January 4, 2009

The Secret to Powerful Christianity Revealed - Jan 4, 2009

In this New Year, Peace be to you from God our Father, through the grace which comes from our Savior Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul was an amazing Christian. He has been called the greatest missionary ever. It is quite possible that he reached all the way to Spain before his missionary travels came to an end.

But, even more amazing than his travel itinerary is the character that this man possessed. Paul considered it a gift to suffer for the message of Jesus (Philippians 1:29).

Though surrounded by lethal dangers and pursued by murderers, he refused to stop preaching the message of Jesus (Romans 8:37-39).

In Ephesus a riot was started by people who were angry at Paul. They were angry because his preaching was making their sale of silver idols go down. When an angry mob formed and rushed into the public theatre, Paul’s friends had to restrain him from trying to speak to the mob. Here was a crowd of angry opposition, and all Paul saw was a huge gathering of sinners whom he could share Christ with (Acts 19:28-34).

In his later years Paul was imprisoned at Rome. But even then, under house arrest and awaiting trial, Paul acted like Rome was his preaching station, not his last stop in life.

It was while he was imprisoned at Rome that Paul wrote to his Christian friends who lived in Philippi. Listen to the amazingly positive outlook that Paul has as he talks about his imprisonment. This is from Philippians chapter one.

12Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:12-14 NIV).

His own fellow Jews hated him for preaching Christ. Sometimes his message was greeted with ridicule and laughter. According to worldly standards Paul had nothing.

How then, did Paul keep his positive attitude? How did he stay un-poisoned by bitterness and cynicism? How could Paul give so much for Christ when he had so little to call his own?

By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul tells us how in our sermon reading for today. In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Christians living at Philippi Paul reveals the secret of powerful Christianity.

Philippians 4:8-20 (NIV)

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

10I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

14Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. 17Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

20To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Paul had peace in his heart, because Paul knew God was with him. Paul wanted the Philippians to have the same. He knew that they had God. They were followers of Christ. They knew that their sins had been forgiven through what Jesus had suffered on the cross. But Paul knew how easy it can be to forget just how much we have been given, when our focus is on the bad, instead of the good.

Certainly, there is a time for considering the evil in this world. It is not to be ignored. But Paul directs the Philippians, and us, to place primary focus on the good things that are happening around us. It is when we focus on the good that we begin to realize all the different things the gracious hand of God is doing right here beside us.

Someone once said, “You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” How true it is. Human beings are much better at finding things to complain about than things to be thankful for. Our minds are far better at listing off the things we would like to have, than the things that God has already graciously given us. Sometimes we fail to appreciate the good things that God gives, until they are taken away.

Satan wants us to dwell on the ugly things in life. He would have us dwell on our failures and sins, instead of focusing on the Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus makes our failures work out for good and cleanses us from our sins by His holy blood. That’s why Satan seeks to keep our eyes off of Him and His blessings.

Satan wants us to plod along through life with our faces and our spirits down. Satan does not want us to look up in happiness to Christ who pulls us along toward His purpose. Satan does not want us to be reminded that each day draws us ever closer to the day when we will stand before Christ in Heaven. “Keep your face down” Satan says, “What do you have to be happy about?”

Paul says get your chin up. He directs us to have a positive attitude. Not a fake positive attitude that candies over the evils in life, but a heart that actually looks intently, seeking and expecting to find the good that God is working in this broken world. Paul directs us to peace through dwelling on the good.

Paul reminds us that God will continue to be with us as we focus on good things and follow good examples. God is with those who trust in Him.

At this time of year, that phrase, “God with us” reminds us of the name for Jesus that comes from Isaiah. “Immanuel”, which means, “God with us”.

Jesus is the greatest “good thing” from God that we might think about. He is the taker away-er of sins. He is the greatest Christian example that we could ever model ourselves after.

The Bible calls Him the “Prince of Peace” because through Him peace has been established between sinners and the Father above.

The God of peace is with us because He is at peace with us. Christ has made peace between the perfect God and wretched, daily sinners like you and me.

Dwell on this good. Dwell on all other good things. See God’s hand in your life, first in Christ, then in every other truly good gift that God gives you.

In verses 10-13 Paul describes how in addition to having peace, he also has contentment in Christ.

Paul expresses the extent of his contentment in verse twelve when he says,

“…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” (Philippians 4:12 NIV).

But Paul didn’t just talk contentment though, he also lived it. When Paul was preaching in Corinth he took no salary from the Christians that he served there. Paul made the choice to support himself through making and selling tents rather than receiving payment from the churches he served. He didn’t want it to seem like he was preaching for handouts.

Paul was willing to live out of a suitcase for months and years during his missionary journeys so that he might bring the Good News of Jesus to more people.

Paul said he was content. Paul lived a life of contentment. Thankfully for us, Paul also identifies his source of contentment in our text. He says,

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NIV).

That’s Jesus that Paul is talking about (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

That’s why Paul wasn’t afraid of going before that angry mob in Ephesus. Paul knew that the same Jesus who knocked him to the ground on the road to Damascus and changed his heart forever could change the heart of anyone.

That same glorious Jesus that had appeared to Paul was still with Him, even though He was unseen. And He would not let any real harm come to Paul. Who could come between Paul and Jesus? Who could come between Paul and the Father in Heaven that Jesus had reunited Paul with?

Through faith in Jesus, Paul had become child of God forever. He had everything that he could ever ask for, and more. Paul didn’t even know what great adventures and glory awaited him in Heaven.

Paul’s cup was not half empty. It was full to the brim. No matter what his outward life was like, Paul’s inward life was full of strength and richness. Just like our lives are not made complete by the outward things that we have, Paul did not find fulfillment in the outward things that he had. Paul found fulfillment in Christ.

Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians from prison in Rome where there was a definite possibility that he might lose his head at the end of his trial. In his letter Paul tells the Philippians that there were people in Rome that were preaching Christ just to see if they could stir things up and cause problems for Paul. Perhaps they thought they could convince the Roman authorities that Christianity really was dangerous and so ensure Paul’s execution.

In response to this Paul says, “Good. I’m glad that for whatever reason, Christ is being preached!” (paraphrase of Philippians 1:18). He goes on to say,

“…I will continue to rejoice, 19for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:18b-21 NIV).

Paul knew that in Christ He had everything that He could ever need. If Paul needed millions of dollars for his ministry, God would provide it. If Paul needed nothing other than a box to stand on and a voice to speak with, God would provide it. If death came tomorrow by executioner’s sword, “So be it”, says Paul, “I’ve got Jesus, and He’s got me. And there ain’t no sword that can separate me from His love” (see Romans 8:37-39).

That’s strength through contentment in Christ.

Paul was able to live his life for Christ, because He was content in Christ. But Paul wasn’t the only Christian who found the ability to give because of Jesus.

The Christians from the city of Philippi had repeatedly sent Paul gifts to support his ministry. When no one else did, the Philippians became the hand of God that provided for Paul’s needs.

Contentment in Christ enables us to be genuinely generous. The poorest of people, if they are content with God’s care, can give in the most powerful of ways. The richest of people, if they are not content with God’s care, can give millions from their billions, and still not be generous in God’s eyes.

Remember the day when Jesus sat in the Temple watching people approach the offering box to put their offering in? One widow came with two mites. Two pennies, if you will. The smallest of coins to give at the house of her God. But these two small coins were her last.

Jesus saw her faith. She trusted that the God of this Temple, Jehovah God, would provide for her even without these two coins. Jesus called her offering the best. It was better than the offering which the rich brought in bags. Bags of money, that was but a shaving of their wealth, little missed by them, and seen as generous only to those who had less that they.

Genuine generosity comes from the Christ contented heart. And we’re not just talking about offering generosity. We’re talking about the generous heart that sends the unexpected gift. Says the unasked for prayer. Lifts up the hand of support gladly with no desire for recognition. The Christ contented and generous heart says, “Jesus, I’ve got you. You’ve got me. What are we gonna do today?”

See how it all works together?

When we dwell on the good things that come from God, the greatest being forgiveness through Christ Jesus, then we have peace.

When we have peace with God, we can be content.

When we are content, then, and only then, we can wield the tool of powerful generosity.

It all flows from Christ. Christ works peace. Christ works contentment. Christ works generosity. And with these things, happiness tags along.

The secret to powerful Christianity is Christ. And it just so happens that the secret to untainted and lasting happiness is the same. The secret is Christ.

But you can’t just say, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” and expect it to work like a magic spell. If you want to live the powerful Christian life you need to sit at your Savior’s feet, and hear what He says. Hear it. Believe it. Live it as best you can, and know that the God of peace is with you.

Paul was a powerful Christian. You can be too.

“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 NIV).

That’s what Paul said to his friends in Philippi.

“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 NIV).

Maybe you need help finding the good in a world of bad. God will help, and give you peace as he does.

Maybe you need strength of faith so that you can rejoice through a hard time in your life. God will help, giving you strength through contentment in Christ.

Maybe you need a more complete contentment to ignite powerful generosity in your life. God will help, and will then work powerfully through you in the lives of others.

“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:19 NIV).

The peace which comes from God, which far exceeds all our understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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