The well-known Dallas Theological Seminary professor and Promise Keepers speaker Howie Hendricks used to love to comment on the book of Philippians. He especially liked the passage in the first chapter that talked about “circumstances” (quoting today from the New American Standard Version – the text in most common use during Howie’s lifetime)…
Philippians 1:12 – Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.
Howie liked to imitate conversations when he preached, using a sort of sad, Eeyore-like, woe-is-me voice to mimic someone not exactly walking in the power of the Spirit and the joy of the Lord. He would say something like this, going into an altered voice … “So I said to this fellow, ‘How are you doing?’ And he looked back at me and said, ‘Well, not so bad I guess, under the circumstances.’ And I said to him, ‘Under the circumstances? What are you doing down there?’”
I once did a sermon series on the book of Philippians that I entitled, “Living above the Circumstances.” Indeed, the book of Philippians has a theme throughout that comments upon what it means to live a joyful Christian life in spite of the inevitable sorrows and difficulties in a fallen world. It really coordinates well with our current series on all of Paul’s life.
Again, this is one of four letters (and likely the last of these) that we believe Paul wrote during his first Roman imprisonment. Recalling the passage in Acts that speaks of this …
Acts 28:30 – For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!
Under house arrest and guard by official Roman soldiers, Paul was able to receive visitors openly. Among them was a leader from the church in Philippi named Epaphroditus. Knowing of Paul’s situation, the church sent money to him in order to help facilitate better conditions in his life situation, sending it by this good and capable fellow. So the letter back to them is essentially an extended thank-you note with a great deal of additional thought and detail …
Philippians 4:14 – It was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
The primary theme reverberating throughout Philippians is of Paul’s multiple comments about joy and rejoicing, even in spite of “the circumstances.” Paul always saw God’s hand in everything that happened to him and around him. At times the circumstances would not seem to make sense, but ultimately he would come to see and understand the bigger picture. His life was about serving God, either by living or dying … either was good and in his mind a win-win situation …
Philippians 1:21 – For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
I suppose all of us have circumstances we would like to see changed or reversed. We pray about it and hope for a change; and sometimes it happens, though other times the suffering continues. But in it all we can rest in a brighter and larger plan of God. We’re not abandoned by Him, even when events seem to be against us. We are not beyond being used by Him, even in the most morbid or awful situations and places of life.
It is when we get to a place where we can find joy even in the down circumstances of life that we can know we are actually running the Life Race well. So do you have any circumstances you need to crawl out from beneath today?
I love this because just an hour ago I was talking to someone, and the scripture where Paul said he had learned in whatever state he was in to be content.
Sometimes its tough, but I think if I can learn to do that we wont have as many “I just wish I was” statements flying around. Because like it says in 4:19, my GOD shall supply all of our needs and HE does it. We have no need to want and no need to fear. Circumstances have no rule over us as long as Jesus remains king of kings and we keep HIM on the throne.