Luke spends a good deal of time telling us about Paul’s ministry in Athens, Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 18-19), and throughout these chapters we find that Paul reasoned and persuaded people in his presentation of the gospel (Acts 18:4, 13; Acts 19:8, 9). From this, we can see that his preaching engaged the minds of his hearers and marshalled arguments to support and demonstrate his case. John Stott comments that ‘he was seeking to convince in order to convert.’ (John Stott, ‘Acts’, P 313)
Paul’s experience meant he knew he needed to rely on the wisdom of God rather than on the wisdom of the world (1 Cor 1 & 2), but we must never feel that apologetics (reasoned arguments) should be abandoned in our presentation of the gospel. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 14:17) and brings people to faith in Jesus ‘not in spite of the evidence but because of the evidence.’ (ibid., P 313) The Holy Spirit works to bring conviction and to teach us about sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11), but we must, like Paul, spend time engaging with people so that they can see that the gospel is trustworthy and reliable. Many were persuaded by Paul in Corinth and Ephesus; this led to their conversion, to a complete turnaround from a pagan way of life to a life of faith and trust in Jesus. Apologetics should not be used simply to score points or to win arguments; the ultimate purpose of reason and argument is to lead people to a place of decision; as Josh McDowell’s key book declares, the evidence ‘demands a verdict.’ (‘Evidence That Demands A Verdict.’) This book is highly useful in defending Christianity’s core truths and giving responses to the Bible’s most difficult passages and is another tool in equipping us, like Paul, to share the gospel with those who might not appear to have any interest in it whatsoever!
In Acts 19:21-43 we see Demetrius, probably the leader of the guild of silversmiths in Ephesus, mounting a campaign to discredit Paul which ends in a riot. The issue at stake was the economic future of men who made their living from making silver items connected with the goddess Artemis (either miniature versions of the temple or statuettes of the goddess), but as we have seen earlier (Acts 16:19-21), it’s very rare that people are so candid when making their arguments. Demetrius was subtle enough to develop other arguments as to why the silversmiths needed to take action: namely the dangers that their trade would lose its good name, their temple its prestige and their goddess her divine majesty. (Acts 19:27) John Stott, quoting Neil, says that in this way ‘vested interests were disguised as local patriotism – in this case also under the cloak of religious zeal.’ (John Stott, ‘Acts’, P 309)
Mixed motives and mixed messages are the part of life that is difficult to untangle. Life often has complex issues to work through – the current situation, where governments have to balance the economic needs of their countries with their health needs, is one example of this – and when we add the capacity of people to deceive themselves (for the heart is deceitful above all things, as Jer 17:9 reminds us) into the mix, we see how easily peace is disturbed and disquiet arises.
C. S. Lewis commented on two extremes we can fall into regarding evil in ‘The Screwtape Letters’, saying, ‘There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.’ One thing we must remember, however, is that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). Not everything which is proclaimed to us as good is actually good; the devil is a great proponent of the lie that the end justifies the means, and so we must be alive to the evil that is disguised as good and is persuasive in its apparent sincerity. This will often involve looking beneath the surface and looking for fruit, for as Jesus reminded us, ‘every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.’ (Matt 7:17-18) May God open our eyes, search our hearts and enable us to discern between the good and the best as we seek to follow Him.
The last time Stephen spoke on a Sunday evening, he talked about Abram and the promises God gave him, speaking about the need to give all of our lives (‘our pies’) to God. Abram embraced God and His promises initially, but in Gen 12:10-20, we see that he tried to gain favour from Pharaoh and effectively deal with famine and his life his own way, rather than by trusting God. He lied to Pharaoh about Sarah (saying she was his sister, not his wife), ‘so I will be treated well… and my life will be spared.’ (Gen 12:13) He tried to develop his own plan to bring prosperity and security for himself, despite God’s promises of blessing beyond his wildest dreams.
We can make the same mistakes as Abram, often trying to solve life’s difficulties ourselves instead of trusting God. Mistakes do not have to define us, however – we still remember Abraham ultimately as the father of faith, not as the man who lied! If we want to avoid spiralling into despair and condemnation when we sin and go astray, we need to see how Abram dealt with being thrown out of Egypt and realising that what he had done had not been God’s way. Effectively, he retraced his steps and called on the name of the Lord again. (Gen 13:3-4)
Repentance means retracing our steps, admitting we have been wrong and re-dedicating ourselves to God. We have to admit we have tried to live life ‘my way’, on our own, and if we are to go on with God, we must learn to be penitent. In ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’, we see our hero repeating the mantra ‘only the penitent man shall pass’ and realising he must humble himself and lie down to avoid certain death from above. We too must understand that penitence will mean we kneel only before the cross, that we prostrate ourselves before God.
So often, like Abram, we can be foolish and try to obtain God’s blessing our way. We sin and fall short of God’s plan for our lives, but there is a way back to God. If we retrace our steps and repent (see Rev 2:5), calling on the name of the Lord, we can know restoration and blessing. To claim God’s promises, however, we must be surrendered to God. We must do it His way.
If we had to sum up Paul’s teaching in Phil 4:10-20, it would probably be to say that contentment or satisfaction can truly only be found in God. Anything else we crave tends to lead to temporary satisfaction; we are soon then off chasing after the wind. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, ‘I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.’ (Eccl 1:14) This has never been a popular saying, but all the material possessions in the world, all the happiest relationships, all the most fulfilling jobs ultimately do not fully satisfy, and it is a wise person who realises that contentment is found in God’s presence.
Aaron Shust’s song ‘Satisfy’ conveys the truth that ‘I find everything I need in You.’ Paul tells us we can know God’s full, rich blessing and provision: ‘My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:19) Many of us spend a lot of time trying to meet all our needs or trying to meet the needs of other people. No matter how good, kind, generous or rich we are, there will come a point when we run out of what is needed. The secret to living well, however, is knowing that God never runs out. There is no need we can have which He cannot meet.
Are you lonely? He can supply companionship.
Are you hungry? He can supply food.
Are you in need of work? He can find the right job for you.
Are you in need of healing? He can heal all your diseases.
Are you confused? He can bring clarity and guidance and direction.
Are you afraid? He can provide peace and courage.
In God, we find all the satisfaction which eludes us elsewhere.
Philippians 4 is one of those chapters absolutely jam-packed with promises from God. Philippians 4:6-7 offers us the model for prayer which can transform us from nervous wrecks into peaceful people and Philippians 4:8 gives us the key to victory by showing us where to focus our thoughts. In the rest of the chapter, we looked this morning at three further verses which show us how to change how we live and which, if assimilated into our lives, lead us into freedom and satisfaction.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. (Phil 4:12)
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:13)
My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:19)
These three verses contain great and precious promises (see 2 Pet 1:3-4) which have the power to transform how we live.
Paul’s thanks to the Philippians for their financial support are given in the context that he has learned that happiness is not bound up in possessions or favourable circumstances. He knows that riches are no substitute for God (see Luke 12:15, 1 Tim 6:10) and that joy is not dependent on good circumstances (he is writing the letter from prison, after all!) Satisfaction can only be found in God, and we do well to let go of our need for material things to keep us content as well as our need for control. Paul has found satisfaction in God – and we can too. Ps 131 gives us the picture of quiet contentment found in a weaned child; sometimes, we need to quieten our souls and be still before God.
The secret to contentment lies in dwelling in Christ, rather than trying to obtain satisfaction ourselves in our own strength. All the blessings God promises His people come as we dwell in Him. These include eternal life (Rom 6:23), freedom from condemnation (Rom 8:1), holiness (1 Cor 1:2), freedom (Gal 2:4) and acceptance in God’s family (Gal 3:26) These promises and blessings are available to each one of us, and when we live according to who we are in Christ Jesus, we also have access to all the strength and power of the Godhead. (Eph 1:19-21) Contentment is possible because we have access to all of God’s strength and power. We don’t have to run on empty. We don’t have to do it in our own strength. We can come to God and be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. (Eph 6:10)
Many of us spend a lot of time trying to meet all our needs or trying to meet the needs of other people. No matter how good, kind, generous or rich we are, there will come a point when we run out of what is needed. The secret to living well, however, is knowing that God never runs out. There is no need we can have which He cannot meet. As the Passion Translation of Phil 4:19 says, ‘I am convinced that my God will fully satisfy every need you have, for I have seen the abundant riches of glory revealed to me through the Anointed One, Jesus Christ!’ When we fully see God in all the abundant riches of His glory, we know that there is no good thing He will withhold from us and can live without fear or anxiety (see Ps 84:11, Ps 37:4).
Paul gives thanks to the Philippians in Phil 4:10-20 for the practical help they gave him. As Jesus reminded us in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, we serve God when we serve other people (see Matt 25:31-46), and this can be seen in a variety of ways (which often we don’t think are particularly significant.) Jesus mentioned clothing people, feeding people, helping the sick and visiting those in prison; for Paul, he was grateful for the financial help offered to him by the Philippians and spent much of his time dealing with the practical issues of collecting money from different churches to give aid to the church in Jerusalem. Such things may not seem particularly glamorous or even spiritual, but they are necessary and God promises rewards to those who sow generously (see 2 Cor 8 and 9).
We are grateful to all who support our church and its ministries, whether that is through finances (we are glad to be able to support Bedline in Haiti, Amshika in India and Innocent in Uganda and to have been able to help those in India with whom Fredrick and Reeba work as well as supporting the local Salvation Army food bank), practical help (cleaning the building, serving in different areas and helping with ministry) and prayer and preaching. Faithful service and practical help are not inconsequential or unimportant. That cup of cold water to someone on a hot and dusty day matters enormously. Your kind word, your smile, your practical help could be the way someone’s heart is melted or how their eyes are opened to spiritual truth. It’s worth repeating that it’s the little things in life that really count and we can never show our gratitude too much!