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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 10.30am service, 2004-05-02

Text: Philippians 4:1-13

One of the blessings of coming to church every Lord's Day, is that as you hear God's Word being preached, you discover the answers to many questions that have been bothering you. The Word of God gives us the best answers on any question of life, eg. Is there life after death? How can I know about God? Why is there so much trouble in the world today? This morning, we will hear the Word of God answering an important question for us: How can a person cope with every situation in life?

If you were to go out on the streets and ask anyone you meet this question, you will probably get different answers. Some of them will say, 'You can cope with every situation by knowing how to relax and just enjoy yourself' And this is why when things go badly for many people you will find them turning to recreation, or meditation. Some others turn to intoxicating liquor, drugs, gambling, entertainment, or immoral relationships just to get their mind off their trials and difficulties. But these things provide only a quick temporary relief for them, and sometimes they make the problems worse.

Others who are asked the question may say: 'Well, you can cope with every situation in life by having good friends who can help you.' And so they make sure that they have a good friend who is a doctor to heal them when they fall sick, they make friends with a lawyer, in case they ever have to face a lawsuit, and with a computer technician, in case their PC crashes.

But the main problem with this solution is that friends sometimes let us down. We know that friends change as the years go by. Someone who may be very warm and close to you now may become cold and uncaring later on. In vv.2-3 of our text we can see a sad example of this, where Paul says: 'I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.' Here were two Christian women, named Euodias and Syntyche, who once worked closely together with Paul and were probably good friends before. But now some disagreement has arisen between them and they were now at odds with each other. Since close friendships even among Christians can end up like this, it would not be wise for you to depend on friends to help you cope with every situation in life.

Another suggested answer to the question is to have much material wealth and possessions. Some people will say, 'Make as much money as you can now, while you can, so that when things go badly for you, you will have nothing to worry about. Money can solve everything for you.' But the main problem with this is that when the real crunch comes, one will discover that money does not solve everything. A person may have all the money in the world, and still not be able to cope with every situation in life. 

Now that we have seen that pleasure, friends and money cannot enable us to cope with every situation in life, we wonder if anyone can give us an answer. And the answer comes from a prisoner in Rome. Listen to what he wrote: 'I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.' (Philippians 4:11,12) Now here was a person who had truly learned how to cope with every situation in life! And he was none other than the apostle Paul. To him it made no difference whether he had much or little. His joy, peace and contentment was always the same no matter what happened, whether he was safe or shipwrecked, free or imprisoned, alone or with many friends. If you were to read the whole story of Paul's life as told in chapters 9-28 of the book of Acts, you would see how calm and peaceful he always remained in any situation.

And so we must turn to Paul to ask him about how one can cope with every situation in life. And as we listen to his words of wisdom that comes from God Himself, this is what he would say: 'Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.' (v.4) Now please note that the most important words in this answer are the words 'in the Lord'. The Lord Jesus Christ is the source of this profound joy. Let us look also at v.7. Here we see Paul talking now about the peace of God which passes all understanding and is able to keep hearts and minds from being troubled by worry and fear. Where does this peace come from? The answer is found at the end of that verse: Christ Jesus! Now look at vv.11-13. Here we see the apostle Paul talking about his ability to be contented in whatever state he was in. And what was the source of his contentment? The answer is found in v.13, 'I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.'

Let us look now at v.19. Here Paul spoke confidently about God's supply for the needs of the Philippians. And what was the grounds for the sufficient supply of the Philippians? The answer at the end of the verse is: Christ Jesus!

And therefore we have now finally found the full answer we are looking for to the question, 'How can a person cope with every situation in life?' It is through Jesus Christ! Christ is the ultimate source of a Christian's joy, peace, contentment, and sufficiency. It is through Him that we can cope well with every kind of situation in life. Now let us study our text further and consider each of the situations given here. The first situation is found in vv.4-5 and it is: 

I. Coping with Hostility and Persecution (vv.4,5)

In v.5 the Philippians are told, 'Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.' The background for this is that the Philippian Christians were facing persecution from men outside the church. According to Philippians 1:28 the persecution was so intense that some Christians were even terrified or frightened by it ('And in nothing terrified by your adversaries'). There may have been threats and abuse hurled against the church. In 2:15 we can see how hostile the environment of the Philippian church was, when Paul described it as a 'crooked and perverse nation.' 

When faced with such opposition, Christians may be tempted to fret and retaliate or take certain defensive measures that would make the situation worse. But Paul wanted them to show moderation toward these hostile people, and 'moderation' here is a word that means gentle forbearance, the willingness to be kind and considerate. Now it would be quite impossible for the Christians to do this, unless they dealt first with their own unsettled feelings toward their persecutors by rejoicing in the Lord. Thus, Paul said in v.4 'Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.'

What does it mean for one to rejoice in the Lord? One verse where the same words are found is Psalm 33:1 'Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright.' This shows us quite clearly that rejoicing in the Lord involves praising Him. When we rejoice in the Lord, our minds must be directed to praise God for all that He is, the infinite and eternal God who is unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. 

When you praise the Lord, you will soon realise how much greater He is than all the difficulties and problems that may plague your life. When you praise the Lord, you will also realise that He is in sovereign control of all the circumstances of your life. A few weeks ago someone sent me an SMS message that read like this: 'In times of difficulties don't ever say, 'God, I have a big problem.' But instead, say, 'Hey problem, I have a big God!'

And so, dearly beloved, let us really learn to rejoice in the Lord always. Let your heart be lifted up with praises God when you face any difficult situation in life. Your whole perspective of the situation will be changed. Rejoicing in the Lord always can keep you going and going in times of sickness, sorrow, setback, and disappointments. In the case of the Philippians, rejoicing in the Lord enabled them to give a moderate, kind and forebearing response to those who were hostile toward them. Rejoicing in the Lord kept them from being terrified by their oppression. 

Now, to give even more encouragement to the Philippians to be moderate and forbearing to their persecutors, Paul adds 'The Lord is at hand.' Or in other words: 'Jesus is coming very soon.' Why did he say this? Because when the Lord comes, all this hostility against Christians will stop. Hence, a new meaning is now given to rejoicing in the Lord - rejoicing in the hope of His soon return!

Let us go on now to another situation which we often need help to cope with, and this is the situation of

II. Coping with Worry and Anxiety (vv.6-9)

Look at vv. 6-7. Here Paul tells us to 'Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.'

The words 'be careful for nothing' really means 'do not worry about anything.' Do you know that worrying is one of the worst habits that has afflicted mankind? It causes people to lose sleep, lose their appetite and lose their effectiveness. Medical research has proven that worry breaks down our body's resistance to disease, and causes stomach ulcers, headaches and heart problems. When carried to an extreme, worrying brings about severe depression, irrational behaviour and it may even drive a person to suicide.

If you have a bad habit of worrying a lot, the Word of God says that you should counteract it by cultivating the good habit of praying a lot and casting all your cares upon the Lord. As you pray, your worrying will gradually give way to a wonderful sense of serene calmness and peace. This is an inward peace that comes from God, a wonderful peace that passes all understanding. This is the peace that Jesus promised in John 14:27 when He said, 'Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.' There is nothing in this world that can ever bring such perfect calmness and peace to the anxious or worried Christian, than prayer!

Some have likened this peace that comes from praying, to the miracle that Jesus performed in calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. The strong winds and the waves threatened to sink the boat with Jesus and His disciples in it. And as the disciples called on Him to help them, he just said, 'Peace, be still.' And immediately all was calm and quiet.

One good illustration of this change that prayer brings can be found in the prayer made by Hannah, the mother of Samuel. According to 1 Samuel chapter 1, Hannah was married but had no children. This situation bothered her so much that she cried with a grieved heart and refused to eat. Then she went up to the Lord's house to pray, and there she poured out her heart to the Lord so emotionally there that the priest thought that she was drunk with wine. But after she had prayed, the Bible tells us in 1 Samuel 1:18 that she 'went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.' The storm in her heart had been calmed by the Lord. The peace of God which passes all understanding was keeping her heart and mind. And God even answered her prayers by giving her a son named Samuel!

Returning to our text in Philippians, we go on to the next two verses where Paul continues to prescribe practical helps to keep oneself from worrying. Very often, the problem of worrying and anxiety is started by a wrong thinking process: dwelling on very negative and unrealistic thoughts. To counteract this, the apostle Paul tells us in v.8, 'Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.'

Some have called this short passage, 'the charter for Christian thought.' If we discipline our thought life along these lines, we will find it a lot easier to cope with life. Let us study briefly each of the terms that are found here: The word 'true' has the sense of valid, reliable and honest - the opposite of false. Truth is a characteristic of the Lord. The word 'honest' refers to a quality that earns respect and honour from others. The word 'just' refers to what is upright, conformable to the Lord's moral standards. The word 'pure' emphasises moral purity. The word 'lovely' relates to what is pleasing, agreeable or amiable. The words 'good report' denotes what is attractive. The word 'virtue' means excellence, and the word 'praise' means 'worthy of praise.'

Now I want you to note that all these terms can easily be used to describe the things that are related to the Lord Jesus Christ. All that is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, attractive, virtuous and praiseworthy can easily be found in His Teaching, His Kingdom, His work in our lives and even Christ Himself. And so we should make it a point to think about these things. Learn to make Jesus Christ the centre of your thinking. Don't let your mind dwell on negative things, things that are sinful and worldly. But let your mind dwell instead on Jesus Christ and on things that are related to Him as often as you can.

This idea is reinforced by the next verse where Paul refers to what the Philippians have learned, received, seen and heard from Paul, which would probably be all about Christ, His teachings, His kingdom, and His work. And Paul wanted them not just to think about them, but also to put them into practice. He said, 'Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, DO.' (v.9). Right thinking is not much use unless it leads to right action. 

To summarise this section, we can say that: Christian living begins with the mind and the heart. If you want to live as a Christian you must first think as a Christian. And you also need to guard your heart and mind well by praying your worries and anxieties away and by letting your mind dwell on things that are related to Jesus Christ. Having seen how to cope with the situations of persecution and worrying, we now proceed to look the next situation where we sometimes need to cope with: This is the situation of:

III. Coping with One's State of Poverty or Prosperity (vv.10-13)

Let us read v.10 'But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again' Here Paul took the opportunity to thank the Philippians for sending him a generous gift to take care of his personal needs. But he very quickly emphasizes in the next verse that his joy in the Lord was not at all dependent upon how rich or poor he was. 'Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.' (v.11) Paul had learnt to be content with whatever he had. He found that he could be contented with much, and he could also be contented with little. 

And Paul himself would also never be able to be content on his own strength. He actually needed help to be content. The contentment that he mentioned here came through Jesus Christ, as he says in v.13 'I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.' It was only through Jesus Christ alone that he coped very well with any personal situation - whether it was poverty or prosperity. And since Paul is set by the Lord as an example for us to follow, let us learn to be content with whatever state we find ourselves in. Like him, we should know how to abound and how to be abased. We too can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. 

And we really need this strength now from our Lord, to keep ourselves contented in a materialistic world. Sometimes we see our contemporaries moving up to higher standards of living and we do not want to feel 'left behind.' We are tempted to be discontented with our present standard of living. When that temptation comes please remind yourself that this is all part of the world's value system. Christ our Lord Himself warns us in Luke 12:15, 'Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.' Dearly beloved, your lifetime is too precious to be wasted on merely gathering more and more material possessions or great wealth, motivated by unceasing feelings of discontentment in us. 

Human life was meant for much better and nobler purposes than this. We were created to fulfil the supreme purpose of serving and worshipping the Lord. Let us then use this precious life we have wisely: Let us live to serve and worship the Lord Jesus Christ, and let us learn to be content with whatever material provisions He provides for us. The Word of God tells us in 1 Timothy 6:6 'Godliness with contentment is great gain.' And how can we be content? V.13 says: Through Christ Jesus who strengthens us!

Thus in this message we have seen how Jesus Christ is our source of joy to cope with hostility and persecution, our source of peace to cope with worry and anxiety, and also our source of contentment to cope with poverty and prosperity! Through Him, we can surely cope with every situation in life. As we partake of the Lord's Supper this morning let us listen to the assurances and promises that the Lord gives us through His Word to strengthen us to cope with whatever situation you may be facing right now.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25