The Partnership of the Gospel (Phil 4:14-23)
Sermon Audio: The Partnership of the Gospel (Phil 4:14-23)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What from the sermon was most helpful for you?
- How would you define what Christian fellowship is? Where would you go in the Bible for a good picture of that?
- "Greet every saint in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:21). Practically speaking, what does it look to keep this command? Break this command?
- Look at Phil 4:17. What was Paul seeking? Why should pastors encourage the members of the church to give their money generously?
- Can you think of anything that would change in your life if 100% of you believed the promise of Phil 4:19?
- Read Romans 8:32. What does this tell us?
When I was in high school I worked as a busboy and host at an Applebees. In-between passing out chicken fingers and burgers, my fellow co-workers found out that I was planning on becoming a pastor someday. This was something they found wildly comical and referred to me from then on as “Father Marc.” I cannot remember how it came about but eventually my co-workers found out that I also believed that sex should only happen within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. This led to a whole new slew of haranguing and poking fun. Most of it was lighthearted and silly. One conversation, however, was different.
One of my coworkers was a gay man who struggled with how I could believe that God was loving, yet I would deny that if two people loved each other they wouldn’t be allowed to give themselves to each other in the ultimate expression of love: the sexual act. We tend to assume that “love” is primarily a feeling, and that our job when we experience that feeling is to not inhibit it, but to let it have free reign and go where it wills. So, if you love someone and feel strongly towards them, you should let your affections take you wherever you will. This was what my coworker assumed.
But I asked him if he could define what he thought “love” meant. He thought about it for a moment and then said, “Well, I think it is some mixture of affection for someone coupled with a commitment to their good.” And I told him I thought that was exactly right. But then I asked him how he defined what “good” was. He sat quietly for a moment and slowly realized: This is more complicated than I thought. We understand that love involves affection, but it also must involve something more. Someone who “loves” someone, but is doing things to hurt that other person does not really love them. To truly “love” someone else, we must be working toward their good, and for us to work toward their good, we need to have a definition of what “good” is. Love requires a goal.
And while it may be easy for us to spot the error in my coworkers understanding of love, I wonder if we may have a harder time spotting the error in our understanding of love as it pertains to how we are to love one another within the church. What does it mean to love your neighbor or your fellow church member? What does it mean to be committed to their good? In our text today we will see what love between Christians looks like in action, what the goal is that Paul is working towards in the Philippian church.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
- Phil 4:10-23
On of the most common themes in the book of Philippians has been the love of God’s people for one another. In fact, the very first sermon I preached in Philippians was called “The Love of God’s People.” All over the letter, Paul’s affection and admiration for the Philippians, and their love of him, is evident. In this final section we get three more pictures of what love does amidst the people of God: love shares, love seeks, and love supplies.
Love Shares (14-16)
“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.” – Phil 4:14
But, vs. 14, Paul wants them to know that he recognizes their gift as a kindness, for they were sharing in his trouble—had “fellowship” in his trouble. The word for “sharing” is from the same root word for “fellowship” in the Bible, like in Acts 2, where we are told, “42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” (Acts 2:42). How do you “devote” yourself to Christian fellowship? We tend to use the word “fellowship” just to refer to hanging out together—which is, no doubt, a key aspect of Christian fellowship. In fact, just a few verses later we are told that the early church would gather to share meals on a daily basis (Acts 2:46). Time together matters. But, this isn’t the sum of Christian fellowship. Christian fellowship isn’t just a commitment to hang out, but a commitment to one another’s good, even when it comes at great personal cost. Which is why we also read in Acts 2 of the sacrificial love of Christians for one another, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need,” (Acts 2:44-45).
This is what Christian fellowship is: Paul’s problem became their own. Love shares. What is burdening you, burdens me; what rejoices you, rejoices me. The body of Christ is an interconnected whole, like a vine, or the bricks of a building, or a body. We are like a tightly interwoven net: when a rock falls on the net, the whole net bends down to absorb the blow, and in doing so it pulls the individual strand of the net that was struck back up. This is distinct from our typical, modern idea of the autonomous man. The autonomous man works a decent job, makes plenty of money, has great insurance, a cushy retirement, drives his new car directly into his garage, closes the door, and spends his evening by himself. He is a monad, a marble, a disconnected and isolated individual who has all the entertainment and comforts he needs. His relationships are ones of convenience, never dependence. But that is wholly alien to the nature of the relationships that Christians are to have with one another—we are to depend on one another.
And so, Paul depends on the Philippians; he has been in need, and the Philippians have supplied his need.
In fact, vs. 15-16 show that the Philippian church has a track record of financially supporting Paul, even when no one else did, “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.” (Phil 4:15-16).
Paul’s pattern of receiving financial support: Paul refused to take financial support to the church he was currently planting, but once he left to go plant more churches, he would then receive monetary support from them (cf. 2 Cor 11:9). Paul was concerned that by receiving financial support initially from the church plant he was working on it would both put a stumbling block in front of early believers that may hinder them from the free gift of the gospel, or it may confuse some to think that Paul was like other paid rhetoricians who received money for their eloquent sophistry. But after the church was established and Paul traveled on, he would then receive and solicit financial support from these churches to help him.
This is what the Philippian church did, but notice that vs. 15 tells us they did this from their first exposure to the gospel. Which is significant, because we know from the book of Acts that Paul only stayed in Philippi three Sabbaths. Just three weeks. How could you establish a relationship of that kind of trust in such a short time? Well, look at the last few verses of our section:
The “greet one another” commands.
“Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.” (Phil 4:21-22).
Have you ever considered why, in the providence of the Lord, these conclusions were included in Scripture? Many times we are given a long list of names that Paul greets (cf. Rom 16:1-16). Given how short Paul’s letters are, why would the Lord waste precious space on these greetings and farewells that have nothing do with us? Why is that? Notice, vs. 21 is actually a command given to us: we must greet every saint in Christ. Have you ever considered what it looks like for you to obey that command? Have you ever considered ways in which you may have broken that command? This means that Paul assumes that there is a relational obligation and connection between fellow Christians that exceeds other relationships. We are commanded to greet other Christians, to put a premium on the relationships of others who are united to Christ. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith,” Gal 6:10.
And because we are to be devoted to fellowship, this means that we share in one another’s troubles, we bear one another’s burdens. Why? Because we all have trusted in Jesus who has born our burden of sin for us, and that creates in us a desire to love one another similarly. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9). When we see what Christ has done for us, and then look around at the much smaller burdens of others around us, we naturally desire to move in and help in the same way Christ has helped us.
Practically speaking, this means that we should put a premium on the relationships with other believers around us, especially those within our church. We should prioritize time to spend together, to share meals with one another, to help one another move and fix one another’s lawn mowers or babysit or shovel each other’s driveways. Consider setting aside a small amount of money each month specifically with the aim of being available to use on blessing other people within the church.
Do you have needs yourself? Bring it to the church. We may not be able to always provide everything, but we can always strive to help in whatever way we can. Don’t deprive your brothers and sisters the joy of bearing a burden with you.
Love Seeks (17)
“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” (Phil 4:17).
Vs. 17 Paul again wants to clarify so that the Philippians won’t be mistaken. In vs. 11-13, Paul’s clarification was for them to know that—while grateful for the support—Paul wasn’t banking on their support for his source of contentment—he has learned the secret to being content in any circumstance. Here, however, Paul is wanting to guard against the idea that his aim is the money itself. It isn’t. He is seeking something else: “fruit that increases to your credit” or “I seek the profit that accrues to your account.”
Paul’s main aim isn’t his own self-interest, but the Philippians’. Now, this is tricky. Paul thinks that the churches should financially support pastors and missionaries. “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Tim 5:17-18; cf. Gal 6:6; Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11).
In fact, he refers to the financial gift that the Philippians gave him in vs. 18 as, “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” It is an act of worship for Christians to use their money to care for the needs of the church. This is why most churches on Sunday for as long as churches have been around have made it a part of the worship service to include a collection of tithes and offerings. Our church does not practice this mainly because we are concerned that it may lead to a misunderstanding that to attend our worship services one must pay money. But we do not want anyone to get the idea that we think that what we do with our money is not a critical part of worship. It is! Paul thinks so.
And yet, Paul makes a careful distinction: though he thinks churches should support their pastors and missionaries, should give money to help others, he does not advocate this for his own good, but for the good of the givers.
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints… And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it.” (2 Cor 8:1-4, 10)
Paul loves the Philippians, so he seeks their good, the “fruit that increases to your credit.” Here the “fruit” that Paul refers to is the Christian character he sees growing in the Philippians, but the phrase also has a financial overtone. Paul is using the language of an “investment manager: he desires “continuously increasing profits, daily compounding interest, and accumulating dividends for the Philippians' account.” In other words, Paul is encouraging them that their generosity to Paul is a wise investment that will pay rich dividends. Jesus exhorts us to lay up treasure in heaven, not on earth.
God loves you, and He desires your joy, He desires your fruit that increases to your credit.
Love Supplies (18-20)
“I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:18-19)
Vs. 18 shows that Paul has received an overwhelming gift from the Philippians, he is “amply supplied.” The Philippians didn’t skimp on their support—Paul is overflowing with a superabundance of resources and funds now. But then, he provides this amazing promise as a boon and comfort to the Philippians: “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Notice the “my” there? Paul has experienced the provision of the Lord himself so personally that he can speak to the Philippians about “my God who supplies everything you need.”
Christians should be abundantly generous because our God is abundantly generous. Paul has been supplied well by the Philippians, and then he turns around and insures them: God will supply you with what you need. Our zeal for generosity comes out of a deep assurance that God honors and provides Christians with everything they need to pursue the ministry of love.
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:6-8)
There is a way that Christians can take a good and right vision of wisdom with finances, but have it morph into a kind of miserliness that has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. The servant who buries his talent in the ground is rebuked, not rewarded. Ebenezer Scrooge may have had no credit card debt, but he is no model for those who follow Jesus. We should invest and spend our finances wisely and courageously as we seek to further the mission of the gospel through our support and care of one another and the missionaries we support. In our member’s meeting we will be discussing some ways we want to use the money the Lord has entrusted to us to invest in future opportunities of ministry.
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Do you see the storehouse that God is drawing from to supply your needs? “his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” That is the measurement of wealth that God draws upon to insure that you will be supplied with everything you need for life. If an angel were to come and take you on a tour in heaven of the storehouses of wealth in glory King Jesus has, how long would you be gone walking the hallways of that heavenly bank? How wealthy is the God who not only owns a cattle on a thousand hills, but who speaks our entire cosmos into existence? Will the wealth and riches of our God prove to be inadequate for your needs? Will his checks bounce? Friend, the God of the universe will richly supply every need of yours. So trust Him.
If you struggle with faith to believe that promise, consider what God has done in Christ. The Father did not even spare His own Son, but graciously gave Him up for us—how will He not then give us everything else we need? Friend, what more could the Father do to prove His commitment to you? What else could He offer to demonstrate that He will spare no expense for your good? The cross of Christ is a placard of God’s unfailing love and commitment to your good. You can count on the promises of God to be depended on—the offering of Jesus is the ultimate display of God’s love for you. The promises of God are something that you can stand upon, not merely print on coffee cups and throw pillows.
The Secret of Contentment (Phil 4:10-13)
Sermon Audio: The Secret of Contentment (Phil 4:10-13)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- When you think of someone who is caught in a cycle of addiction, like the gold-miner, what comes to mind? What tends to be the most regular thief of contentment in your own life?
- In Phil 4:11 Paul speaks of not being in need, despite being in a perilous situation with being in jail. Read 2 Tim 4:16-18. How did the suffering Paul experienced in being abandoned lead to his confidence that God would provide for him? How does suffering produce clarity for the Christian?
- “My brethren, the reason why you do not have contentment in the things of the world is not that you do not have enough of them. The reason is that they are not things proportional to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God Himself.” – Burroughs. What does that mean? Read Jeremiah 2:12-13.
- Why does Paul call Christian contentment a "secret"?
- What are some wrong ways to apply Phil 4:13? What does it actually mean?
How much money does someone need to make to be satisfied? How much time off from work, how many new gadgets, how extravagant do their vacations need to be? Perhaps you are familiar with the parable of the gold-miner? This prospector noticed a few flecks of gold around the base of an enormous cliff. He began to dig into the side of the cliff and found, to his joy, more gold. The only problem was that about a foot up the side of the cliff, the rocks crumbled away easily. He was left only to hollow out a small, flat space level with the ground to unearth the treasure. If he attempted to cut away with his pick axe any higher, the entire cliff face would begin to erode down, and bury the gold (and possibly himself). So the man began to chip away at the bottom of the cliff, creating a tiny pocket of space that he could squeeze a few wooden blocks and, if he laid flat on the ground, himself.
The deeper into the cliffside the man dug, the richer, thicker, and more plentiful the vein of gold became. Soon, the man was not bringing out mere flecks, but knobs and lumps of gold. But consequently, the deeper the man dug into the base of the cliff, the more perilous it became—he could hear the patter of rocks slide down every time he shuffled inside, felt the dust of the ceiling cover his face with ever hammer blow. At any moment, any strike of his axe would bring the entire cliffside down upon him. Every day, he promised himself that it was his last time going in, but every morning he awoke tormented by the possibility of just a little more, and he would wind up scrambling into the little crack at the base of the cliff, in the throes of terror and elation. And, of course, eventually he found an enormous tumor of gold buried in the rock, larger than anything he had ever seen and, in removing it, was immediately crushed.
The story is a parable that illustrates the seductive power of “just a little bit more.” It is easy to spot the foolishness of someone caught in a cycle of diminishing returns, an addiction that only grants a fleeting whiff of satisfaction before driving the victim to a deeper indulgence than before. It is easy to see the problem out there in others who are struggling with sins we don’t struggle with—the stock broker working 80 hours a week, the heroin addict, the celebrity carving up their body with plastic surgery—but it is harder for us to see the problem in ourselves. We know that we want to be content, we know that we should be content, we know we have no good reason not to be, and yet like the anxious prospector, we look at what we currently have and think: “Not enough.” Which brings us to our text today where Paul shows us the secret of contentment:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Phil 4:10-13
Here, we now get to the main purpose of Paul’s letter to the Philippians in the first place. He wants to thank the Philippian church for the financial gift they have given to support his ministry. He rejoices that they now have an opportunity to demonstrate their concern for him. We aren’t sure what prohibited them from supporting him financially thus far: perhaps they lacked the money, perhaps they weren’t able to get support to Paul because of how far away he was, perhaps Paul didn’t need any financial support till now. Either way, their faithfulness in giving causes Paul to rejoice in the Lord. But, Paul turns in verses 11-13 to correct a potential misunderstanding the Philippians might have about supporting Paul: he explains, in a way, that he doesn’t ultimately need their gift. Why? Because he has learned a secret.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content,” (Phil 4:11). Now here is the strange thing—Paul is in need. Remember that Paul is writing this letter from prison (cf. Phil 1:7). Roman prisons were not comfortable places—they were often overcrowded, dark, dingy, places of squalor and filth. The daily allotment of food given to you barely kept you alive, so prisoners were dependent on the generosity of outsiders to supplement them with food and clean water. Unfortunately, however, similar to today, prisoners bore a serious social stigma and there was a great pressure to sever ties with the individual put into prison. This is why the New Testament puts such an emphasis on Christians caring for those in prison (Heb 13:3; Matt 25:36). And yet, in this position of vulnerability, Paul says “I don’t need anything.”
Or, at least, Paul doesn’t need anything in the way we typically think we need things. Of course, there are things we do need. Last week we reflected on Jesus’ statement about prayer and anxiety, where Jesus commands us to not be worried about food or clothing because, “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all,” (Matt 6:32). Paul warns Timothy, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever,” (1 Tim 5:8). Paul, therefore, isn’t advocating a strange kind of self-denial where we never labor to care for ourselves or our families.
Yet, suffering produces a strange clarity on what one really needs. Anyone in this room who has received painful news—the death of a loved one, the serious injury of a child, the business failing—knows how it suddenly grants an entirely new perspective on life. But it is not just deprivation itself that leads Paul to claim that he isn’t in need, it is rather seeing how the Lord provides for us in the midst of suffering that gives confidence. When Paul explained to Timothy that certain individuals began attacking him, he explained, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Tim 4:16-18).
It was in the midst of being utterly abandoned by all his companions that Paul experienced the Lord’s sustaining and strengthening presence and granted him this invincible confidence: God will deliver me from everything and bring me safely into his kingdom. Of course, to enter the “heavenly kingdom” means that you die—so Paul sees the Lord’s oversight and protection of his life as something that does not mean physical safety, alone, but a safe oversight of his soul, a safe oversight of his earthly life till Paul’s time is complete.
So, Paul is grateful for the money the Philippians have sent him, but he is confident that if they didn’t, God would find some other way to provide for what he needs. The psalms tell us that no good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly (Ps 84:11). God has never held back on us.
“Nothing is needed that he withholds, everything is needed that he sends.” – John Newton
What do you feel like you need most?
So, Paul isn’t in need, rather, he has learned in whatever situation he is in to be content, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need,” (Phil 4:12). Here Paul shows us that Christian contentment does not come through favorable circumstances. It is in abundance and need, plenty and hunger that Paul is content. Which is so foreign to the natural way of thinking, is it not? We tend to think that contentment comes when we abound, not when we are brought low; when we have plenty, not when we hunger. But Paul has contentment regardless of his circumstance. He is similar to the psalmist, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound,” (Ps 4:7). More joy? Not just the same, but more? How could that be?
This is because the contentment that comes from God is of an entirely different species than worldly contentment. Apples and oranges. Jesus promised His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you,” (John 14:27). How does the world give contentment? It is contentment with an expiration date, contentment that lasts until the new piece of technology comes out that makes your current one obsolete, contentment that lasts till someone else comes along and does something at your job better than you, contentment that lasts until your children embarrass you out in public. It is a fragile and temporary contentment that is wholly dependent on your circumstances. It has often been said, “comparison is the thief of joy.” And how true that is. You may have a season where you feel a great deal of contentment with the lot the Lord has given you, but then you spy someone else whose life seems to be operating at just a better frequency with yours, and suddenly life feels dull, dreary, and disappointing. And you start to think I just need more.
Jeremiah Burroughs, in his classic The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, writes: “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Notice how that definition lacks any mention of outward circumstance and focuses instead entirely on the disposition of our heart: glad submission to the Father’s will.
We live at a time where we have more material wealth than ever, and yet satisfaction, peace, joy, and contentment seem so rare. The Greek myth of Tantalus serves as a fitting illustration of our time. Tantalus, a friend of the gods, commits a heinous crime and so, as a punishment, he is forced to stand waist deep in a pool of water in the underworld for all eternity. Above him is a fruit tree with ripe fruit easily within reach. Yet whenever he reaches his hand up to grab the fruit, the tree branch raises just out of reach; whenever he bends down to scoop some water to drink, the water recedes away. So, he is left forever tantalized by what is just out of reach. And friend, I wonder if life feels like that for you. Just a little more money…just a little more attention from that girl…just a few more vacations, then I’ll be happy. And yet, when we reach our hand down and take a drink, we find no water there.
“My brethren, the reason why you do not have contentment in the things of the world is not that you do not have enough of them. The reason is that they are not things proportional to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God Himself.” – Burroughs. It would be easier to scoop water out of the ocean with a net than find lasting contentment in the things of the world. Yahweh, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, illuminates this truth:
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the LORD,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
- Jer 2:12-13
Notice what Paul says, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.” In other words, there is a particular Christian way to orient ourselves to our changing circumstances. Do you know how to experience financial ruin? Do you know how to experience financial success? We may think that those things just happen and we respond. But Paul says, No, you need to know how to walk through those things. Notice that Paul said that he has “learned the secret of contentment.” In other words, this is something you have to learn. It does not come naturally to you. And what is it? It’s a secret, Paul says.
So a secret is something that is not obvious, but Paul quickly explains what it is: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:13). Now, this may be the most popular and most misunderstood passage of Scripture in the whole Bible. Perhaps you have seen the meme, I can do all things through a Bible verse taken out of context. Often this passage is used by people as a way of thinking about achieving goals—you want to lose some weight, want to hit your quarterly goals at work, want to buy a house, etc. It is a particular favorite of athletes who use it as a way to, I assume, draw encouragement to win the game. So, in this thinking, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” understands the “all things” in an exclusively positive sense: I can do anything!
But, of course, Paul already specified what the “all things” were back in verses 11-12. He can abound, or he can be brought low, he can win, or he can lose, he can have a lot, or a little. So, two opposing quarterbacks go into a game with “Phil 4:13” painted under their eyes—one of them will win, and one will lose. That doesn’t mean that “Phil 4:13” only applied to the winner of the game, but to the loser as well. I can do all things—like lose—through Christ who strengthens me. So this isn’t a blank check for whatever goals or dreams we have, some kind of ‘name it and claim it” promise that whatever we want will happen. It is much, much more profound than that. Three things we see from Phil 4:13
1. You can walk through anything with contentment.
"I can do all things." This is an astounding promise. There is no set of circumstances that can come into your life that has the ability to rob you of your contentment. No suffering, no weakness, no failure, no deprivation. You may think those things rob you of your contentment, but that is a willful surrender, not an inevitable conclusion. How?
2. You do this through Christ.
"I can do all things through Christ". Christ has pledged Himself to us. We have been enveloped into Him. We are made for God, and Christ has come as a way to have us be reconciled to God. He has so pledged Himself to us, that our debts become his own, and His resources become our own. The great ailment of our discontentment is that we are made for God but are alienated from Him. Through Christ's death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, He has made a way through which we can receive the very thing our soul longs for most: God. So, we can be content in any situation.
In 1851 a group of British missionaries to Tierra del Fuego was forced to winter in the bitter cold while they waited for their supply ship to arrive. It came too late. They all died of cold and starvation. On Good Friday, April 18th, Richard Williams, a surgeon and Methodist lay preacher, wrote in his journal, “Poor and weak though we are, our abode is a very Bethel to our souls [Genesis 28:10-19], and God we feel and know is here.” On Wednesday, May 7th, he wrote, “Should anything prevent my ever adding to this, let all my beloved ones at home rest assured that I was happy beyond description when I wrote these lines and would not have changed situations with any man living.”
Okay, but perhaps that sounds so fantastical and extreme you are left thinking: "I could never do anything like that." That brings us to our last point:
3. He strengthens you.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Jesus is offering you His own strength. Jesus' relationship to is not the relationship of a celebrity to a fan, or a politician to a constituent: someone who is appreciative of your support, glad to have you, but remains fundamentally separate from you. No, our Lord bleeds His own strength into us to do what we cannot do on our own. As the great hymn tells us, "I will strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand."
Martin Luther's friend, Philip Melanchthon, was overwhelmed with anxieties about the cause of the Reformation, uncertain about what the future held. Luther wrote him a letter as a way to encourage his friend to stop "sucking up cares like a leech" and to be encouraged in God's promises to them:
"Christ knows whether it is stupidity or bravery, but I am not much disturbed, rather of better courage than I had hoped.
God who is able to raise the dead is also able to uphold a falling cause, or to raise a fallen one and make it strong.
If we are not worthy instruments to accomplish his purpose, he will find others.
If we are not strengthened by his promises, to whom else in all the world can they pertain?"
Do Not Be Anxious (Phil 4:5-9)
Sermon Audio: Do Not Be Anxious (Phil 4:5-9)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- Do you think we tend to be more anxious today than people of previous generations were? Why or why not?
- How would you explain what anxiety is to someone unfamiliar with it? How did Marc define it?
- What is the double-meaning of "the Lord is at hand"? Why does remembering that provide help in our fight against anxiety?
- Why does Paul send us to prayer to deal with our anxiety? What does praying "with thanksgiving" mean?
- Do you identify more with Martha or Mary?
- "Dealing with anxiety is less like having surgery and more like exercise." What does that mean?
- Read 1 Peter 5:7 and Romans 8:31-32. What do we functionally believe when we refuse to cast our burdens on the Lord? How do we know God cares for us?
Imagine, if you could, speak with someone who lived in a thousand years ago and you got to listen to the typical things they are concerned about. What would they be? Will I and my family have enough food to eat? Will another king come along and wage war with my king and our village be in danger? Will there be another plague that kills a third of everyone I know? Will I live past the age of 40? How many of my children will die? Now, imagine if you could explain to someone what life is like for you. We live in an age where there is such an abundance of food that there are more deaths worldwide from eating too much food rather than hunger. We live in the comfort of a (relatively) stable democracy; likely no one in this room has worried this week about a foreign nation invading. We have modern medicine that has eradicated things like the bubonic plague, the average life expectancy is now more than double what it was a thousand years ago, and we consider it a horrible and unusual tragedy if a child dies today, not just another part of life. If you could explain all of that to someone a thousand years ago, they might think, Wow! The future sounds incredible! You must live in incredible peace, no fear, no worries, no anxiety.
Well, do you? Actually, if you read the writings of history, you could argue that we possess much more anxiety than they do. How could that be? I am very glad that I live today and not a thousand years ago, but it seems that the problem of fear and anxiety isn’t merely an issue of circumstance, but there is something more deeply rooted in us that gives it life. What are you worried about? What are you anxious about? Maybe it something out there: seeing the price of gas continue to climb or watching your 401K diminish or the future of our nation as the angriest and non-sensical and destructive of forces seem to be winning. Or maybe it is something in here: maybe your family is going through a tense season, maybe your health isn’t as reliable as it once was, maybe you’re afraid that the worst parts of you are outweighing what is good.
We may have more technology, information, resources, opportunities, and comforts available to us today than any other generation of human beings who have ever existed, but all of these things have not made us more virtuous, only more powerful. And like pouring gasoline on a fire, it has appeared to only amplify our fears, anxieties, and stress. So, what are we to do? So we come to our text for our sermon today:
The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Phil 4:5b-9
The center of this passage is the command “do not be anxious about anything.” We consider what anxiety was a few weeks ago when we looked at this passage. We said that anxiety is imagining the future without Jesus in it. Anxiety is not only future-oriented but functionally atheistic. Or, at least, the God we imagine to exist in whatever future scenario we are paralyzed by is not the God of the Bible, but is a god that cannot be trusted. The only person we can trust is ourselves. And we fear and worry about that which is outside of our control. Anxiety is a fear, stress, worry of the unknown; it can be localized onto a specific situation (I’m worried about what my boss will say in my annual review), or it can be generalized and diffuse (I feel fearful and uncertain about life).
Now, we all know that anxiety is not good for us. Jesus asks us, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt 6:27). We now know that anxiety not only fails to lengthen our life, but actually shortens it. There are all sorts of problems that happen to our health and well-being by keeping a pot of anxiety on a low-boil in our mind. Our immune system doesn’t work as work as well, our blood pressure shoots up, we develop ulcers, and lose sleep at night. Everyone admits that anxiety is unhealthy and a problem, you’ll never find a self-help book that encourages you to practice anxiety more effectively. Everyone agrees on the problem, but not on the solution. Simply telling someone “don’t worry, be happy” doesn’t provide much help. So, what does Paul mean here when he flatly commands us “do not be anxious”?
We were discussing this passage weeks ago in our small group when someone mentioned that maybe Paul’s command “don’t be anxious”—which seems so unhelpful to just tell yourself in the moment of anxiety—really means, “you have no reason to be anxious.” In other words, when Paul commands us to not be anxious he doesn’t do it without providing reasons for why we shouldn’t be.
So, what are those reasons?
“The Lord is at hand.” We looked at this phrase briefly last week, since it was a part of verse 5. I think, however, that the verse division here was probably not the most helpful one; I think that this phrase makes more sense to be included with verse 6. The phrase contains a double meaning. To say that Lord is “near” could refer to his nearness in time, as in, Jesus is returning soon. But it could also refer to his proximity in space, as in, Jesus’ presence is near, right here. I think Paul intends both of these meanings to serve as the diving board to jump into the command of “do not be anxious about anything.”
So, friends, Jesus is coming back and bringing with him the New Creation. Look inward and do a brief analysis of what you are currently anxious about, what you feel is a present source of stress. As you mentally compile that list, consider that there will be an end, not only to that specific stressor or fear, but to all fear, all worry. The Lord is at hand, Christ is coming again soon. Remember, this world is not our home and there is a great reward that awaits us. Whatever dire circumstance you fear, whatever calamity falls upon you, it cannot touch your eternal hope. There is no darkness so black that it will not be pierced by the rising sun, and there is no suffering in our lives that will not be swallowed by the beauty of the New Heavens and New Earth. What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease. The Lord is at hand, brothers and sisters, so do not be anxious.
But also remember, the Lord is near you. He has not abandoned you. Jesus has promised that He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5). Maybe as you survey your future and feel paralyzed at what could happen. Take heart—your Lord is there with you. Maybe a solider is very fearful to press the battle, but if he has a great general at his side who says, “I will not leave you,” his heart is lightened. A young novice may be frightened at the inspection of their craft, but if the grand master, the wise senior stands by his side to guide him along the way, he feels hopeful. Our great Savior will not send you where He will not go Himself. He is with you. So with you, that the Bible speaks of us being united with Christ, so that wherever we go, we are with Him.
Hudson Taylor, the founder of China Inland Mission, reflecting on his union with Christ, wrote:
"The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me." - Hudson Taylor.
Okay, so we have heaven ahead of us, and God for us; all His resources are at our dispense here and now—we must remember that. So, we have the presence of God on our side—that would sound like we are ready to do some superhero, Marvel-movie, level of action. We are going to obliterate our anxieties by going out and fixing them ourselves, right? Well, not exactly: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 4:6-7).
This is illuminating on so many levels; let me just tease out a few thoughts.
First, just as we are not to be anxious about “anything” so too are we to pray about “everything”. Meaning, there is no issue too small, too trivial for prayer. If it can cause anxiety in you, it is worth translating into prayer. Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
Second, the impulse of the Christian when fear and anxiety arise should be first to pray. Many times, prayer is our last resort. We are like the sailors who are told to throw Jonah overboard, but continue to strive against the oars till they are exhausted, and then finally heave the prophet overboard. We tend to think that the remedy of anxiety is to solve the problem—so you are anxious about hosting a family for dinner because your house isn’t clean. You think, I will be at peace once I finish the task. But Paul says, when anxiety rears its head, there is something else going on in our hearts that is deeper going on than just the task at hand.
When Paul tells us that we are to “let our requests be made known to God,” he knows that we are not giving God new information that He does not already possess. Jesus taught us that our Heavenly Father already knows what we need before we ask (Matt 6:8). So, in making our requests be made known to God, we are doing this because there is something happening to us in that process that we need.
Do you remember the story of Martha and Mary? Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary, who are sisters, and Martha is playing the role of being a good host—she is rushing around, preparing food, getting the home in order, and where is Mary? She is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him, she is having her quiet time, so to speak. “…Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42).
Martha is doing what so many of us do: she is using her anxiety and stress like jet fuel to get all the tasks done that she thinks needs to be done—and they are good things! She is serving! But Jesus gently rebukes her, “you are anxious and troubled about many things; your mind is scattered a thousand places, Martha. One thing is necessary, and Mary is showing you what that is.” Anxiety, stress, the tyranny of the urgent, yanks our hearts and minds all over the place and leads us to ignore what is most important. Why does the psalmist pray, “unite my heart to fear your name,” (Ps 86:11)? Because our hearts, left to themselves, will branch off into a thousand little tendrils reaching out for everything, and we need the Lord to mercifully untie our hearts into an undivided whole, centered on Him. Paul tells us to pray first, not accomplish a task, because anxiety is a symptom of impoverished faith that needs to be taken directly to the Great Physician through prayer. If we don’t do that, if we only find relief from anxiety and stress after the task has been completed, then we will experience peace, but it will not be the peace of God which surpasses understanding; it will be the peace of man which makes all sense in the world.
This also means that if we seek the Lord, we have to let go our idol of productivity. We may not get as much done. If Martha was sitting at Jesus’ feet as Mary was, the meal probably wouldn’t have been as good or the house as clean; and maybe if you spend more time in prayer and reading, perhaps your house won’t look as nice for guests, perhaps you won’t be as productive at work. But we may be surprised at what the Lord can do when we seek Him. Psalm 127:1-2 reminds us: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Martin Luther once remarked, “I have so much to do today, I must spend at least three hours in prayer first!”
Third, notice how the verse works. You “let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (4:6-7). It doesn’t say, “let your requests be made known to God, and once He answers your prayer, then the peace of God will guard your heart.” Rather, it is the act of turning to the Lord in eager faith through prayer that results in the peace of God. I think this is why we are told that the peace of God “guards” our heart; all difficulty has not been removed, but there is now an impenetrable shield of peace between us and our fear. I think this is also why we Paul reminds us to pray “with thanksgiving.” We pray with thanksgiving by looking back at how the Lord has blessed us and served us, but also we thank the Lord in the very moment we are praying, thanking Him for how He will answer this prayer. We aren’t sure how He will answer it, but we trust that He knows what is best for us and will be on our side for our good. Consider Jesus’ words, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:7-11)
This is one of the reasons why we gather to pray together as a church—we gather because we are beset with so many weaknesses and are in need, and the resources available to us through prayer are just too great for us to ignore.
After Paul exhorts us to remember the Lord’s nearness, and then exhorts us to pray, he calls us to think: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you,” (Phil 4:8-9).
Paul wants us to be deliberate in our thoughts and learn from his pattern of life so that “the God of peace will be with” us. This is because anxiety is what our minds naturally gravitate towards. Dealing with anxiety is less like having surgery and more like exercise, less like a vaccine and more like a vitamin. It is not something that is dealt with once and then we are done. We can fill our minds and hearts with beautiful truth about God that silence anxiety, but there are holes in the bottom. So, we have to constantly be pouring fresh water in. Isaiah reminds us, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you,” (Isa 26:3).
Anxiety is the great mind-killer. You don’t have to think to be anxious. I know we tend to associate anxiety with over thinking, our minds get wound up and splintered out in a thousand directions, stressing over a thousand possible worst case scenarios. But our problem is that we have failed to remember, to think about what is ultimately true. At some point this week, this afternoon maybe, sit and write down everything you feel stressed about, feel anxious about. Everything, big or small. As you look over that list (1) remember: God is here with you in this problem, He is for you, and is coming back soon, then (2) pray: anxiety is when we talk to ourselves about our problems, peace comes from talking to God about them; pray with thanksgiving, thank God for how He has blessed you, and then thank God for how He is going to answer this prayer; lastly, (3) think. Evaluate your thoughts about each of these issues—are they true? What is true?
As you look over the list of verse 8 of what to think on, “True…honorable…just…pure…lovely …commendable…excellent…praise worthy”, I can’t think of anything that fits that description better than God’s heart for you in Christ Jesus, than the gospel itself. Is there anything more lovely, more commendable, more praise-worthy than Christ giving Himself for us? Peter exhorts us to “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you,” (1 Pet 5:7). Such a simple command, and yet, why are we so reluctant to do it? Why do we hedge our bets and try to deal with things ourselves? Perhaps it is because we don’t really believe that He cares. We are suspicious that this God whom our eyes cannot see is really something to be banked on, to be trusted in, to be turned to in our need.
So we remember, we pray, and we think—who am I? Who is God? And what does God think of me. And perhaps, in God’s mercy, He may kindly wound us with grace, we may feel the twist of the augur of guilt burrowing into our soul and a mighty stroke from heaven falls and we are stricken deaf and dumb, certain with knowledge that our God in heaven would be wholly right and just to cast aside. And yet, He doesn’t. His heart is so bound up with ours that He is willing to send His son to die in our place, to take our sins, to forgive us, so that we can be reconciled to God, be brought into His family.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:31-32)