“The Lord Our Provider” (Philippians 4:15-23 sermon)

I’ll never forget the time, just after Cheryl & I had graduated from seminary; I only had a part-time job, and we didn’t have any prospects of finding a full-time church yet; we had just had our first child, and we were really struggling financially. We had just paid the electric bill — and now the rent was due, and we did not have the money for it. I had literally no idea what we were going to do. The next day, in the mail, we received a letter from Oklahoma from a high school friend of Cheryl’s. She said God had just laid it on her heart to send us a check — and that check “just so happened” to be the exact amount of the rent that we couldn’t pay!  God provided for us in an amazing way — which is just what our verse for today promises: “My God shall supply all your needs, according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” 

Philippians 4:19 is one of those verses that are so familiar to us, and which so many of us love — and rightly so.  But as we saw last week, sometimes we can take the promises of God out of context, which sometimes happens with this scripture as well. So let’s look at what God promises to us here, and then some important conditions that go along with it: 

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“Christian Contentment” (Philippians 4:10-14 sermon)

In Victor Hugo’s classic, Les Miserables, one of the early heroes in the story, whom the Lord uses to help turn around the life of the convict Jean Valjean, is Bishop Myriel. Unlike many churchmen in France at that time who were debauched and lived in luxury, this bishop was truly a man of God. When he arrived at the parish, he discovered that the “parsonage” they had for him was a luxurious stone palace with arched walks, a garden, and a huge dining hall. After seeing his new home, he went to visit the parish hospital, which was run by the church. There he found dozens of patients crammed into a little one story building. He asked the director of the hospital, “How many patients do you have?” He told them they had 26. The bishop said, it is very crowded. Yes, the doctor said, but “We must be resigned. What can we do?”  Bishop Myriel thought for a moment and said, “There is evidently a mistake here. There are 26 of you in 5 or 6 small rooms; there are only 3 of us, and space for 60. (My dining hall alone will hold 20 beds!) There is a mistake, I tell you. You have my house and I have yours.” And Bishop Myriel switched with the hospital, and lived in the one-story home, while the former parsonage mansion became the hospital. (Les Miserables, pp. 5-6)   Here was a man of God, who was content with much less than what the world said he had to have.  

Godly contentment with our circumstances a sign of spiritual maturity. And it is a RARE quality today, especially in the materialistic society in which we live today, in which we are constantly encouraged to want “more, more, more.”  But this attitude is not limited to our day. It was the same in Paul’s time in the Roman empire, which was known for luxury and excess. But in the midst of all that excess, Paul could write: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” This is God’s goal for US as Christians too, as we mature: to learn to have a godly, Christian contentment with what we have. If we have it, we will definitely be different than those around us — but it is a difference that God wants to see in our lives.

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“Dealing With Worry” (Philippians 4:4-9 sermon)

In Amor Towles’ book, A Gentleman in Moscow, the central figure is a Russian count who has been exiled by the Soviet authorities to live within the confines of a single hotel; he cannot leave it at the risk of his life. At one point in the story, the Count is consumed with worry: “The Count closed his eyes and prepared to drift into a dreamless sleep. But, alas, sleep did not come so easily to our weary friend. Like in a reel in which the dancers form two rows, so that one of their number can come skipping brightly down the aisle, a concern of the Count’s would present itself for his consideration, bow with a flourish, and then take its place at the end of the line so that the next concern could come dancing to the fore.” (p. 267)

Some of us could say that we have had that same experience: one worry takes center stage in our mind, bows — and then the next one appears to take its place! In fact, if the truth be known, I think it might be a lot like last week, when I asked: “Who had some branches down, or lost a fence, or had power out in the hurricane?” — and the answer was, virtually ALL of us; it’s probably very similar this week. Perhaps virtually ALL of deal with worry or anxiety of some kind or another, at some time or another. But worry is NOT a state God wants us to continue in. Verse 5 says, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” That word “gentle” means “mild, forbearing, moderate” — in other words, we are not going around rashly, worrying about everything. God wants us to have a “quiet and gentle spirit” that trusts Him. But how can we achieve that? How do we deal with worry? Our scripture for today specifically deals with that: 

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“Standing Firm in Difficult Days” (Philippians 4:1-3)

So: this year we’ve had COVID, and a devastating winter storm, and now the eye of a hurricane pass right over us. Add to that all of the personal and family trials we’ve each had, and I know some of us are going, “I don’t even want to know what’s next!” right? These are difficult days in which we live. But thank God, we are “not like those who have no hope”! We have an anchor for our lives in the Lord.

So in these difficult days, God tells us here in Philippians, “stand firm.” “Stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” He starts off this passage with the word “Therefore.” Now, nobody just starts off a conversation with “Therefore”! You use it to refer back to something that has just been said. (We saw that in our Sunday school lesson this morning in Philippians 2). Here in Philippians 4, the “therefore” points back to what he had just been talking about at the end of Chapter 3, about how we should not live just for this world, but for heaven, for eternity.  He had said, remember, our citizenship is in heaven; Jesus is coming to take us there, and He will change us, and give us eternal bodies, so that our best days will always be ahead of us forever! So then he says here, “THEREFORE — because of all that — STAND FIRM in the Lord, my beloved.” You’re going to be tempted to live for this world; DON’T give in to it. Keep your Christian testimony & convictions in this morally & spiritually decaying society.  He’s saying, live for the Lord. Live for heaven. “Stand firm”! And he shows us in the next verses, several specific ways in which we can do that:

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“Enemies of the Cross” (Philippians 3:18 sermon)

A few weeks ago, this July, a large cross that stood at the top of Mt. Tzouhalem (zoo-HAY-lem), a popular lookout spot on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada, was cut down overnight, and removed from the area. No one claimed responsibility for it, but many people shared the picture of the vandalized area on social media, and applauded the removal of the cross. One man tweeted that the cross had been removed, and simply commented, “Cool.” 

You might look at the perpetrators of that crime, or at other groups which have lobbied or sued in court for crosses to be removed from public places, and say, These people are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” And in some sense they may be. But the most important issue is not what you do with any physical “cross” made of steel or wood, but what you do with the doctrine of the cross: the Biblical belief that it is the Jesus’ death on the cross that saves us from sin. That is what Paul is referring to in 

Philippians 3:18, where he writes, 

“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ.”

When he calls them “enemies of them cross of Christ,” Paul is not saying that these people are going around removing crosses from public places. He is talking about people who are the enemies of the doctrine of the cross; that the death of Jesus alone which saves us entirely from our sins. Let’s look at several ways that we can be “Enemies of the Cross.” 

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“Which World Are You Living For?” (Philippians 3:18-21 sermon)

Bill Borden was the heir to the Borden milk fortune. When he graduated from Yale, he was offered multiple well-paying positions on boards of directors of major corporations, and he had, materially speaking, everything that a man could want. But instead he gave his money to missions. And he left to go overseas as a missionary, to an unreached Muslim people group, the Kansus, in China.  One the way, he stopped in Egypt to do some language training, and while he was there he caught spinal meningitis. Within a month, Bill Borden was dead. 

Thousands of people in America knew of Bill Borden, and the sacrifice he had made of his fortune to go on mission. And they tell us that when the news of Borden’s passing was made known in America, there was an outcry from the general public, and that outcry was: “What a waste.” What a waste of a life; of what he might have had, as the heir to the Borden fortune, to give it all up and die in a lonely Egyptian desert. “What a waste,” they said.

Was it a waste? I guess it depends on how you look at it. It depends, I would say, on which world you are living for. If all that matters to you is what you own and possess and enjoy in this life, then what Bill Borden did was indeed a waste. It was foolish to throw it all away. But on the other hand, if you’re not just living for this world; if you believe that there is a world to come, a world which will last for an eternity, compared to which the longest life here on earth is but a speck in time, then Borden’s life was not a waste. It all just depends on “which world you are living for.” 

Our passage this morning really divides up into two sections, in which we see two entirely different mindsets represented:

— it shows us that there is one type of person who “sets their minds on earthly things” (the end of :19)

— and then it shows us in :20 that there is a second type of person who says “our citizenship is in heaven.”

The question each one of us needs to consider today is: Which group do YOU belong to? “Which World Are You Living For?” 

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“A Christian Example” (Philippians 3:17 sermon)

“The morning of August 14, 1821, 200 West Point cadets … who were touring New England, marched out from Boston to parade past the house of John Adams, who had been President of the United States 20 years before. Flags were flying, and bands were playing. They said half the town turned out for it. Adams watched from his front porch, and provided breakfast for the cadets at his own expense. When they lined up before him, Adams made a brief speech, his old voice very faint at first but growing stronger as he went on. And what did he tell them? He said they needed to keep the example of the character of George Washington before them at all times. Imitate him. 

You know, I think one of the big problems we have today, is the lack of examples of good character for our young people today like George Washington was for his generation. People need an example to follow. To whom today can we point people to pattern their lives after? Surely not many of the characters they see in the news, and in the movies. But who? Who can they pattern their lives after? Surely the Lord Jesus. But are there living, human example around us that we can imitate now? The Biblical answer is, “Yes!” 

Last week, we talked about the Christian attitudes of humility, and forgetfulness, and ambition. How can we learn these things? Jonathan Edwards wrote there’s 2 means of Christian learning: one is by “precept;” teaching it. The other is by example. Both are commended in Scripture, and our passage for today commends this second: the importance of Christian example.  Paul writes:

“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.

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“Three Christian Attitudes” (Philippians 3:12-15 sermon)

A week after he returned to Washington from his famous speech at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln was sick. It was actually a mild form of smallpox, so like a lot of people today with COVID, most people were being very careful about staying away from him. But one Congressman, Owen Lovejoy, came to see Lincoln anyway, and he saw a door open just enough to see Lincoln in a dressing gown. Lincoln said, ‘Lovejoy, are you afraid?’ He said, ’No, I have had the small-pox,’ and he walked in to visit with Lincoln. He asked the President how he was doing, and he said: ‘Lovejoy, there is one good thing about this. I now have something I can give everybody.’”(Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 448). Well, that was a surprisingly good attitude from Lincoln; a pretty positive way to look at it.

Attitudes are important things, aren’t they? A person’s attitude can make a BIG difference in their own life, and in their relationship with other people. And God tells us that as Christians we are to display certain attitudes.  

We have spent the last two weeks looking at some very important teachings about salvation: emphasizing that salvation is NOT of our works, but through faith in Jesus ONLY. We focused on that pretty strongly for two weeks in a row. Now the scripture here moves on just a bit, to the kind of attitudes that a person is to have who IS a Christian, who HAS this faith in Jesus only. He says in :15, as many of us as are “perfect” — the word “perfect” here really means “mature” — he’s saying if you are a mature Christian, you should “have this attitude.”  What attitudes is he referring to here, that we as mature Christians should have? We see several of them here in this passage: 

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“4 Things That Won’t Save You (and 1 That Will!)” (Philippians 3:4-11 sermon)

In ancient times, they believed that when you were sick, they needed to get the “bad blood” out of you, so they would employ certain treatments they thought would accomplish that. One (which is so gross to many of us today) was to put leeches on the sick person, so that the leeches would suck out the “bad blood” and the illness. Another procedure they used was called “bleeding” — they would surgically cut the person, and just drain their blood, thinking that would make better. Of course, losing all that blood, when they were sick, often had the opposite effect and made the person much worse.  From time to time I’ll be reading some history or biography, and come across a scenario where a person who is sick, and the doctor is going to come in to give them leeches or “bleed” them, and I just want to say: “NO! Don’t do that! That is not going to do what you think it will; it is not going to save them!” 

The same thing is true in the spiritual world. From time to time you come across people who think that doing certain things will get them to heaven, and you want to say, “NO! Don’t do that! That’s not going to save you!”  That is basically what Paul does here in the next verses of Philippians 3. We saw last week where he said in :3 that real religion “puts no confidence in the flesh” but only “glories in Christ Jesus” and what He did for us. Then starting in :4, Paul gives us examples from his own life of what he means by “putting no confidence in the flesh.” He begins listing “good works” and attainments in his life — the kinds of things that he knew that many people in his generation thought would save them — but that he knew would NOT get them to heaven. 

Now, you may look at some of the things on this list and say, “Well, none of US would trust these kinds of thing to save us today” — but you might be surprised. The truth is, many people today do trust the same kinds of things Paul mentions here to make them right with God — and these things will NOT save them! They are as ineffective for your spiritual health & salvation as leeches would be for your physical health & salvation. Let’s look at what Paul talks about here, and make sure you aren’t putting your trust in any of these “Four things that won’t save you.”

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“True Religion” (Philippians 3:2-3)

There are some things on this earth, that it just doesn’t really matter that much what you believe about them. It’s just not that important. For example, you may believe that pecans are God’s gift to humanity. But I myself am honestly just not that fond of pecans. Cheryl loves them; I don’t. But you know: what you believe about pecans doesn’t really make any meaningful difference in this world, does it?

But what you believe about religion DOES make a difference. Now, there are people who say that it DOESN’T matter what you believe; that one religion is just as good as another. But let me tell you: that is a foolish outlook. Religion deals with the nature of the reality of the universe; of what kind of God made all this, and how He deals with us, and how we can know Him — and whether we will live forever in heaven, or in hell. There is nothing in this world more important in life than getting your religion right. I hope you have given some serious, serious thought to it. 

Our passage for today, Philippians 3:2-3, warns us against false religion, and admonishes us to follow the one true religion. Let’s look at what God’s word tells us today about true religion — and make sure that you have it!  

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