16 September 2010

Verse-by-verse through Philippians (4:10-4:12)

October 29, 1929. Anybody know why that is an important date in American history? It was the day of the Great Stock Market Crash, which—did not cause, but was one of the factors that led to the Great Depression. Now this crash did not take place in a day. If you think about what happens when you set a book on a surface that is not level, and it slowly creeps and slides and slips and then once it creeps far enough—BOOM down it goes. That’s what happened in 1929. Without going into all the technicalities of trading stock—which, me, eh, not so much—just to show how devastating this event actually was: On September 3, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) had topped out at 381.17 (at the time it was made up of the value of the stock of 12 companies). At the end of trading on October 29, it finished at 230.07. In a month and a half the DJIA had lost 151 points. Now, today, the market wouldn’t even sneeze at a loss like that. This past Friday, the DJIA was up around 10,700 (30 companies, stocks are selling for quite a bit more than they did in 1929). But back then, 151 points translated into 40% of its value. Today it would be like the market today losing 4,000 points in a month and a half.

Eventually the USA lapsed into the Great Depression, and men who had been worth millions lost nearly everything. And of course, how did they react? Many of them committed suicide. Rather than face embarrassment, humiliation, scandal—or, worst of all, having to live without the luxuries they had been accustomed to. But there’s one thing that gets lost in all the stories of rich men plunging to their deaths after losing their boatloads of money. Who was affected the least by the Great Depression? I mean, yes they were affected. The difference between making 25¢ a day versus standing in a soup line all day isn't nearly as great as the difference between making a million dollars a year versus standing in that same soup line. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression have a lot in common with the current economic crisis.

If you were to sum up what caused both of these in one word what would it be? I'll give you a hint: 5 letters, starts with ‘g’, rhymes with ‘reed’. People had what they needed, but they wanted something else. And that ‘something else’ was…more. In 1929 people were borrowing money to put into the stock market, and stocks were being sold for more than they were worth. And when those stocks went through the floor, those people wound up owing that money to their lenders. But they couldn’t pay it, so what happened to those lenders? They went under as well.

We’re seeing that same situation all over again today, but instead of people borrowing more than they could pay back for stocks, people bought mortgages they couldn’t afford. People making $40,000 a year going out buying a $200,000 house. But the house wasn’t enough, they needed all the toys that went into the house—Italian leather furniture, plasma-screen TV’s, Playstations, Xbox’s. Oh, and they had to have all the toys they could fit into their garage—the big new Lexus SUV, jet skis, boats. Of course, they didn’t have enough room in their garage for all their stuff, so they had to rent a storage unit to store all their stuff—stuff they didn’t have enough time to enjoy because they were spending too much time at work, trying to pay for all the stuff they needed that they didn’t have time to enjoy. Then they had to spend even more money for a divorce attorney because of the stress of living a lifestyle they couldn’t afford.

We laugh at this, but it really is sad. So many people build their lives around money. We see the shiny toys and we go to Wal-Mart and we’re fascinated by the 52” flat-screen LCD. And we get caught up in “I need this NOW!” Don’t get me wrong—if someone knocked on my door and wanted to hand me a 52” LCD flat-screen, I don’t know as I would shut the door in their face. But what question should we ask before we go buying something like that? Do I need this? Can I afford this? Is this gonna not only take food off my family’s table—but is this going to take away from someplace else that God would rather have me give this? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I don’t buy this?

This was the attitude that God finally got through the head of the apostle Paul. He had spent years training under Gamaliel, training to one day be the head rabbi of all Israel. He had power, he had prestige—he had everything he needed, right? Philippians 3:4-6 (ESV)If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Blameless concerning righteousness under the Law. He was on his way to the top. Nothing’s gonna stop him. Especially this pesky little band of people called “The Way.” Parents would stop with their children and point to Saul and say, “Oh, Shimon, I pray one day you can be like Saul of Tarsus! The greatest teacher of the Law in all the history of Israel!”

Until…until he met the One that was the embodiment of the Law. He met the One who showed him that the purpose of the Law was not to make men righteous. The purpose of the Law was to point to the One who is righteousness. In fact he goes on to say that even though he was Philippians 3:6-8 (ESV)As to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. And now that we are halfway into our time, we can finally look at our text. We are in Philippians 4, almost the halfway point of this chapter. We saw last week that the Philippian church had not forgotten about Paul, but for some reason or another they were not in a position to help, or something was serving as a barrier to their giving to him. Today we’re gonna see that Paul wasn’t really that concerned about his comfort, because he knew it wasn’t about him.

Philippians 4:10-12 (NASB)10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

When he "persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women" (Acts 22:4), life was pretty good. Had everything he wanted. His bank account was pretty full. But then he met the risen Christ, and turned his back on what had been the source of his income. His wealth started going “Bye-bye.” Do you think he cared? Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Verse 11. Not that I speak from want. Or, “lack.” Ask anybody on the street to quote a verse out of the Bible, what would they say? Psalm 23:1The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want. That is certainly true—IF the LORD is your Shepherd. What’s the problem for unbelievers? God will not answer their prayers. Proverbs 28:9One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. Think about that! Someone who is living in outright rebellion against God—every time that person prays, they are committing an abomination against God, just as if they had killed someone or committed adultery!

BUT!! Psalm 34:15-19The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry (quoted again in 1st Peter 3:12)…The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a broken spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. Whatever we need, who should be the first one we ask? It’s easy to have a Simon-Peter-walking-on-the-water moment where we allow the wind and waves to take our attention off of Christ. But if we are a child of God, He will give us whatever we need—not necessarily what we want. “O Lord, I need a new car!” He may not give you a shiny new Lexus—it may be a ’75 Pinto. But if it gets you around, are you gonna complain? He can take it back and leave you without a car again. We who are the children of God should be content with what we have because God gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:7-11; James 1:17).

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. The word “circumstances”—you could almost cross that word out here, and say I have learned to be content in whatever I am. Because the Greek word translated “content” isn't referring to a person’s external surroundings. It actually gives us a glimpse into how the apostle viewed himself. It’s not a matter of “I'm OK with where I am. I've got just enough to get by. I'm living in a shotgun shack but that’s OK.” It’s more a matter of “I’m OK with who I am. I’m a prisoner of Rome; I'm an enemy of the Roman Empire. I'm the least of all the apostles. I'm the chief of sinners that Christ died for. I’m probably going to be a martyr for Christ. And if that’s the man I’m destined to be, then fine. I'll be that man.”

Those wealthy men back in 1929 who flung themselves off of the rooftops after they lost all their money. It wasn’t because they were going to miss their money—although they would miss it. What they couldn’t handle was being poor—or, being a poor man; a beggar. They could not handle being the kind of person they had spent their lives looking down on. One such fellow was Jesse Lauriston Livermore. He wrote a book that to this day is used as a guide for those who invest in the stock market. He made million dollar fortunes four times—and lost each and every one of them. He actually made it through the Stock market Crash and was worth more than $100M at the end of 1929.

But by 1940, he had become so drained by the constant pressure of making money—then losing it, then gaining it—that he put a gun to his head and ended his life. In his suicide note, he said to his wife,

“My dear Nina: Can’t help it. Things have been bad with me. I am tired of fighting. Can’t carry on any longer. This is the only way out. I am unworthy of your love. I am a failure. I am truly sorry, but this is the only way out for me. Love, Laurie.”
Notice what he said: “I am a failure.” Even though he had failed, and lost tons of money, he didn’t say my investments were a failure.” He said I am a failure.” He had let his losses define who he was. So many times we set goals and expectations for ourselves. Or we let other people set those goals for us. And when we don’t measure up, what do we say? “I'm such a failure!” Let me tell ya something friends—you're not a failure unless God says you're a failure! In fact if Jesus Christ is your Lord, and if you a child of God—you are a success story that the world cannot duplicate. 1st Corinthians 15:9-10For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.

See, this is how the world looks at success—if you came from nothing. You went to college, you studied, you got a job, you climbed the ladder by being ruthless and cut-throat and stepping on toes and stabbing people in the back to achieve your dream of building a financial empire—then buddy, “You're a success!” In the world’s eyes—but maybe not in God’s eyes. And that person will be perfectly content with being the kind of person they are. BUT. A person who is worth $800B, even though they may lose every penny of that money—if they gain eternal life, they will be one of the biggest success stories in the eyes of God. And He’s the only one that matters! 1st Timothy 6:6-8Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. The word translated “content” in Philippians 4:11 is from the same word that is translated “sufficient” in some other places. 2nd Corinthians 12:7-9 (NASB)There was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. In other words, “My grace will allow you to be the person I need you to be.”

The grace of Christ was all Paul needed to be content with the life God had planned for him. Paul was more than happy to be “weak.” To be content with being the kind of man that God had made him. Because if he was the man God wanted him to be, then God’s power would be perfected in Him. Hebrews 13:5—We always focus on the last part of that verse, the part that says “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” But we would do well to remember the first part as well. Hebrews 13:5Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Verse 12. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. He had lived a life of luxury. As long as he was out gathering up Christians, he got paid real good, and life was easy. But he gave it all up. For what? To be chased from city to city. To be beaten and whipped and crushed under boulders. He gave up comfort so he could be counted among a group of outcasts, a bunch of people who lost homes and family. For what? I'll tell ya for what. 2nd Corinthians 12:15And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls. See, money didn’t matter to Paul. He could care less what he ate. He didn’t need to stay at fancy inns. The only thing that mattered to Paul was getting the gospel to as many people as he could.

He didn’t get distracted by worldly matters. 2nd Timothy 2:4No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. The scope of Paul’s life—his only goal—was to gain Christ. This world could crumble—so long as Christ was magnified. Philippians 3:13-14One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. If he ate well—he could live with that. If he went without so someone could hear the gospel—I think he would be even better with that. He was content with who he was in Christ, no matter what his circumstances. Because his mind was on something even better than money or food!

Jesus Christ is Lord.

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