Abound by Dr. Abidan Shah

Abound

ABOUND by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson 

Introduction: One sign that a baby is becoming a toddler is that he/she will say, “I do it” when it comes to feeding, putting on their shoes, or other activities that they previously relied on the parents. It’s a good thing because it’s an indication that the child is growing up and becoming independent. It can also be a sad time for some young parents, but I tell them, “Don’t worry. It reverses when they become teenagers!” In our series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we come to the often-quoted passage from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” People claim that as a life-verse. They wear T-shirts with that verse. Athletes even tattoo it on their arms. Unfortunately, they don’t realize that they are talking it out of context. In today’s message, we’re going to learn that when it says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” it’s not talking about overcoming incredible odds or reaching ambitious goals. It’s a declaration of the Christian’s ability to thrive whether one is down or abound. Turn in your Bibles to Philippians 4:10 and our message is titled “ABOUND.”

Philippians 4:10 “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.” What exactly was Paul saying here? To correctly understand this, we need to keep in mind the context of the Philippian church. Externally, they were facing persecution. Internally, they were at odds with each other. Fears without and fightings within. In the midst of all this mess, they had stopped supporting Paul’s ministry. How was he faring? Listen to his description of a similar situation in I Corinthians 4     11 “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 12 And we labor, working with our own hands…” By the way, since he was incarcerated, he couldn’t even work! If he ran out of food, maybe a soldier had pity on him and gave him some scraps. If he was freezing, maybe he found some old rags that he used to keep himself warm. Only eternity will reveal how much Paul suffered for the gospel. Then, there was a knock on the door and there stood a man by the name of Epaphroditus from the church in Philippi. Listen to Philippians 4:18 “Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” As Paul said in Philippians 4:10 “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly,” he began celebrating on receiving the help from the Philippians.

Was Paul desperate for help from the Philippians? 11 “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” The word for learned is “manthano.” Here, it has the idea of a disciple learning how to follow the master. He has learned how to come to the place of being “content” = “autarkeia.” Content is not about be satisfied with you have and don’t get a better phone or an upgraded boat. The way this word is used implies complete readiness to accept whatever God has in store.

What does this kind of life look like? Verse 12 “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.” Abase = “tapeinos,” which implies having a lowly mind like that of Jesus. Abound = “perisseuo,” which meant to be full, beyond, exceed. “Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” This time the word for learned is “myeo” which has the idea of learning how to grow spiritually. Now he says in verse 13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The secret to his contentment is that “he has the strength to deal with all situations through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.” This is not about being 5 foot 3 and being able to dunk, unless you are Muggsy Bogues with a 44-inch vertical jump!

So, yes, Paul rejoiced greatly that the money had come, but, no, he wasn’t desperate.

Now, listen to Paul’s clarification: 14 “Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.” Did Paul depend on the Philippians for money? To answer that, we need to turn again to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians because here he gave us information on how ministries were to be supported. Listen to I Corinthians 9      7 “Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?9 For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain’…10…For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. 11 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?…13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar?” In Judaism, every Jewish male was obligated to pay a half-shekel temple tax, along with the sacrifices. All this was used to support the priests, the Levites, and their families. 14 “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” In other words, those who work in the church are supported by the tithes and offerings of those who are benefitted by the church, just like in the Old Testament temple. Now, Paul did not take any money from the Corinthians because of their bad attitude towards him. Listen to 2 Corinthians 11     7“Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. 9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.” Nonetheless, Paul did not shortchange them. Listen to 2 Corinthians 12    14 Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you…15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls…” The only place Paul did not ease up with the Corinthians was the collection for the poor in Jerusalem. 2 Corinthians 9:7“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Some of you may be wondering, “Why is Pastor Shah talking about all this?” Sometimes, people wonder why we take up tithes and offerings. We are following the pattern set for us by Paul in God’s word. We take up money to support the operation of the church, pay the staff of the church, provide help for those who are struggling near and far, and help missionaries and church planters all over the world to share the gospel and help the needy. We are an exceptional church where people give generously and wholeheartedly. Having said that, not everyone gives and not everyone gives as much as they should. How about you?

Did Paul benefit from his relationship with the Philippians? 17 “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.” Paul was saying that even though he needed the help and he was grateful for the gift, he was not depended on them for survival, nor was he trying to look for the gift. But, by sending their gift, the Philippians have pleased God and now have a share in Paul’s ministry. 18 “Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” Paul described their gifts with the same words that he used to describe the sacrifice of Christ in Ephesians 5:2 “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” Finally, verse 19 “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” In fact, Paul added, God will meet your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

What was Paul really trying to say here? Even though he was depended on them, he was not obligated to them. Even if they supported him financially, he was under God’s control not theirs. So also, people coming from a different church tradition think that since we pay the pastor or staff, he/they does/do what we tell him/them to do. Maybe even, he better do as we tell him to do. Sorry friend. You need to give because it is the right thing for you to do and it is good for you to do. You cannot control God’s ministers with money. If that happens, we will tell you what you want to hear and not what you need to hear.

Have you learned how to abound in Christ? It’s not about having things or not having things. It’s about being content in Christ. Is Christ enough for you?

Are you saved? Do you have Christ?

Perspective by Pastor Abidan Shah

PERSPECTIVE by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

PerspectiveIntroduction:  Growing up our kids loved watching Disney’s “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.” There are 2 characters in that story who are polar opposites: Eeyore the donkey and Tigger the tiger. Eeyore is always pessimistic, gloomy, and glass half-empty kind of character and Tigger is always optimistic, bouncy, and glass half-full kind of character. When you meet Eeyore, he says things like “If it is a good morning, which I doubt” or “Thanks for noticing me.” But, when you meet Tigger, he says things like “Hello! I’m Tigger!” or “Tiggers never get lost!” They have two very different perspectives on the problems in life. I’m sure there are some Eeyores and Tiggers in this room or at least we know some! When we as Christians talk about perspective in the Christian life, we’re talking about something much more than being a spiritual Tigger. That’s our message today titled PERSPECTIVE in our series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Philippians 1    12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Question: Paul refers to being in chains. He is using that word as a figure of speech known as synecdoche which implies that he was in prison. Why was Paul in prison? For preaching the gospel. How did he deal with that? Instead of seeing it as a setback, an obstacle, or as abandonment by God, He saw it as an opportunity to further share the gospel. It’s his perspective on life, problems, and God’s sovereign will that helped him to do that. We all have certain chains in life. How do you see your chains in life? Do you see them as setbacks, obstacles, abandonment by God, or as opportunities to keep sharing the gospel? What is your perspective? Are you saved?

Context:  Listen once again to verse 12. Paul says “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me…” Which things was Paul referring to? As I just mentioned to you, Paul was in prison when he wrote to the Philippians. Now, don’t immediately assume that he was in some dark dungeonous prison with rats, filth, and feet in stocks. The fact that he was able to write this letter tells us that more than likely he was in a house arrest type situation awaiting trial. When Paul talked about “the things which happened” to him, I believe that, he had more than just his house arrest in mind. In Romans 15 Paul had shared with the Roman church his ultimate plans with the gospel 28 “Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain.” Paul had great plans towards the end of his life to take the gospel further out west into Europe. He had big hopes to take the gospel to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire. When Paul was put under house arrest, his great plans had sort of failed. If you read Acts 25, it appears that now he was at the mercy of a corrupt court system. No doubt, he must have been disappointed, discouraged, and even disillusioned.

Application: In life, we have many plans, some very good, noble, and even godly plans, but they don’t always work out. “Things happen.” What is comforting to me is that even someone like Paul who walked very close to God had “things happen to him.” Here’s my encouragement: Don’t interpret your failed plans as some hidden sin or as an abandonment by God. Trust him and his sovereign plan even more.

Listen to how Paul handled his failed plans? 12 “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel…’’ In other words, what Paul thought was the end of the road had actually turned out to be just a bend in the road for the gospel. How is that? 13 “so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ…” In order to truly appreciate this, you need to have some basic understanding of the Roman army. The Romans developed the most effective army ever known in history. At the bottom level was the contubernium, a unit of 8 men. Ten contubernia made one century, that’s 80 men. Six centuries made one cohort, that’s 480 men. Ten cohorts made one legion, that’s 4800. Later in the first century, the first cohort got expanded to twelve centuries, that’s 960 men, making a legion about 5,280 fighting men. Keep in mind that there would be 120 horsemen in a legion and slaves for transportation, doing menial labor, and guarding the camp. I don’t want to get into all those details but you can imagine how vast this enterprise was. Altogether, Emperor Augustus had about 25 legions. The commander of the legion was a senator in his 20s or 30s who was previously a magistrate and had to be appointed by the Emperor.

Where do the palace guards fit in? They were the “praetorian,” the emperor’s personal troops and bodyguards. They were the best of the best. They had to be from Italy. They had significantly higher status than the normal legionaries and had much higher pay and got a lot of special bonuses. They were the ones who made and unmade Emperors. Augustus had 3 cohorts of 480 each around him, that’s about 1500 of the most elite fighting men, and about 6 more cohorts in nearby towns. Out of these elites, there was a higher elite group known as the speculatores Augusti who were on horseback, clearing the way before the emperor when he went through the streets. According to some sources, there was a camp at the northeastern edge of Rome with as many as 9000 praetorians. By the way, they only served for 16 years. What then? They took on high level positions in the legions. Listen again to verse 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ…” Paul is now witnessing to the top brass in the Roman army who have the ability and power to influence so many thousands more! Wow! God works in mysterious ways!

Application: If a believer looks at life only from an earthly, selfish, and fleshy perspective, he or she will get depressed. But, if you look at the things that have happened to you or happening to you from a heavenly, selfless, and spiritual perspective, you will realize that the Holy Spirit has set you up perfectly to further the gospel! The Gospel is the true perspective changer for the believer. This does not mean that you need to just settle for whatever people hand to you. Work to improve your situation but don’t lose sight of why God has allowed you to get to where you are at the moment.

Now that’s just from inside the prison. How about on the outside? 14 “and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” What’s going on now? Word is getting out of how God is using Paul to share the gospel with the elite troops and bodyguards of the Emperor. So, now other believers feeling emboldened by Paul’s position, start sharing the gospel with courage. Billy Graham once said “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.”

For e.g. Nicole and I just watched the movie “Darkest Hour.” Typically, I don’t use movies as sermon illustrations but this one was different. It’s about Winston Churchill and the Nazi invasion of Western Europe. In the face of fear, doubt, skepticism by even his own party, Churchill boldly said, “We shall never surrender!” Thank goodness he did! If not, the world map would be a very different today.

Just when you think that Paul is a glass half-full kind of guy, listen to verse 15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What’s going on? In an agonistic culture where people used every opportunity to self-promote and advance their position in society, some were using Paul’s imprisonment as an opportunity to further their position in church and society! How crazy! Guess what? It happens even today as people compete in ministry. What’s Paul’s response? 18 “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” You have to be close to Jesus to be able to do that!

Now Paul lists 2 things that he needs in a time like this – 19 “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.Also, the deliverance is not just about coming out of prison, as Paul says in verse 20 “according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” What an awesome perspective!

Why did Paul say all this to the Philippians? Was it just to reassure them that he was okay? Was it just a cathartic experience, trying to let it all out? Paul was encouraging the Philippians to imitate him as they faced similar trials. He was reminding them to change their perspective regarding their circumstances. He was teaching them how to see life through the gospel lens.

Invitation: How do you see your job loss, your health problem, your relationship struggle, your financial difficulty? Can you see it through the gospel lens? It is not about glass half-empty vs glass half full. It is about taking the gospel and offering it to some dying thirsting sinner in your path. Are you saved?

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