A leader must remain aware of his desperate need for God to help him and to guide him in his leadership role. One of the ways that we can stay aware of this desperate need is through a devotion to regular times of prayer. Prayer is the expression of our life’s dependence on God.
This week I've been reading through Paul's letter to the Philippians, and I came across a very popular verse that many of us have memorized (whether intentionally or not). However, we have to make sure that we understand what Paul is actually saying in this particular verse, and we have to be honest with ourselves about whether or not we are actually living out what it means when we quote it. The section in which we find this verse is in Philippians 4:11-13 where Paul writes:
"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
The Jesus-followers in Philippi had sent one of their members, named Epaphroditus, to take a financial gift to Paul to support him in prison. So Paul writes this letter and sends it back to the Philippians with Epaphroditus to say “Thank you for your generous support.” But he also wants them to know that he hasn’t been sitting around waiting or wondering when they might finally offer some support. He says, “I want you to know that I’ve learned how to be content in every situation and no matter my circumstances.”
The fact that Paul could be at peace and stay content in the midst of everything that he had experienced was an amazing mindset, but it’s also one that’s available to every other follower of Jesus as well.
And so, how can we get to a place in our own life where we can actually say with integrity that, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”?
And you see, that hits on the very thing that Paul has been teaching throughout this letter. He’s been pointing out that living as a follower of Jesus means that you begin to see your own life-story as a living expression of Jesus’ life-story. And so difficult times in life become times where we can experience a heightened awareness of Jesus’ love and presence with us. And this can give us hope and humility during times where things aren’t going as good as we’d like.
And so, Paul shows us throughout this letter that truly knowing and following Jesus is always a deeply personal and life-changing experience. It changes your mindset on life and your own view of yourself.
As Jesus-follower, we must learn to view our life as not being our own.
We belong to our Lord.
Our life is no longer primarily about us; it’s about him.
And that’s what Paul’s been saying since the beginning of the letter. He says for me to live is all about Jesus and to die is a good thing. And so when Paul says here at the end of his letter that he has learned the secret of contentment, he is saying that the difficult times in life have become his greatest teachers and that they have taught him that the secret of contentment is simple dependence on God and devoted service to him.
That is why he can say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
This verse is probably the most popular Bible verse among athletes. Players put this verse on their gloves, on their shoes, in their social media bios and if your Tim Tebow on your eye-black. It’s a phenomenal verse, but we have to make sure that we understand what Paul is actually saying here and we have to be honest with ourselves about whether or not we are actually living out what it means when we quote it.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” doesn’t mean that Jesus is going to help me become successful, get that promotion, get that raise, get that call-up or obtain all of my goals and dreams. When I say that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me it means that I have learned the secret of contentment; that true joy and peace and satisfaction in this life is found in a life that is lived with simple dependence on God and devoted service to him.
Perhaps the words of Sinclair Ferguson sum this up perfectly:
“Contentment is the direct fruit of having no higher ambition than to belong to the Lord at his disposal.”
This week I was reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and as I was reading it, I was so captivated by Paul’s mindset throughout the letter. I’d encourage you to sit down and read the whole letter (it would probably take 10 minutes) and just listen to some of the things Paul says about himself and his mindset towards his own life.
It’s a mindset that every Jesus-follower is supposed to have, but it’s also one that many of us today have not developed, and so it’s easy for us to just view it as too radical or not realistic.
For example, listen what Paul says in the following two verses (Philippians 3:7-8):
“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. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…”
We read these words and we hear him say these things and let’s just be honest, most of us aren’t on the same page as Paul just yet. Some of us can’t say what he says here. Some of us feel like Paul is so far out there and so radical that we just can’t even relate to what he’s saying here at all. But hopefully there’s some of us in here who are at least thinking, "I wish I was like this and I wish I could say these things, but I’m not there yet."
How did Paul get to this place in his own life? How did he develop this kind of mindset and view towards his own life?
His life had been completely transformed by Jesus. His worldview and the trajectory of his life was completely changed by Jesus. And Paul understood that the only way to respond to what Jesus had done for him is to become like Jesus — to imitate Jesus.
What do I mean by that?
Paul understood that living as a follower of Jesus is seeing your own life-story as a living expression of Jesus’ life-story. The very nature of the idea of following Jesus implies that you will begin to imitate Jesus in the way you think and live your life.
That’s the central point of this entire letter. Paul wrote a poem in chapter two of this letter that is the center-piece of everything that he’s teaching in the rest of the letter. It’s a poem worth memorizing if you can, and we read it in 2:5-11 where Paul says:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This poem expresses Paul’s convictions about who Jesus is, and it offers the example of Jesus as a way of life that his followers are to imitate. Jesus willingly gave up his status and privileges in order to love and bless us. And Paul has pointed out how he has given up his status and privileges in order to love and bless others too. And so, Paul is simply instructing the Philippians and us today to follow his example as he is following the example of Jesus.
Imagine what would happen if more of us were living examples of Jesus’ life story?
How much of an impact would we have in this game and in our communities if we were willing to give up our status and privileges and become servants like Jesus who sacrifice ourselves in order to love and to serve and to bless others?