Press On: A Study in Philippians
Crisis is not a word we are particularly fond of- especially when it is our crisis. Yet Jesus never promised us a proverbial rose garden, did He? Jesus told us in plain language, almost to the point of bluntness: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16) Peter told us we should not consider it strange when we fall into fiery trials. Yet despite the warnings, we find ourselves in various kinds of problems.
Our grandchildren have trouble saying the work ‘like’ – it comes out ‘yike’. So here is what I can honestly say about crisis in my life and the lives of my loved ones: “I don’t yike it.” But I realize it is going to happen. Life is difficult and once we accept this truth, we can begin to develop the tools and decision making process in order to deal with life’s difficulties. Instead of worrying and making rash emotional decisions. Life is not always fair- but God is.
In the original movie. The Karate Kid, Daniel Russo is beaten up by a bully and his friends. Daniel is alone and defenseless but is saved by the mysterious, janitor, Mr. Miyagi. After this Daniel is on a quest to overcome this bully in his life by beating him in a karate tournament. Unfortunately, the bully is bigger, stronger and more experienced in karate than Daniel. (Sound familiar? We have a bully who is stronger and more experienced in fighting than we are. But greater is the one in us than the one in the world) Daniel needs a helper- someone to come alongside him and train him to be an overcomer unfettered by circumstances. So do we. Mr. Miyagi becomes his trainer. Just as Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit.
Mr. Miyagi’s unconventional training (wax on- wax off, painting the fence..) seem to have nothing to do with training Daniel in karate. Yet he is building the basics of defense before moving to offense. Daniel is learning to practice patience and perseverance as Mr. Miyagi is training him to be an overcomer. I learned believing a promise in the Word of God could keep me from yielding to temptation to drink.
God is allowing the circumstances in your life to train you to be an overcomer unfettered by your circumstances. You keep asking God to change your circumstances and God is saying I am using the circumstances to change you into the image of my son. (fetters is an old word to describe a specific type of chain or shackle. It was attached to the feet to inhibit movement.)
Paul said “…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Why did Jesus take hold of me and you? For the same reason He took hold of Paul, and the disciples. He took hold of me to make me one with Him. This where the abundant life is. This is what life is about. The Westminster Catechism says it this way: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Jesus said, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10: 10) The thief wants to put you in the fetters of unfavorable circumstances. God wants to use the circumstances for good.
Do you know who you are and why you are here? The secret is discovered in understanding who you are in Christ and why you are here. If you are a believer you are a branch in the True Vine, the Lord Jesus. Our Father is the vineyard owner and the vinedresser. He is a constant gardener. We have but one purpose- to bear fruit. The sap which flows from the vine to the branch is the Holy Spirit. The clusters of grape produced are called the ‘fruits of the Spirit. Galatians 5: 22 list them: “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance against such is there no law.” (KJV) This is abundant life. “By this is the Father glorified that you bear much fruit.”(John 15)* Here is where the joy is- in glorifying the Father.
In John 15, the Lord’s teaching on the abiding life contains what I consider one of the most amazing promises. Listen to every word of this from the lips of our Lord Jesus to us who are believers: “If you abide in Me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will (wish NIV) and it will be given to you.” John 15:7 KJV Notice- two conditions which must be in our lives in order for this to happen. You must abide in Him and His words must abide in you. I can tell you this – you will never abide in Him if His words do not abide in you. Jesus said if you abide, live, remain, continue in Him and in His word, you will come to the place in your prayer life where you can ask what you will and it will be given you. Realize who a disciple is: “If you continue (abide, remain) in my Word you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8: 31, 32) And remember Jesus is the Word. Read Psalm 1 and you will see the one who delights in the Word of God and meditates in it day and night will be like a tree planted by the river, and shall bring forth his fruit in due season.
If you have not figured this out- the abundant life is the life that bears fruit. This not only glorifies God- it enables us to enjoy life forever.
So here is the way it works:
- The secret of living is fruit bearing.
- The secret of fruit bearing is abiding.
- The secret of abiding is obeying
- The secret of obeying is loving
- The secret of loving is knowing.
The Vine withholds nothing from the branch. It gives everything it has in order to produce the fruit the branch will bear. The life giving, life transforming flow is from the Spirit we share with the Lord Jesus. Jesus wants to share his life with us and He has given us everything we need. The branch, in fact, can do nothing without the vine.
The Father is the Vinedresser. The vinedresser’s task is simple – he wants to coax from His plants the most pounds of grapes possible. He will prune a branch bearing fruit to enable it to produce even more. He wants to make sure we are getting the most sunlight possible. He will tie a branch to a trellis to lift it up to get the most light and also the easiest access for the vinedresser to tend the plant. (See the cluster they brought back from the Promised Land? Took two men to carry it,) As we walk in the light as He is in the light- we have fellowship one with the Father and the Son. Need this light for growth, like the branch needs sunlight.
Now do you understand why Paul wanted to know Jesus in all the fullness he could? The more we know Him, the more we will love Him. And the more we love Him, the more we obey Him. And the more we obey Him the more we abide in Him. And the more we abide in Him, the more fruit we will bear. And in this is the Father, the Vineyard owner, the Vinedresser, the Constant Gardener glorified. And we will experience the joy for which were created. “This is eternal life, to know the true and living God and the One whom He has sent.” (John 17:3) Knowing you Jesus, there is no greater joy!
Now here is what I want us to do: I want us to climb out on a limb and do what we must do to work the works of God. Do you know what we must do? Jesus told us we must do to work the works of God? “This is the work of God to believe in the One He has sent.” (John 6)
The vine does all the work in coordination with the Spirit. The Spirit takes the Word and makes it a light upon our path. The Spirit of God takes the Word of God to make us like the Son of God.
You see we were saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves it was a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. This is how we got saved. It was a gift. The faith was a gift. “Faithful is he who called you, who will also do it.”(I Thess 5:24) And now we are to live our lives the same way we started- by grace through faith.
So what happens? Paul describes it in Galatians 3: “after beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” We start walking on our own. The bully catches us walking alone- just like he did with the Karate Kid and begins to beat us up. We started out by grace through faith, but somewhere along the way, we started doing things in our own strength and wisdom.
Then comes a crisis in the form of troubling circumstances: a health problem, a relationship problem, a financial problem, a loved one in trouble, a marriage in trouble, a world in trouble and it just hit you as you turned the corner. Will these ‘fetters of circumstances’ inhibit your movement. Or will you press on? Who has allowed these circumstances? Now sometimes the circumstances in our lives are discipline for our wrongdoing. However, even discipline for our wrongdoing by the Lord is for our good and ‘later on, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who are trained by it. ‘
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith will be our path of victory.
Faith is the deep down conviction that something is true and actually so in spite of evidence that screams to the contrary.
This where we learn to press on, believing God is training us to be overcomers unfettered by the circumstances. It may seem God is not working , but Jesus assures us His Father is always working, ( John 5) Wax on, wax off did not make sense until Mr. Miyagi showed him what he had learned. Daniel would go on to win the championship. Let us see how we can live the faith life. How we can press on in our training to become champions for God.
What does it mean: ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Why does Hebrews 11:6 tells us it is impossible to please God without faith?
What I want in this study is take us on a journey with the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul and the Word of God to discover what real faith is. I want a real faith that opens doors. I want to know the difference between real faith and counterfeit faith. You see the key to the abundant life is the abiding life. The key that opens the door to the abundant, abiding life is the key of faith, real faith. This is why Jesus said this is the work of God- to BELIEVE IN THE ONE WHOM I HAVE SENT. The branch cannot produce fruit, it can only bear it. My only job as a branch is to abide in Him and His words abide in me. The two go together. The branch can do nothing apart from the vine. The vine will supply everything we need to bear fruit. He will withhold no good thing from a righteous man. “The Lord has promised good to me, His Word my hope secures!”
Let’s look at this another way. Salvation is like a house built beside a broad and busy highway. It was love that drew up the plan for this house, it was grace the brought it down to man. The sign above the door is one made for the weary traveler down the busy highway. (Rest Stop Ahead- Kentucky interstate/winter storm) “Whosoever will, may enter and find rest.” Great- rest is what I need. I am worn out traveling down this highway. I arrive at the door- but it does not open. I ask, I seek, I knock. And the builder hands me the key-it is the Master Key- it is key of FAITH. He gives me a key- it is mine to keep. For by grace are you saved through FAITH. This is the key that opens the way. Inside the foyer you find are many rooms. I find one door that says- all your Needs Supplied. Here is another that says- Daily Victory over Temptation. Another says the Abundant Life. Here is one I really want to open- Answered Prayer.
What happens to us that we can mess up something so simple. First of all it is simple, but that does not mean it is easy. How many keys to do you have on your key chain? Several I am sure- plus back up keys in case you lose any or get locked out. How many keys do you have on your Christian Living key chain? If you are like me- you have accumulated a few in your Christian journey. If you have a lot of keys, sometimes we tag them don’t we? Look at the tags I have on my Christian life key chain and I bet you have some of the same ones. Here is one that is well worn with use, its tag reads: Doing the Best I Can key. Here is another one: Religious Activities Key. Here is one that will surely work: The Tithing Key; the Rededication Key- now we are really trying hard aren’t we? “And I try and I try and I try- but I can’t get no satisfaction!”
What we need is the key that opened the way in the beginning, the key of Faith. How did we receive Christ, the True Vine? By grace through faith. What does Colossians 2: 6 tell us: “So, then just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted (he is the vine) and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness. (Do you see clear references to the vine, the branch and the work of the vinedresser?) Grace makes it available and faith accepts it. Faith is the key. Unbelief is what got Adam and Eve in trouble and is the root of all kinds of problems and in fact all problems in the life of the believer.
Now to understand how to live as a branch in the vine- how to live by faith. I have selected two of Paul’s letters to be studied back-to-back: Philippians and Colossians.
I want us to look specifically for instructions on how to live this life. I want us to look for how to pray and what to pray for. I want us to climb out on a limb, called faith. And let our entire weight – our entire life depend on it. It will probably get scary. But I know this- in order to do this we must ‘fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
Do you know why I have selected to begin with Philippians? It is a book about joy. Joy is the theme. Joy, even when circumstances go wrong, you can have joy. Paul writes this letter to the church in Philippi. He writes and speaks of joy, while he is in prison in fetters, chains. Paul says ‘it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of my brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.’ (Phil. 1: 13, 14)
I want to learn what Paul learned- to be content regardless of the circumstances. Paul was jailed often, beaten up more times than he could count. Flogged five times by the Jews with 39 lashes; beaten by Roman rods, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked three times and in the open sea once for a day and a night. In danger constantly. Yet Paul maintained a continual state of joy.
Now one thing we know is Paul’s source of joy was not from the easy life he lived. His source of joy was in the Lord. Remember the vine is everything to the branch. It provides all our needs. Paul had confidence in the Lord’s sovereignty. We hear his confidence when he states- ‘this is the confidence we have….
Let us begin this study to see how we may have our joy made complete. Jesus came that we may have life and have it more abundantly, to the full. However, the enemy comes to steal, and kill and destroy. He wants to steal our joy. We will see that Paul had his mind transformed by the Word of God. Paul uses the word ‘mind’ ten times and the word think- five times and the word remember is used also. The joy in the Christian life is found in the way the believer thinks. “As a man thinketh in his heart- so is he.” (Proverbs 23; 7) This is not positive thinking, although it is. And it is not unfounded optimism. God’s Word explains the kind of mind the believer must develop if he is going to experience joy in a world filled with trouble. ( Let this mind be in you, that was in Christ Jesus.)
So let us first look at how the enemy wants to steal our joy.
- Circumstances. When circumstances are favorable, everything is going good we can be joyful. But we cannot control circumstances in our life. And if we depend on circumstances always being favorable- we will be very disappointed when they are not. The enemy will use unfavorable circumstances to disrupt your life and steal your joy. He wants to put your feet in shackles so you cannot run the race. All the while God wants to use the circumstances to train us to become overcomers.
- People. There are certain people who seem to really get under our skin. They can rain on our parade- and steal our joy with their hurtful words and negative attitude.
- Things. An abundance of possessions we sought and bought to bring us joy have turned into a bunch of stuff we no longer need or desire like we once did. Jesus said: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.” Lasting joy does not come from things.
- Worry. This is one thief who may be the worst of all. Worry robs us of sleep, peace and even our health. Worry comes in like a flood. It wants to erode our faith. But we must learn the anchor holds. Paul will tell us how to deal with worry.
How do we keep these thieves from stealing our joy? WE must cultivate the right kind of mind. A mind transformed by the Word of God. Remember Jesus said we must abide in Him and His word must abide in us. What kind of mind do we need? What kind of attitude must we develop?
Here are the four types of attitude or mind Warren Wiersbe says we must develop and it is also our outline for this study:
- The Single Mind. “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” * James 1:8 Focus. This one thing I do. Put Christ first in our life.
- The Submissive Mind. Christ comes first in our life, then others come second. The reason people bother us is because we want our way. J.O.Y.
- The Spiritual Mind. A mind that looks at the things of this world from heaven’s point of view. This is the wisdom that comes from God.
- The Secure Mind. WE need our hearts and minds guarded so we can experience the peace of God which passes understanding.
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”
My chains are gone- I‘ve been set free!