Series: JOY WHEN LIFE IS TOUGH
Read ths Message in: http://www.livingtruth.ca/
Aired: Sunday Aug 26 2012
Title: “Celebrating in our Circumstances”
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
The life of the Apostle Paul was continually characterized by hardship and persecution. He couldn’t live under his circumstances as that would have been too depressing and discouraging, and neither could he live above them. But incredibly, Paul celebrated in them. What was his secret? This week, Author and Bible teacher, Charles Price, tells us how we can live in tough and trying situations with a sense of joy and purpose, derived from the presence of Christ within us.
In Philippians 4:11, Paul says, “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances,” and in the next verse, he says again, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” This is not a result of a buoyant personality, but is something Paul had to learn, and if Paul had to learn how to be content, then it is something we too can learn.
Paul often found himself the subject of scorn, particularly from his fellow Jews. In 2 Corinthians, Chapter 11, he defends his apostleship to the church in Corinth, because they’d been infiltrated by what he describes as “pseudo apostles.” They were claiming authority they didn’t have and Paul responds with, “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again” (2 Corinthians 11:23). Remarkably, Paul is saying that the evidence that he is God’s chosen man, commissioned by Him, are the brutalities and oppositions he’s faced and endured.
We live in a rather soft age, where we’ve placed our dependency on our own capabilities and resources. So much is made easy with a press of a button and in our high tech world, God gets left on the back burner. That’s why, again and again, He takes His choicest servants and makes life difficult for them in order to strip them of every other object of dependency but Him. That’s how Paul became the man he was, and many others throughout Scripture like Abraham, Moses and David, whose only recourse was to turn to God.
Paul goes on to talk about his sufferings and persecutions. Five times he’d received the fourty lashes minus one, three times beaten with rods, and once stoned and left for dead. He’d been shipwrecked several times and in danger from rivers, bandits, his own countrymen, Gentiles; danger in the city, in the country, at sea and from false brothers. He had known hunger and thirst and often gone without sleep. He’d been cold, naked, exhausted and constantly on the move, many times fleeing for his life. Yet he says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
When faced with hardships and persecutions, we tend to think we’re out of the will of God, but in our service to God, it is actually evidence that we are in the will of God. We cannot make the assumption that everything will run smoothly. That was never true in Scripture, nor throughout history, and certainly not true in the life of Paul or of Jesus.
Tough and trying circumstances will either drive us from God or to God. Driving us from God, we become bitter and resentful, but to God, we learn the secret of being content, regardless of how difficult our situations. They are not the focal point, but God and His purposes are. And Paul, stripped of everything but God, says, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” That doesn’t mean he could jump into a ring with Mike Tyson and win. The context in which he wrote this was describing circumstances he’d experienced: “whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want”, he could do all things in Christ who gives him strength. The Amplified Bible translation says, “I have strength for all things in Christ who empowers me; I am ready for anything. I am equal to anything, through Christ who infuses inner strength into me.”
In short, “I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency”.
After Paul’s third missionary journey, he was headed back to Jerusalem with the intent of going on to Spain. When he reached Caesarea, a coastal town about 50 miles from Jerusalem, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea to warn Paul of impending danger in Jerusalem. He took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘in this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles’.” After hearing this, the people pleaded with Paul not to go, but Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready, not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). The Lord was giving Paul the option of whether to go or not, but Paul is saying he’s ready for anything, not because of stoicism, but because of his awareness of the sufficiency of Christ within him. He knew there wasn’t any circumstance he would face that would be bigger than the power of Christ within Him.
We can have a Jesus who is little more than the patron of our theology, but he’d be remote. We can have a Jesus who is simply our teacher or an example to follow, but again, he’d be remote. Or we can have a Jesus who is at the very heart of everything that takes place in our lives. He is our life, and that’s the Jesus Paul knew every time his boat sank, every time he was whipped, beaten, imprisoned and scorned. It’s why his letter to the Philippians is such a remarkable one, because there is more autobiographical information about Paul’s life, and every time it’s about the things that humanly speaking should have knocked him down and pushed him out. But to the very end, his security, his life, his strength was in Jesus. That’s why he could say, “My God will meet all your needs, according to his riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
The secret Paul had to learn in being content both internally and externally in any and every situation was complete and utter dependence upon the indwelling Spirit of Christ. The presence of Christ within us is the very essence of Christian life. Paul survived externally in a tough, pagan world because he knew that whatever pushed him down or held him back, was another opportunity to exhibit the life of Christ within him. And for Paul, as well as every Christian, that is reason to celebrate!