Title: Finding Joy In Your Circumstances, Part 1
Series: Philippians (7/20)
Reference: Philippians 1:12-14
Philippians, chapter 1 is where we are at. We have been studying through the book of Philippians on Sunday mornings and we are still on chapter 1. The title of today’s message is Finding Joy In Your Circumstances. Finding Joy In Your Circumstances. I will begin reading with verse 12 and I am going to ask if you are physically able, let’s all stand in honor and reference for the reading of God’s Holy Word.
And the Word of God says in Philippians in chapter 1 beginning with verse 12.
“Now I want you to know Brethren that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel so that my imprisonment and the cause of Christ has become well-known throughout the whole Praetorian Guard and to everyone else, and that most of the Brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear. Some to be sure are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from goodwill. The later do it out of love knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then, only that in every way whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed and it is in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ according to my earnest expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body whether by life or by death.”
Father, would you add your blessing upon the proclamation of your Word and it is in Jesus name we pray. You can be seated.
We are slowly, slowly, making our way through Philippians chapter 1. Up to this point, if you are just joining us, up to this point we have seen Paul express joy, and thankfulness for the believers in Philippi. Over the last two weeks together we have looked at his prayer for the believers there and noted how his prayer can be instructive for us in guiding us as we prayer for one another.
Beginning today in verse 12 Paul begins to give the church sort of a report on his circumstances and his outlook for the future and boy, I got to tell you guys, this is just so instructive for us and as I outlined this chapter weeks ago, months ago, and I feel like I should apologize to Pastor Jesse here because I outlined Philippines chapter 1 and a couple of weeks ago, maybe a month ago, and I felt for sure that I could get that prayer in on one Sunday and I didn’t do it, and I am just telling you, there is no way we are going to be getting all these verses in on one Sunday, we are just not going to do it. So rather than asking you to sit here for an hour and a half, which wouldn’t be too bad, right, we are going to break it up for you.
This is just really a remarkable perspective that Paul has in here. We know that when Paul wrote Philippians he was in jail. We know that, right. We know that his physical circumstances were really not that great, they were not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination. Yet the remarkable thing is that he never complains. In the whole book he never complains, he never whines, he never questions God’s plan, he never questions God’s love for his life but instead he rejoices and he goes on to pen what many students of the Bible have come to call the letter of joy. Paul’s example here is probably I believe one of the most powerful examples in all the Bible in how you and I can experience difficult circumstances. Now just think about that, joy in difficult circumstances. Normally we would not marry those two together at all because we have a tendency to think that joy is connected to like happenings. When what is happening in my life is good, I can be joyful, and when what’s happening is bad, then it is really hard for me to experience joy. But Paul is going to blow that up out of the water, alright. This whole book is going to put to death that myth, that I can only experience joy when joyful things are happening to me. So joy, even when things are not joyful, even when things personally are hurtful, when personally I am suffering, going through adversity, Paul teaches us that is it possible, it is possible to experience a real lasting soul satisfying joy in Jesus Christ. His example is just amazing.
So how did he do it? How did Paul be in jail, surrounded by very bad things, and yet write the letter of joy? How does he do that? What can we learn from his example? So before we really get into some of the meat and tators of what I believe we can learn from him, there is just something that you have just got to know. So here is how your notes start off, finding joy in my circumstances comes down to my perspective. Okay, you have just got to know that. We will spend the next two weeks unpacking that and talking about that, but you just got to know this. Finding joy in my circumstances comes down to my perspective. Think about it like this. Let’s imagine that you take some vacation days and you arrange to have some time away and you are going to go see the Grand Canyon for the very first time. How many of you have ever been to the Grand Canyon? Beautiful, beautiful. I have never been there but I want to go. It is like on my bucket list, I want to go and I just want to sit back and see and take in the greatness of God, the beauty of God, the wonder of God, so let’s imagine that you arrive to go to the Grand Canyon, you are going to take some time off, and just really soak in the greatness of God. So you get everything prepared, you load up the family and you get your favorite lawn chair or something and you are off on your way, you get to this one particular campsite and you start unpacking and you get everything just put in the right place and you pull out that favorite lawn chair and just as you are about to sit down and kind of relax and take in all of this beauty, this grandeur, this creation that just screams the mighty power of God, just as you are about to sit your tail end down, in pulls in, like right in front of you, in pulls in this ugly, old, beat up, on its last leg Winnebago that looks something like this (see visual picture on screen). (laughter) And the guy, the guy pulls right in front of your camp site! Blocks your whole view! Now what are you going to do? Like how are you going to respond?
Well, I guess there are probably a couple of different options that you have here. One option I guess is that you could kind of get mad and pout. You know, you could get mad about the circumstances and think that is an … I mean that is an UGLY Winnebago! Who would drive something like that? Who would, I mean, who would put their family in that and travel around the world and go on vacation? I should be looking at the Grand Canyon, I should be taking in all the beauty that God has made and instead I have got to sit here and look at this old ugly thing. I guess that is one option.
Another option is you could just ignore it. Some people do that with their circumstances, right? Like maybe pretend that it is not as bad as, well it’s not that ugly. It’s not that run down, right? It’s not that bad. I have seen worse, and it is not how I planned my vacation to be but I guess it is God’s will. I guess it is God’s will so I am okay, they are obviously okay, and hopefully this is no one’s picture of their front yard! I am going to feel really bad if … I guess you can just ignore the circumstances and say it is fine, it is what it is and it is not what I planned but it is fine, I will be okay.
Another option is you could get mad and bitter at the driver of that Winnebago. You could be like, who does that guy think he is! I was here first, we were here, we were spread out, we had everything ready, we were just about to take in all the beauty that God has created and this guy … who does this guy think he is! I ought to go over there and give him a piece of my mind. I deserve to see the Grand Canyon. I drove all the way over here to see the Grand Canyon. I took off vacation to bring my family here to soak in the Grand Canyon. They get to see the Grand Canyon all the way over here, and they get to see the Grand Canyon all the way over there. Thank you Mr. Winnebago guy, I’ve got to look at you! That’s an option and some people take that approach to difficult circumstances.
There is another option though. You have probably thought of it by now. If not you are going to do this number, right! There is another option; probably the easiest thing you could do is move your chair. Just move your chair, right. Just pick up your chair, walk around the Winnebago and then you can be in position to see the beauty and the greatness that God has made and this is the way it works with our circumstances. Beloved, if you want to experience joy in difficult circumstances, and you have got to keep in mind, you have got to get it out of your mind that joy is anchored in happenings of your life, that is not true. We know that is not true because Paul is not, I mean things are not coming up roses for Paul here, right, and yet he writes the letter of joy. Joy, as we said all the way in the introductory messages, joy is anchored in Christ. Joy is anchored in a thriving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not dependent on external circumstances. It is all about internal, what’s going on in the inside, and when the inside is right I can experience joy. It doesn’t matter what ugly thing is looking at me on the outside. So if I am going to experience joy in difficult circumstances, I have got to learn it is all about my perspective. I can’t sit here and look at that, I have got to move my chair around the difficult thing and to see past it, to see beyond it to the glory and the goodness and the greatness of what God has created. Does that make sense? You just got to know this. Joy, finding joy in my circumstances comes down to my perspective.
Now let me show you how Paul does that. Let me give you three ways, if you are taking notes, three different ways that Paul sort of moves his chair and sees beyond the difficult things that he is going through and he finds joy beyond what he sees beyond that. So three ways that Paul does that.
Number one, and this is all we are going to get through today, we are just going to do number one today, we will come back up next week and hopefully pick up the other two. Maybe not, probably just another one, but … this outline may be good for the next three weeks. So, three ways, three shifts in Paul’s perspective that enables him to experience joy in difficult circumstances. Number one, Paul looked beyond the circumstances to see God’s work. Paul looked beyond the circumstances to see God’s work. Look what it says, let’s go back to verse 12. He says I want you to know Brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. Now that’s perspective, wouldn’t you say? Here’s a guy in jail, in prison, facing the possibility of his … he doesn’t know he is going to get out, we know he is going to get out and he ends up back in jail later on in his life story, but he doesn’t know that, he doesn’t know how this thing is going to shake down and so here he is in this very difficult place in his life and he says, I want you to know Brethren that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. Now that is perspective. That is getting up and moving your lawn chair over just to the side so that you can see beyond the difficult things, the ugly things, the hard thing to see how God might be working through your life in difficult, ugly, hard things. So Paul doesn’t say I don’t understand why this is happening, Paul doesn’t say I don’t know what God is going, he doesn’t question God’s plan, he doesn’t question the sovereignty of God over his life, he doesn’t bring into question God’s character, he doesn’t say well, I thought being a Christian was supposed to be easy. Look, and you can get this, there is a lot of health and wellness, prosperity gospel preachers out there that would lead you to believe that Jesus, like the primary drive of Jesus is to make you wealthy and happy. I am telling you, that’s not it. That’s not it, you are missing the boat by, if that is the driving purpose of Jesus, what about all the disciples who died for their faith? Right? I mean it doesn’t mesh well with the whole of scripture. Jesus says this in John, chapter 10, in verse 10: that he came to give life, and life abundantly. He says I came to give life. That first life speaks of spiritual life. You in relationship with the Father. Your sins forgiven, your transgressions washed away. Jesus said I have come to give you life, I have come to forgive you of your sins, I have come to give you life abundantly, that means life with a purpose worth living for. So Jesus comes to save you from your sins and to put in your heart a driving purpose that is truly worth crawling out of bed and living 100% for the glory of God. Everything else that Jesus does for you, he may save your marriage, he may bless you materially, financially, he may open up the doors of heaven and pour out blessings on your life, but all of that is icing on the cake. It is not the driving purpose of Jesus for your life. And Paul gets this. Paul understands that there are some things, look there are some things, namely the gospel, that are bigger than his own personal comfort. Let me say that again, that is a great spot for an Amen, okay. Paul understood that there are some things, namely the gospel, that are bigger than his own personal comfort. Amen, right, amen, and sometimes oh me because sometimes we think that God’s primary mission is to make me comfortable. God’s primary mission, look God is on a rescue operation, not a retirement party. So God is primarily concerned about the gospel and getting the gospel out and using whatever he has to. Look, if God puts his stamp of approval upon the Son going to the cross to make a way for salvation, why do you think he would hesitate to put a cross in your life. I am not trying to cast a dark shadow on the fatherhood of God here, I am just saying that there are some things, namely the gospel, that are more important than you being comfortable. And Paul gets this. So Paul says this difficult thing, he writes back to the believers in Philippi, remember the correspondence there. They hear that he is in jail, they hear that he has been beaten up and abused and they hear that this could be the end, they send word to him and they want to know, here is a love offering, here is a gift, we want to know how are you and Paul writes back and he says, look, I want you to know Brethren that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. Yeah, this is not how we planned it at all. Paul wanted to go to Rome as a preacher, not as a prisoner, but Paul is able to see even in this difficult thing in his life, and this is a very dark moment in his life, he is able to step aside and see how God is working in this very thing for the greater progress of the gospel. And Paul says I can rejoice in that.
Hey, isn’t that the thing that we have been praying for? That my loved one might come to faith in Christ. Let me ask you, would you be willing to walk through adversity well for the greater progress of the gospel in your loved one. Don’t we pray for our nation to come back to God? Don’t we pray for revival in America? Let me ask you something, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, would you be willing to walk through adversity well, would you be willing for a season to face persecution as a church if it meant the greater progress of the gospel in America. Boy, this just checks your motives, doesn’t it. Just checks your motives. Is my heart in line with God’s heart? Or do I just want to be comfortable?
Paul understood that the gospel was so much bigger than his own personal comfort. He goes on to mention two ways that when he looked at his circumstances, he saw God working in two very specific ways. The first is in evangelism. Look what he says, he says I want you to know Brethren, verse 12, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel so that my imprisonment for the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole Praetorian Guard. The Praetorian Guard, this is like the secret service of the empire. This is like, these guys are very elite, only maybe around 9,000 people in the entire empire working in this service. They are like the secret service special forces of the empire. Their primary responsibility is to protect the emperor at all costs, and apparently like Paul gets assigned to these people. Like how crazy is that. Like these people are assigned to guard Paul to make sure that Paul stays alive. So you have these big men, these men of authority, these men of influence in Rome … you know, I can remember when I was a kid the military was a noble thing. Like people, like America looked up to the military. It was a very honorable thing to do and I still think it is, young Daniel, and I don’t want to cast down on that but I doubt that our nation as a whole believes that anymore. I just don’t feel that as a nation as a whole we look at the military as a very noble thing to do. But in Rome, this was it. These guys were honored, they were held up as men of integrity and influence because they lived their life, they gave their life away for a cause greater than themselves. And now these very men are with the Apostle Paul. We know traditionally their time shifts would last every four hours so if you have got a bodyguard for 24 hours, that means every day, now think about this, every day Paul is guarded by, he gets six different guards a day. We don’t know this for sure but we do know what kind of man the Apostle Paul was. We do know like what his heartbeat was for. I am just going to go out on a limb here and say that’s probably six, gospel sinner, hey let me tell you about Jesus conversations every single day. Isn’t that amazing. And so we know, Paul says, hey look, don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t worry about me and this difficult thing I am going through because I know that through my imprisonment, the whole Praetorian Guard, they have heard about the cause of Christ. What is the cause of Christ? Well it is the gospel. It’s his mission, it is why he is here. Forgiveness of sins. God has extended the offer of salvation, for every sin that you have ever committed in your whole life can be forgiven in Jesus Christ. And Paul says they don’t know about that. So we know about the palace guard, they get the gospel. We know the message doesn’t stop with them. Flip over to chapter 4, Philippians, chapter 4, in verse 21, when Paul is saying his farewell to the believers in Philippi he says this. Philippians chapter 4, verse 21 says: Greet every saint in Christ Jesus, right, so believers in Philippi, greet every saint, the brethren who are with me greet you and so there are some believers with Paul there, we know Timothy, okay, we know that the guy that the Philippian church sent is still with Paul, okay, so they send their greetings. So verse 22, all the saints greet you, so apparently there are some believers in Rome, especially, now look at this, especially those of whose household? Caesars household. Isn’t this just amazing. Only God can do this. Only God can work this kind of circumstance out. Under normal circumstances how long do you think it is going to take Paul to get an audience with anyone in Caesar’s household. Anyone! How long do you think it is going to take? Just say a long time, right. A long time! Probably a long time, right! But yet God, through these difficult adverse circumstances, unexpected circumstances, he uses that to place Paul right in the middle of the political center of Rome, chained to a different member of the palace guard every four hours. Talk about an opportunity to get the gospel into the very heart of the Empire. Only God could do this. This is Romans 8:28 fleshed out. This is God taking something very bad and using it in a way that brings about good. This is what God does. This is the redemptive work of God. He takes the dark things, the ugly things, the hard things, and he uses them in such a way that it casts a spotlight on the gospel and he brings good out of it.
It is what he did for Paul. That’s what he does in your life. That’s what he does in my life. Any time at the very least, anytime that the unexpected and hard and difficult comes into your life, you have the opportunity for evangelism because here is one thing that you can absolutely bank on: people are watching. People are watching, at the very least, if you have no gospel conversation, if you have no opportunity to sit down and talk about the hope that is in you, at the very least people notice. Somebody knows that you are a Christian and somebody is watching you walk through this difficult and hard thing. They are watching what you do, they are watching what you say, how you re-act, how you react to the hard things of life. One of the greatest, evangelistic opportunities you have is to walk through a hard and difficult season of life well and in a God honoring way. People are watching and that is the point that Paul develops later on in the chapter, all the way down in verse 27, he says only conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel. Right, only conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel. Paul says I don’t know what is going to happen to me, I don’t know, maybe I am going to die in this jail, I don’t know. Maybe I will get out of this jail and be able to come to you and see you and be with you again, I don’t know. But whatever happens to me, only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. Don’t ship wreck your faith because you don’t agree with what is going on with a difficult thing in my life. Right? That is what he is saying, whatever happens to me, only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. This is so different than the way we typically think. We think about the gospel, when we think about the gospel we think about like a message that is proclaimed. We think about a gift that is received. And that is true, those are certainly aspects of the gospel. We want to proclaim the gospel, I hope that from the front of this church there are always gospel proclamations. And we certainly want people to receive the gospel. We want people to make decisions of faith for Jesus Christ. But more than something that is proclaimed and received, the gospel is something that is lived. It is a life that you live, the gospel is your life, it is everything. It is the way that you treat your spouse, it is the way that you treat your neighbors, the way that you treat the stranger in need. It is everything, it is how you handle pressure, how you respond to criticism. The gospel is everything, it is more than what we proclaim and what we hope others receive, it is the very life that we live.
So Paul says, whatever happens, only conduct yourselves in a way that is worthy of the gospel. Let me ask you, think about it in your life right now, are you living out the gospel. Are you living in a way that is reflective of the gospel? Do others even know? Do others know that you are a follower of Christ? Can they see a difference in the way that you handle, to keep for the example in our study of Philippians, hard things, difficult things, unexpected things in your life? The way that you handle that, there is just something different about the way that you handle that. Just think about the most difficult, hard, like stressing you out circumstance in your life right now, just get that in your mind right now, the hardest thing in your life right now, the thing that causes you the most stress right now, get it in your mind. Has it ever occurred to you that God wants to use that thing for the greater progress of the gospel in the life of someone else. We don’t think about things like this. And joy, where is joy in this, is joy in my circumstances. Look, your circumstances are fleeting, they are so fleeting. They are up and down and left and right, it is so fleeting. Joy is anchored in Christ and in kingdom growth. That is why I can be joyful in things when I know that God is using this difficult thing to bring this brother, this sister, this loved one, this friend, this community, this nation closer to the gospel.
So Paul moves his chair. He looks beyond his circumstances to see God’s work and when he did he realizes that God is working through that difficult thing to bring others to faith in Christ for the purpose of evangelism.
Number two, the second way that Paul witnessed God working was through encouragement. Look at this in verse 14. Paul says in that, most of the brethren trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear. Now when Paul says to speak there, to speak the Word of God, he is not talking about like a public context of preaching or teaching the scriptures. He is talking about speak the Word of God, he is talking about a conversation. So like just a normal everyday conversation. Just going to work, doing your thing, living your life, rubbing shoulders with the people that you rub shoulders with and you are speaking the Word of God, you are speaking truth into their lives. So Paul says, God is using this difficult thing in my life, not only to bring people to faith, not only for the purpose of evangelism, but God is using it to build up courage and boldness into the life of all of these other believers and now they are going out there and they are living their life and they have more courage, more confidence to speak the truth into the lives of the people that they rub shoulders with. So encouragement. Paul stands up for Jesus, and the next thing you know somebody else stands up for Jesus. Isn’t that the way it works today. It just never ceases to amaze me to see this kind of fleshed out in a family. You take this family over here who is facing a terrible thing, a very dark, a really bad thing, but they face it well. They face it with faith and they face it with courage and they are not afraid of where this is going. They are not afraid of death. They are not afraid of that, they don’t flinch at that. It is not what they want, but they … and then you go back home and you say man, what’s my problem. Alright, I mean, what’s my problem. They can walk through that fire with Jesus and be solid. What’s my problem? Your faith is rekindled and strengthened because another brother or sister or family walked well through adversity.
That is exactly what Paul is saying. Most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord, because of my imprisonment have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear. Paul faced literal physical chains. None of us are facing literal physical chains. Maybe not yet, none of us are facing it now, but in a very real way you still feel chained to your circumstances. Maybe it’s a financial thing. Maybe it is a relational thing with a husband, a spouse, a wife, a family member. I don’t know, maybe it is a spiritual thing, maybe it is just some other pressing circumstance in your life. Can I just encourage you this morning to move your chair. Can I encourage you to just maybe take a step aside and try to see beyond the difficult and hard and ugly thing to how God might be working for the greater progress of the gospel and to encourage other brothers and sisters to stand up and to live for Christ. And this is hard because if this kind of truth is real then it means, if Romans 8:28 is true, that God is working all things for good, if that is true, then … do you know what all things means? ALL THINGS. It means not just my difficult thing, not just my hard thing, not just like the external circumstances that are imposing themselves on me, but it means my hurts, it means my loss, it means my suffering. God is working through even those things and if you doubt that, my goodness, this is why, this is why we are here, in this building, on this day. This is what the cross is about. It is about working through suffering, working through loss, working through timbers and nails and blood and sorrow, the loss of a loved one, death. Losing a loved one. This is what the cross is about. Working through the darkness of the cross to bring about the greater progress of the gospel and the encouragement of brothers and sisters to stand up and live for Christ. So can I encourage you to just shift your chair. Just as you look at the cross, instead of looking at the cross and seeing nails and blood and death and sorrow, you see redemption. You see salvation. You see the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, hope in Christ. This is how we find joy in circumstances. Not by getting out of the circumstance, but looking beyond it to see the work of God, because God is always working. God is always working for the greater progress of the gospel and for encouragement for brothers and sisters in Christ to live well for the glory of God.
Perspective, finding joy in my circumstances, it really does come down to perspective. Realizing that there are some things in life, like the gospel, that are greater than my own personal comfort.
Let me pray for us.
Lord, we thank you for this time together in your Word. We thank you for your Spirit who takes the Word and speaks it into our hearts, who causes hope and life to rise up within our hearts. Father, we pray for wisdom to be able to have this kind of perspective. Lord, help us to embrace this truth that you are working even in the difficult and the hard and the ugly circumstances of our lives. Help us to not just know that and not just affirm that that it might be so but help us Lord to embrace it as it is so, to live in light of that, help us to walk through dark times well Father knowing that you are using it. Just like you did in the life of the Apostle Paul. You are using it to draw others to the gospel and to encourage other believers to live more faithfully for you. Father, continue to speak to us as we worship you, as we lift our voices and our attention to you, speak, strengthen our hearts, fill us with hope and confidence that you are in control. We ask it according to the strong name of Jesus. AMEN