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Living Above Your Circumstances
Learning to rely on God’s strength in any circumstance–good or bad
The keepers of the Los Angeles Zoo had a saying–they said this, “The zoo would be a great place to work, if you could just keep the people out.” There were many reasons for this slogan–one was the day when Mrs. Bedlam (as she became known) showed up. She was a senior, familiar, but unknown to the zoo staff, until the day she slipped through the gate entrance and security with two bags filled with rubber balls of various shapes, colors, sizes and textures.
She’d been to the zoo before and concluded the animals were bored, so she decided to bring them some recreation. No one knows her real name, but she is forever known as Mrs. Bedlam. She confidentially threw balls into every exhibit. The seals played with theirs, but the bears and monkeys ate theirs—which showed for days afterward. Some of the animals ignored the balls, but the female black-maned lioness did not.
Mrs. Bedlam tossed the lion a medium-size hard rubber blue ball. She bit down so hard, the ball became impaled on her awesome right canine. No amount of clawing or rubbing her face on the ground could force it loose. She rubbed so hard to get the ball off her tooth, she cut her face and began to bleed and salivate profusely.
The keeper knew his animal was in distress and called for the vet on duty. They managed to get the lioness into her night quarters and the new vet leaned close against the bars in the back narrow hallway to get a good look. Being new, he didn’t know how much the lioness hated people, resulting in the lioness lunging for the vet’s face, while letting out a gigantic roar.
A lion’s roar is impressive–in the wild, a lion’s roar can be heard from five miles away. But from three feet away, in a tight, enclosed, cement hallway, a lion’s roar is a major event. It rumbled through the keeper’s body and the vet’s body, causing both to be temporarily paralyzed. The keeper was expecting it and overcame the shock in a minute, but the vet was not expecting it and immediately passed out.
After he recovered, the vet finally tranquilized the lion, then thanks to Mrs. Bedlam’s “happy gift”, the vet had to use a hacksaw to remove the blue ball from her canine. When old Mrs. Bedlam called the zoo the next day to find out how the animals liked her special fun, she immediately hung up when she heard what actually happened, before they could trace her call. They never saw her at the zoo again.
Crazy circumstances–the best of intentions, just a little harmless fun and wham . . . your entire life ignites into chaos. You write a note, but it’s misunderstood. You make a statement which causes harm. You comment, setting others against you. You do nothing, but that makes people mad. You go to work, attend school, talk to your spouse, parent your kids, hang out with family—then suddenly, with no warning, the roar of bad circumstances hits.
You can be serving Christ, teaching the Word, discipling others, trying to help, but like a lunge for your face, everything goes wrong. How do you respond? How do you live above your circumstances? How do you honor Christ when Mrs. Bedlam shows up?
As you open your Bibles to Philippians chapter 4, verses 10 to 13, you will see today, to live above circumstances, you must depend on God’s providence, care and power. The people who stand firm in Christ are the ones who are anchored in God’s character. When you ask someone, “How are you doing, today?” And they say, “Fine, under the circumstances.” You say, “What are you doing under there?”
Like a scientific formula, to live above circumstances, you live by PCP–God’s Providence, Care and Power (PCP–say it). But if you choose to live below your circumstances, controlled by circumstances, you live by URW–U. R. WEAK, thinking God is Unable, Remote and Weak. Living above circumstances requires you to recall God’s what? Providence, Care, and Power
As I read verses 10 to 13, I want you to observe three obvious truths. First notice in verse 10 to 13, Paul is obviously discussing how to respond to circumstances. Second, notice Paul is telling the Philippians the key to living above circumstances is thinking correctly by using words like concerned, learned and know. Third, notice in verses 10 to 13, Paul is instructing believers, when you live above circumstances it produces contentment in your life.
Read silently, starting in verse 10, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern [thinking] for me; indeed, you were concerned [thinking] before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned [thinking] the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
To live above circumstances, you must depend on God’s PCP–providence, care and power. As Paul concludes this letter to this beloved Philippian local church, Paul wanted to express his gratitude to them. Paul had a special relationship with these Christians, and throughout the course of Paul’s missionary journeys, they were the only church to consistently support him financially.
The Philippians finally learned Paul is in Rome and they send a gift. Their generosity was especially meaningful, because it reached Paul during a very difficult time in his life. Paul was a prisoner in Rome, confined to a small apartment. He was guarded around the clock by a Roman soldier. Paul could no longer minister with the freedom he had once enjoyed. Paul was unable to work to support himself, and a trial with Nero loomed.
This sweet church collected funds and sent their gift to Rome as quickly as possible in the care of Epaphroditus. Paul was overjoyed and writes this final section of this letter in verses 10 to 19 as a thank you note. As he does, beneath the surface of Paul’s thanks, the apostle instructs all Christians about financial gifts, giving, supporting missionaries, contentment, and today, ministering above your circumstances.
Look back to verse 9–here Paul offers himself as an example of spiritual stability. Now in verses 10 to 19, Paul indirectly offers himself as an example of how to live above circumstances and find true contentment.
Some of you are discontent–struggling under financial strain, stressed under the pressure of faulty relationships, battling the frustration of not being able to move on from a trial, harassed by the stress of internal sin. And a few of you are paralyzed by the unexpected roar of sudden crisis, or you’re picking up the pieces of a well-meaning Mrs. Bedlam. So today Paul will challenge you to see God correctly.
Verses 10 to 13 teach you, to live above circumstances, you must depend on God’s PCP—1) providence, 2) care, and 3) power, which make up the three points of your outline. Paul ministers above circumstances by . . .
#1 Greatly rejoicing in the Lord’s PROVIDENCE in ministry
Look at verse 10. Paul begins with the present, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern [to THINK] for me.” Then Paul describes the past. “Indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity [no season].” The Philippians were trying to minister to their mentor.
This sweet church had generously supported Paul when he left Philippi to minister in Thessalonica and Berea. When Paul ministered in Athens and Corinth, the Philippians continued their support. As the years passed, Paul knew the Philippians had consistently carried a concern for him and his ministry (verse 10), meaning they focused their thinking on their father in the faith and set their mind to try to meet his needs.
But, Paul says, at some point in the past they “lacked opportunity” to provide any financial support for him. Lacked opportunity literally means not this season. There is a season for everything. There was a season of providential circumstances which did not allow the Philippi church to help Paul.
The Apostle doesn’t tell us why? It could’ve been the Philippians were so impoverished and financially poor, they could not help Paul financially. Or it could’ve been the Philippians had no way of knowing where Paul was, or it was impossible to get any support to him because he was on the move.
But verse 10 makes it clear with the Greek word, concern, all along they had Paul in mind–we’d say they had Paul in their heart. And they wanted to do something for him, but they were not in a position to do anything. Paul’s reminding you, God’s providence did not allow the Philippians to help him.
Immediately following his ministry in Philippi, the Philippian Christians continued to support Paul for six to seven years. But after that, for three to four years, while Paul was being held in Israel, sailing to Rome, then shipwrecked, his situation left the Philippians without an opportunity to help. The second half of verse 10 was God’s providence in the past.
But now everything has changed. In the first half of verse 10, Paul is now in Rome–they know he’s there. God’s providence has taken a turn in Paul’s favor as the door to assist him has re-opened. Philippi is tied to Rome. Though 800 miles away, there’s traffic between these two cities. And now with Epaphroditus coming to Rome he is able to serve Paul. And Epaphroditus has also brought another generous financial gift.
Paul’s response to this providential turn is described at the beginning of verse 10, “now.” In the present, Paul rejoiced in the Lord greatly “that now at last you have revived your concern for me.” Don’t you love Paul’s heart? Paul is one who stands firm in chapter 4:1, and all believers who stand firm rejoice, verse 4. Paul displays the joy in his heart here in verse 10–see it, by rejoicing in the Lord.
Not a little joy, but greatly rejoicing. Greatly is the Greek word, mega–mega rejoicing. And get this, Paul wasn’t rejoicing primarily because the gift met his need, but because the gift gave evidence of their continued love for Paul. It’s been awhile, but their love for Paul has not lessened in the least.
That is so true–gifts mean a lot, often not because of the gift, but because of the giver. And when the giver is someone you’ve not heard from in a long time, the gift is even sweeter because of what the gift represents—genuine, loyal, committed love.
Paul’s joy overflowed now at last, after years they’ve revived their concern for him (verse 10). The Greek word translated revived is a rare word meaning blossom again, like perennials in the spring. When gift-bearing Epaphroditus appeared in his cell, it was for the apostle like spring flowers suddenly bursting into bloom.
Those of you who garden understand revived. Revived is a horticultural term describing a plant which flowers again. The imagery is perfect. The Philippians’ affection for Paul was lying dormant for years, but now had once again bloomed in generosity. Paul’s trust in God’s providence is like the annual growing cycle. In verse 10, the word opportunity means growing season. And the word revived means blooming plants. Paul is saying their generous gift is like spring. There’s a providential season for everything.
I also love their confidence in Paul, don’t you? Others were saying Paul is all washed up. Having been locked up in Israel for two years, shipwrecked for one year, then locked up in Rome for almost two more years, many thought Paul’s ministry was over. But not the Philippians. As soon as they heard Paul was in Rome, as soon as they could, they send money to this jailbird.
They knew God’s apostle would be used greatly, even in jail. And they were right. Praetorian guards were responding–even some in Caesar’s household were turning to Christ. But how was Paul so unmoved by his circumstances? Simply because of PCP. Paul was confident in God’s providence. He was certain God, in due time, would arrange his circumstances to meet his needs. There was no panic on his part, no attempt to manipulate people. Paul did not take matters into his own hands.
How did Paul do it? Paul ministered above his circumstances, because he knew each season of ministry and all the details of life, were controlled by a sovereign God, in Ephesians 1:11, “who works all things after the counsel of His will” thereby causing, Romans 8:28, “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Those who seek to control their own lives will be frustrated, because it’s God alone who is in control, working His will out through providence. To live above circumstances, you must depend on God’s PCP–providence, care and power.
Providence and miracles are the two ways God acts in the world. A miracle is God’s direct, sovereign intervention into the natural world. A miracle is so contrary to the normal course of events, there is no scientific or naturalistic explanation for it, other than the power of God. Only God can accomplish a miracle. There is no natural explanation for restoring the sight of those blind from birth, completely undoing the damage of leprosy, nor raising people from the dead.
On the other hand, God’s providence does not interrupt the natural order. Rather, providence means God takes all the contingencies, events, words, actions, decisions, and elements of normal life and supernaturally weaves them all together to fit His purpose. Meaning this–providence is as supernatural as a miracle and providence is happening around you every single day.
As a church, we believe the sign gifts were apostolic and not for today. But as a church, we do believe in God’s supernatural providence every moment. Solomon acknowledged God’s providence over all events when he wrote Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
God providentially arranged for Joseph to rise to a high position in Egypt to preserve His people. As he explained to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
God providentially arranged for Esther to be in a position to save Israel, as Mordecai reminded her in Esther 4:14, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”
Do you rely on God’s providence? Resting in God’s continual, miraculous actions to work all things together in order to accomplish His will is meant to help you live above your circumstances. There is a second step to rise above . . .
#2 Trusting in God’s CARE with little or much in ministry
Read verse 11, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” Paul starts verse 11 with, “not that I speak from want”–it’s emphatic, emphasized in order to contrast with the statement Paul just made in verse 10. I rejoice you gave me this gift, and in the past you lacked opportunity to give. But in contrast, I want you to know I write this not because I had a need or lack.
In fact, verse 11, “I on my part do not lack anything”–with or without your gift. Why? Because Paul has learned contentment in every circumstance. Verse 11, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance.” Whether Paul is full or empty, rich or poor, fed or hungry–Paul is content!
Are you content in your circumstances? With your life? Family? Future? What is contentment? Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs, in his classic book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, says: “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment [Reprint; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1964], 19).
Contentment is a biblical quality. John the Baptist said to some soldiers who asked him how to manifest genuine repentance, Luke 3:14, “Be content with your wages.” To Timothy Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:8, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” The writer of Hebrews said the same in Hebrews 13:5, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have.”
Second Corinthians 12:10 says Paul was even “well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake,” because he knew that, 1 Timothy 6:6, “godliness” produced by those trials actually “is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.”
Don’t misunderstand contentment. It is not complacency, indifference or lack of concern for others. Contentment is not an escape from battle, but rather an abiding peace and confidence in the midst of the battle. In verse 11 Paul says, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” Paul is not saying contentment can be gained from circumstances, like from money, possessions, power, prestige, relationships, jobs, or freedom from difficulties–that’s what the people of the world think, but not Christ followers.
True contentment only comes from being rightly related to Christ and trusting in His loving care. There were stoics in Paul’s day who valued contentment as a virtue, but actually distorted the true meaning of contentment. The Greek stoics pursued this virtue. But to them, contentment was never showing joy, never allowing adversity to depress them, living emotionless and living self-sufficient in all things.
Contentment to them was living like a Vulcan. And sadly, there are serious Christians today who think Spock is godly. But that is not Christian contentment–Paul was, verse 10, rejoicing. And as he rejoiced, Paul was also resting in God’s fatherly care.
Memorize 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” So no matter what your circumstances, humble or prosperous, you can trust Christ who cares for you. Paul says it this way in verse 12, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance.”
Paul repeats twice, “I know how,” telling the Philippians, from experience and from growing mature in Christ. Paul learned in the past and now currently lives above his circumstances. He knows how not to let his trials, difficulties, hurts, hunger, or suffering cause him to respond badly or rob him of his contentment.
In fact, Paul doesn’t lose his contentment, even when ministry turns extreme. Read verse 12b, “I have learned the secret of [to] being filled and [to] going hungry, both of [to excel] having abundance and [to lack] suffering need.” Paul is letting the Philippians know he’s had his share of critical needs. He knew what it was like to survive with meager means in ministry. He also knew how to live in prosperity and have more than he needed.
All the terms used in these verses like humble, prosperity, filled, hungry, abundance and suffering need all describe the normal material needs of living. Paul was no ivory tower theologian–he ministered in the trenches. Paul had full times and empty times, rich times and poor times, easy times and difficult times.
But in the midst of all of Paul’s constant sufferings as he sought to serve Christ, he’d learned the secret of rising above those difficult circumstances. Though the word translated secret is the Greek word for mystery, Paul is telling the Philippians, living above tough times is not a secret. How do you pull it off? PCP.
Assumed in these verses is remembering God’s care in the midst of circumstances. Trust Matthew 7:9 to 11. Your Father won’t give you a stone when you need bread. Nor will He give you a snake when you need fish. He’s a loving Father. But the real secret to minister above difficult circumstances is point #3.
#3 Finding God’s POWER to face any difficulty in ministry
Verse 13, “I can do [I am strong] all things [in] through Him who strengthens [empowering] me.” This is the main answer, the secret to answering the difficulties of verses 10 to 12. Literally the verse says, All, I am strong, in the one empowering me. I am strong in all things in the sphere of the One who is empowering me. As with every other line of Scripture, the meaning of what Paul meant by, “I can do all things,” is controlled by the context.
Paul is saying in whatever circumstances I find myself, in whatever extremes–whether experiencing abundance with the wealthy, or fellowshipping with the poor, or struggling to proclaim the Gospel to a people who don’t want to hear, or enduring the wrath of the Roman government, or bringing peace to church division, or languishing in prison. I can be content and “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Paul is confident he’ll be divinely strengthened to do anything and everything God calls him to do in His ministry for Christ. Not only could Paul be content and confident in every circumstance, he could also be certain he’d be equipped with divine power to deal with it.
Now listen carefully–think and understand this verse correctly. The Greek text in verse 13 emphasizes the word translated all things, listing it first in the sentence. The context of verses 11 to 12 clarifies what Paul is referring to when he writes all things is physical needs, not spiritual blessings–all physical needs.
When Paul writes the verb “I can do”, it actually means I am continually strong. The verb means “to be strong, to have power, or to have resources.” I have resources. It’s translated in the New Testament, “overpowered” (Acts 19:16), “prevailing” (Acts 19:20), and “effective” (James 5:16).
The preposition through should be translated in (since it is in, not through)–so the promise reads, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” With all physical needs, I have the resources and strength in Christ when I don’t have resources and when I have abundant resources in ministry.
Whatever lack or difficulty which comes Paul’s way, he has the strength to meet it. If he is brought low, he is a man in Christ. If he abounds, he is a man in Christ. In any and all circumstances, he is a man in Christ. As a man in Christ, he can endure all things in ministry. As a man in Christ, he is content regardless of His situation.
Paul says, I can minister above blistering circumstances and I can minister above blessed circumstances, because I have all the resources I need being in Christ. The apostle doesn’t mean he could physically survive indefinitely without food, water, sleep, or shelter. What Paul is saying is when he’s reached the limit of his strength in his service to Christ, even to the point of death, Paul is infused with the strength of Christ.
Paul can overcome the direst physical difficulties because of the inner, spiritual strength God gives him in Christ. Philippians 4:13 is not a promise you can do anything you want to do. Do you want to fly? Go to flight school. But don’t take the controls of an airplane and start quoting Philippians 4:13.
Are you a non-golfer who wants to shoot 70? Muttering, “I can do all things through him” before you tee off will turn your fellow golfers into atheists! This verse is not about sports, or grades, or enduring a difficult spouse–it is about the strength God supplies as you serve Him when it’s easy and when it’s hard.
Put verses 10 to 13 together with verses 1 to 9 and you have this promise–if you’re following Christ’s will, obeying God’s Word, serving Him faithfully in a task where He’s gifted you and called you, Paul says you will have strength in Christ. PCP, trusting in God’s providence, relying on God’s care and depending on God’s power. And rejecting URW–U. R. WEAK, thinking God is Unable, Remote and Weak as you’re serving Christ, like Paul, you will Live above your circumstances.
A Keeping your focus on HEAVEN will cause you to live above your difficulties on Earth
In the midst of all his trials, Paul kept his focus on heavenly realities. In 2 Corinthians 4:17, the apostle wrote, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” With that perspective, is it any wonder no amount of pain, suffering, or disappointment could affect his contentment?
Paul knew God was providentially at work in everything. And Paul knew God cared for him regardless of what was happening. And Paul knew he could rely on God’s strength to get him through anything.
B Moment by moment dependence on God’s POWER will keep you steady in the storms
How would people describe you? Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? A thermometer registers the temperature around you–it always goes up and down. A thermostat regulates the surroundings and changes them when they need to be adjusted.
The apostle Paul was a thermostat. Instead of having spiritual ups and downs, he continued to faithfully and steadfastly serve Christ. Philippians 4:10 to 19 indicates Paul was not the victim of circumstances, but the victor over circumstances.
If you’re a Christian who continues to excuse yourself for getting mad at drivers who got their license at Kmart . . . or maybe you’re a believer who justifies your worry . . . or fear . . . or jealousy–because you just don’t think God is able. URW under the circumstances. To be a thermostat, start each day with PCP, trusting in God’s providence, care and power.
C Modeling the Philippians’ commitment to support Paul should change your GIVING
When Zacchaeus, the miserly little kingpin of the Jericho tax franchise, strode off to his home for a lengthy conversation with Jesus, no one anticipated the radical change that would be declared from his own lips for all to hear. Luke 19:8, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”
He gave 50 percent of everything he had to the poor and pledged even more from those he extorted. Tiny Zacchaeus had become a giant giver. What happened? Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house.” When a Christian hears how the Philippians chased down Paul in order to sacrificially give to support his ministry, it should impact every genuine believer here.
Christ is a generous giver, and so are Christians. Does it show in your budget? Is it demonstrated in your regularly, faithful giving?
D Relying on God’s Providence, Care and Power is only possible for CHRISTIANS
You are not able to trust God through the circumstances of life unless God Himself is in your life. As 1 Peter 1:3 says, “By God’s mercy, has He caused you to be born again.” You’ve sinned against God and you will be judged, then condemned, unless you give your life to Jesus Christ. If you’ve surrendered to Christ, then He can be your substitute.
On the cross, He was judged and condemned. And when your sin falls on Him, then your judgment is taken care of. He died for you, then rose from the dead so He can also live in you, transforming you from the inside out. Pray today, “Lord make me willing to surrender to you.”