I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 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.
We live at a time when a teaching called prosperity gospel, or word of faith or health and wealth gospel is gaining followers by the day. Their basic tenet is that a Christian, who is a child of the King (GOD), must not suffer lack or poverty, ill-health or sickness. He must always be healthy and wealthy. According to them the Christian message of the good news is that Christ died so that you may be well in health and in possession. This emphasis on material and health prosperity is being preached in different congregations cutting through all denominations! But is this is the message of the Bible? You have heard it preached here so many times, by too many people, that I wonder if this is an uphill task to venture to deal with it in less than an hour.
Yet I must show you from the Bible that this is an unbiblical message, which by the subject that you have given me, ‘ups and downs’, you acknowledge that there are times of ups and times of downs. The life gives us both bitter and sweet, light and darkness, day and night, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty, valleys and hills/mountains. It is important to know that this the way God displays both his manifold wisdom and glory. We must realize that this message of health and wealth is foreign to the Scriptures. Neither did the Lord Jesus Christ preach it, nor condone it. Neither did any of the Apostles preach it nor condone it – and so we must not. Rather we are to receive God’s providence with thanksgiving.
I could have spoken of the ups and downs of our Saviour, Christ and could have taken Hebrews 2:15 - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. But I thought that some of you may say that we are different from Jesus, since He was and is God-Man in one person. Just remember that, Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Heb 2:17. The Lord Jesus Christ, went through what we have and more. We would be wise to listen to Him, for of poverty He said, so categorically, “… you will always have the poor with you.”
But I before us is Apostle Paul speaking of his own experience of ups and downs, as a believer and an apostle, with the authority of His Master, the Lord Christ. He gives a very personal and candid experience – I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound, in any and every circumstance – in plenty and hunger, in abundance and need… I have known a secret of facing all these different circumstances. This is the secret I would like us to unlock by the grace of God from this passage.
1. Do you know how to be brought low, and how to abound in Christ?
When Paul says, “I know” it is not some subjective knowledge – it is informed by the Word of God, the truth, so that one perceives and is assured. In this word is confidence based on a settled opinion informed by the Word of God. It is the same Word Paul uses in 2 Timothy 1:12 – I know whom I have believed!
Thankfully in these words is stability and maturity of facing the ups and downs of this unpredictable life, in a fallen world of sin. We can only gain the necessary Christian stability and consistency that is so much necessary in Christian living only when we are taught of God in the scriptures. There is no doubt that there are times of being brought low, by sin, by life experiences such poverty, health, things simply not working out, people failing you, etc.
However, our stability is not in naming it and claiming it for this is utter folly. Rather, the secret is in the promises of God in His word – depend on what God has promised, not on your preferences. Your spiritual life is not dependent on positive confession – it is dependent on the grace of God as revealed in His Word.
After all, the Lord has said that He is keen to work out all things for the good of those who love Him, those that He has called according to His eternal purposes. Not a single promise in His purposes will miscarry. This knowledge gives a believer stability to know how to be brought up or down, yet abounding in Christ and in His everlasting love.
Earlier on in this book of Philippians Paul says, For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. Php. 1:29, 30. The call to be a Christian by believing in Christ, is also a call to deny oneself and take up his cross and follow Christ. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Mat 16:24-25. Undoubtedly suffering as part of the believer’s package of the things they share with Christ (see. Philippians 3:10).
There are times when we suffer spiritual darkness and wander around in wilderness like the children of Israel. There are times when you don’t feel like praying. There are other times when you don’t feel like coming to the church. Some other times you do don’t enjoy brotherly fellowship, the Word of God. If feels like you are in the valley of the shadow of death. But there are times when you enjoy the sweet hour of prayer. You relish the bread of life, the Word of God and you cherish the Christian fellowship. How do you deal with all these changes as a Christian?
But many do not know what to abound means – it is to be in Christ. When you believe in Christ, you stop living for yourself, you stop trusting in yourself, you stop depending on yourself and you stop being earthly-minded to being heavenly-minded. Since you have been raised with Christ, you seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Because you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God, so that when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. You do this by killing every sin that wage war against your mortal bodies sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. This war is a real one and if you are not watchful you will be brought down by these terrible sins. If it brings you down, you would suffer being down. This is the most horrifying experience for a Christian – the guilt of sin.
Yet you may abound by putting on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col. 3:12-17.
This may appear too easy – but this is very difficult for a body that has known sin all its life. Bearing our cross is the most difficult of Christian living. Yet this is at the heart of the Christian faith. Christ died for sin once and we died with Him so that we may live in the newness of life. The struggle with sin – killing it to death is very difficult. The list of what is to be put to death in Colossians, begins with sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires etc. May I seek to show you how this sin is mortified. Do you struggle with lustful thoughts? Pornography and some of you may even have fallen to the actual sin of fornication. You know what guilt, shame and discomfort comes with sexual sins.
To fall into sexual sin is to be brought very low. The Lord has told us to flee from it. Do not waste time where there is potential for sexual sin, because your weak body will soon be overwhelmed. For example, when you ladies accept to meet with a gentleman in a private study in your hostels, or just the two of you at night, in a car, then what do you expect? Flee from sexual immorality (1Cor. 6:18). If you are struggling to deal with this sin in your life, and you are not making as much progress, just remember that the Lord as given us the assurance of His help. When we are faithfully killing sin, the Lord helps us.
The second antidote to sexual sin is marriage – you are all old enough to marry and be married! For the Bible says, But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband… But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 1Cor. 7:2.9. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 2Tim. 2:22. I counsel you then to start thinking of marriage – it is not a far-fetched idea.
Suffering lack is to be brought low. As I speak here, I know that that some of you are not sure what you shall eat. Your project is giving you headache because of the financial constraints. This can give occasion for discouragement and being brought low. Financial challenges is just another life reality. In fact, the context of this letter is to appreciate the financial gifts that the Philippian church had sent to Paul. You see this as you read on in this chapter - I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Php. 4:10-11. Paul suffered not just the anguish of bringing the gospel, but the challenge of going on in lack and poverty. But in his statement here, there is no complaint, just stating the reality in contentment. He has learnt the secret of receiving God’s providence with both hands.
2. What is the secret of facing all these different circumstances?
The secret is Christ - I can do all things through him who strengthens me (v.13). Undoubtedly Christ strengthens us. Unless one is in Christ, in this world, when in the flesh – who is the enemy within, the defeat is inevitable. From the flesh we are constantly faced with sin, the war that we wage against our mortal bodies is a real conflict. Yet the world has so many attractions to the body. But do not love the world or what the world promises, the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes, and the pride in possessions. But these are not from the Father but is from the world. But remember that this world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
More than the flesh and the world, is the devil who is constantly attacking Christians in order to bring them down. Only when you are in Christ will you know the victory, For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:4-5. If the secret is Christ, then we are to show our dependence on Him by being fervent in faith and in prayer. You pray because the Lord promised to listen. And you pray to display your faith and dependence on God, our heavenly Father. So when you don’t feel like praying these two reasons should be factored in order to encourage prayer.
Christ suffered for our sake so that we might not bear the wrath and punishment of God for His suffering was a vicarious or substitutionary suffering. His death was a sacrifice to atone for our sins. Those who believe in Christ have this hope. Christ became poor for our sake, so that through His poverty we might receive the richness of God – for in Him we are made the children of God (John 1:12-13). Therefore your hope is in Christ, not in yourself or in relatives or friends.
The secret is contentment – I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (v.11). Whether in being brought low, or in abounding, whether in plenty or hunger, abundance or need, Paul has learnt a secret of facing any and every circumstance, being in Christ – it is the joy of Christian contentment that keeps going strong. I highly recommend a book called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Boroughs (A Puritan Preacher). This book is free on line (http://www.preachtheword.com/bookstore/contentment.pdf)
Contentment begins with humility. Paul has already cited the example of Christ in embracing humility for the sake of God’s people. He exhorts us to 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. Php. 2:5-8. Embrace God’s providence without complaining like our Lord.
It is on the basis of Christ-like humility that one will not be trapped in selfish ambitions, which are borne out of conceit, and high view of oneself, giving birth to materialism of our day. Rather we are to count others more significant than ourselves and not look only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (Php. 2:3-4). It is for this reason he wrote to Timothy,
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 1Tim. 6:6-11.
In all the ups and downs of Christian living, do not lose your first confidence in Christ as spelt out in His Word. Do not trust in chariots, or the arm of flesh, or your wisdom. In the long run these do not hold hope for your Christian stability in the storms of this life – only Christ does. His Word is our firm foundation. His promises are the cables that keep us sailing. Do not through overboard the confidence we have in Christ.
May you know to abound in His grace in whatever situation, to be content even when you are brought low, and know how to abound. Grace to you so that in any and every circumstance, you may learn the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need