Have you ever noticed what Paul said in Philippians 4? We find him saying things like:
- Rejoice in the Lord always; Again, I say, rejoice!
- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
- My God shall supply all your needs through his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say those things in our own lives?
We have a couple of guys in our church who run marathons. I think it would be cool to run a marathon. I think I’ll do it next week. If you knew me, you’d think that’s laughable. Though I exercise each week, I haven’t run much at all in several years. No way I’d be able to run a marathon next week.
My daughter likes to watch medical shows on TV. Pretty cool how they help people with those surgeries. I think I’ll take up surgery next week. I’m sure the unanimous comment is, “Not on me!” Though I’ve done successful surgeries on electronics before, surgery on a living being – at least one that you want to remain living after the surgery – requires years of education and training. No way I could do that next week.
I like music. One of the pieces I’ve liked over the years is Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A. I first heard it years ago, in an arrangement for flute and guitar. I don’t remember who was playing the guitar, but I’m pretty sure Jean Pierre Rampal was playing the flute. No way I could play two instruments, so I’ll just aim to play it on piano next week. Again everyone who knows me laughs. While I can play a couple of songs “one finger” on the piano, and am well enough educated to know that pianos have 88 keys, I’ve never had a piano lesson in my life.
In each of these cases – running a marathon, doing surgery, or playing beautiful music – discipline is required. In each case I must submit myself to a particular way of life before I will ever make progress. It’s the same way with Paul in Philippians 4. With our cherry picking propensity, we easily identify these verses in Philippians 4 as favorites. We memorize them (maybe), and let them cheer us up. And they can do that. But by ignoring their context, we miss their real power.
If we begin at chapter 1 of Philippians, we find Paul in prison. He doesn’t know whether he’ll live or die. The soldiers could come in at any time and say, “Let’s go Paul, time for your execution.”
Prison? Execution? Not my idea of a “Rejoice in the Lord always” environment. Not a situation in which I’d be thinking, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. “My God will supply all your needs through his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” would probably not be my first thought. Instead I might be thinking, “Get me out of here God! I’ve served you faithfully all these years, and here I am in jail – and it’s all your fault!”
And yet we see Paul saying things like, “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” What made the difference? It was Jesus. More than that, it was taking up the way of Jesus as the determinative pattern of his life. In Philippians 2 we see Paul looking at Jesus. Jesus did count count equality with God as something to be exploited, but made himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant, humbling himself even to the point of death on a cross.
In Philippians 3 we see that Paul has taken that story of Jesus and made it his own. A Hebrew of Hebrews. Of the tribe of Benjamin. A zealous Pharisee, so serious about his business, so dedicated to the way of God, that he took it upon himself to persecute the church. As to legalistic righteousness, faultless. But he didn’t settle for that. Instead, he counted all that as loss – as rubbish – that he might gain Christ and be found in him. He would depend on Christ’s righteousness, not his own. He sought conformation with Christ – even in his suffering, even in his death – so that he might also be conformed with him in his resurrection.
It was only by taking up the way of Jesus as his own way of life, that Paul was able to become the kind of person who was able to say what he said when he said it. If we want to be able to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” the only way is to become the kind of people who take up the way of Christ as our own.