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About this series
I Choose Joy
How to Live Life Above Your Circumstances
In the midst of difficulty, chaos, and continual pressure, what is it that sets a believer apart from the crowd? What causes people to notice that there's something supernatural at work in their lives? In this series, from the book of Philippians, Chapter 1, Chip tells us it's joy! He explains how understanding the power of focus, purpose, hope, and expectation enables an ordinary believer to live life above circumstances, weather the worst storms, and experience true joy.More from this series
The last question and the last key word that we are going to look at is the word expectation. And this, for me, is one of the most important ones.
I have a good, really, really good friend. They are family, they have been at all of my kids’ weddings, they were sort of like the grandparents or aunts and uncles my kids didn’t have because we lived so far away.
And it’s a couple – she found out she has pre-cancer and some cancer and she had surgery Wednesday and I went to see her a couple days ago. I walked in, “Bebe, how you doing?” She is bright and bubbly and, “Great!” I said, “But didn’t you just have colon cancer surgery?” She goes, “Yeah!” And I said, “Well,” I’m thinking, I’m glad you’re doing so well, but, how are you doing so well? This joyful look! She goes, “Wow! When they, before they did the surgery, the said, ‘We are likely going to have to take about twelve inches out of your colon.’ They took four! ‘And then, if it doesn’t fit quite together, there’s a chance that you might have one of those bags on the side for a while. And then we will come back and do another surgery.’ I don’t have any bags! ‘And not only that, but you’ll be in here at least six days in the hospital,’ and that was Wednesday,” she goes, “I’m going home tomorrow.”
Now, just listen very carefully. Her expectations were: a foot out of her colon, six days in the hospital, and the potential of wearing a bag on her side and another surgery. Her experience is: only four inches! I get to go home in a couple days!
Contrast that with someone else who walks in, they do an examination, they say, “Oh, some possible cancer. We are going to put you to sleep, the colonoscopy didn’t show what we needed to show, we are going to take a long needle, stick it in there, we might have to do a short exploratory surgery. It doesn’t look bad at all. We think it’s benign. I have seen this a lot of times. You’ll only be under for less than an hour. It’s not a big deal.” And you wake up several hours later and they say, “We took four inches out of your colon. You’re going to be in the hospital for four days.” What’s the difference? Oh my gosh! Your life and perspective and mine is geared around expectations.
I had a young couple come to me and they have been married about two or three years, and they were committed to the Lord and they were involved in ministry and, “We both waited.” I said, “What do you mean?” “We did not have sex before we got married. We did it God’s way. And we thought it would be great and we would have great sex in our marriage. It’s terrible!” Expectation.
I remember playing golf with a guy a couple years ago, driving around in a cart in Indiana. Really nice guy, had done really well, didn’t start his family until late, had a couple small kids, and his wife has this burden for international kids. They adopted three kids from China.
Money, time, energy – all that they have done – how could you do something better and more loving than adopting kids from China? And they just thought, God’s blessing, His favor. Well, you know what? His blessing and His favor was there. But all three kids have been in counseling. They have been in counseling. The medical bills have been off the charts, they have had two or three special surgeries.
And he sat across from me and he goes, “I just, I didn’t know if our marriage was going to make it. I didn’t know if I was going to make it.” And then he said this: “I don’t know if I would have done it if I would have known how hard it is, but my expectations were so out of whack, it has taken about four or five years to realize it’s really, really hard,” and then he smiled, “and it’s really, really worth it.”
Here’s the question: where are your expectations? What do you expect from God? What do you unconsciously think, especially if you listen to some of the current teaching? If you love Jesus, your marriage will be great. If you’re single, this person is going to walk into your life. If you love Jesus and especially send some money to their ministry and just think positive thoughts, everything is going to be great! Your kids are going to turn out right. Everything is wonderful.
Do you know why so many Christians are disillusioned? Because here’s the principle: the distance between your expectations and your experience is disappointment. And if you have unrealistic, delusional expectations, you get devastated.
Open your notes, let’s learn from the apostle Paul very specifically – what can we expect from God? And what does God expect of us?
He’s in prison. He is chained to these praetorian guards. He’s wondering whether, I’m going to be executed or whether I’m going to be released?
His circumstances are terrible, but he has an upward focus and an outward focus. He’s asking the question: What’s my purpose? And, now, he doesn’t know whether he is going to get to see this Philippian church that he loves deeply or whether he is going to die. And he has gotten some reports from one of their members, Epaphroditus. And there’s some disunity in the church and there’s also a culture in Rome and a culture in Philippi that is anti, anti, anti-Christian. It’s described as: these are the people that have turned the world upside down and in Acts it describes them as, “Everywhere people speak of this sect negatively.”
So, if you feel like the world is getting a little harder for Christians in the United States, if you feel like there’s some persecution happening, if you think that you’re labeled, they’ve got this on steroids.
And so in his final thoughts about choosing joy in chapter 1, he wants to set clear expectations. He wants them to understand: Look, this is what God expects of you in terms of your behavior, in terms of your beliefs, and in terms of your boldness.
And then he’s going to say: But I want you to also to know, this is what you can expect from God. Because if you don’t get clear, accurate, biblical expectations, you can actually have a pretty good life and be miserable because you think it ought to be a perfect life.
In one of my deepest times of marital struggle, and after lots of counseling I had such skewed expectations the first few years. I remember reading a line by Francis Schaeffer in one of his books. And he just said in passing, “A lot of people give up on a good marriage because it’s not a perfect marriage.”
And I was one of those people that privately inside was, “It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t what I thought, every area wasn’t…”
And so I want you to begin to ask yourself: What’s the issue that you’re struggling with or the person. And then I want you to listen carefully, because God is going to tell you: this is what He expects of you. And, by the way, when you give to God what He expects of you, there’s this domino effect where He begins to provide for you what you need. And He changes what happens on the inside.
So with that, we pick it up. Paul says: This is my final lesson. What does God expect? He expects consistent conduct. Verse 27, “Whatever happens,” he’s finalizing, literally, “at all cost, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,” circle the little word: manner worthy.
It’s an interesting New Testament word. The Philippians would immediately recognize where he’s going. He’s taking part of their personal experience and he is going to give them this little parallel.
Philippi was a Roman colony. Now, it’s not all that close to Rome, but there was a war earlier between some generals. And Caesar and the little town of Philippi decided, “We are going to go with Caesar.” And Caesar won and so Rome made them an official colony. And to have citizenship was like, “Whoa.”
There were privileges. The Roman army, the Roman, all the aqueducts, everything that came with being a Roman citizen, Philippi really felt like, “Wow.”
But there was also responsibility of being a Roman citizen. You paid taxes to Caesar, there are certain laws that you kept, there was a certain way that you would be aligned. And so this word, really what he is saying is: Here’s what God expects. At all cost, literally, live like a citizen of the kingdom of God. You need to be one of those Christians that actually lives like a Christian. I don’t know where I heard that before.
But after traveling around probably six, seven years ago. And after traveling around America and teaching at a lot of churches and being with pastors and then I had a suspicion and then I remember picking this book up by John Dickerson and he started to talk about that the numbers of genuine Christians in America is highly inflated. They are more hated. The Church, in general, is going bankrupt – the next fifteen or twenty years at the current rate of giving and commitment. The morality in the Church.
Just, he goes through and basically does a diagnostic evaluation of born-again, Evangelical, people who actually believe the Bible, following Jesus. And he says, “They are on life-support.” The Church in America is descending. And this sparked, it sparked a movement among pastors.
And the answer, he said, is discipleship. And that’s really how God connected our hearts. And what the apostle Paul is saying, back then, was: the problem with the Philippians is you’re in danger of being Christians that don’t live like Christians. Your behavior, your morality, your finances, your priorities, your family – you say you love Jesus but your beliefs and your behavior is telling two different stories.
And, I don’t know, when I grew up, when your beliefs said this and your behavior said this, we called it “hypocrisy.” And what God wants is, we’re never going to be one hundred percent aligned, but what He wants is integration. He wants alignment, not perfection.
The alignment between what I say and how I live. The alignment where my words, my life, my energy, and my money align with what I say I believe. And when they don’t, it’s not that I’m a terrible person. I ask God to forgive me and I am honest and vulnerable about: I’m still on the journey.
And what Paul is saying is: This is what God expects. And then the very next line, you can imagine them thinking, Well, how would you ever know for sure whether you’re a Christian who is living like a Christian; whether you really are a kingdom citizen living consistently?
Well, in the very next verses he explains. He says, What does it look like? This consistent conduct? “Then whenever I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel; without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you – and this will be a sign to them that they will be destroyed but that you will be saved, and that by God.”
In essence, he says, Okay, now, if I die, I’m not going to get to see you again. If I live and I am released, I am going to come see you again. But whether I see you again or don’t see you again, let me give you three specific ways that God measures whether you’re living a consistent life, a life that is aligned with His purposes and His will.
Now, I would like you to circle three words, and I tried to make it as easy as possible. You notice they are in bold, right? Okay? I want you to circle, he says, the first thing is that you are standing firm, and then underline, “in one spirit.” And I’ll explain it in just a minute. You’re standing firm in a culture that is against you. But, notice, you’re doing it in unity, in one spirit. You’re together on this.
Second, circle the words, “contending as one man.” Literally, it’s one soul. You’re in this together, but you’re contending for the faith. Put a box around the word, “faith.” This isn’t private faith. He says you’re contending, you’re striving, you’re in mortal combat. The word was used for gladiators going arm-in-arm and fighting against other people. You are contending for the truth, the doctrine, the reality that Jesus is God, that the Second Person of the Trinity became a man, that He rose from the dead. These narrow, absolute crazy claims based on His resurrection and His teaching, that He said the Word of God is true, that the Old Testament is true, That what I have shared with you, Paul is saying, what was written in the Prophets, the Law, and the psalms, and then predicting what the New Testament writers, he’s saying, I want you to contend, to battle for the faith.
And then, third, he says, “Don’t be frightened.” Do it without being frightened. The word here was a word used for a noise or something that would spook horses and they would stampede. He says, Don’t let persecution, don’t let what your boss thinks, don’t let what is politically correct, don’t want what everyone says, don’t let labels that people are giving you in the twenty-first century, don’t let it frighten you to where you shrink back and become this secret agent Christian. He said eternity is on the line! People’s lives, people’s souls, people don’t have to believe the right thing, but the consequences and pain of what happens when people turn away from God are devastating.
And so he says those are the three ways that you’ll know that you’re standing firm, that you’re living the life, that you have a consistent conduct. And then he says when you do that, it’ll be a sign. Literally, it’s a token, it will be a proof.
And after I explain these, I’ll tell you why it’s a sign and how it demonstrates the future of those who oppose you and how it also demonstrates your future because of your commitment and boldness.
Let’s go through these three words. It says, “Stand firm,” literally, don’t give up. Don’t give up. Anybody here every get discouraged and feel like, I don’t have any biblical grounds, but the world says, “You shouldn’t be this unhappy in this marriage this long. I think I’ll give up.” “All the other sales people are padding their reports. I’m going to give up.” “I know I should take a stand here in the hospital about this issue about life, but I might lose my job and I’m afraid. I think I’ll give up.” “I know what the Bible says about sexual purity and all the stuff that is happening in the world, but psychology has come a long way and I can’t imagine that Jesus would really expect us to have sexual purity and not live together and how bad can it be? I look at a few pictures now and maybe more then. Everybody does it.” “I know my finances don’t really reflect my heart but there’s a lot of pressure and there’s financial demands and life is really hard and God certainly can’t expect me to give back the very first and best. Ten percent? I can’t even live on what I’m getting now.”
So, what we have is a Church that is in danger of shrinking back and giving up on what they believe both corporately and giving up individually. You’ve got to hang tough in tough times. It’s in the difficulty, it’s in the pain. You have to lean in when it’s hard.
At the end of the day, it always revolves around this one issue: do you believe and trust God?
The conclusion of the secular world today is there is not a nickel’s worth of difference between the average Christian and the average non-Christian. And they see how most of us live and where our priorities are and our behavior and our morality and basically are saying, “Why should I trust in your Jesus?” That’s harsh, but that’s the lay of the land.
But here’s what I’m excited about. I get to be a part of a church and there’s a lot of exciting, dynamic churches and God is doing around America and around the world that are taking a stand. In fact, this first word is about, really, our behavior.
The second word: “contending for the faith,” it’s about our beliefs. It’s about standing up for what we believe. It’s battling, but winsomely, lovingly. Not angry. But it’s saying that there are certain things that are true.
“Contending for the faith,” it’s about our beliefs. It’s about standing up for what we believe. It’s battling, but winsomely, lovingly. Not angry. But it’s saying that there are certain things that are true.
What’s the last word? Don’t give up. Second, don’t give in. Churches all across America, Bible churches all across America, whole denominations are giving in and changing their doctrine. “Well, it’s pretty unpopular to believe what Jesus actually said, so we’re just going to change it.” On the most controversial issues of our day. But we are not going to give up, we are not going to give in, and we are not going to shrink back. This is about being bold.
Here’s a question I would ask all of you: does everyone in a positive, winsome way know that you’re a follower of Christ? Do they know it? Are you bold? I don’t mean wearing it on your sleeve, please don’t put a “Praise the Lord!” sticker on the back of your car.
It’s not enough to say, “This is the truth.” It’s got to be the truth captured in love and demonstrated.
Here’s my question: how are you doing? This is normal Christianity. God expects us to not give up, not give in, not shrink back. You got it?
Would you be willing to say, Lord, would You speak to me about: is my belief and my behavior telling the same story? And not like I’m a terrible person at all, but just where the Lord would show you and it might be your behavior, it might be your belief or your thinking. I need to check that out. Or maybe it’s your boldness. And ask God to make you an agent of life and change, because the world, is anyone concerned about what’s going on, other than me?
There’s a missile could be coming our way, there’s division in this country, there’s hatred like never before. And here’s the deal: you are either a part of the solution or a part of the problem. There is no middle ground. Hiding in our cul-de-sacs, hoping that it won’t affect us and we just want to unconsciously be upwardly mobile and everything work out for us and our family and our little world is not an option. It’s just an illusion.
Second, what can we expect from God? He says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for him, since you’re going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” Interestingly, again, you can circle the words, “granted to you,” it’s pretty easy, it’s in bold. It’s, literally, it means God has given you a privilege.
You know the word grace? Or some of you have named your daughter Karis? That’s the word grace. That’s the root word. God has given you a precious grace gift. And there is a privilege into it and there’s a responsibility to it. And Paul is playing with these Philippians and reminding them, Hey, citizen, right? Of Philippi. Privilege; responsibility. Now, here’s the grace gift God has given you. Privilege to believe. You can receive eternal life! He has changed your life. He has taken you out of the kingdom of darkness, placed you in the kingdom of light, sealed you with the Spirit, given you spiritual gifts, given you a purpose, given you a family of God, created a place forever and ever, looking forward. And He is going to transform your life and make you more and more like Jesus so the world can see how much God loves them. It’s an amazing grace gift to believe.
So why don’t you put a little box around “believe?” But he says, There’s another gift. You have been given the gift to get to suffer. How many of you, honestly, don’t raise your hands, because there wouldn’t many go up, how many of you ever thought suffering is a gift from God? That’s foreign to American Christians. Suffering is a gift from God? Yes.
He said, “He has given you a gift of suffering and you’re going through the same struggle, this conflict, this persecution.” Some of it is from within and some of it is from without.
Paul is going to leave Timothy at Ephesus. A young pastor. 2 Timothy 3:12, “Timothy, all those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It’s a promise. What is Paul doing? Setting expectations.
Here’s a young guy, “I follow Jesus, I am now a young pastor, what I’m going to do, I have sacrificed everything, it’s going to be great, right?” “Well.” You really live for God, you’ll be persecuted.
Or how about Jesus? How did He set expectations? The very last night, what did He say? “Just think positive, guys. Just think positive. It’s all going to be super-duper. I’m going to heaven, I’ll be back, we’re going to mojo a little bit later together.”
What did He say? “In the world you will have tribulation, you’ll have troubles. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
In fact, I just read this morning, and I thought, In light of the current events, it was the very last time Jesus was hanging out with His disciples and He basically gave His sermon to the Pharisees and pretty unpopular: whitewashed tombs, snakes, vipers. I think I underlined the word hypocrite seven or eight times.
I’m a follower of Jesus and He just alienated the entire establishment and all the power. Jesus was perhaps the most politically incorrect person who has ever walked the face of the earth. And in the midst of that, you’re following Him thinking, Whoa. And He has been talking about leaving, dying, raising from the dead, and they don’t figure out what He’s saying.
And then He makes this crazy statement like, “You see that temple? Destroy it. I’ll rebuild it. I’m coming back.” And the disciples took Him aside privately and said, “When will all this take place? And will there be a sign ahead of time to signal Your return and the end of the world?”
Now, just listen to this. “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in My name saying I am the Messiah. They will lead many astray. Wars will break out near and far, but don’t panic. Yes, things must come but the end won’t follow immediately. Nations and kingdoms will proclaim war against each other, there will be famines, earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this will only be the beginning or the birth pangs of the horrors to come. Then you’ll be arrested and persecuted and killed.”
How’s this for preparing the team for the next game? You’re going to be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You know what’s interesting? They were. But they didn’t give up, they didn’t give in, and they didn’t shrink back. Why? Because they knew it was true. They experienced God’s power. They leaned into the suffering.
He said, “Many, though, will turn away from Me and betray Me and hate each other. Many false prophets will appear and they will lead many people astray. Sin will be rampant everywhere and the love of many will grow cold.” Sound familiar? “But those who endure to the end will be saved and the good news about the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world so that all the nations will hear it and then finally the end will come.”
Now, I am in no way a: I think Jesus is coming back tomorrow! Ah! The end is coming! The sky is falling! But what kind of, what would have to be happening in the world to tell us that it’s close? Maybe more hurricanes? Bigger earthquakes? More wars?
See, I think it’s really interesting that we unconsciously think that some things that have happened in the past, they are going to happen probably someday, someway, but probably not in my lifetime. Really? Jesus goes on to say, “It will be the same as in the day of Noah, where people were doing business, having parties, marrying, going about their life, and,” whoo!
All I want to say is it seems like the birth pangs are more intense now and we should have an urgency at a level that we haven’t had. And we shouldn’t be afraid about our job, we shouldn’t be afraid about our money, we shouldn’t be afraid about our reputation, we shouldn’t be afraid. We should be bold.
Because here’s the deal: at some point in time, there’s going to be things that are true and things that are untrue. And the one thing Jesus said is there is no grey. “Anyone who is ashamed of Me, I will be ashamed of them when I come with the angels, with My Father.”
Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Now, the question is: are we willing to take that stand?
Before we wrap it up, I have talked about suffering and Peter in 1 Peter 2:20 and 21, you might jot that down, that’s one you might actually want to memorize. Because when Peter writes, Nero is burning Christians and throwing them into the lions.
And Peter is writing to the Church. And he says, “If you suffer for doing what is wrong, for being a crook, for doing evil things, what credit is that?” But then he says, “But if you suffer for doing what is right,” being righteous, walking with God, making a difference, “this finds favor with God.” Are you ready for this? “For you have been called to this purpose, to suffer, for Christ left you an example to follow.”
See, if we are trying to avoid suffering all the time, you will never become the man or a woman God designed you to be. You will never have the relationships and you’ll never have the impact. Jesus suffered. The apostles suffered.
Now, here’s the thing. Don’t automatically think every time you’re suffering that it’s because you’re such a wonderful, committed, amazing follower of Jesus.
Pretend we are on a highway together on this message. And I just parked a car and I say, “There’s a cul-de-sac, we are going to go over here just for a second, okay?” Are you ready for a quick cul-de-sac? Here’s the cul-de-sac.
When you read Scripture, there is at least six, there may be more, but I know of six specific reasons why we suffer. I’m not going to go through all these in detail, but here’s what I want you to do. Maybe put a little box and then write this question: When you’re going through a difficult time, ask God, Why am I suffering? Why is this marriage like this? Why is this health like this? Why is this situation at work like this? Why am I having this problem with my son or daughter like this? Why am I so depressed right now? Okay? Just ask God.
And what I’m going to say is: biblically, there are at least six possible reasons why you’re suffering. And I have given you the passages to that you can do your own Bible study. But the first one is my sin. When I am angry, when I say things I shouldn’t, when I do things that are wrong, when I’m rude to people, when I’m mean to one of my kids, when I lie, or when I steal – and, by the way, I’ve done all those things – there are consequences. Right? Galatians 6:7 and 8 says, “Sowing and reaping.” You sow things and you reap them. So sometimes I’m suffering because I was either stupid or evil. And we all do stupid things and we all do evil things.
Second is other’s sin. 49:1 in psalms, David says, “A friend betrayed me.” Drunk driver goes left of center, hits a car, someone you love. God didn’t make him do it. He got drunk. God didn’t create robots. Sometimes we suffer because of other people’s sins.
Third is spiritual attack. You get in God’s Word on a regular basis, you decide to be more bold, I’ll just warn you, stuff will start happening. Job was the most righteous man. He didn’t know what was going on. Ephesians 6 will describe what spiritual attack looks like and how to defend yourself.
Fourth, it’s a fallen world. People came to Jesus and said, “The Tower in Siloam, it fell, and these people died.” Hey, what’s going on? And Jesus said, “Do you think that those who died are more sinful or unrighteous than others? I say no.” In other words, concrete cracks – wood rots. In a fallen world, there’s just certain things, it’s a mystery. We can expect negative, difficult things. Weather! It’s not designed the way God wanted it. It’s a fallen world.
Fifth is spiritual discipline. God loves you so much there are times, the velvet vice. Hebrews 12, “He disciplines every son, He disciplines every daughter.” And He’ll get your attention in the way that makes sense to you. Some of us, apparently, it must be our health. I don’t know anybody particular. ACL, back, ankle rebuild. I could go on.
Some, it’s a relationship. But sometimes we are asking God, Take it away, take it away, take it away. And He is saying, Look, I am trying to get your attention because I love you, like we get our kids’ attention, so that you can look upward and we can address this issue, this arrogant issue, this pride issue, this lust issue. We all have those things, don’t we? And you have a Father who wants to help you.
And then, finally, spiritual development. There are times where Paul is living the life like never before, making a huge difference, and what happens? He gets this physical ailment that keeps him dependent so people could see the power isn’t Paul, but it’s God. And he says, “I have learned to be content.”
I want to give you a summary about suffering and then I want us to pray. Suffering is God’s gift to accomplish His ultimate good in a fallen world. Is that crazy? Suffering is God’s gift.
When I suffer, it draws me near. When I suffer, I look up. When I suffer, I have compassion for other people. When I suffer, life is not all about me. When I suffer, I’m not so judgmental. When I suffer, I am following in the footsteps of Jesus who suffered so you could live and I could live.
Joni Eareckson-Tada, quoting her coach said, “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” What a truth.
Lord, You know the suffering in this room and You know the reasons. Lord, You know the world situation and the desperate, desperate need for regular, ordinary people like us to stand firm and to contend and to not shrink back.
And, yet, we tell You that, God, we can’t do that and we are afraid and we struggle. But, Lord, You have told us that Christ in us is the hope of glory and that we can do all things through Jesus who gives us strength.
Have a little moment with your heavenly Father and ask Him, Lord, help me see myself right now the way You do. Help me grasp how much You love me. Help me to be a person who stands firm, doesn’t give up, doesn’t give in, doesn’t shrink back. Help me lean into my suffering and discover some of the “whys.” Change me and then use me to change others.