Sunday Sermon: ‘His Strength for Our Needs’

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Are you someone who is controlled by your circumstances? Are you happier on a sunny day than on a cloudy day? Do you feel more secure when your bank account is full rather than empty? Do you have mood swings that go up and down? If so, you may be interested in learning Paul’s secret for how not to be controlled by our circumstances.

I.  PAUL’S GRATITUDE FOR HIS FRIENDS’ CARE          

PHILIPPIANS 4:10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.

A. Paul’s Love for the Philippians            

Of all the churches associated with the Apostle Paul, perhaps none was as dear to him as the believers at Philippi. In Acts 16 we learn that Paul and Silas were instrumental in the establishment of the Philippian church. They led the first converts to Christ and baptized them into the faith. They were also thrown into prison there for preaching the gospel, but were miraculously rescued.

Many estimate that it had been about 10 years since Paul and Silas first visited Philippi. Yet there had been regular correspondence between Paul and them down through the years. The Philippian believers had been faithful to support Paul in his ministry.

“Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only.  For even in Thessalonica, you sent aid once and again for my necessities.” (Philippians 4:15-16)

Philippi was a part of a region known as Macedonia and the Bible indicates that the people of Macedonia were especially kind and generous. In 2 Corinthians Paul refers to them and their giving and he says:

      • They were rich in generosity
      • The gave according to their ability and even beyond their ability
      • They gave out of a willing heart
      • They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us…

Therefore, it should not surprise us when we read this about their gifts to Paul –

Philippians 4:18 “Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.”

It seems that a man called Epaphroditus who was a member of the Philippian church and recently visited Rome and brought these gifts to Paul. No doubt these gifts were greatly appreciated for Paul was in a Roman prison awaiting a hearing before Caesar. Therefore, the letter to the Philippians is actually a thank you letter sent back to them to express Paul’s appreciation.

B. This is a great lesson for us all.

The Bible tells us that God is the God of all comfort or encouragement, and that often He administers His comfort and encouragement through us. There is even a special spiritual gift known as encouragement. Thank God for the encouragers!

II. BUT, PAUL WAS OKAY “WITHOUT THEIR GIFTS”          

Though Paul was very grateful for their gifts, he wanted them to know that his happiness or well-being did not depend upon his circumstances of monetary things. His joy came from a source much deeper.

Philippians 4:11   Not that I speak in regard to need…

Was Paul in need? Had he been in need before the gifts arrived? Without a doubt he had. In his last letter to Timothy, he pleaded with his young companion to come and be with him because everyone else had left him and he also asked Timothy to bring him his winter coat. Paul was just as human as we are.

But even though Paul had needs, he had learned a way to be strong – even during his time of need.

…for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things, I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

A. Was Paul being ungrateful for their gifts?

Paul was not being ungrateful for their gifts. He begins this letter by saying,

Philippians 1:3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now…

Paul loved the Philippians and he was very appreciative of all they had done. He was proud of them like a father is proud of his children.

B. Paul was grateful for their gifts – but he was not dependent upon their care       

Though Paul was very grateful for the love and concern they had shown to him, he did not want them to think:

    • That he was begging for the money or support
    • Or, that he was dependent upon their care
    • Or, that God had not taken care of him

Paul had not been abandoned. He had not been forsaken. The Lord was with him and would continue to be with him through his trials. The Lord was doing something in Paul’s life that surpassed monetary gifts.

C. Paul was being taught how to be independent of his circumstances    

Philippians 4:11 “…for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content…”

Paul is not saying – I don’t care what happens to me. It’s not a ‘whatever’ attitude about life. Paul was saying, “I have learned how to be strong whether I am at the top or at the bottom.” “I have learned how to be spiritually full – even when I am physically hungry, and to be spiritually hungry – even when I am physically full.

III. PAUL HAD LEARNED THE SECRET OF HOW TO NOT BE CONTROLLED BY HIS CIRCUMSTANCES     

A. Most of us are controlled by our circumstances     

Most of us are controlled by our circumstances. If the sun is shining and everything is going our way – we’re happy and content. But, if the sun isn’t shining and there’s some difficulty in our lives, we’re unhappy and discontent. Our circumstances is the thermostat that controls the temperature of our emotions.

But – Paul had learned how to NOT BE controlled by his circumstances. Paul is saying that he has learned the secret of how to not be controlled by his circumstances. If that is true, he had learned one of the most valuable lessons anyone can ever learn in life. He has learned how to smile just as much on a cloudy day as on a sunny day. What is the lesson Paul had learned and can we learn it?

B. Paul had learned how to not be controlled by his circumstances 

Philippians 4:11 … for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:

What does it mean to be ‘content.’ When we hear the word ‘content’ or ‘contentment’ we think of someone being satisfied with what they have or where they are at. I don’t think Paul is not saying, “I enjoy being at the bottom. I like suffering.”

The biblical definition of this word means to be independent of our circumstances. It means to have sufficiency. Paul is saying that regardless of whatever life throws at him, I am always okay.

Philippians 4:12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things, I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

1. I am content when I am at the bottom

To be abased means to be brought low. We know that Paul suffered a lot of physical abuse during his time as a Christian. He was beaten or whipped on several occasions. He was shipwrecked. He was often cold and hungry. Much of his time since he had become a Christian had been spent in prison. Paul had every reason to let life get him down, yet he didn’t. He had learned the secret to living independently of his external circumstances.

2. I am content when I am at the top

Philippians 4:12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things, I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

What did Paul mean when he said that he had learned how to abound? Who needs to learn how to enjoy the good times? Again, we have to remind ourselves of what this word content means.

It means to be independent of our circumstances. Someone has said that prosperity often does more damage to us as believers than adversity. The church of Laodicea said, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” (Revelation 3:17) Prosperity has a way of causing us to become proud, self-sufficient, and spiritually lazy.

I wonder if this was what Paul was saying: “I have learned how to be spiritually full even when I am physically hungry and how to stay spiritually hungry – even when I am physically full. A full stomach doesn’t cause me to forget God. I’m still hungry for Him and His Word. I think that many of us would say that it’s harder to stay hungry when you are full than full when you are hungry.”

C. Paul had to ‘learn’ how to do this

‘Have learned’ could mean that he received knowledge. But it can also mean that he learned this by experience. The way God often works in our lives is to tell us something and then give us the opportunity to practice it.

When and how did Paul learn how to be stable regardless of his situation? I believe that 2 Corinthians 12 gives us some insight into how Paul learned this valuable lesson.

2 Corinthians 12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

1. Paul was given a thorn in the flesh

Many have tried to guess what Paul’s thorn was, but no one knows for sure. We do know what God gave it to him. Why did God give him this thorn? Twice Paul tells us in this passage that he received it in order to keep him from becoming conceited or proud.

Paul reacted to his thorn the same way any of us would react to a thorn. He pleaded with God to remove it. Most likely he told the Lord that if He would remove it, he could serve Him better.

God didn’t remove the thorn. Instead, the Lord gave him grace not only to manage the thorn, but to be victorious even with the thorn.

2. Paul was given grace that was sufficient for his need 

2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

We often define grace as God’s unmerited favor. Grace is God’s favor and blessing upon our lives that we don’t deserve. We most often think of God’s grace and our salvation

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

But God’s grace goes beyond our salvation. Grace that empowers us to serve God through spiritual gifts which are actually gifts of grace. Grace that sustains us through life. Grace is God’s power and strength at work in and through us.

3. How do we receive God’s grace? 

Grace is a gift and not a reward. God imparts His grace to us through fellow believers (spiritual gifts), His Word, and the Holy Spirit.

4. Paul’s response to Christ’s answer –

2 Corinthians 12:9 Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Paul became a much more powerful servant of Christ with the thorn than without the thorn. Notice that Paul refers to grace as ‘the power of Christ.’

2 Corinthians 12:10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

It is only when we are weak in ourselves that we depend upon the strength of Christ. It is only when we depend upon the strength of Christ that we truly become strong.

IV. I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO EMPOWERS ME

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who empowers me

Here’s the secret Paul learned. He could be strong in every situation through the strength Christ would give to him. The weaker Paul became himself, the stronger he could be through Christ. ‘Through’ is a preposition and it speaks of a place or position. It could be translated as ‘in Christ, or ‘by Christ’ or even ‘with Christ.’

CONCLUSION:

Perhaps today you are going through a difficult time in your life. Maybe there’s something happening that seems too big for you to handle. It may be too big for you to handle on your own, but it is not too big for God to handle. Paul has taught us today that Christ can give us the grace to handle anything life throws at us. His strength is for our needs.

How do we appropriate God’s grace to our situations?

1. Admit our need of His help.

Peter said, “…humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.: (1 Peter 5:6-7)

2. Peter tells us to ‘cast all of our care upon Him.’

Maybe that’s why Paul prayed without ceasing. Maybe Paul had to be hooked up to an IV called grace. Maybe he had to receive strength drip-by-drip from the Lord.

3. Live one day at a time – believing that the Lord will be with us every step of the way and that He will help us.

Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who will strengthen me.” Paul believed that Christ had been with him, He was with him, and that He would continue to be with him to the very end.

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