Monday, June 25, 2012

Contentment and Joy in Every Circumstance

By all accounts, Paul should not have been as joyful as he was. Humanly speaking, Paul had all the excuses to be like those in our churches who show no signs of Christian joy.

Some people think they have it bad. But Paul had it worse. Five times he received lashes at the hand of the Jews. Three times he was beaten with rods. Three times he was shipwrecked. A night and day he was adrift at sea. He was in constant danger from rivers, robbers, the Jews, the Gentiles, the wilderness, the cities. He was often hungry and thirsty, cold and exposed to the elements. Paul was stoned!

It is shocking then, to hear these words from Paul:

Philippians 4:11-12
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am 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. 

Really Paul? You can say that after all you’ve been through? We are prompted to ask: What was the secret Paul had learned?

The answer follows in verse 13:
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

This verse has been tortured today by athletic coaches who read devotionals before sports games, by those who want to climb Mount Everest, and for those who overcome great challenges like losing weight or running a marathon.

But Paul is talking about this verse in terms of “any and every circumstance.” Paul is talking about the nitty-gritty of daily life. Paul is talking in regards to the Christian life, not about winning a basketball game!

Paul was in prison when he wrote the epistle to the Philippians. How disheartening it must have been for a man who was the missionary to the Gentiles! But Paul did not look at his present circumstances in that way. Rather, he tells the Philippians that his suffering has produced bold evangelism, by both rivals of Paul and those who love Paul. Paul says in Philippians 1:18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice…” He rejoices in his suffering and imprisonment because the gospel, the good news of Christ, was being preached boldly.

More important for Paul was the gospel than his earthly freedom or comfort.

Paul tells the Philippians in 1:18-19, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance…” This deliverance Paul talks about was not necessarily physical deliverance from prison, for he says in verse 20 that “… [he] will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in [his] body, whether by life or by death.” 

Paul will rejoice in life or in death, because if he lived, he would have fruitful labor and would help the Philippians progress in “… joy and faith” (Philippians 1:25). If Paul died, being “…poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of [their] faith” (Philippians 2:17), he would be with Christ, which was far better (Philippians 1:24). In every way Paul could rejoice, because he had learned the secret of being content in life or in death.

The secret hidden for all ages has now been revealed openly and plainly in Jesus Christ. Our resting place is not in men, not in our strength, but in Christ who strengthens us. Christ is the author and finisher of our faith, and the anchor of our souls. Looking into eternity with Christ, knowing that nothing can separate us from his love, we can respond affirmatively to Paul and say that in every circumstance, we too, can be content.

Our sins have been forgiven. We now live in the joy and obedience of the Spirit with our imperishable, unfading inheritance kept in heaven for us.

Shall we not then rejoice in every circumstance?

Philippians 4:4
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 

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