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Philippians 1:12

“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”


            I love to laugh.  When I laugh I feel better about myself and what’s happening around me and to me.  There is a saying that laughter is the best medicine.  Well, that might be a good saying and it does have some merit as laughter does relive a lot of tension and stress.   But it is very difficult to laugh at some of the situations that confront us or to even find anything joyous about them.  That’s what we are going to be talking about - being joyous in our difficult situations - not in spite of them but because of them and how those situations can speak to others about your faith and steadfastness in Christ.


            The Apostle Paul certainly found himself in a lot of difficult situations and circumstances throughout his ministry.  In the book of Philippians we find that Paul talks about being joyful and why.  But before we get into that lets take a look at the life of Paul and how he got to where he was.


            Paul was born into a Jewish family in the town of Tarsus in about the year 10.  His parents, though Jewish, were also Roman citizens and thus by birth Paul, who was known as Saul before his conversion, was born a Roman citizen.  At the age of fourteen he went to Jerusalem to be formally trained as a Rabbi and at the same time he learned another trade - a tent maker.  Saul grew into a man of firm convictions and a fiery temperament.   He worked feverously at quelling anything that was considered to be heresy to Judaism.  This fact is well described in the book of Acts.  In the final verse of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8 of Acts we see this revealed.  “And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. (that was the stoning of Stephen) On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  But Saul began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them into prison.”


            As you can see Saul, a.k.a. Paul, wasn’t a very nice person to those who confessed the Christian faith.  But we know that on the road to Damascus, Jesus made His presence known to Saul in a very real and personal way.  As a result of that meeting on the Damascus road Saul became a follower of Jesus and changed his name to Paul.  That’s when Paul’s life became complicated.  On one side, the Jewish leaders, were determined to silence Paul because of his conversion and on the other side, the Christians distrusted Paul because of his persecution of them because of their faith.  We also read in Acts that after a meeting with the Church elders in Jerusalem he gained official sanction to take the message of Christ to the Gentiles (the non-Jewish).  Paul undertook three missionary  journeys which took him to such places as Cyprus, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Galatia, Macedonia, Greece, and other places.  Not only was he preaching and witnessing in these places, he was planting churches there also.  Paul was very busy.


            Now you need to remember that Paul’s life was no bed of roses.  He faced hardships and pressures that would make most of us cringe and not want to even leave the house.  In 2 Corinthians 12:23-29 Paul tells about some of the hardships that he faced. “…I have worked harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I have been beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I have been shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.  I have been constantly on the move.  I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from the Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.  Besides everything else, I face daily pressure of my concern for all churches.  Who is weak, and I don’t not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”


            Paul had gone through a lot in his career.  Much more than I think that I could bear.  Beatings, stoning, shipwrecks, hunger, etc.  But through it all Paul survived - but not by his strength or power.  Look back in Philippians 4:13.  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”  Paul survived and succeeded not by his own strength, power and courage, but because of power of Christ in him.


            Let’s look at our Scripture verse for today.  Philippians 1:12, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”  Paul considered everything that he underwent as a means of furthering the message of Christ.  When Paul wrote these words he was in prison in Rome.  Paul wrote four letters from prison - Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.  He wrote letters that were full of encouragement, guidance and teaching  How many of us would or could do that?  But not only that when you really look at Philippians you will see that Paul was joyful.  He took what we would look upon as a horrible, hopeless situation and used it for God’s glory.  Look at verses following verse 13 and following, “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”


            Even though Paul was imprisoned that in no way hindered him from witnessing to those around him.  He witnessed Christ to his Roman guard and to others that he came into contact with.  He took the situation that he found himself in and used it for he greater glory of God.  Not only that but he still had a positive outlook.  He wasn’t Mr. Doom and Gloom.  The book of Philippians is called the book of joy for a reason.  The word ’joy’ occurred in several forms 16 times in this book.  Chapter 4 verse 12 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!”


            Here Paul is in an uncertain position, awaiting trial yet he is encouraging others to have hope, joy, and peace.  He tells them in verse 6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  He wasn’t telling them to have a false confidence or just ’suck it up’ and move on.  He knew that God gives them this through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Look in Galatians 5:22 at the fruits of the Spirit.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” 


            Paul was able to be joyful and spread the message of the Gospel not in spite of his circumstances but because of and through his circumstances.  He let God take a hopeless situation and bring good from it.  Look at the number of people that have been touched through the ministry of Paul.  Billions.  What a witness to the power of God.


            Now you are probably wondering why I entitled this message ‘Pressure Cooker’.  When I was a kid I remember that my mother had this pressure cooker.  I know that not everyone is familiar with pressure cookers.  It is a very thick pot that had a locking lid with a pressure valve on top.  When the lid is locked in place and the heat applied, the heat and pressure begins to build on the inside of the pot.  On the lid there is a valve which, when the pressure reaches a certain point, opens to release some of the steam and pressure.  But when that valve did not work properly the cookers had a tendency to explode.


            If you have been following the our nation’s economy you hear a lot of depressing news.  The proposed national budget exceeds the national income, spending more than we take in; the stock market is falling down around our ears; banks failing; corporate greed in the midst of others losing everything; people losing their jobs; their homes and all that they know.  A recent headline in the newspaper said that the governments plan was to cut jobs and increase taxes.  It seems like our world and our stable lifestyle is coming apart at the seams and is falling down around us.  Our lives and our situations are like living inside of a pressure cooker.  The pressure is building and building.  Is the pressure valve going to work and let some of the pressure off or not?  What is our pressure valve?  Jesus is that pressure valve.  We need to trust Him and follow the leading of the Spirit and use the situations that we find ourselves in to advance the message that is entrusted to us just like Paul used his situations to advance that same message to those around him.  Life has just handed us not a bag of lemons but a whole bushel of them.  So what do we do - how do we cope?  We, as individuals and as members of Jesus’ Church, need to make lemonade.  We’ve been given the lemons, so let’s make lemonade.


            Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13, “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”  Paul relied on God to give him the strength to endure, and not only endure but to make lemonade.  He found the good in the bad.


            Walt Disney made a movie that featured a little girl whose missionary parents were killed and she had to go live with a stern Aunt.  She was a very upbeat, happy child that seemed to find the good in everybody and every situation.  The movie was called Pollyanna and I really like that movie.  I remember that when she was talking to this one person who was always sour and had an unhappy outlook on life she told her of a game called the ‘Glad Game’.  It was that whatever circumstance you faced or whatever came your way, you should try to find something to be glad about instead.  And in the movie it worked.  She changed not only a few lives in that movie but the hearts and outlooks of everyone in town - even the stogie old preacher.


            That’s kind of what Paul is telling us.  We need the ‘Glad Game’.  When we find ourselves faced with trouble we need to look at what’s truly good - Jesus and the message of hope that is found in Him and in Him only.  Jesus Christ is our lighthouse in the stormy sea of life that we find ourselves in. 


            Paul used the troubles and crises’ that he found himself in to advance the Gospel.  Remember Paul tells us so in Philippians 1:12-14, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel.  As a result it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”  Paul used his situation to tell others about the love of God and the salvation that can only be found in His Son Jesus.  We need to do the same.  But how?  First we need to be on the same sheet of music.  In Philippians 2:2 we are told, “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” 


            Years ago when people were hurting and had needs they didn’t turn to the government for a ‘bail-out’ or a ‘hand-out’.  They turned to the church.  The church helped their neighbors out by calling when they were sick, providing when they were in need, and holding them when they were hurting.  But today our churches have moved away from that and become more and more inwardly focused.  Today the church is more of a place to go on Sunday morning and socialize with friends instead of being a body of believers that serves meals to the homeless, and helps others in need.  We focus on our church budget instead to holding classes to teach someone how to budget their income, fill out resumes and teach job interviewing skills.  We have Bible study classes for our members instead of basketball clinics spreading the love of God to the children in our communities.


            We live in troubled times right now and many of us are so wrapped up in our troubles and situations to realize there is a whole world in the same situation and they need to know that there is hope.  Hope that can only be filled by knowing who Jesus is and what He has for us - an eternal destiny of living in a home where love abounds in endless measure.  Philippians 2:4 says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  The question was once asked, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’  This verse we just read gives us that answer.


            Ok, for the record, I am not trying to bash our government, our churches, or anything else except our way of how we handle whatever crises we find ourselves in.  Each of us have different lives, different circumstances, and approaches to life and there is nothing wrong with that.  But if Paul has taught us anything it should be how we act and who we depend on when we are handed a bag full of lemons.  His actions should be our road map on who we need to give the glory to and how we tell of God’s love.


            We need to follow Paul’s example and let the fruits of the Spirit flow in and through us to others.  God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing as we are told in Ephesians 1:3 and we need to be a blessing to others.  We need to let our hardships become our strength that others can build on.  What we endure now will one day benefit others.


            Let me give you a personal example of what I am taking about.  My wife has had a difficult time over the years.  She was diagnosed as having agoraphobia which is were a person has extreme difficulties in unfamiliar surrounding and many have problems even leaving there house.  My wife was like that and it took a lot to overcome and there is still some days it’s very difficult.  Add on top of the having fiber meralgia which cause a lot of generalized body pain and fatigue.  Then on top of that she has bi-polar disorder.  As you can guess she and I have been through the mill.  A lot of husbands whose wife may have  just one disorder or problem have a difficult time in understanding what is going on and working with their wives on helping each other.  There were many days that I would just sit in the middle of the kitchen crying and not knowing what to do.  Church friends would come over and just sit with me and help me through not only understanding what my wife was going through but also help me to understand what I was going through.  Many times we asked ourselves why God was letting us go through all this pain and torture and it was torture.


            But, with a lot of help and understanding, God brought us through it and we find ourselves now in the position of being able to minister to others who are going through what we went through.  God brought us through that hardship in our lives and now we can be a blessing to others.


            Take the lemons that life is handing you and make gallons and gallons of  lemonade filled with the sweetness of God’s unfailing love.  Let’s use the crises that we find ourselves in to further the Gospel of Christ.  Don’t let the pressure cooker of our lives explode but let God’s Spirit guide us and relieve the pressure.


            Let me close with Paul’s words to the Ephesians, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more that all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.