Circumstances have a very funny way of bringing out the worst within us.
When my circumstances aren’t very difficult, I can easily fall into spiritual laziness or spiritual pride as I pat myself on the back for a job well done. When my circumstances are hard to bear, I can still fall into spiritual laziness or spiritual pride as I beat myself up for my failures.
Circumstances also have a funny way of bringing out the best within us. When my circumstances aren’t very difficult, I sometimes thrive in my relationship with my Father in Heaven as I recognize that he and he alone is responsible for my circumstances and that this momentary reprieve from suffering and hardship is a gift from my loving Father to help me catch my breath between the innings of the game called life.
Alternatively, when my circumstances are very difficult to bear, I also find myself thriving at times in my relationship with God as I recognize again that he and he alone is responsible for my circumstances and that these light and momentary afflictions are a gift from my loving Father that are meant to shape and mold the desires of my heart.
At the end of the day, weather the circumstances of my life are easy or hard, those circumstances are meant to reveal, correct and shape the desires of my heart. The heart is always the heart of the issue. The reason that my reactions speak louder than my actions or my words is because my reactions reveal what’s truly happening in my heart.
Most scholars would agree that the heart is a very scary place to travel around in because the heart is unpredictable. The mind is a much easier place to travel around in because the mind can be mapped out and trained whereas the heart has hidden agendas, broken places and dark rooms that are in need of transformation.
This is why it’s often easier for me to talk about the big bad old world out there or those foolish pagans in that other state or across the street while only giving a brief and veiled glance at the condition of my own heart. I must constantly be reminded that to be consumed with them and they out there is to be negligent of the important things going on in here.
My heart is the heart of the issue when it comes to circumstances that squeeze me for a reaction. When my reactions are laced with self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreement and division then I must return to the rocky terrain of my heart to invite the Spirit of God to reveal, to correct and to shape my heart’s desires.
Oftentimes I find that my desires for comfort, control, power or acceptance are running rampant up and down the hallways of my heart. It’s like I need a defibrillator to jump start my heart. I need a shock to kill my out of control desires.
It’s as though the apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit knew that I and you and the Philippian believers need this kind of shock therapy for our hearts. We are in constant need of a shock to our systems if we are to wage war together against the sin infection that seeks to destroy our souls.
Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9 – 11 is like a shock to the systematic sin that infects every one of us. Look at what Paul prays in Philippians 1:9 – 11 with me…
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment. 10 So that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness through Christ Jesus, to the glory and praise of God.
We have to remember that Paul is writing this love letter to Philippian believers like Lydia the wealthy saleswoman, an unnamed ex-slave, ex-demon possessed girl and a Roman prison guard (Acts 16:6 – 40). The Philippian church was a very diverse family. But despite its diversity, the Philippian church struggled with common sins. Self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreement and division were common sin-infections that threatened to destroy the church’s fellowship and testimony (Phil. 2:3 – 4; 14 – 15; 4:2 – 3).
And the remedy for the infection is Paul’s instructions to put on the mind of Christ, work out your own salvation in Christ and to stand firm in the joy of Christ (Phil. 2:5 – 8; 12 – 13; 4:1; 4 – 7). In a nutshell, the apostle Paul instructs the Philippian believers to keep the crucified, risen and returning Christ at the center of everything and his instructions aren’t given without personally modeling what it looks like to keep Christ at the center. Instruction that isn’t backed up by personal example is inauthentic at best and legalistic or moralistic at worst.
So, the apostle Paul, who famously said: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1), gives his listeners both instructions and a living example to model their lives after. Paul’s circumstances are dismal at best. He’s chained to a Roman guard in a prison cell (Phil. 1:13) for preaching the gospel and he’s there because people who should have been his friends had become his enemies.
But Paul knows that God has a higher purpose for his afflictions (Phil. 1:12) so he seeks to instruct and to model what it looks like to have a heart that is wholly devoted to the Lord and full of gratitude, joyful prayer, a sense of belonging, assurance, fellowship and affection (Phil. 1:3 – 8). One only needs to examine verses 3 – 8 of chapter one to see the example of Christ centered reaction in the midst of dire circumstances.
Flowing out of that example of Christ centered reaction in the midst of dire circumstances are the words of Paul’s pastoral prayer for his friends in Philippi. His prayer may have come as a shock to his friends.
If I put myself in their shoes, understanding that the Philippian church was rife with self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreements and division, then it’s not a far stretch to say that Paul’s prayer would have come as a shock to the systematic sin that had infected this precious church family.
Paul’s prayer is simple. He prays that the love and knowledge and discernment of Christ would grow in his friends. Why does he pray for this? He prays for this because he knows that if their hearts are filled with Christ centered love, knowledge and discernment then the character of their lives will prove or give evidence to what is excellent, pure and blameless.
How will all of this happen? How will they become full to overflowing with Christ-like love, knowledge and discernment? How will they become transformed from self-centered, prideful, complaining, argumentative, disagreeing and divisive people into people who are characterized by excellence, purity and blamelessness?
The answer is that this kind of transformation will take place as they receive the shock therapy of the gospel.
We must remember that these folks in Philippi had been believers for maybe twelve years or more. If they were infected with self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreements and division then how do you think they would react to hearing Paul’s prayer for them? I can just hear the reaction of my own soul when I am caught up in the chains of self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreeing and divisiveness.
My reactions at first would probably be full of the infectious puss of my heart and soul. Why would he pray for me this way? What gives him the right to pray for me this way? I don’t need him to point out my sin. He can’t see into my heart. Only God can judge me. Who does he think he is anyway? To characterize me as someone who needs to love more. Paul doesn’t see my day-to-day activity. I’ve got a list of people that would stick up for me and explain how I’ve loved people really well; how I’ve grown in my knowledge of God; how I often practice discernment; how the externals of my life are excellent and pure and blameless.
This is the heart reaction of a person that lives in the bondage of self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreeing and divisiveness. I know it all too well because I travel down these roads on an almost daily basis. And underneath all of that junk lies the heart that is full of corruption. Underneath all of this junk lies a heart that constantly rages out of control with desires for comfort, control, power and acceptance. And the only remedy for my sin-sick soul is to reapply the gospel like a healing balm. The gospel is like shock therapy for sin infected hearts.
#1: I NEED THE LOVE, KNOWLEDGE AND DISCERNMENT OF CHRIST
Loving the unloveable is what Jesus does best. Knowledge in and of itself puffs me up but when I remember that Jesus knows every dark and dirty place of my heart and still loves me completely, I am set free from my self-centered need to complain, argue, disagree and cause division. I have to constantly remind myself that Jesus loves me at my worst and therefore I can rightly love others when they are at their worst. I need the love, knowledge and discernment of Christ.
#2: I NEED THE EXCELLENCE, PURITY AND BLAMELESSNESS OF CHRIST
Jesus walked this sin-infected earth in complete sinlessness therefore he was perfectly pure and blameless. His character was without spot or wrinkle or blemish. My life will never be completely free of the spots, wrinkles and blemishes of sin this side of Heaven.
But this truth gives me no excuse to walk in sin, to attempt to cover my sin with my works, to downplay my sin with excuses or to dismiss my sin by blaming others. I have to constantly remind myself that Jesus has taken my sin upon himself at the cross and he has given me his excellence, his purity and his blamelessness like a new set of clothes. I need the excellence, purity and blamelessness of Christ.
#3: I NEED THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST
This last point really flows out of the previous one. Righteousness is like holiness. Oftentimes, we Christians stand accused of self-righteous, holier-than-thou kinds of attitudes and oftentimes those accusations are true of us.
It’s not hard to imagine that these accusations were true of the Philippians who were becoming known for their self-centeredness, their pride, their complaining, their arguing, their disagreements and their division.
A quick glance at the social media posts of professing Christians today, a listening ear to the prayers of the “righteous” for the “unrighteous” and a long pause listening to the reactions of my own heart to the circumstances we are currently living in will prove that we are no different than the Philippian believers.
To be full of the fruit of righteousness to the glory and praise of God is to listen to the command of God to be holy as I am holy; righteous as I am righteous (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:16). This is an impossible thing to do.
We cannot perform works of righteousness to build up our righteousness. This is a humiliating, pride murdering, principle to understand. The only way to produce works of righteousness is to be filled with the presence of righteousness.
And the only way to be filled with the presence of righteousness is to spend time in the presence of my heavenly Father confessing my sin and hearing him say once again that I am his son, deeply loved, perfectly acceptable, no longer a slave, no longer condemned, completely redeemed and priceless in his sight because of the work of Jesus at the cross and the empty tomb.
When Paul prays that the Philippians would be transformed into people who were filled with Christ-like love, knowledge and discernment with characters that were full of excellence, purity and blamelessness by the power of the fruit of Christ’s gift of righteousness, he’s simply praying that they would keep Christ at the center of everything.
If Christ crucified, risen and returning is at the center of my heart and mind then the love, knowledge and discernment of Christ will overflow in and through me. My character will be formed, transformed, into the excellent, pure and blameless image of Christ. The fruit of the imputed righteousness of Christ will be produced in me to the glory of God the Father.
Self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreements and division with their counterpart desires for comfort, control, power and acceptance, all have a place where they go to die; they go to die at the foot of the bloody cross in the doorway of an empty tomb in the light of the promise of Heaven.
So, my final word to you today is this…
- What is your reaction? How are you reacting to the circumstances you currently find yourself in? How are you reacting to this sermon right now?
- Where are you aware of the presence of self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreements and divisiveness in your heart?
- In what ways are the desires for comfort, control, power and acceptance running roughshod in your heart?
- Where do you need to lay hold of the love, knowledge and discernment of Christ again? In your interactions with your family; your friends; your coworkers; your enemies?
- Where do you need help with walking in excellence, purity and blamelessness? In your management of wealth; stewardship of time; investment in relationships; sacrificing of your resources; protection of your eyes and ears?
- Where do you need the shock therapy of the gospel of Christ’s righteousness given to you and your filthiness taken by him?
As I said at the beginning of this message, circumstances have a funny way of exposing the ugliness of our hearts but they also have a funny way of shaping and transforming our desires into a reflection of Christlikeness that is full of godly love, knowledge, discernment, excellence, purity, blamelessness and righteousness so that we may live lives that praise and glorify God.
You and I don’t have to live in the shackles of our self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreements and divisiveness any longer.
The truth of Christ crucified, risen and returning is the shock therapy that our hearts need today and everyday. Our Father loves you completely and his Spirit is available to convict you of your sin and apply the healing balm of the gospel to your sin-tortured heart.
Let me pray Paul’s prayer over us as we close our time together today:
“Father, please fill us with your love and help us to love the most unlovable just as you’ve loved us. Fill our hearts with the knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf and help us to discern where we are broken and in need of your help. Please wash us clean from our sin and our rebellion. Reveal to us where we’ve been caught up in the deceptive traps of self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreements and divisiveness. Help us to live lives that prove what is most excellent and pure so that we may be a reflection of the blameless image of your Son, Jesus. Please apply the humiliating and humbling fruit of your righteousness over our filthy sin-infected hearts once again. Thank you for loving us so much that you would send your one and only Son to die a criminal’s death for us so that we may become sons and daughters in your family. Thank you for not leaving us alone in the midst of our self-inflicted, sin-infect circumstances. We love you Lord. Amen.”
I Love you guys.