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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
What’s a circumstance in your life that is tough. Is there anything in your life, right now, that you say: If God really loves me, if He cares for me and I am obeying Him, I’m doing all that I know that is right, what is going on? I don’t get it. Well, you’re not alone. And so, if you’ll pull out your teaching notes, I want you to do a little exercise with me.
It says, “Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is a zig-zag line.” Now, I want to say that again. Sometimes the distance between point A and point B, unlike in geometry where it’s a straight line, with God, sometimes the distance between point A, this is where you’re at right now, this is where you’re at in your life, in your singleness, in your marriage, in your work, in your health – point A. God wants to take you to point B.
The way we think, and especially those of you that were really good in geometry, unlike me, is we think, Point A, point B, straight line. That’s how you get there. In God’s economy, mark it down, the shortest distance between two points is a zig-zag line.
And while you’re doing that, let me just give you a couple of examples so that I’m not just making this up. We are studying the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul. Now, God interrupts his life and reveals Himself and takes him to Arabia and says, Okay, this is what you’re going to do. You are My man to the Gentiles. Your mission is to take the gospel to the whole world. And he goes on these missionary trips and he plants all these churches. And, God is using him. It’s an amazing story.
And so, his point A – “God has spoken to me.” Point B – “Take the gospel to the whole world.” Now, do you realize how many times, year after year after year he was in prison? I mean, he’s got to be saying, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait a second! You told me to take the gospel to the whole world, now I’m in prison for this, now I’m in prison for this, now I’m in prison for that. How is this ever going to happen?”
Well, guess where Paul wrote a great number of all the letters, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that we read today – while he was in prison. The most strategic way that God’s Word would go all around the world then and now, this man wrote thirteen books. You see, God has zig-zag plan, but Paul couldn’t see it.
Or take David. God calls Dave to be the king and Samuel anoints him and this young man and he says, “David, you’re going to be the king!” And Saul has been cast aside and he has turned away and David, I’m sure he’s like, “Wow, I’m too young, but okay.” Well, he is anointed as king, and for the next ten-plus or minus years, he dodges spears, hides in caves, loses his wife, has everyone turn against him, and wonders, God, if this is what it’s like to be king, what’s the deal?
But, you see, the zig-zag line, He was preparing David, and He was preparing the circumstance. And you can look at Joseph, you can look at Moses, you can look at the children of Israel, you can look at your life, you can study Church history, you can look at the lives of people that you really admire that God has greatly used and have great character and I will tell you this: the game plan was a zig-zag line.
So what I want to help you do is learn: we can actually choose joy when we know that these current circumstances – God actually is using them, there is a purpose behind them. It’s not linear, it’s not always the way we think.
Now, for those of you that weren’t with us in our last session, let me do very, very quick review. I have a question before we move on. This a pitcher of water and the question is: is it half-full or is it half-empty? Now, you don’t necessarily need to vote, raise your hand, but is it half-full or is it half-empty?
And, of course, you know the answer, right? The answer is yes. It is half-full and it is half-empty. And in this series, what we are learning is that it’s your focus – how do you look at that? It’s your perspective.
And so on your notes, what I want to do by way of review, is simply say this: C + P = E. That’s our little formula. That’s our formula for choosing joy. Circumstances plus perspective equals our experience. This whole series about choosing joy is learning, moment by moment, day by day, and that everything in life, to get God’s perspective, to look at a lens.
Lens number one was, you’ll see in your notes, key is focus. Jot that down, will you? Your focus. The key question to ask when you’re sliding, when you get discouraged, when you don’t understand, when someone really ticks you off, here’s the question: where is my focus?
Key number two is purpose. You see, when I look at life, the ups and downs, the zigs and especially the zags, I need to ask myself: What is my purpose? I want to look at circumstances and challenges and difficulties through the lens of purpose.
But what I want you to see is the structure of this passage. Verse 12, he is going to give his thesis. He is going to tell us: “This is what I want you to know.” And then, in each one of the verses, it’s like a lawyer, he is presenting his argument and he has exhibit A, exhibit B, exhibit C.
I’m going to show you that he is going to look at his life through the lens of God’s purpose and whether he is zigging or zagging, he will end this section with: “And I rejoice.”
So, follow along, here’s his thesis, verse 12. “Now, I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,” underline “greater progress” and underline “gospel.”
And then he is going to tell us how those difficult circumstances kind of help the gospel go forth. Exhibit A, he says, “…so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 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.”
And then he goes into some of the challenges and some things that were happening. “Some, to be sure, preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.”
And then his attitude toward it all: “What then?” Or, literally, “What’s it matter? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I,” circle the word, “rejoice.”
Okay, here’s his thesis: this church that loves him, that was birthed in Philippi, have heard: our beloved apostle, church-planter, our friend, our brother – well, he’s in Rome now. And we have heard he’s in prison and they know what the prisons are like. And we will learn later in the book, this was the very little, only the church at this time was supporting him financially.
And so, they have sent Epaphroditus to go meet him and bring a financial gift, and in that day, they didn’t serve you food. You had to have friends and people to take care of you and so they are concerned about Paul, and this letter is he is writing back to reassure them: it’s okay.
And so here is his premise: “I want you to know, because you’re concerned, I want you to know that my circumstances, the difficulties, the challenges you have heard about, are turning out for the greater progress.” The word greater progress I had you underline the word means advancement. It’s a military term.
It was a term that, when an army was coming through and they would have a barrier of trees, they would cut down trees, they would get rid of all the brush. But they would do, every, they would remove every barrier so that army could continue to advance.
And he says, “I want you to know that it’s difficult for sure, I am in prison just as you have heard, but here’s the deal: it’s caused the gospel, the good news…
And for some us that didn’t grow up in the Church, the gospel is not some formula, okay? Can I pause just a moment? Can we park just for a second? The gospel is a compound word: good news. Or, literally, it’s “happy news.”
And what it is, it’s an announcement. It’s not like: here’s how you ought or should to live. The announcement is: all men of all time are in chains and bondage to sin. And we fall short of God’s holiness. And God, the Second Person of the Trinity came to earth, He lived a perfect life, He died upon the cross and He paid for my sin and your sins and the sins of all people of all time.
And then He rose from the dead and He demonstrated that it’s true. And the good news, the happy news, the early Church wasn’t saying, “You have to believe this and you need to do this and why don’t you start living this way and your morals need to be this way.” No, they were just going and saying, “Look! There’s happy news! We all know that we fall short, we all know that we have sinned. God visited the planet! He died in our place! Our sins are forgiven! Will you receive it?”
It was like just going around, telling people, “This is amazing!” And so, Paul says, “My circumstances have turned out for the advancement of this message, this amazing, powerful message.” “The gospel,” he would write to the Romans, “is the power of God to salvation, to every, single person who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
Now, he is going to make his point, so Paul, okay, you say it’s an advancement. We are still concerned about you. How does it advance the gospel? Exhibit A: the gospel goes forth. Jot that word in. The gospel goes forth.
He says, “So that my imprisonment and the cause of Christ has become,” put a line under, “well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.” Now, let’s, again, got to get a little context here. We read this through our twenty-first century lens.
The Roman Empire is in absolute control. By this time, Nero happens to be the emperor. And he is worshipped as god, and emperor worship is very big. But it’s Greek culture, so there are gods on every corner.
Now, in the midst of all these gods and emperor worship and this heavy-handed, strong Roman world, there was an itinerant preacher who came. He claimed to be God. He claimed to fulfill all these prophecies. He was rejected by His own people. He died, He rose from the dead, and five hundred witnesses actually met Him for forty days in a resurrected body. And He told them, “I want you to go into all the world,” and declare and proclaim that people’s sins are forgiven and now the barrier between God and man is down and you can have a personal relationship with God.”
And so, there’s this little sect that, early, they were called “the Way,” before they were called Christians. In other words, the Way, the path, this is how you get to God. Now, it’s A.D. 62 or 63. Jesus has only been resurrected thirty-plus years, in this huge Roman Empire. And there’s all these religions. So how in the world, how in the world does God give His key spokesman a platform?
And he says, “Everyone, everywhere, and especially this praetorian guard, they know I am here for the gospel.”
This is the platform of the known world. And after thirty years, God takes these difficult circumstances so that Paul is declaring the greatest truth that this planet has ever, ever heard.
And all people know is they are spoken evil of because they are weird. The people are selling their homes and meeting the needs of the poor. They touch lepers, they meet secretly, they are absolutely committed to one another. They are radical in their faith; they keep talking about this dead man that came back to life. No matter what we do, we can’t get rid of them! They were just a pain in the rear!
We march them into the colosseums and we let loose the lions and they sing praises to God and they are asking God to forgive us as we do it.” Nero actually took them and wrapped them, this is a bit graphic, but he would wrap these Christians who wouldn’t recant in tar and then he would put them on poles and he would light them for his cocktail parties. And they would sing praises to God.
And so Paul is saying, “This little thirty-year movement, this sect is getting global coverage because I am here. It’s turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. And, by the way, you talk about a viral movement, here’s a viral movement. The praetorian guards, every six hours, one of these guards gets chained to me.”
And you don’t know what a praetorian guard is. If you were an emperor at this time, the way that you normally lost your job is you were assassinated. And it might be a military coup or it might be one of your sons or it might be someone competing for power.
And so what the emperors would do, they would develop what was called a praetorian guard. And basically, it was an army. An army of somewhere between to twenty thousand. And these were like the Green Beret, the Navy SEALS. The greatest warriors, the most gifted, the best trained. These were the absolute cream of the cream of the cream. And their job was to be loyal to be emperor.
And they were esteemed. And so, he, every six hours, he has a different one. So, Claudius comes in and he is chained to Paul. “So, what are you in for?” “Hey, I’m glad you asked. Have you ever heard of Jesus?” Another six hours, Augustus comes in, then Bob, then Fred, then Joe. Can you imagine being chained to the apostle Paul for six hours? He comes to Christ, he comes to Christ, he comes to Christ, he comes to Christ, he comes to Christ, he comes to Christ. And what happens? What we find is that in the book of Acts we will learn that actually people in the household of Herod are coming to Christ.
And all I want you to get is sometimes the zig-zag line of difficult circumstances causes the gospel to go forward.
What are you going through? What are you going through right now that God wants to use so that other people, so the gospel can go forth? How you respond to the difficulty, the pain, the injustice. What is happening at work or what your ex is saying or what is happening with one of your kids or a health issue that everyone is going, “Wow! How do you even get through this?”
God wants to use your present circumstances, exhibit A, for the furtherance of the gospel. But that’s not all. Exhibit B, here’s another good thing that happened. The Church grows stronger. Notice what he says.
“And that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord,” notice the phrase, “because of my imprisonment have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear.” See, when we step up, when he is in the midst of this, and he is being bold, the rest of us go, “Wow, you know something? If Paul can do it in prison, I can do it!”
Sometimes adversity and difficult circumstances cause the gospel to go forth and sometimes difficulty, circumstances, you know what it does? It builds the body. It causes the Church to grow.