Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 August 2, 2020
“I Have Learned the Secret”
If you ask me, “What is your favorite Scripture text?” then most days I shall reply, “John 11:25-26.” Those verses, to wit, “Jesus saith unto her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and he that liveth and believeth on Me shall never die,” have bolstered my life and faith over the decades since I first learned them. If you ask me, however, “What is your favorite book of the Bible, then most days I shall say, “Philippians,” and, if you press me to name a favorite chapter of the Bible, then most days I shall say, “Philippians 4.” Our text today is within my favorite chapter, and I have loved it since meeting it during the fall of 1986, but my history with it began with a mis-application.
When I learned of this text, I immediately applied it to my senior season of varsity cross-country competition. “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me,” became a promise that I would very well at the region meet, thus qualifying to run in the state meet, and thus glorifying God. Though I trained hard, and competed valiantly, the perceived promise came not to pass. On a beautiful late Thursday afternoon near Winder, Georgia, my varsity cross-country career ended with a decently-good, but not state-qualifying, performance in the region meet. Obviously, Philippians 4:13, though expressing wonderful truth, means something else than I thought prior to the 1986 Georgia Region 8-AAA cross-country meet.
Over the years and decades, through study and prayer, to name but two, I have learned what this text means. It means this: No matter the condition in which we providentially find ourselves, we can meet it—and to spare—through Christ, Who strengthens us. Let’s hear more of this as we hear God’s Word read and proclaimed once again in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Let us note the Apostle Paul’s situation at the time of this letter. He has endured much hardship since the start of his walk with Jesus Christ. Paul, through the Holy Spirit, writes to the Corinthian Christian households of his many ministerial woes, up to about A. D. 58:
“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked: a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and in hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
Since writing these woe-filled words, Paul has endured at least two years of house arrest, which ended by A. D. 62, and now—at the time he wrote Philippians—he languishes at the praetorium under more stringent conditions than those of house arrest. Paul’s life is no easier now than five years ago, and it will get worse before it gets eternally better. Yet note the tone of Philippians: a tone of joy.
The Spirit leads Paul to use word rendered joy, rejoice, and the like sixteen times in this brief letter. He has joy in his prayers for the Philippian Christian households. He rejoices in the proclamation of the Gospel, no matter its underlying motive. He urges them, several times, to rejoice in the Lord. Clearly, for Paul, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). Once more cause for rejoicing suffices this morning: Paul has joy in Philippian remembrance of him once again.
Paul knows of the Philippians’ ongoing remembrance of him, but they lacked opportunity until recently (via Epaphroditus, who fell ill nigh unto death bring their gifts to him). He assures them that he is content, no matter his circumstance. The Spirit leads Paul to use Greek autarches (autarchV) for our verb rendered be content. This term expressed the ideal for the Stoic philosopher. Autarches denotes a serene detachment from desires and affections, and it implies ultimate confidence and sufficiency in oneself. This detachment, this resistance to emotional sway, is the goal for the pagan Stoic. Paul’s contentment is surer, because it has firmer foundation.
Paul has learned the secret of facing every circumstance. The secret of meeting every circumstance is union with Christ. Hence, because we are united with Christ, through faith, we can face hunger and need. Also, we can face plenty and abundance, for these present their own challenges as well. In fact, we can face any circumstance because He strengthens us.
The whole of Philippians is a good word to us in our time, but today’s passage speaks with heightened force to our souls. We can have contentment through Christ in any circumstance, because He strengthens us. We also can have joy through Christ in any circumstance, because this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith (1 John v.4). Therefore, we have the resources to meet every circumstance through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Because God is true, and because His Word is true, we can weather this pandemic and its allied ills—economic, political, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual, to name but a few. We also can weather other adversities that befall us in God’s good providence. We even can handle prosperous circumstances, and their lurking ills, such as trust in the prosperity itself rather than in the One Who prospers us, in the proper way. May God give to us each and all the bedrock certitude that we can meet any providential circumstance through Christ, Who strengthens us.
 Sometimes I shall include John 11:27 as well, in which Martha replies, “Yea, Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which was to come into the world.”