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Living Above Your Circumstances
The Power of Perspective
Happiness depends on the "happenings in our lives;" joy depends on our perspective. Join Chip Ingram as he opens God's Word to Philippians 1 and explains how we all can enhance and enrich our relationship with God through living above our daily circumstances. New series title is "I Choose Joy."More from this series
We tend to think the shortest distance between Point A and Point B is a straight line. That’s how we think. And in geometry, that’s absolutely true.
Now, here’s what I want to tell you in God’s economy –with God, you’re at Point A, and He wants to take you to Point B. Sometimes, the shortest distance between Point A and Point B is a zigzag line.
You go through person after person after person after person, and you will find, whether it’s Moses or David or Joseph or Jesus . . . Jesus is born as a Baby, and He’s the Savior of the world, and He is going to complete God’s promise. He’s going to forgive the sins of all men, for all time. “And You are going to reign. You started here, and You’re the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and angels, and myriads of angels, and they bow down and they worship You as the second Person of Trinity, in the council of the Godhead. Before the world was ever created, the Godhead determined that You would be the Savior of the world. You’ll be born of a virgin. You’ll come at just a specific time in world history, where there’s peace and where there are Roman roads and where synagogues are out everywhere, so the preaching of the Gospel can go forward. And You will live a perfect life, and You will do miracles. And You will die on a cross, and You’ll be raised from the dead, and You will reign again.”
And He is born, and His life looks anything like a straight line. He is beaten, He is rejected, He’s attempted to be killed, as a small child, by Herod. His entire life is a zigzag line.
And at the end of His life, He looks like a total failure. He was going to usher in a kingdom. He was going to deliver the people. “Hey, You saved others, why don’t You save Yourself?” And the end of the zigzag line is, He dies upon a cross, He is raised from the dead three days later, and then, miracles happen, and what’s He doing now? Exactly what the Godhead predetermined – reigning in heaven, forever and ever.
And if you’ve believed in Him, you’re seated with Him in the heavenly places, and He’s provided salvation, and He’s provided purpose, and He’s provided the Spirit of God to dwell in every single believer. And all the spiritual blessings, He has purchased for you and made available. And He takes people out of the kingdom of darkness and places them in the kingdom of light, and He changes lives. And if any person – any man, any woman – is in Christ, they’re a new creation. All things become new. The old has passed away.
But here’s what I want to tell you in that journey: The shortest distance between two points is a zigzag line. And what we’re going to learn is what that has to do with perspective.
God’s ultimate purposes for our lives are often achieved by circumstances that seem to make no apparent sense. Is there anyone here that have any circumstances going on in your life that, at times, just in a little bit of a weak moment, you’re saying to yourself, If God really loved me, and I’m doing what I think I’m supposed to be doing, this doesn’t make sense. In fact, you know, that would be putting it mildly. This stinks. I hate this. This is , “God, where are You?” This is, “Hey, what’s up with the deal? I love You, I’m obeying You, I’m . . .” And my circumstances appear to be doing just the opposite of what a good God would do for His son or for His daughter. And you’re frustrated.
We learned our little formula last week: C + P = E. That’s the thesis of this whole series. “C” stands for “circumstances,” plus perspective equals your experience. Right? Circumstances – the stuff that comes into your life that you can’t control – plus perspective – how you choose to look at those circumstances – will equal your experience. That’s why we have people suffering with cancer that have amazing joy and gratitude in their heart, and that’s why we have people who have a splinter in their hand and have a mild dip in the economy, and they’re clinically depressed. Because that’s the power of perspective.
Circumstances do not have the power to make your life; circumstances do not have the power to break your life. But there is a choice. There’s a choice about how you see and how you look.
And what we’ve talked about is, every time you get in one of those circumstances, where you’re tempted to look at it, and the glass is half empty, and life stinks, and, “Where is God?” and, “What’s wrong with me?” and, “This is unjust,” and, “Why did they do this to me?” and, “I don’t understand why,” and, “Poor me” – before you get there, the first thing you do is – what? Key number one was, focus. Remember? Focus.
The apostle Paul, the last time he was in prison, his focus – remember? – it was upward – “I thank my God in every remembrance of you” – and his focus was outward – “For God is my witness, how I long for you” – or have the affection toward you – “. . . of Christ Jesus.” He’s in prison, and he should be having a pity party. His focus is upward, and it’s outward.
The question, when you hit difficult circumstances, is this: Where’s my focus? Is my focus inward, on me, or is my focus upward, on God, and outward?
Remember my buddy who had the fire? And in fire number one, his focus was inward. And, literally, he got clinically depressed, had to go get medication. Fire number two – within 48 hours, all of his cabinetmakers had jobs, and he was willfully choosing to thank and praise God, even though he didn’t feel like it.
Now, today I want to talk about key number two, which is purpose. Write the word purpose. And the second question you ask, when your circumstances stink, when things just don’t seem to be fair, when they don’t seem to be right, when you’re feeling discouraged, when you can feel the energy kind of seeping out of your heart, like mine did last night, you gotta ask this question.
Not only, “Where’s my focus, is it upward and outward?” but, “What’s my purpose? Why am I here? God, I want to look at this through the lens of focus, but I also want to look at this through the lens of, what might You be up to? What are You doing in my life? What are You trying to do through my life? Why am I here? What is it about these circumstances that You might be using to fulfill Your agenda, even though, honestly, in my heart, I’m thinking, This is not fulfilling my agenda?” Because when you begin to ask the question of purpose, then, you’ll get perspective.
We pick up our story of Paul, still in that Philippian jail, and it’s not looking good. And so, he is going to get a little visit. He is actually writing to the Philippians, and he’s in a Roman jail, and he’s getting a visit from one of the Philippians who cares about him and thinks, I wonder how Paul’s doing? I mean, he helped start the church here. We’re really close to him. In fact, they sent a financial gift, and it came through a man named Epaphroditus, and – and they want to know about what’s going on.
And so, Epaphroditus comes, and he talks with Paul, and then, this letter is carried back to the Philippian Church, to let them know what’s happening.
And beginning in verse 12, you get Paul’s report. And by the way, this is the thesis of verses 12 through 18. He says, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” I mean, they’re thinking, Paul, you’re our hero. I mean, you preach the Gospel. You’re this great spiritual leader, and now we hear you’re in prison, and it’s very difficult. And we hear that you’re chained to these Praetorian guards. And every six hours they change, and they put more chains on you, and the conditions are very difficult. How are you doing? I mean, are you discouraged? Are you depressed? Are you making it? I mean, what can we do to help?
And he says, “I want you to know that these circumstances” – literally, or, “what has happened to me” – “has really served to advance the gospel.” Put a line under advance, if you will. It’s a military term. It’s used for the advancement of a military campaign. It’s used for cutting down of trees, undergrowth, and the removal of barriers that thwarted the army’s progress. He says, “These circumstances that, from the outside, look so negative – me in prison, me chained to Praetorian guards, me being stuck in a Roman prison – really have advanced – it’s removed some barriers to the Gospel, so that the purpose that God put me on the planet, it’s really moving forward. It seems bizarre that I would be in chains, but God is using this difficult circumstance to fulfill His ultimate purpose. And He’s advancing the Gospel.”
And put a circle around the word Gospel, and I want to take just about a two-minute detour, because I don’t know where you’re all coming from. And the word Gospel, you know, depending on your background, means a lot of different stuff to different people. I didn’t open the Bible until I was 18, so if someone said “Gospel,” I thought they were talking about a style of music. There’s country music, there’s gospel music, there’s rock, there’s hip-hop, you know, gospel was just a style of music. And so, I didn’t know what the Gospel was.
The word Gospel is a compound word that literally means “good news,” or, really, “happy” is a better translation – “happy news.” Ooh, good, euaggelion news. That’s what the Gospel is. Something happened that people need to know. Something great happened over here, and we need to proclaim and let everyone know this good news.
Jot down, under this, if you will, Romans chapter 1, verse 16, because the Gospel is not just happy news, but it’s a powerful, powerful force. The apostle Paul would write to the Romans and say, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel [of Christ], for it” – the Gospel – “is the power of God . . . salvation . . . to the Jew first and also to the Greek. [To anyone who believes.]” And so, the power, what we always need to remember, the power of God is never in a messenger. The power is always in the message.
And God will do that, over and over and over again. And now and then, He’ll speak through a donkey, or now and then, you’ll be tired and discouraged and bring nothing to the table, and you’ll limply, weakly, terribly, not very intelligently share the Gospel, and – Bang! – something will happen, and you’ll go, Wow! How did that happen? I haven’t prayed in a couple of days very well; I’m kind of discouraged. My life’s not working that well, and I only did it out of obligation . . . Because the power is not in you; the power is in the Gospel.
What is the Gospel? Jot down, under this, 1 Corinthians 15, verses 1 to 4. And there, the apostle Paul clearly explains: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that which I taught you that was first of things" – and then, he just describes the aspects of what the Gospel Message is. The Gospel Message, put very clearly, is that God became a Man in human flesh – Jesus – He lived a perfect life upon the earth; He died upon the cross to pay for the sins of all men, of all time; He was raised, according to the Scriptures, on the third day; and there were eyewitnesses, both Peter, James, and others; and that this message that the proclamation that the payment for sins have been accomplished, and it has been proven by His death and resurrection is the Good News that we’re to take to every man, every woman, every child on the planet.
The Good News is, regardless of where people are, where they’ve been, what they’ve done, no matter how deep the hole they’ve dug, no matter how terrible, no matter how vile – rape, murder – whatever we have done, inwardly, outwardly – the Gospel Message is, when Jesus died upon the cross, He paid for your sin. And He wants to forgive you and give you a second spiritual birth, and the moment you repent, turn from your sin and, in the empty hands of faith, ask Jesus to forgive you and come into your life, you’re taken from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of His beloved Son. The Spirit of God comes into your life. You’re sealed with the Spirit. You’re given spiritual gifts. You’re a part of God’s family. You have a new purpose; you have a new power. And He will begin to change and radically make you more and more and more to look like Jesus, in the way you think, in the way you talk, in your values, in your priorities.
And it’s a process. It’s to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. So, it’ll be three steps forward and two steps backwards, and you will mess up, and you will have ups, and you will have downs. But if you step back, you’ll see, you will grow, and you’ll become like Him.
The Gospel – this was what Paul lived for. And he says, “I want to report to you that, yes, the rumors you’ve heard of my difficult circumstances – they’re true. But I want you to know, it has really turned out for the advance” – or, “the progress” – “of the Gospel.”
And now, in verses 13 to 18, God is going to allow us to see, through the apostle Paul, how He uses circumstances, negative circumstances, in Paul’s life. Now, the apostle Paul is going to give us almost, like, a legal brief. He’s giving a report: “Now I want you to know . . . [concerning] my circumstances” – literally. I like the New American Standard in that one. Instead of, “What has happened,” the literal word is, “I want you to know . . . that my circumstances have turned out for the [advancement] of the gospel.” That’s his thesis.
Now, like an attorney standing before the jury, he’s going to say, “And if you don’t think that’s really true, Exhibit A, I’ll tell you what, because of this, the Gospel has gone forth. Exhibit B: Because of this imprisonment, difficult circumstances, the Church is growing up. And Exhibit 3, in case you think that’s all there is, not only has the Gospel gone forth and the Church been built up, but I’m going to tell you something. This man has grown deeper.”
And I want to suggest that those three purposes that God did in Paul are the three purpose He has for my life, and those are the three purposes for your life. And that if you, in the midst of your difficult circumstances, can start to ask, “God, in what ways do You want to take this difficulty in my life so more people can hear about Your Son? God, through these difficult circumstances, how would You like to orchestrate it so other believers get built up and encouraged? And God, how would You like to take this difficult circumstance and make me more the man You really want me to be?” You start asking that question, and you will turn in your pity-party papers for a purposeful, energized, focused life in the midst of real difficulty.
Let’s dig in together – Exhibit A: The Gospel goes forth. He says in verse 13, “As a result” – okay. So, the Gospel is advancing. Well, how? Well, “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace” – or, literally, Praetorian – “guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” He says, “Yeah, it kind of looks kind of bad. But you don’t understand.” He said, you know, “Think about the world situation. The world situation is, for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, you have all these religions going all these different directions. You’ve got a Roman rulership, but you’ve got Greek culture. So, you’ve got gods on every corner, about this, about that – everywhere.
And then, you have an itinerant preacher who claims to be God. We’ve got 2,000 years of history that is just amazing. But they didn’t. This is happening in 62, 63 A.D., so Jesus died plus or minus 30 years ago. And this sect, this weird – these people who call themselves “the Way” – all the world knows is, as I just read this morning in Acts, that they are filling the world with their teaching.
The world is being turned upside down. In about 30 to 40 years, no CDs, no video players, no satellite TV, simply by word of mouth, these people believe this crazy story that God visited the planet, died on a cross, paid for sin. And then, they make outrageous claims that He was walking around for 40 days in this resurrected body, could walk through walls, actually wasn’t a ghost, because He ate actual food, and everyone who gets near Him – their lives dramatically change. And they love one another.
And no matter what we do, we can’t shut them down. We make them human torches for Nero, and we light them up. We throw them into the lion’s den. We put skins around them and feed them to dogs, and then we laugh at watch them die. And they go into these stadiums, asking God to forgive us. And all we know is, they’re sacrificial, and their lives are sacrificial, with their money. Some of them have depleted all their savings to meet the needs of other people. All we know is, they believe in this Person named Jesus who showed up 30-some years ago, and they love each other in these radical ways. And now, their leader, their spokesman, is in prison.
And notice, if you were trying to figure out what’s the center cultural capital of the world, it’s Rome. And here, how many prisoners are there? Probably a zillion. And the apostle Paul says, you know, “We’ve written letters. The Gospel has multiplied in many different ways. But you think it’s bad, the circumstance that I’m in prison.” And I don’t think he’s high-fiving people, going, “Hey, the chains feel great! Wow! You know, when the rats come by, I just thank God. It’s wonderful.” You know, I don’t think he’s Pollyanna yet. I think there’s days he gets up and says, “Man, this is tough.”
But when he looks at it through the lens of purpose, he says this: “As a result, it has become clear” – or well known – “throughout the whole palace guard . . .” Now, emperors, in that day, the way they usually lost their job was assassinations. And so, what they would do is – rather than a military coups like today, they would get the crack, most elite troops, the cream of the cream, and they would build a small, little army that was committed just to the emperor, and they were called the Praetorian guard. I mean, these were the super sharp guys. And there were about nine to ten thousand of them.
And they were highly, highly esteemed, the most prestigious military, elite, super-duper guys in all the Roman Empire, every six hours they are getting chained to Paul.
Well, what happens when you get chained to Paul? “How come you’re singing, dude?” “Because Jesus.” They say, “Who’s Jesus?” “Well, here we go.” Then, Fred comes to Christ. Then, Joe comes to Christ. Then, Bob comes to Christ. And pretty soon, you read in the Book of Romans, and you find out – what? Some of the, even, leading people in Herod’s household come to Christ.
I played the point guard in college, and I am a basketball junkie. I mean, I just like it. I mean, I love it. I was that little kid that played eight, nine, ten, eleven hours a day, and my mom would say, “I think you’re exaggerating on the low side.” When I was awake, I was playing. And so, I coached for a while, and I traveled overseas and played, and then I kept playing. As a pastor, I’d play.
And so, it was kind of misty in 1994, and I was 40, but I was still in good shape and still playing with college guys. And so, I didn’t want to play outdoors, because I thought I’d slip, and I’m getting kind of old, didn’t want to get hurt. So, I went up to Bethany College, and we did a full-court run with some college guys.
And I came down on the point, and I was feeling pretty good. And I saw a guy, out of the corner of my eye, who was open, and I was going to throw to him – John Stockton’s my hero. You’ll just have to bear with me. So, I’m like this. You know how he throws those passes off the dribble, like that? And I get ready to do it, and then, out of the corner of my eye, I realize someone catches me, and he’s going to get the pass, so I decide I’m going to really crank it. So, I’ve got all my weight out, like this, and I crank it, and when I do, my knee goes zip, zip! And everything inside a knee that can go out, went out – ACL, MCL.
I mean, and man, I heard it, it sounded like a gun went off. And I thought, Man, what in the world was that? I tried to put weight on it, and I just fell down, and . . . ACL surgery, all the rest. It was devastating.
And I read a book on prayer. God used it to slow down my life. I had a major breakthrough in my marriage during that time.
And one of the greatest things was, there was a gal whose father was an atheist, who had filled her with bitterness and poison, who was my physical therapist. And three times a week, we got together, and after I got out on this machine, and we worked at it, worked at it, worked at it, and after about a month or six weeks, she said, “Okay, I give up. What’s different about you?” I said, “What do you mean?”
She said, “How you do your therapy, how you relate to these people – you know everybody and all these patients now. What’s different about you?” And I said, “Well, do you really want to know?” because she had already shared her anger and her bitterness. And I said, “I think your dad missed the boat. I think there is a God, and I think He loves you. And I came here to let you know that I’m just a regular guy, who I think He wants to let how much He loves you get through, somehow, the conduit of my life.”
And she had a little girl and a broken marriage and a life that was tragic and messed up. And you know something? My circumstances turned out for the greater progress of the Gospel. And I’ll never forget, by the time when she came, and I just said, “Come and visit church for six weeks,” and I was sharing with her, and this and that. And I remember when she came to Christ, and I remember when she was baptized, and I remember when she and my wife became friends, and how she would come – and her daughter was only about five years old, but she got so fired up. She goes, “I want my daughter in here to hear this music, because we sing it all week long.” And God changed her life.
Is that worth a knee? I think so. I mean, at 40, I’m not going to…you know what? My first step was going; now I got an excuse. You know? I can’t jump anymore, I don’t have a first step. But, “Man, ACL, baby. I mean, what do you expect?” Now, I can wear a brace when I play, and the guys in the park feel sorry for the old man, you know?
What is it in your life, that God might be using, that’s a hard circumstance, that if you said, “Lord, how could You use this so others might hear? Is there a platform, maybe, I’m missing, where people could hear and understand the Gospel through me?” Paul says, Exhibit A: The Gospel goes forth.
Second, Exhibit B: The Church grows strong. Notice, he says, “[Because of my chains, not only are lost people hearing about Christ, not only do I have a platform like never before, but] because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”
A literal rendering is, “To a much greater degree, they dare to speak the Word of God without fear.” I mean, it’s a new message. And talk about political correctness in our day, imagine in that day, going against hundreds of years of history and saying, “God came. His name is Jesus. He loves you. He has forgiven your sins. He has risen from the dead.”
And the apostle Paul is in this unbelievable situation, and he’s waiting, trying to figure out, I wonder when they’re going to execute me? And instead of trying to soften the message a little bit, he’s using it as a platform. And when people hear what’s happening in prison, and Paul, and the notoriety, and these Praetorian guards, and – guess what happens? They’re thinking, I mean, if Paul can do this in prison, I ought to be able to do it at the job. If Paul can do this in prison, I ought to share with my brother-in-law. I mean, if Paul can do this in prison, as a church, don’t you think we ought to step up here in Rome and make a difference?
He says, often, the adversity that God brings in your life, when you respond in a Christ-like way, will empower and will encourage other Christians to live the way they know they need to live. We think that we’re going to live this great life and have these wonderful marriages and all our kids turn out right, and our finances right in order and never have a bad day, and people are going to look at our lives and go, “Oh! You are such an awesome Christian. I would like to be like you.” It doesn’t happen that way.
Tell you what, what people watch is how you respond when your wife’s biopsy report comes back positive, how you respond when one of your kids go absolutely off the deep end, and you totally disagree with everything that he’s doing, or she’s doing, but you choose to figure out what it looks like to love them and not condone their behavior. They watch you when everyone knows that you should have gotten the promotion, or you got a raw deal, and how you respond. Do you do this typical office backstabbing, criticism . . . or do you act differently? See, it’s in adversity, it’s in the most difficult circumstances that you have the greatest opportunity to empower others to see Christ, and man, that empowers Christians to live the way they know they’re supposed to live. And he says, Exhibit B: The Church grows stronger.
I was thinking of, in my own life, 2002, 2003 were, like, let’s not repeat those years. I came here to Walk Thru, and we had just a number of situations, but my wife went through a tough time. Her mom died, then her dad, and then, we moved here, and she had two oral surgeries within the first three or four months. And my wife was in the tank. And then, the economy dropped out, and the giving dropped about 38 percent at Walk Thru, so Walk Thru is in the tank. And that sort of slid over.
That meant that there wasn’t going to be some money, so Living on the Edge was in the tank, and so Chip was in the tank. Except, I couldn’t afford to be in the tank, because I had to come here every day with a group of people that are saying, “Okay, God chose you. You’re supposed to be the next point guard on this team. Are we going to score or not?”
And so, I got up early in the morning and got out of the tank, and got enough perspective to say, “You know what? Here’s what God wants to do, and He’s given me just enough faith for today, and here’s where we go.”
But you do that week, and then month after month after month, and my rope is getting shorter and shorter and shorter and shorter, and I end up hitting John 11 in my private time. And I couldn’t get out of John 11. I read it every day for long, long time. And then, pretty soon, I remember I was in the living room with a group of people, and they were hurt, and I was feeling down, and I didn’t have a message, and I thought, I’ll just share John 11. I’ve read it about a zillion times. So, I shared John 11. And it’s a picture of how Jesus responds to the people He loves the most – Martha, Mary, and Lazarus – and how, sometimes, God will allow your bad situation to go to impossible, because He wants to give you something better than simply bail you out of your difficult circumstances.
And out of that came a message called “Trusting God when Trusting God Doesn’t Make Sense.” And I’ve probably preached that a dozen times, now, in the last two years. I’ve done it to a number of groups of pastors, people that are really hurting. I did it over at a major church across the street. I don’t know of any one message that has built up the body of Christ, that I’ve done in the last two or three years, more than “Trusting God When Trusting God Doesn’t Make Sense.”
Do you know why? Because my circumstances were so unbearable for me. And I just hung on to, “You know, Lord? I don’t know how this is going to play out, but You loved Lazarus, You loved Mary, You loved Martha, and when they came with their need, instead of responding, You went the other way for two more days, and You wanted to give them something better. But You allowed their circumstances to go from bad to impossible, so You could do a miracle.”
And you know something? What if God is about that in your life? What if there’s something more than just getting out of the fix or writing things? What if there’s really something deeper He wants to do in you, so that He can do something through you to build up the body of Christ? See, that’s what the apostle Paul is saying: “I’m looking at life through the lens of purpose.”
Final exhibit is Exhibit C, and he says, because of these circumstances, one, the Gospel goes forth – so that’s good – two, the Church grows strong, and three – this is very personal. He says, “The man grows deep,” in verses 15 through 18. He’s going to say, “Something happened in me.” Isn’t that God’s purpose all the time? According to Romans 8:28, doesn’t He work all things together for the good, for those of you that love Him, that are called according to His purpose? And then, verse 29, that He might conform you, or make you, like the image of His Son, make you like Jesus? How does God make you like Jesus? How does He change your character and your heart? He does it by taking you through things you don’t want to be in, and then, meeting you there in ways like you’ve never known.
So now the apostle Paul, he’s getting back to the report. “Epaphroditus has come. We’re concerned about you. You’re in prison, and I want to give a word back, and we do have a gift for you. And Paul, not only are you in prison, but we hear that, while you’re in prison, there’s some stuff happening in the Church. You’re the head honcho of the church; you’re the man. And we hear that there are people moving into the leadership vacuum, and while you’re in prison, they’re saying stuff like, ‘You know what? If you had more faith, you’d be out of prison, and if you were such a hotshot and God’s man, why would He leave you in prison?’ And they’re starting to really puff themselves up. And they’re teaching the right doctrine. They’re preaching the Gospel.
But I’ll tell you what, they are trying to make a real name for themselves based on you being in prison. Are you okay with that, Paul? I mean, this a raw deal. I mean, you didn’t have to go this route, and look what’s happening to your [quote] ‘career.’ Look what’s happening to your reputation. People may not think you’re as spiritual as they used to think.”
And Paul answers that question in verse 15. He says, “‘It is true’ – you’re right. That rumor you heard? It’s true. ‘Some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry.’” But he reminds them, “But some preach Christ ‘out of goodwill.’ It’s not all bad. ‘The latter do so in love, knowing . . . [I’m] put here for the defense of the gospel.’ The people that are preaching the Lord, they know what’s happening. They do it out of love. They know God’s got His hand on my life. ‘The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not [sincerity], [they suppose] that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.’” So, he says, “Yeah. There are some people doing exactly what you said.” The former do it because they really love God. The others are – even in the church – selfish ambition, whether it’s prestige or power or position, or even using it for financial gain may be implied here.
And then, I love the apostle Paul’s summary: “But what does it matter?” – question mark. Put a little line under that. “But what does it matter?” Literally – literal translation: “What’s it to me?” Isn’t that great? “Hey, God’s church is moving forward, people preaching the right doctrine with the right motives, people teaching the right doctrine with the wrong motives thinking to get at me. What’s it to me? ‘The important thing is’” – do you get the idea of purpose? The important thing. Purpose always has to do with what matters. Why are you here? “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
You know what I think happened here? I think Paul dealt with some major ego issues. God used his adversity to deal with major ego issues. Number one, no spirit of competition. “You know what? I’m not doing this because of what people think. I’m not hung up about who gets credit. I’ve gotten beyond whether this is fair or not. You know something? My purpose was evangelism of the Gospel Message, the Good News of God coming to the planet and saving people from their sin, would go forward. Okay, I’m in chains. Is it going forward? Yes. Is it going forward in the way I’d like it to, personally? No. My goal and dream in life is to be a man of God that would help build the church, where other people, because of rubbing up next to my life, would become more and more like Christ. Is that happening because I’m in chains – chained to Praetorian guards and the whole Roman Church getting fired up? Yes. Do I like how God’s choosing to do it, my own personal life, with the chains and the rats and the guards? No.”
Finally, “My ultimate purpose is, I am to be a man who loves God and allows Him to change me, to make me more and more like Christ. Is that happening because ego issues are being dealt with? I’m not pleasing people. I gotta get where I don’t care whose credit it is. Is God’s mission being accomplished? Yeah. Is it happening in the way where I get the just credit and the reputation and all that I – as a human being –” He’s human. Let’s not get Paul in a toga, with an “S” under his chest, where he’s got right motives every day and is some super star. He’s a regular guy, like you and me. He’s got bad days.
But he came to the point where he said, you know, “What’s the purpose of it all? The purpose is, is that God’s mission gets accomplished. And if it does, I think I’m just not going to sweat who gets the credit. I think I’m not going to sweat whether it’s fair. I think I’m not going to sweat what other people think. I think I’m just going to rejoice in the fact that what God said He would do, He’s doing. And you know what? I’m going to choose to take great joy in it.”
I’m reading a book called The Heavenly Man. It’s the story of a house church pastor. And it’s such an interesting perspective, that I want to close with this and then ask you some questions as we leave. This guy has been in prison a zillion times, been beat, electric batons. You name the most gruesome torture anyone could ever experience – legs broken, head bashed in, starved – this guy went through it. And here’s his perspective at the end of the book. “The first time I went to prison, I struggled, wondering why God had allowed it. Slowly, I began to understand He had a deeper purpose for me than just working for Him. He wanted me to know Him, and I wanted to know Him. But He wanted to know me more deeply and more intimately. He knew the best way to get my attention for a while was to give me a rest behind bars.”
Anybody here ever see your adversity as, “Maybe God wants to give me a rest, so He put me in a financial prison or a relational prison?”
“Whenever I hear of a house church Christian that has been in prison for Christ in China, I do not advise people to pray for his or her release, unless the Lord clearly reveals that we should pray this way. Before a chicken is hatched, it’s vital that it’s kept in warm protection in the shell for 21 days. If you take the chick out of that environment one day too early, it will die. Similarly, ducks need to maintain a confinement in their shell for 28 days before they’re hatched. If you take a duck out on the twenty-seventh day, it will die.
There’s always a purpose, a purpose behind why God allows His children to go to prison. Perhaps it’s so they can witness to other prisoners. Or perhaps God wants to develop more character in their lives. But if we use our own efforts to get them out of prison earlier than God intended, we can thwart God’s plan, and the believers may come out not as fully formed as God wants them to be.”
Any of you had a struggle thinking that way about your life? God, don’t let this prison of adversity end too soon, because I want to really be formed. I mean, I really want to get everything You have out of this. Isn’t that refreshing?
There are three purposes for all of us. You are an ambassador of the Gospel, and the purpose? Reach the lost. Question, put simply, is, how could God use your present circumstance to do that?
Second purpose for every believer is, I’m called to encourage God’s people, to help them grow to full maturity. That’s, “Build the found.” Those that are already found in Christ, you want to build them up.
And the final purpose is that I’m a servant of the living God, and His purpose is that you become like our Master.