Carmela. Carmela, ¿usted habla inglés bien? Está yendo a su espíritu directamente, amen. Contento de tenerle, hermana aquí, una bendición. She’s visiting from the Dominican Republic I assume. Visitando de República Dominicana. Una bendición tenerla aquí. We’re rejoicing that she’s here with you, Carmencita. And you’re going to be her translator tonight I suppose, every once in a while you can. Ella va a ser su traductora un poquito aquí durante la predicación. ¿Mañana va a venir? Ojalá que viniera y ... si puede, si puede.... bueno, bueno...
Forgive that little Latino interview there. I just recognized the resemblance there, I thought that it might be her moms visiting from Dominican Republic. Well, come with me to Philippians and let’s just see what the Lord has for us tonight, let’s read the first 11 verses of the letter, it says, and by the way I have a very small translation because I wanted to look at the new King James version, it’s one of my favorite versions, and I’m going to have to talk to Dave at some point, ….., about the possibility of partnering with him together to get that translation. He was kind enough to get me a NIV, in both English and Spanish, which I use in certain situations, but my heart is with the New King James version. I’m getting a little demanding here but I’m going to talk to him about and maybe he can give me a little preference because of his position at CVD, but I’ll talk to him about that.
Anyway, so I’ve taken the New King James version, whatever version you have that’s not very different. I know the NIV is one of the favorite ones for many people, but I’ll read from there and it’s very small letters. Somehow they keep printing this smaller and smaller, I don’t know why, or is it my eyes sight perhaps, I don’t know.
Well, it says here, “…..Paul and Timothy bond servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi with the bishops and deacons: grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. Just as it is right for me to think this of all of you all, because I have you in my heart, in as much as both in my chains and in the defence and the confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ, and this I pray that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God ….”
So, Father, we praise this reading before you for your blessing, for your light that will illuminate it before us, that we might receive from it all the teaching and all the practical application for life, that you may have for us tonight, in Jesus’ name we pray, amen and amen.
The Epistle, or the letter to the Philippians was written, of course, the congregations, the churches, the believers who were living in the city of Philippi. It was a colony of the Roman empire and a city that Paul had visited years before in one of his missionary journeys and that had been filled with all kinds of interesting events. There Paul met a woman named Lidia, who you might remember, a seller of silks, and apparently a woman of some social means and substance, and also through that woman a church was begun in her house.
But one of the most interesting things about Philippi you might remember was when Paul delivered a young woman from a demonic hold on her life that enabled her to have a gift of divination which set up all kinds of difficult situations for Paul and his companions when they were preaching there, because it became a very controversial thing. They thought that they were doing a great job but the owners of this young woman, who were exploiting her demonically inspired gift, didn’t appreciate so much the fact that now she couldn’t use that demonic influence to continue divination and making money for them, so they took him to court and Paul was thrown in jail and flogged illegally because he was a Roman citizen.
And the other great event that happened in Philippi was that we know the story in the jail when they’re worshipping the Lord and praising the Lord in the middle of suffering after being flogged. There’s a great earthquake, God moves in a powerful way, all the chains fall off the prisoners and the jailor thinks that they’ve escaped but they’re all there and the jailor moved by what he had seen comes to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and Paul baptizes him there and there’s a huge blessing.
Of course the controversy continues later on and finally they leave Philippi but a church was planted there and a relationship of great friendship was established between Paul and that church and the church was faithful to the Apostle Paul and followed his ministry and sent him gifts to finance for his needs and commentators of the epistle say that this is one of the very few situations in which the Apostle Paul received and accepted financial support from a congregation. They loved him so much and a very strong bond of relationship, of affection was established between the Apostle Paul and this congregation that is evident.
When he writes this letter to the Philippians, years have gone by. Paul finds himself probably in a Roman jail. He’s not sure whether out of that imprisonment liberty is going to emerge or death. He’s not sure about that, I mean, he is awaiting trial for preaching the gospel and there may be charges of sedition and preaching against the authority of Rome. He’s been falsely accused and so he’s not sure what’s going to be the result of that imprisonment.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about it and yet the beautiful thing about this letter, that it is a letter that we will see in a moment, that reflects such beauty, such joy, such positive feelings, that it stands in my mind as one of those expressions of how Christians can bear up in times of trial and what the life of faith can procure for believers when they are going through difficult times and tribulations. And it is a call to wonderful sentiments for the Christian life, wonderful attitudes that are exemplified in the Apostle Paul himself in the way he carries himself, and even as he expressed a certain feelings without any intention of edifying anybody, but just by the way he speaks about things, he’s already being an example to us, and an inspiration to us.
So, I want you to walk with me through the introductory verses of this letter so that you can get a sense of some of the themes that are being established right from the very beginning here. It’s a wonderful thing that are in capsule form here. Even in the first verse you see something, it says, “…Paul and Timothy, in the New King James says, bond servants,….. in the NIV it says, just servants of Christ Jesus.
But the idea really, if you look at the Greek original, would anybody know what the word might be in Greek? Duloi, duloi, that word means really ‘slaves’, and Paul used that word in the context of slavery in the Roman Empire and the slavery of the day and he took that word for himself, to describe his relationship with Jesus Christ. Here you have this great Apostle, this Jewish ex rabbi, this man of God who God has used in all kinds of mighty ways, who could have used all kinds of other words to introduce himself, but he uses this word, ‘a servant, a slave of Christ Jesus’.
Now, evidently he was being here in a way, metaphorical or poetic. Jesus in his words, through his disciples he says, I will no longer call you my disciples, I will call you friends. So Jesus has no slaves in that sense of the word but Paul took that word for himself to express the depth of his commitment with Jesus Christ. You could have said that Paul was sold out for Jesus. Paul had been delivered from persecuting the church, Jesus had forgiven him, had appeared to him, had called him from the extreme ignorance of Judaism into his kingdom, had made him a servant of his, had forgiven all the offences that he had committed against the church. Paul considered himself the chief of all sinners and he was always in awe of how God could use him. He knew who he was serving. The depth of his commitment to Jesus Christ led him to see himself as a slave, somebody who had no rights before his Master, somebody who was owned by his Master, somebody who could not decide where he was going to go, what kind of a lifestyle he was going to choose, what time he was going to go to bed, how he was going to work or whatever. In other words, in that word Paul was saying, ‘I am completely committed, I am completely at the control and at the demands of Jesus Christ’.
And I think, we got to…. even right there, we got to ponder upon that word a bit, because I think it’s a call to us to that kind of…. When I see, the other word that we use, disciple or discipleship, in the ancient world disciples was somebody who followed his teacher, his mentor, his master everywhere that he went, and a disciple was somebody completely subsumed under the shadow of his mentor and of his master. He had in a sense, while he was under the mentorship of his master, he had no rights, he had to look through the eyes of his mentor, of his master and see the world through the eyes of the teacher and follow him wherever he went.
And these are two words that are used for believers, we are servants, we are disciples, and you know, it is so important to understand. I don’t think that there isn’t any relationship, any attitude that moves the heart of God as much as that attitude of complete commitment to the will of God. And it is that attitude, it is that place of the heart that releases all of the blessings and all of the joys and all of the power of the Christian life.
Ironically, as we lose all of our liberties to the Lord, as we commit ourselves fully to the Lord and we give ourselves completely to him, and we put all of our rights, all of our privileges, all of our expectations in his hands, and say, ‘Lord, do with me whatever you want. I yield my entire life to you, all my prerogatives to you.’ That’s when the power starts flowing, that’s when the joy, that’s when the blessing, that’s when the prosperity start flowing in our lives.
Just today I had the opportunity in an outing that the Latino church had in Hopkinton State Park to have a conversation with a young man who’s going through a very difficult time in his life and he’s a brilliant young man and has had some very difficult situations that developed, that have prevented him from continuing his studies and he’s going through a time of very low self esteem, of feeling himself somewhat of a failure, of great depression and of just going through a dark tunnel in his life, just a young man, twenty one at the most, twenty two years old, but going through a deep sense of failure.
Now, I know him, I know his family and I know that practically the rest of his family, it’s a larger family, all his brothers and sisters are completely, as far as one can tell, committed to the Lord. It’s a very committed family. Now, he has been gifted with a gift of intellectual brilliance but always his father in conversations with me has said about the fact that he is not really too sensitive about the things of God, and he himself admits that. And in our conversation today, as I challenged him, he spoke about his resistance to giving himself over to the Lord fully. And I was telling him, I said to him, I really feel in my spirit as he shared his deep, deep darkness that he was going through, that God is allowing you to go through his desert experience because he wants to allow you to understand that he wants you all for himself, and that you come from a distinguished Christian family, people who love the Lord, people who serve the Lord and that heritage is calling you, and God has allowed certain failures in your life, simply to put you in a terrain where you might be confronted with your need, to give your life completely to Jesus Christ. And I prophesized to him, I said to him, I know that the moment that you learn to love God with all your heart, the moment …. And I spoke about my own experiences in life, you know, a time many, many years ago when I just relinquished all my claims to freedom and to living a life the way I wanted to and I just said, ‘Lord, I’m yours 100%, whatever you want of me’, and how that released all kinds of things that God had been just keeping there for me.
And I said, there’s a huge bank account for you just waiting to be released, a huge reserve of funds, of blessing and of prosperity and of triumph in your life but he will not release that because if you get that you know that you will go. And he said, yes, you will go on another direction. And God loves you too much to allow you to do that. So, he wants to give you the package in the right circumstances and with the right attitude. Because, God wants that level of commitment from us. He won’t have any other gods before us and so he calls us to that level of complete yielding to the Lord.
And I mentioned to him the story of the young rich man, rich young ruler as they call him sometimes, who came to Jesus all anxious and concerned about his life and he had no peace, even though he was a man of the word, and he knew all the Pharisaic requirements of the law and so on, and he comes to Jesus and he says, ‘good Master, what must I do to be saved?’, and you know the story, Jesus goes through all the different things and then finally he said, ‘you know what?’ Because he had done everything, he had fulfilled all the requirements of the law, he knew it back and forth, he was a righteous person, he did all the right things, he went to church and actually he was a leader in his congregation, and he says, ‘you know, there’s only one thing that is lacking, one thing that you need to do: take all of your riches, sell them, give all your money to the poor and then come and follow me.’
And you know what the story was. This young man lowered his head, after thinking about what Jesus was requiring of him, and went away sad because he was too rich, he didn’t want to part from his riches. He loved his possessions more than Jesus Christ. And I’ve always said when I preach about that passage that in the depth of my heart, I suspect that Jesus, if the guy would have said, ‘you know what, Lord, yes, I’ll do it,’ as soon as he turned around to go home and start selling his riches, the Lord would have stopped him and say, ‘hey, come back here, you know what, that’s all right. Keep your money, but just remember who is the owner of it. Enjoy it and have a relationship with me but just keep your money and keep living.
Because, you know, Jesus wants to puts us sometimes to those moments of crisis in our life, but he wants to test us really, who do you love the most? I think churches are full of people who have not gone through that crisis experience of deciding who owns me, who has a total claim to my life. If Jesus called you and said, ‘I don’t want you to continue pursuing your dreams of becoming a great doctor or a great writer or professor in a university, I want you to serve me, or I want you to do something else or whatever. Would we say, yes Lord? Would we salute him? Would we relinquish the dreams of our life because we are bond servants of the Lord Jesus Christ?
And this is the beauty of Paul. He knew what he was talking about because he lived that life. Once Jesus called him, he was completely, completely given over to the Lord. And that’s an important thing for us to understand. There’s a lot of religious people for whom Christianity is simply one more compartment in their lives and when Christianity is simply one more feature in your life, that’s not enough. God will not be content with anything less than a complete giving over of everything that you have.
So, in that sense you become a slave, you become totally owned by Jesus Christ and God discerns that. Now, when he has you, you have everything, that’s the beautiful thing. Ironically, when Jesus has you completely then truly you are free, then truly you have power, then truly you can be prospered. The Bible says, delight yourself in the Lord, delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you all the petitions, all the yearnings of your heart. That’s been a favorite verse of mine all throughout life. And I want to commend you and ask you to adopt that kind of attitude, of being completely sold out to Jesus Christ.
So, Paul and Timothy, bond servants, slaves of Christ Jesus, right there, even in the very first verse already this is a beautiful concept that we need to integrate into our lives. And it says, “…. To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons….”
Here’s another wonderful concept, to all the saints…. Agios, the word saints translates in English, in the Greek original is agios, and it’s a very powerful word.
You know, in many of us who might come from the Catholic tradition, when we hear the word saints, may immediately think of either a figure in a colored crystal, somebody who has lived an absolutely exceptional life, and who sort of floats on a cloud completely beyond the normal human experience. The Catholic church, and I say this respectfully, has its tradition, before a person can become officially a saint of the Catholic church, they have to be combed over with a fine-toothed comb and with a magnifying glass, their life has to be examined extremely carefully, they have had to have performed very, very specific great miracles. It’s a very thorough process and only a very small number of people can enter into that exquisite category of sainthood.
And I respect that, but you know, when you look at scripture the word saints is used for who? For believers. Look what it says here, …. To all the saints, to all the saints…. In other words, to all the believers in the city of Philippi. And if you look time and time again in scripture that is the use that is given to the word saint, to all the believers. You are a saint, praise the Lord, you may not feel like a saint and you may not act like a saint always, but you are a saint if you are in Christ Jesus. Praise the Lord. That’s the difference, that is what makes the difference.
Now, what does saint mean in the Paulic understanding of the word and in the biblical understanding of the word? In the Hebrew the word for holy is ‘cadosh’ and in the Hebrew understanding it means, something that is unique, alone by itself and set apart, set apart for a particular use. And also set apart from profane uses. So, for example, the vases that were in the temple was ‘cadosh’ ‘agios’, it was holy, in the sense that those vases were not to be used for a party. You know, the priest couldn’t say, ‘oh, I got a party tonight after the service and I’m going to take a few of these vases and use them for wine in my home for the party’.
You remember what happened to that king in Babylon I think it was, he used the vases of the temple and you know what happened to him? It didn’t go very well for him, because those vases were saintly. I mean, they were holy, they were set apart for only one use, to worship the Lord, to contain the oil, to contain the wine or to contain whatever it was, or the perfumes that were used for the worship of the Lord and that was the only use that was legitimate for it. It could not be used for every little thing.
The instruments in the temple were used only for one thing, the people or God, the Jews had been set apart from the nations that surrounded them to be people that were holy on to the Lord, a people that were separate, different from the way that others behaved, they could not partake of the same impure lifestyle and the rituals and all the illegitimate sacrifices that the other people. They were supposed to walk in a separate way.
And if you look at the church of Jesus Christ it says the same thing also, that we have been pulled out of the darkness and we are a nation of priests and kings that have been set apart to announce the beauties and the glories of him who called us from the darkness into his glorious light. We are also a holy people and we are saints in that sense, we are set apart. And I tell you, that’s one of the most difficult things about the Christian life, isn’t it? That I can’t live the way I want to live, I can’t live the way the world lives. That mixes with this idea of being a bond servant to the Lord.
I’m not free to live…. I wish I could, but I wish I could do all the things that the world does. Man, a lot of fun, but it’s very destructive because it’s not what God has approved, what he has blessed. We are a holy people, when you enter into the Kingdom of God… you know, nowadays a lot of Christianity is trying very hard to make it seem like when you come into Christianity it’s just a change of membership. You just get a different card and that’s it and we are very hesitant to emphasize to people the fact that, no, when you come into the Kingdom of God there’s an expectation of change of behavior, you’re to live in a different way, you are to speak in a different way, your thinking changes. There’s a lot of things that you can no longer do that you used to do when you were in the world. But you know it’s all good and it’s all for your blessing, it’s all for your joy, it’s all for your health and your protection.
When you walk within the limits of the Lord and you become a holy person then, my God, there’s the blessing of God that flows through you all the time. So, you are saints, we are saints in the sense that we are separate. We do not participate in the same way and God wants for his purpose, we are vases that are going to be used for his glory and he will as we separate, the more we separate ourselves from the world, the more we purify ourselves from the world, the more blessed we are.
And it’s interesting, it says, “… to the saints, how?…. he doesn’t say to the saints at Philippi, he says to the saints, what? …. In Christ Jesus. You know that Paul was always using that term, in Christ, in Jesus, in the Lord. He was always using that idea. What was the sense of in Christ Jesus. You know, if you are saint, you cannot be a saint by yourself and by your own strength, by your own capacity. I mean, nobody can. In your own strength you cannot be holy to the Lord, you cannot remain pleasing on to the Lord.
But when Paul spoke about in Christ Jesus he means that rooted in Christ, deriving your life and your energy from Jesus Christ. It’s the only way that you can live a pleasing life on to the Lord, because if you did it by yourself you’d become extremely potty and proud, but we know that our holiness, our pleasingness to the Lord comes from Jesus Christ.
So, Paul was never… that term of in Christ Jesus, was never too far from his lips. Everything that suggested effort and aspiration and demands on the parts of the Lord for the believer, he always said in Christ Jesus. And you know that concepts should never be too far from us. We are not sufficient on to ourselves.
Jesus said in John 15, remain in me and I in you and you will bear much fruit. In other words, the only way that you can bear fruit for the Lord, the only way that you can be holy to him, the only way that you can be pleasing to him is if you’re continually yoked to him, continually prayer, continually thinking about him, continually praising his name, continually thinking about his word, continually having communion and fellowship with God’s people. It is the only way because then the power of Christ, the life of Christ moves in you and through you and enlivens you and strengthens you and makes you able to please the Lord.
So, he says here “…. To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi together with the overseers and deacons…..”, just a passing there, you know, the church is already beginning to organize itself into bishops and deacons, and the word overseers, obispos, is really the people who look over the rest of flock in the city.
And then he uses these 2 really nice words in verse 2, he says, “…grace and peace to you from God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ ….”
It’s a beautiful, lovely reading. The first word ‘grace’ ‘taris’ in the Greek and the second word ‘peace’ ‘eirene’ are also beautiful words. And interestingly enough, they’re 2 words from the classical world, from extremely opposite civilizations. ‘Taris’ was the word that the Greeks used to greet themselves and to head letters when they wrote to each other and then they greeted each other and it’s a lovely word that speaks of joy, speaks of peace and lightness of being and of beauty. It is something Greek friends used to wish upon each other and the word peace, ‘shalom’ in the Hebrew, of course, it’s a very rich word that meant well-being in all its connotations. Well-being physically, emotionally, financially, socially, every sense of the word. It’s a very beautiful, deep, deep word that we don’t have time really to go into.
But it is nice, you know, that Paul uses these two words, many times throughout scripture, when he greets people and he says, ‘grace and peace’. This combination of…. Even in the word grace there’s this idea almost of favor that he wishes upon people. Some people might say ‘good luck’. Today one might say luck or favor and peace… I could almost see one word meaning something as we understand it from the outside, grace and favor and luck and peace inside, it’s a very nice balance of these two things that he wishes. It’s so important, it’s not good enough to have something on the outside, but also to have peace on the inside.
But I’m touched also by the fact that ‘… from God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ….”
Secular people might say grace and peace, but when you say that without a source all that you have is simply a nice feeling, a nice sentiment, a nice wish for somebody. I hope that you have peace, or I wish that you had joy and favor in your life. But you know, only believers can add another dimension of substance to that desire and say ‘from God, the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
In other words, they are in a position to give grace and peace. People of the world they have no control over reality to sort of usher peace and grace upon anybody that they know, but believers we can come to the Father and say, ‘Father, bless that person’, there’s another dimension of power and authority as you wish that upon a person.
Then it says, “…..I thank my God every time I remember you in all my prayers for all of you. I always pray with joy…”
This is one of the first mentions of joy in this epistle. It will come many times throughout the epistle. People have said, what an irony that a letter that was written by someone in jail, in a Roman jail, somebody who was sure, as he says later on, whether his imprisonment is for life or for death, whether he will leave with his head on from that jail or beheaded or what, full of difficulties and sufferings and this letter is one of the most luminous, joyous letters in the entire New Testament. It is the epistle of joy, it has been called many times and not only as an epistle that reflects joy on the part of the Apostle but it is also that calls us to a position of joy.
How could Paul have that? We will see later on because he was in Christ, because he was founded in Christ, because his faith was in Christ, because he knew that whether for life or for death he was serving the Lord and if he died he would go to heaven. There was no problem, whatever happened to him, his life was completely at peace, it was guaranteed by the Lord and this idea of thankfulness also. There’s joy, there’s thankfulness.
“…I thank my God every time I remember you…”
How important it is that in our prayers we be thankful to the Lord. Many times I am overwhelmed by preoccupations about life and worry and anxiety about all kinds of things, ministry, whatever it is that worries us and the tendency is to just get into a pity party and to start complaining to the Lord and to start saying all the bad things that are happening to us.
Really, I have learned from scripture this idea that in my prayers I need to be thankful. Later on Paul says that we should instead of being anxious, bring our prayer before the Lord with thankfulness. Thankfulness should never be too far from our lips, even if we don’t feel it. We should make every effort to express thankfulness onto the Lord. When we do that we glorify God. God is pleased, God is honored when one of his children in the midst of tribulation says thank you, Father, because I know that you are good.
And sometimes we may say thank you, Father because I know that this situation is going to change and deep inside you’re shaking in your boots and your emotions are saying, ‘no way, it’s not going to change’. But you know, isn’t it good to honor the Lord and to just utter a word of thankfulness just like a kind of rebuke to the devil and a challenge to Satan.
As you verbalize things your brain reformats itself. You conceptualize a state of positivism and I am convinced that that releases certain substances in your organism that promote the sense of well being. If we learned to use more the expression of thankfulness in our life, even when we are not feeling thankful. It would do wonderful, mighty things that would change many of our circumstances. I suggest to you highly, use thankfulness, use gratitude by faith, even if you don’t feel it, use it anyway and be thankful onto the Lord and make sure that in your prayers there’s always an element of gratitude and learn to thank God for the little things in life.
Sometimes you’re complaining about all kinds of stuff and then you start thanking the Lord and you realize, wait a minute, here I am, I’m eating and I don’t have an ulcer and I’m enjoying what I’m eating and what… I’m eating. I mean, there are people who can’t even eat, they don’t have food to eat and then you start thinking on how good this tastes and the fact that I have a loving a family that I can eat this with and I have a roof under my head, and all kinds of stuff. And then you, one little thought begins to release all kinds of things, and you begin to see, hey, it’s not so bad after all. And the joy of the Lord begins to flow in your life.
Paul was a very thankful man and I think we need to cultivate thankfulness. Not only thank the Lord when we feel like it, but thank the Lord even just by faith.
And I see also this idea… every time I remember you. Paul was in jail and the life of a jail person, I’ve visited jails many times throughout my life and I know how monotonous, how boring the life of an inmate is and you know what it’s like when you’re in a situation that is boring and monotonous, your mind starts thinking about the good old days, about memories that you have of people that you love, experiences.
I was reminded of how important it is, how much influence we have in the life of others to build good memories and to invest moments in the life of people and to impact people positively to facilitate good experiences for people and how important it is many times to share moments that are meaningful with other human beings, because you never know when a word that you said to them, an experience that you shared with them, a visit to your house that they made, a call from you on the phone to encourage them might come back to him; a card that you sent to them and might bring a moment of relief from care and from suffering.
Don’t underestimate how you can build a memory in the life of someone and how you can prepare them for later on in life and enjoying that memory and being a blessing on to them. How many times I’ve taken out cards that my wife wrote to me, or that a parishioner wrote to me a letter of encouragement and it has given a booster in my life and I’ve be able to thank the Lord for how he has used my life to bless somebody.
So, I think it is important don’t underestimate how important it is. Here is a man of God in a time of tribulation saying, I thank the Lord for you every time I remember you. He prayed for them, intercession, “…..in all my prayers for you I always pray with joy…..”. Joy does that, joy releases the power of God in a person’s life because of your partnership with the gospel from the first day until now.
“….Being confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…..”
I remember Aquín began his prayer this evening with that idea as he prayed for me of that he who began a good work would be faithful to complete it. That’s a wonderful thought to end our meditation tonight. The fact that many of us may be feeling insecure about a lot of things, you may not be sure of what’s going to happen in your life in the next few months or years. There may be uncertainty and you know, it’s important for us to hold on to such promises in the Bible that God is faithful, that he has good purposes for your life.
You know, right now you may be concerned about a job situation, about a family situation, a health situation, you may not be sure what God has in store for you in the next 5, 7, 10 years of your life, you may be worrying about career or about a move that you need to make. And it’s so important that you dwell upon that goodness of God, that faithfulness of God.
When I shared this evening, I said, I want you to pray for me that God would allow me to, not only know intellectually but also in my spirit about the detailed care of God for my life. What I was doing there in a way, was being deliberately fragile before you because many times we pastors, we want people to think that we’re sort of Superman, that we don’t have a care in the world, that we have super faith, that we are confident of every little thing that’s going to happen to us, that we never go through any difficulties or any worries or concerns, and you know, we do it to service our people because we deny them entrance into the drama of our lives which is the drama of every human being. We have cares, we have doubts in our life, we don’t know fully, I have seen in 52 years of life that God has always been faithful to me and that he has given me hugely more than I ever expected, but I always think, well, what if it stops now? What ensures that the next stage will be the same as the last one? God has never failed me, I can tell you that here standing firmly. God has never disappointed me. Actually he has always been more than good and yet sometimes we doubt.
As I look at all the ongoing projects in my life and ministry, big things that I have undertaken that God has let me to undertake, at moments I struggle and I say, Lord, are you going to enable me to get through all these different things, these different pieces that I still have, these little plans that I have here, here and there and that I’ve invested in? Can I be sure that I really haven’t over committed or over aspired and that you are going to be faithful just as you have been until now.
I was just before this afternoon, I got the latest issue of Time Magazine, and it has a picture of Mother Teresa and it talks about the agonies and the doubts, profound doubts that this saint, this great saint, Noble prize winner, one of the most admired human beings in contemporary history, and when Mother Teresa died recently she left an entire set of letters, 66 letters I think it is, that were written to her confessors and to very intimate friends that open a totally unexpected aspect of her life. For the past 50 years this woman of faith, who people thought was absolutely pregnable and completely flawless in her faith was a woman ravished by doubt to the point that she at times didn’t know whether God existed or not, or whether God loved her or not, or Jesus loved her or not. It wasn’t just one day or two days, apparently she lived under that cloud throughout the last decades of her life and it has led some people to almost have a crisis of faith as they see this woman, who they saw always strong and sure of herself, all of a sudden showing this huge chink in her armor.
It can be like that. Faith is sometimes… I don’t think it needs to be that agonizing, I think that there was something personally, not to take away from the great merit of that incredible woman, something was wrong, I believe, when you live that kind of dark, dark walk, every day of your life. I think that the default posture of the believer is one of faith laced with doubt and struggle, but not one of agony and doubt laced with every once in a while a little touch of faith. No. Nevertheless I do think that the Christian walk is a walk of doubt many times and struggle.
Martin Luther, the great man of God, was ravished sometimes by paralyzing depression all to the ends of his life. And so, the Christian walk is a life of difficulty and struggle and how wonderful it is that God is not ashamed of us, he’s not disappointed with us, he doesn’t kick us out of his grace because we have doubts, on the contrary he loves us more and he’s willing to just say, ‘come on, don’t worry, let’s work through this’, and in that process you’re going to become stronger and as you see me pull you through those difficulties, your faith is going to become stronger and stronger. He works with us, so know that he is there.
But it is so wonderful to go back to that affirmation of the Apostle Paul, for I know….. and I think that ‘I know’ is more like almost an expression of trust. It’s not the sense that he knew intellectually, he’s saying ‘I am convinced, I am hoping strongly, I know objectively because God, his character is such that he who began the good work in you will complete it until the ends…’
And that I believe, brothers and sisters, is the goal that we need to aim for in our attitude. I will never be content with doubt and I will always swat the flies of doubt whenever they draw near to my life. I will never allow them to stay too long in my vicinity. I will combat them to the ends, with prayer, with thankfulness, with affirmations of God’s grace, with fasting, with self examination, with seeking the company of believers who have faith filled who can touch me with their own faith, with a life of integrity as much as God will allow me in my life. All those things that are important, with spiritual warfare, with proclamations of God’s goodness in my life.
All of these are weapons against depression, against doubt, against anxiety, against fear and I will say these things to the Lord even though I don’t believe them at times, or even though I doubt them and I will come against any cloud of darkness that threatens to overcome my life and any states of depression or whatever because God is powerful enough to do that. He wants to do that in your life. Never allow your life to become possessed and controlled by doubt or by fear or by darkness.
The goal, the attitude that God wants you to cultivate in your life is that attitude there, ‘for I am convinced, I know, I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion…’
You know, God called you into his kingdom. God accepted you as his child. He has good thoughts. Jeremiah 29 is one of my favorite chapters in all the scripture and that verse where God says: “… for I know the thoughts that I have for you, thoughts of good and not of evil to give you the end that you desire….”
It is verses like that that encourage me in my life. Steve you may come up and Sharon. It is these kind of verses that encourage me and that call me. I will confess always in my life for I know that if God called me into his kingdom, there’s no devil that’s going to take me away from him. There’s no circumstance, there’s no situation, there’s no event that is going to somehow trick me and trip me and grab me from the love of the Lord as long as my heart wants to be yoked onto God.
I can have that confidence. Whatever… I encourage you to think about that, that even though you may be going through a time of uncertainty in your life, that somehow God is going to engineer things in such a way that it will always turn out for good. No matter what happens, amen. To those who love the Lord all things work out for food.
So, wherever you are right now in your life, whatever the circumstances, financial or whatever in the name of Jesus Christ I call forth a measure of faith in your life. Don’t contemplate a lonely old age, don’t contemplate a life of sickness, don’t contemplate a life of financial limitation, don’t contemplate a life aloneness or of destitution or of fear, or whatever.
Look for a life that will make sense. Look for a life that will be coherent. Look for a life that will speak of purpose and design and good endings and concerted events that will come together beautifully. Your life may not be everything that you want in every detail, but it will be good, I’m telling you. It will be authentic, it will be fine, it will be worthy, it will be heroic, it will make sense because the God who called you will be there every step of the way and he is more powerful to execute every good desire that he has for you, as long as you serve him, you love him with all your heart as we said in the beginning, as long as he is your Master, as long as you are thankful to him, as long as you bring to him all your needs in prayer, as long as you care for others and intercede for others you’ll be faithful to complete what he was begun in you.
So, Father, we thank you for that promise. We thank you because even in the midst of struggles, Lord, and even as we struggle against our own flaws and our own weaknesses you are faithful, you are wonderfully dependable, even when we are in the depths of uncertainty, like the Apostle Paul was in that Roman jail, Father, he could express these feelings of trust and joy, and thankfulness, and deep friendship. We want that same kind of faith, Father, today, we want to live that kind of faith. We want to life joyous lives, we want to live militant lives, we want to live aggressive lives. We want lives of deep spirituality. We don’t want mediocre lives, Father, religious Christianity, we want this measure of heroism that the Apostle Paul exemplifies and calls us to and we receive that tonight, Father.
I pray for your blessing upon my brothers and sisters even as they might struggle, Father, I pray for a measure of your grace, right now, and your peace to be with them. Thank you, Lord, in the mighty name of Jesus we pray. Amen, amen.