January 4, 2004
Pastor Brian Shimer
"All Things With Christ"
| I. ||How many of you have written any thank you notes yet for gifts received
over the holidays? What have you said?
I remember after Karen and I were married, she sent out thank you notes for the gifts we had received. Karen always affirmed our love for the people who had sent the gift, how they had touched our lives along with a thank you for whatever they had given us. We received thank you notes about her thank you notes.
That reminds me of the couple who sent out thank you notes for their gifts. They had received two Christmas tree stands. They decided not to open the second one, and just sent a note thanking the people who had given it and stored the box with the stand in it in their garage. It was not until 20 years later that they opened that box. Their first stand had broken down, and it was time for a new one. When they opened the box, to their surprise, there was not a Christmas Tree stand at all, but new towels. How unusual that thank you note must have sounded to those dear folk 20 years before!
Paul's letter to the Philippian church is really written as a thank you letter. Before he gets to the point of saying "thanks," he has expressed his love for the Philippians, God's call on their lives, the promised presence and peace of God in their lives.
After all of this, in 4:10, Paul says Thank You for the financial gift they had sent him.
Makes for a lengthy thank you card! But, what a note to receive!
Paul takes the gift as evidence of not only renewed concern for his welfare, but also, renewed ability to demonstrate their concern.
And as with all things Paul uses this as an opportunity to teach them about a secret resident in his life already, the secret of contentment.
In so doing, Paul redefines a word that was in common Greek philosophical use, especially among the Stoics. They believed that contentment was the fruit of human effort. To be content, a Stoic would tell you, "add not to one's possessions but simply remove desires."
| II. ||
Contentment meant self-sufficiency. It meant to abolish every feeling and emotion
of the human heart - to say "I don't care" to any loss from the smallest to the greatest thing, until you truly did not care. The Stoic believed that everything that happens is God's will, and willed himself to die to any feelings, to root out all love, to forbid care
(Wm Barclay, commentary on the Letter to the Phlippians, p. 104, ubp)
That is what the Stoic of Greek philosophy believed, but not what Paul meant by the word. For Paul this contentment was not a human achievement but something borne of God's training. It was not something that made Paul less human, lacking any emotion, but more human, in relationship to the God of hope and peace and mercy!
Twice Paul writes "I have learned" but uses two different words.
First, in verse 11, he says, he has been instructed.
When I taught swimming lessons for years, first I would instruct while the students sat on the warm cement or held to the side of the pool. There they could begin to feel a straight leg, a prone position, a turn of the head while standing on the bottom of the pool, before actually being initiated into applying the instructions-- really getting wet out in the pool away from the side.
I remember when my whole family was involved in a demonstration for a Red Cross Lifesaving course. The instructor, who was my mom, first taught about the procedures for saving a drowning person, and then we, in our homemade kayak in the deep end of the pool, sought to demonstrate. Nancy, Roger and John and I had had great ambition to act out a boating accident, and simulate a drowning. Unfortunately, my dad had designed this craft so carefully that we could hardly get it to tip over! Eventually we did, floundered and were subsequently rescued. The students were thus initiated into applying the instructions.
Paul says first he has been instructed and then initiated into this contentment.
That is the second word used, to be initiated into something. First, God instructed him through the Word, and then, through the circumstances of life, had really gotten him wet.
His contentment was based upon God's sufficiency not self-sufficiency.
Are you content with where God has you? Are you satisfied with your plenty or in your want? Do you kick against the circumstances of life? Paul says that His contentment was not a resignation to circumstances, but a traveling through them with Jesus. Circumstances were the opportunity to apply what God had instructed. Does this mean it is easy? Hardly. Do we have pain? Certainly. But God can magnificently apply all circumstances to our points of need.
That is the basis, from which Paul could write, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." What were all things for Paul -- being stoned and left for dead; three times receiving the 39 lashes from the Jews; 5 times being beaten with rods; 2 times shipwrecked; he had spent a day and night in the open sea; he had experienced sleepless nights, been put into jail, faced angry mobs, gone without food. Contentment, peace in any circumstance was a divine gift. Not: 'I'll force myself to be content" but I can do all things through Christ.
| III. ||
I typed Philippians 4:13 into my computer and came up with an individual web page
of a woman named Margie Cash living in the Midwest. She sees 4:13 as one of her "life verses." I asked her if she could share her testimony. In this she wrote:
"In telling you my personal testimony, I could talk for hours about codependency, divorce, single parenthood, extreme career burnout, loneliness, and financial hardship. Or I could tell you about my congenital arthritis that has led to two major back surgeries and four, premature, joint replacements, or about my six OB/GYN surgeries, or my other miscellaneous surgeries (25 in al!). But, the bigger testimony is not what I have been through, but the fact that I made it through at all! Without Christ, I could not have made it through the deeper valleys in my life; but with Him, I have survived and thrived." (margiecash.com, ubp).
As my new acquaintance Margie has said well, "I can do all things through Christ," is not a Christian mantra. It is not just something we say through gritted teeth. But it is a Christian reality. It applies to anything that may be on the road ahead of us in 2004, no matter how exciting or dreadful, no circumstance can snatch us from God's ability to use them to further train us into having contentment in life and godliness in heart. Nothing is too dark for Jesus. No place is too wonderful for Him to be with us. And if that is the case, than even holiness, as vast an assignment for life as that is, even that, is not too big for us to look at this year and walk into whatever experiences He has to assist us with growing in all He has planned.
How about adopting 4:13 as a life verse for you this year?