Welcome to Christ’s Community Church! This morning we're starting a brand new four-week series called “Perspective”, and we will be looking at the letter to the Philippians, because it has a lot to teach us about perspective. There are two things that really stand out about this letter. One, is that it is Paul’s most positive letter. There's an unmistakable theme of joy. In fact, you're going to see joy or similar words, at least 19 different times and you're going to see joy expressed from a guy who may not have had so many reasons in the natural to be very joyful. And two, it was written during one of the most difficult times of his life.
A little bit of context about this letter will give us a whole different perspective and help bring this teaching to life. If you didn’t know, the apostle Paul actually wrote this joyful letter from a Roman prison. Acts chapter 28 tells us that he spent two years there under house arrest simply for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was brimming over with joy in spite of the fact that he was facing an uncertain future, and even the possibility of execution. Now if you can imagine, for two years Paul’s chained up, literally chained 24-hours a day to a Roman soldier. And yet we're going to watch as, with a change of perspective, even in the middle of a significant trial, we're going to watch how God can give you joy no matter what.
Let’s start in verse two of Philippians chapter one. Paul writes to this church in Philippi:
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me” (Philippians 1:2-7).
Paul knew that being positive, being happy, and having joy is a habit that you must develop. That kind of joy will not seek you out or come to you in the form of a better job, a financial gift, a better relationship, or even some kind of ultimate purchase that you’ve been dreaming about. Joy will not find you, because it’s not looking for you. If you want to have a better more positive perspective, you need to recognize that joy is a choice you make and a habit you develop.
How many of you right now would say that there’s something in your life that you wish were different? Something that you wish God would change about your life? Chances are that most of us could look at our lives and it doesn’t matter what season of life we’re in, we want to be younger or older, more fulfilled, different friends, a new car, maybe different kids. Do you know what I’m talking about? There’s this thing going on in your life and you don’t understand why it’s not different, why God hasn’t done something about this, but the bottom line is that if you want to have joy in your life, you have to let go once and for all of the idea that happiness will come to you through your circumstances.
You see, joy comes from within. It’s a choice you make and a habit you develop knowing that God always has a “why” for whatever it is that you are going through. Our God is not a God that wastes a hurt. God says through the prophet Isaiah, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:9-11). Our God is so good, so far above us, that he can take what the enemy meant for evil and turn it into something good. He can take a great difficulty and use it to develop character in you and to build your faith through challenging times. God is working in all things to bring about good even when we don’t understand why. But having that basic understanding helps us to lay the foundation for our new perspective.
You see, we don’t have to understand “why” to trust God in the “what”. Proverbs chapter 3 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7). This proverb reminds us that we don’t have to understand everything to continue to trust God. Even when we wish something were different, even when we’re not sure what to do about something, we can walk through it with joy.
Today I want to talk to you about three things you can do to nurture the habit of joy in your daily life. Three things that will help you have and maintain this new perspective. Paul says first of all…
Verse three tells us, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…” (Philippians 1:3-5).
Notice these two words thank and joy, because there is a connection between the two. You can see it again in 1 Thessalonians, verse 16 and following,
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
If you want to know joy in all your circumstances, start saying thanks, because it’s impossible to be unhappy and thankful at the same time. The two just don’t mix, they are like water and oil, and they repel one another.
In the same way, you can’t say, “God, thank you for this job” and be that employee that is always grumbling and complaining. You can’t say, “God, thank you for my spouse” and remain bitter and resentful of him or her all the time. You can’t say, “God, thank you for this day” and complain about every inconvenience you face. When you start saying thank you with an attitude of gratitude, you close the door on the negativity and the discontent, and you open a new door that leads to joy. It’s a change of perspective saying, “I don’t understand this God, but I trust you regardless of my circumstances.”
We see this with Paul as he says this to the people of Philippi in verse 12,
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).
Now maybe you like Paul woke up and you’re in a bad place. Maybe you’re in a bad place financially, maybe you got a bad report from the doctor, maybe a relationship has deteriorated and it’s like you got hit head on. It wasn’t part of your plan. But Paul says, “What has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel.” What he is saying is that what looks really bad is actually something that God is doing something good through. And so maybe you’re in a place where this isn’t good, you can’t see God working there, you don’t feel his presence, you don’t understand, you can’t see God making anything good come out of this. But this morning, I want to encourage you to stop and have a change of perspective realizing that our God is big enough and even specializes in working through things that we don’t understand. Because we serve a God who can turn what we call obstacles into divine opportunities for him to show himself, for him to be glorified, and for us to make a difference for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul started by saying thanks, even though he was in prison, even though he was chained to a Roman guard, because his prison had become his pulpit. In other words, that very thing that you dislike, that situation that’s uncomfortable and even painful, whatever it is, there could be a purpose in your prison. God can use those things that we would never choose for our good and for his glory. You may not see it, but God can give you a different perspective, so number two…
That’s exactly what Paul did when he wrote Philippians. Here he was stuck in jail, chained to a guard, can’t go anywhere, can’t do what he wants to do, all of his hopes and dreams have vanished, but instead of complaining, Paul says, “You know what? My situation may not be good, but something good can come out of it.”
Verse 12 and 13, “What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13).
Now we read that and we think, “Paul, open your eyes, this isn’t a good thing. They’re punishing you!” But Paul would say, “Look at the good in this. I’ve always wanted to reach Rome with the gospel, and now I am chained to four different Roman guards every day, because every six hours there is a change of guard. And so now suddenly I’m being chained to leaders who have tremendous influence, the Imperial Roman guard, and through this situation I’ve been given a captive audience with some of the most powerful people in Rome.” And when you think about it that way you’ve got to wonder who the real prisoner is in this story?
I’ve known people who have experienced great tragedy in their lives, and who’ve said afterword, “As bad as that was, it gave me the opportunity to reconnect with my faith, to reevaluate my priorities, and to restore my relationship with my family.” When you face a difficulty, whether it’s a minor inconvenience or a major catastrophe, make it a habit to ask, “What good can come out of this?” Instead of letting the storm destroy your happiness look for the hidden benefits!
Some of you may be going through something very difficult right now and I want you to know that what you’re enduring today could be the testimony that you tell tomorrow. You may have never thought you’d end up there, but the way God worked through this was life-changing, and what you are enduring today could be the testimony that you share tomorrow.
Paul says this in verse 14, “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:14).
Do you see how Paul looks for the good in it, he took this attitude to the next level, and he applied this to his brothers in ministry who were trying to stir up trouble for him. You see, we have the advantage of history. We understand the authority of Paul. We know his place in church leadership. But in his day, it wasn’t like that. People didn’t like Paul. They didn’t like his theology of grace through faith, so when Paul was put in prison the ones who opposed his leadership became even bolder in their evangelism for the purpose of rubbing it in.
Look what Paul said about it in verse 15,
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18).
You see, maybe where you work, you could be allowing this person’s rotten attitude to steal your joy, or in spite of them you can determine that this person does add one or two positive elements to the mix. You’re not necessarily endorsing that person’s behavior but you’re learning to recognize good in all situations. This is important, because if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself spending a good portion of each day stressed out about what someone else is doing. Maybe it’s the backstabbing guy at work, or the demanding client, or the unappreciative spouse, or the irresponsible teenager. If you’re not careful, you’ll let these people rob you of your joy. But it’s much better to recognize the good they do and trust God to take care of the rest.
Paul could’ve focused on the fact that these people didn’t agree with him, that they were motivated by selfish ambition, and he could’ve attacked them in their false motives, but instead he looked for the good, that Christ is being preached. He could’ve gotten all stressed out and riled up. He could’ve gossiped about them, written letters of complaint, had all sorts of pity parties but he looked for the good in it and says in verse 18, “What does it matter?” “What’s most important is that Christ is preached.” You see, Paul was focused, and he had this inherent optimism. And so therefore, number three…
Paul focused on what matters, because he knew that God is in control and that ultimately things are going to work out for the best. In verse six he said,
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Paul told the Philippian church, “I believe in you because I believe that God is able to finish what he started in your life.” And we see that he also applied this attitude to his own situation; you know, here he was held captive by a Roman guard, facing an uncertain future, knowing the possibility remained that he could be tortured and executed for his faith in Christ, but he says in verse 18 and following,
“What does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for 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. I 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. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:18-21).
You see, he was expecting the best from God, he was focused on the important thing, and he says, on one hand I want to go to heaven and be with Jesus, but on the other hand I want to stay here and serve you. He says it this way in second Corinthians,
“I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (2 Corinthians 7:4).
His joy was without bounds, because he knew that God was in control of this situation, he’s in control of his life and your life, and he’s going to work out things for the best and for his glory. That’s exactly what he says in Romans,
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
It’s so much easier to develop the habit of joy when you realize that God is in control and that he’s working everything out for your good. Now I know some of you are going through difficult times, you’re facing uncertainty, struggling with bitterness, resentment, and fear, but you need to be aware that these things stand before you as obstacles to joy. To know and experience joy is a tough choice to make some times. It’s often easier just to ride the wave of which ever circumstance comes your way, whether it’s misery or another set of temporal pleasures that will make you happy for a little while. But there’s a better way, God’s way, to expect the best, and it really has nothing to do with your circumstances and everything to do with your perspective. Paul says it this way in second Corinthians,
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Paul shows us that perspective is so important, that we should start by saying thanks, that we should look for the good in it, and that we should focus on the important thing, because we can expect the best from God. When Paul asked in verse 18, “But what does it matter? (Philippians 1:18). What he was suggesting was that in the big scheme of things how big of a deal is this? When we ask ourselves, “What does it matter?” It frees us to focus on what’s important. Paul says, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” And so suddenly, our perspective is changed, and what we thought was important became nothing more than excess baggage.
When you evaluate your situation in the spectrum of eternity, you recognize that this isn't that big of a deal. It changes your perspective and suddenly you can focus on what really does matter. Paul discovered that when he recognized what doesn’t matter he was able to focus on what does matter: things like worshiping God matters a lot, serving others matters, using our gifts to make a difference in this world matters. We need to become consumed by those things that have eternal significance. That’s why Paul could make such a powerful statement as he did in verse 21:
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Just think about this for a moment, here’s Paul waiting for trial in this Roman prison, he was basically on death row, wondering if they would let him live or if they were going to execute him, and he basically says, “If I continue living I get to represent Christ and if I die it means to be in his presence: so what does it matter?” And when you have that perspective, all of the things that tend to weigh us down don’t really matter that much, because our lives are no longer our own, it’s all about him. It’s all about Christ. To live is Christ, to die is even better. Paul says, “If you knew where I was going you wouldn’t be so upset about the things of this world.” Perspective is everything. Expect the best!
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
November 13, 2016
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.