It is great to be back today, back with all of you at GBFC, and back here in this pulpit. Tammy, Cade, Colton, and I were gone for twenty-eight days on a sabbatical for me. Some of you are saying, “Really? I didn’t know you guys were gone.” Yes, we were gone for twenty-eight days. That’s a long time to be away. It was definitely a new experience for us to do that. I am grateful for the time we had away because of God’s work in it, and through that in our lives – in my life and in my family’s life as well.
A majority of our time was spent in mental and spiritual exercise. That is primarily what this sabbatical was about. The boys did more school in those twenty-eight days than I’m sure they had ever done before in a twenty-eight day period. So for them, a lot of catching up and getting ahead. For Tammy, she was able to really focus in on some reading, significant reading on topics like grace, the Gospel, and idols of the heart. You can ask her about all of that good reading she did and how the Lord is helping her through that. As for me, most of my time was spent on research and writing – more research than writing – as I am trying to complete a thesis paper to finish up a Master’s in Biblical Counseling. I did get to squeeze in some additional reading, not on the topic I’m researching, and that was good as well. And spending time in personal planning and ministry planning, and that was refreshing.
Along with these things, we also got to enjoy the beautiful mountains in New Mexico. The air was crisp and cool. We got to hike, watch deer, elk, and wild turkeys. And seeing the leaves change colors, eating fresh apples and homemade ice cream, and watching “Andy Griffith” and “I Love Lucy” reruns. So it wasn’t all work, although most of it was, but we did get to enjoy doing some different things in time together.
I also want all of you to know that it didn’t take very many days away before we really began to miss all you guys, really early on questioning, “Is this a good idea to be gone twenty-eight days?” If it were simply a vacation it would have been way too long, but with the schedule we kept and the important work that the Lord put before us while we were there, that helped us to persevere and stay disciplined in the things we needed to do.
I want to thank all of you who stepped up and stepped in and helped out while we were gone and made this possible for us. Thanks to the guys who stood in the pulpit and preached while we were away. I know you all benefited from their studies and their teaching. Thanks to those who taught classes for me, attended meetings in my place, counseled for me, shepherded, made decisions, discipled, and all of the things that make up pastoral work and pastoral care. I’m very grateful for the emails answered and phone calls returned, and so forth. And for Tom and Janie who provided a wonderful place for us to stay, where we could focus and concentrate, and who really did so much to make us feel at home there. You all have been great and we thank God for you. Thank you for the sacrifices that occurred that we are very well aware of, as you helped us out and stepped in in ministry activities.
Many of you have asked, “So you went away to research and write, how’s that going?” I’ve talked with several of you, but I want to sum that up with all of you who are here this morning. Here is where I am on that. There are two requirements that I must still meet to finish up the Master’s of Biblical Counseling that I started about four years ago. First is to participate in an oral exam given by the seminary staff, a two-hour exam that can be over any topic we’ve covered the last four years. It is a pass/fail sort of thing. I would appreciate your prayers on that. It’s not scheduled yet, but will probably happen before the end of the year. The second requirement is to finish the thesis paper which I have begun and spent most of the last twenty-eight days working on. The paper will end up at about 170 pages, and I hope it will be a resource to be used in the counseling ministry and beyond. The content will be applying 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to the love husbands are to give their wives, and it will have particular emphasis on Christ’s example of love during His earthly ministry. The reason I decided on this is because you think about the husband’s role in marriage, and really there is one perfect husband, and He’s not here in this room literally in bodily form. That may surprise some of you wives, it’s not the man sitting next to you. So to look at the one perfect husband, at Christ, and see how He ministers to His people and loves His church, and apply that to our role as husbands in the marriage relationship.
By God’s grace, my hope is that this may be a resource to be used in a variety of ways. First in my own life, I’m excited to see how God will change me in my marriage, and how I relate to my wife more, Lord willing, as Christ has related to His church and continues to do so. Beyond that, again, with the counseling ministry, and to those who are not even involved in the counseling ministry such as men’s groups, small groups, as men can meet together and talk about real struggles and victories, and hold one another accountable using God’s Word and our example of Jesus Christ. It’s an exciting thing. As far as time commitment, my plan is to set aside about four hours per week for the next six months to one year to complete this project. Thank you for your continued prayer. I need that for clear and biblical thinking, for discipline and perseverance, and that it might end up glorifying God and being useful.
So enough of that, we’re back, and we’re glad to be back. You may be thinking, “What about the sermon? Are we going to open our Bibles today?” Yes we are! Please open your Bible to Philippians 4. We are beginning to wind down the content of this book. Philippians 4, and I will begin reading in verse 10.
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. (Philippians 4:10-20)
We pick up with Paul and the Philippians in a very interesting place in this book. We find Paul, just a man, a Christian man, giving us insight into how he is living the Christian life, how we ought to live the Christian life. We have seen this throughout the book so far and we will continue to see this until the end of Philippians. Paul, a man in Christ, faithfully living out the Christian life, and therefore how we too can live in Christ.
When the Bible, when God in His Word, gives us a command or gives us an example of how to live through the life of someone like Paul, there is an underlying truth we need to understand. The underlying truth is that we can obey the command or we can follow the godly example of another as we are living in Christ, abiding in Christ, walking through life in worship of Christ. We can follow a command or an example as we abide in Christ. We should not read commands or try to follow these examples of others living godly lives and just think, “Okay, I’ve got this, I can do this, I’ll just be strong and live this way.” No, it is in Christ that we do it, in His Spirit, walking with Him, understanding that we desperately need Him. So we don’t just read, “I can do all things.” No, we read, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” One is a statement, an incomplete statement, that seems to exalt man and his ability, and the other is a complete statement that exalts whom? Exalts Christ, and His ability to give us strength, His place in our lives.
Here is another common example…
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
What are the key phrases in that passage? “God is faithful,” and, “He will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability,” and, “He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure.” The focus is on God, His faithfulness, His might, His abilities. God does not allow His children to be tempted beyond what they can handle, with Him actively in their lives. Christianity is not a self-help venture. It is not a believe in Christ then live in your own strength. God is faithful to keep His children in the faith.
By the way, the word for “temptation” here in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is the same word often translated as “trial.” The same word. A temptation is a trial, a testing. A trial will most often lead to temptation. The temptation is to disbelieve God and His promises and then to act in that disbelief. And we do that, we do that every time we sin. We take our eyes off of Christ, we look to put our trust elsewhere, and we sin. But we do so on our own, we sin not because of God’s unfaithfulness in providing a way out, but because of our unfaithfulness in not taking the way He has provided.
I say all this because of the importance that we need to place on abiding in Christ, living in worship of Him, in constant fellowship with Him. Not just here on Sunday morning. It’s on Monday morning, Tuesday night, Wednesday afternoon, Saturday, all the days of the week. That means walking moment by moment in the joy of His love for us, His work in us, His ability to save and keep us. Do we focus on those things throughout the day? This means moment by moment interpreting the world and events around us as under His control and in His hands. It means believing we have a purpose, and that includes His love and care for us, His children. Praising Him for His grace, His gifts, His loving kindness. Rejoicing in the fact that we will not spend eternity in hell, we will not be separated from Him, alone in our sinfulness, cast out of His presence. Resting in His plan for us, believing in His gracious provision. This is where we are to be, dependent on Him, not dependent on ourselves. He is our strength, our ever present help. We belong with Him. This is to be our lives, descriptive of who we now are.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
I say all this because of what we are about to see in the last verses of Philippians 4. What we see is Paul resting in Christ in truly amazing ways. We see a man who is fully resting in His Savior. Do you need that? In the busyness of life, do you need that? He is a man, as we will see today and in the coming weeks, a man who is really saying, “This isn’t me. What you see is Christ in me.” He has let go of himself in a sense, and has really embraced Christ, and Christ’s chosen ways for him. He is a man who will not be distracted with the world nor consumed with what he does or does not have. He will not be controlled by other people, what they do for him or what they don’t do for him. He is a man who is truly free from slavery to things or slavery to other people. He is no longer a slave even to his own passions. Dependence on God brings him freedom from enslavement to worldly circumstances and events and how people treat him or don’t treat him. This is what we will see. This is where Paul is in our text, and I hope this is where we are headed in life, to this total dependence on Christ and on Him alone.
So for today, only verse 10, and next time Lord willing we will really focus on this idea of contentment in Christ alone.
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. (Philippians 4:10)
We find Paul as a prisoner with an uncertain future. He is unsure of what his immediate future will be, just like us. He could be executed by Roman authorities, he was suffering as a pauper in prison, he may never see his friends again. We see the man Paul in a tough spot, and once again he is doing what? Rejoicing! He doesn’t mention contentment until verse 11, but it is implied in verse 10 as he rejoices in spite of hardship.
This theme of rejoicing runs throughout this letter over and over again. We have seen Paul rejoicing when it doesn’t seem to make sense to rejoice. What must have the prison guards have thought of Paul rejoicing? Maybe, “This guy is a nut, he is crazy, delusional, he must be insane!” But for Paul, rejoicing was a way of life. In fact, the question of when to rejoice does not seem to be a question to Paul, for he says, “Rejoice always.”
Here in verse 10 we understand that he had received a gift from the Philippian church, and it is on the occasion of having received this gift that he once again rejoices. You get a picture here of a guy who is just looking for an occasion to outwardly express joy. He has shared already that we should rejoice always, and here is yet another expression of his joy. With what measure did he rejoice? “Greatly!” So while joy was always to be present, perhaps it varied in degree. Maybe it looked different publicly or privately at times the way he rejoices. Here he greatly rejoices.
Why was he rejoicing greatly? Because the Lord had provided for him. He was rejoicing in the Lord, who was the ultimate provider of all his needs. There is something really important here for us to see. Where is Paul’s focus? It is on God, right? It is on the Lord. His focus here on God transforms this transaction that took place between him and the Philippians, it moves it from a mere human, person to person transaction, to more of a God to man transaction. Who initiates the giving? God. Who empowers the giving? God. Who supplies the needs and meets those needs? God. The participation of the Philippians in giving and receiving is a participation in the activity of God, and that leads Paul to rejoice!
God is providing for Paul, and God’s provision for Paul comes to him through the Philippian church. It is the same way with us. God may provide for you through an employer who allows you to work and get paid for that work. Maybe that is how God supplies many of your needs. Sometimes God may supply your needs through a gift or an inheritance, through an investment you made years ago. Kids, God most often provides for you through your parents. God may at times use our government to help supply some of our needs, or charitable organizations, or a church. We can be supplied through many different means, but ultimately all of that supply comes through the hand of God. God provides in various ways, but He is always our provider. Paul recognized this. And so he rejoices in the Lord!
Paul was not dependent on the Philippian church, no more than we are dependent on our employer or on a person who gives us a gift. Paul would not live or die based solely on their willingness to give or not, his life was not in their hands. God was not somehow bound by whatever the church in Philippi would or would not do. That would place too much emphasis on the giver. The emphasis is on God; the giver is not the main thing. And I think we see this in Paul’s attitude later in a couple of ways. That is, I think we see that Paul is thankful for the Philippian church, but he did not erroneously place his faith or trust in that church. Here are ways we see this further. First, we can see in verse 11 and then 14. In verse 11 Paul makes clear that he was not really in need, but was in fact content. Now, that could be surprising to us because Paul would have had less than any of us here. He was lacking in many things that we may think we couldn’t do without. He might find it humorous what we would call needs. We would look at Paul and probably say, “You are the neediest person I know!” And yet, he says in verse 11, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” And then in verse 14 he goes on to say, “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.” So it was not a desperate thank you, “Because I would die of hunger and cold and loneliness and thirst if you hadn’t rescued me.” It was more of a, “I will rejoice because of your Christian concern, for thinking of me, thanks for your kindness, thanks for your expression of Christian love.”
Why did Paul rejoice? Because the Christians in Philippi were putting on display their love for Christ in their service to Paul. I don’t know that it mattered what they gave him really. God worked that out. I think he’s rejoicing because they were being faithful to the Lord, giving evidence of their strong faith and continued faith in Christ in spite of their own poverty and persecution. Paul was thrilled to see their faith at work!
This was seen in their gift and became an occasion for rejoicing or thanksgiving because their gift represented true concern for him, concern for a Christian brother. This concern is what Christians are to have for each other. A concern that moves into action when possible. It is not a, “Oh yes, I am concerned,” and then we just forget about it. No, it is real, genuine concern that moves the Christian to act. Concern is an attitude of mind that builds relationships, and Paul sees it as an essential element of their partnership with him.
Here’s sort of the point. If I am truly concerned for you, then I will in some measure enter into your trial. You may say, “I can’t do that with everybody I’m concerned for.” It may just be through prayer. Maybe counsel, maybe we go to bat for each other in some way, maybe we provide resources, maybe we get others in touch with someone who is better equipped to help them. There can be many and various ways to act on our concern, but the key is we must act. Again, it may be through quietly and privately praying, but that too is action, an expression of Christian concern.
I don’t think that we can go wrong by actively being concerned for people in need, spiritual need, physical need, any kind of need. Are there people around you that you are concerned about? Think about that for a moment. A brother who is ill or suffering physically? A Christian friend struggling with faith or sin or loneliness or confusion or failure? A person who has been terribly sinned against? A neighbor who is short on resources? Someone who just seems to be slipping away from Christ who once was following hard after him? A sister who is depressed, who has a heavy heart? A brother struggling with fear or anxiety? What are you doing as a result of that concern? How is your love for Christ compelling you to get involved with that person? Are you praying for them, and is the Lord giving you opportunity to do more, in addition to prayer? And if so, are you taking those opportunities?
Paul rejoiced greatly in the Lord as others reached out to him in love. I’m glad we don’t know the specifics of what the gift was, because that wasn’t the point.
Are others rejoicing in the Lord because of your faithfulness, because of my faithfulness in their lives, showing brotherly Christian concern?
God has us in His loving hand as Christians. He is our provider. We don’t need to feel the urgency or necessity that we have to be all for somebody, as if we can provide all their needs. We can’t, but God does that. We can do our part in showing concern. God meets all of our needs in Christ Jesus, and He will meet your brother and sister’s needs as well. And so when people around you show concern for you, give to you, supply something you are lacking, then you can rejoice in the Lord, and take joy that others are putting His love on display. And then go and do the same!
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. (Philippians 4:10)