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Strength to Face the Future
Philippians 1:18b to 21
Have you read about some of the predictions for the future? This is the time of the year when we hear from every self-proclaimed prophet about what’s going to happen. Here is some of what I picked up just by surveying the rags in the supermarket line.
Someone is going to figure out a cheap way to use electricity to directly tickle the pleasure center of the brain and the population of the USA will become horribly addicted. Oh wait, they did that—it’s called video games. A death control pill will be available to those seeking to take their own life—painlessly. Mall cities will spring up all over–gigantic indoor and outdoor complexes, where people work, shop, live and play. There are more, most of them bad, some of them good, but all of it painting an interesting picture of the future.
Do you think about the future? Sure. Singles wonder about marriage. Junior highers wonder what they’re gonna look like later. Seniors wonder if their health will hold out another year. Empty nesters wonder about living alone as a couple again. Parents of adolescents wonder if they’ll survive another year. High schoolers wonder about girl or boy friends, and which college to attend. The mother of four wonders how her kids will turn out, and whether she will wear out before they turn out. Single moms or dads wonder how to balance their work, children, living and personal life.
So how do we deal with the future? It’s 2015–we’re supposed to have already had a space odyssey in 2001. We’ve already arrived at Doc Brown’s Back to the Future. The world is supposed to be better—cooler. Yet the economy is uncertain, our kids are often taught lies, many of us can’t trust our friends or neighbors, jobs are fragile, our kids face dangers and diseases. How do we face the future? Paul gives us God’s answers in Philippians 1:19 to 21.
If you’re new with us, we’re going verse by verse through the book of Philippians and we are now at verse 19. You remember the setting. Paul is under house arrest in Rome, gets a visit from a leader in the Philippian church, Epaphroditus. Paul has a special affection for this body of believers because he knows them well and they’ve been his most faithful supporters, caring for Paul as he plants churches in the first century world, along with giving money to the saints in Jerusalem who are facing a famine.
Epaphroditus not only brought additional funds to help Paul while he’s under arrest, but also news of the Philippian church. He tells Paul the Philippian church is battling with disunity. Even leaders of the church are struggling with each other. They’re also battling with errant teaching, a works gospel, legalism and the idea you can achieve perfection in this life.
So after he greets the church in verses 1 to 2, Paul pours out his affections for them in verses 3 to 8, prays for them in verses 9 to 11, Paul then shares with them about his current circumstances in 12 to 18. God is using Paul’s house arrest to impact the most influential people in the Roman Empire, including Caesar’s household. And his imprisonment has caused the Christians to be even bolder in their witness. Even though some Christians in Rome were witnessing from false motives, trying to make themselves look good because Paul is in jail, Paul rejoiced the true Gospel of life-transforming grace was proclaimed.
Now in verse 19, Paul turns from his present situation to his future. The Philippians are wondering what will happen to their beloved brother and the father of their church. Will Paul die for his faith or will Paul continue to live to serve Christ here? How will Paul face this uncertain future?
What is your greatest fear for the future? What makes you most afraid of tomorrow, next year and the next ten years? Kids, death, marriage, job, finances? Today, allow the Lord Jesus, through the apostle Paul, to show you how to face the future–a future designed by Christ, controlled by Christ and ordained by Christ. Christian, be encouraged–you are being held by the One who holds the future.
Visitor and so-called Christian, see the imperative of entrusting your life to the One who controls the future. Here Paul is, under arrest for over four years, facing the possibility of execution, yet Paul says in verse 18, “and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.” Literally, “I rejoice in my current circumstances,” then using the future tense, repeats himself saying, “I will rejoice with whatever awaits me in the future.”
Paul is under arrest for over four years, currently chained, yet is super glad about tomorrow. How can that be? The answer lies in the main verbs of this text, which of course make up the main points of our outline this morning. Look at the passage from your outline, or for those of you with superior NASB versions, you can read it directly from your most trustworthy Bible.
“And in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice. 19 For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
As you read on, it’s obvious Paul doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him. The apostle hasn’t been given any divine revelation he’s going to be released from prison. The only two options before Paul at this point are death or continued fruitful ministry on earth. I’m certain for most of us–we’re not facing a choice between beheading and future ministry. We’re not chained to a Praetorian Guard 24-hours-a-day. But a lot of us are chained to a trial, some load or hurt which makes the future seem all the more frightening. How do you face that future–like Paul, with joy? Trust in Christ, who . . .
#1 Christ gives STRENGTH to face tomorrow
Verse 18b to 19 says, “And in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice. 19 For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance.” The prisoner Paul says, “My heart is singing with joy now, and I will be singing for joy tomorrow.” But Paul, are you losing your head? You may lose your head tomorrow? Paul says, “I’ll be rejoicing on that day.” But Paul, how can you say that and mean it?
Look at verse 19–Paul says, “For I know.” Literally, Paul says I know for a fact, I have a settled conviction–in the future the result of my circumstances, verse 19, “shall turn out.” The result will be “my deliverance.” Now as Paul says this, does he mean he’ll be released from prison, or does he mean he will ultimately be saved, even if he dies in prison? Answer–yes.
I believe Paul uses the Greek word “deliverance”, which comes from the root word for salvation as a play on words. Whether I am executed or released, I’m delivered. No matter what happens, live or die, I am saved. This is Paul’s can’t lose philosophy of living. No matter how scary life gets, with Christ you can’t lose.
Say to Paul, “I will kill you,” he says, “To die is gain.” Say to Paul, “Okay, we’ll let you live,” he says, “Cool, to live is Christ.” Say to Paul, “Okay then, you wanna live, then we’ll torture you.” So Paul says, Romans 8:18, “I consider the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul says, “Bring it on, I am in a no lose deal.”
Like riding on a roller coaster, it can get really scary–but you’re not going to die, so enjoy the ride. Living life as you follow Christ can get scary, but you can’t die eternally, so enjoy the ride. Do you remember what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego said to King Nebuchadnezzar when the king gave them another opportunity to bow down or be burned alive in the fiery furnace–remember?
Daniel 3:17 and 18, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
They didn’t know whether they would live or be burned alive–but either way, they would obey God no matter what. They couldn’t lose because God would either physically deliver them, which He did, or they’d be delivered spiritually, saved, brought home to God in Heaven forever in bliss. They had a can’t lose biblical philosophy of life.
Christians have no right to be gloomy about their future. No matter what happens, our future is joyful in Christ. As you view the future, is your glass half-empty or dry? Hear God’s Word today–Christians who are negative about their future insult God’s character, mock Christ’s salvation and spit on God’s wisdom. Your Savior controls your future and all the future being in Christ–you have a can’t lose future. But where do I get the strength to face my tomorrow? Paul highlights three crucial helps in this text.
First Strength from the PRAYERS of family
Look at verse 19c, “for my deliverance through your prayers.” Paul was confident he’d be delivered through the prayers of the Philippians. Paul believed nothing can frustrate the will and purpose of a sovereign God. And Paul knew God would bring His purposes to pass in concert with the prayers of His children.
Paul also knew, James 5:16b, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Paul relied on prayer. Romans 15:30, “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.”
God is sovereign, but we are responsible to pray! We can’t survive without each other. We were not meant to be lone ranger Christians. We were meant to be a part of a local family, together bearing each other’s burdens and praying for one another. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:25, “Brethren, pray for us.”
To find strength to face tomorrow, God has provided the prayers of the saints. The prayers of the saints are not a human provision, but a divine, God-given provision. The only condition is for you and I to know the saints well enough for them to share your burden and pray for you. Verse 19, “For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers.” And God has also provided . . .
Second Strength from the SUFFICIENCY of the Spirit
Verse 19d, “for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Along with the prayers of the saints, God has provided the internal ministry of the Spirit of Christ in order for us to be God-confident to face tomorrow. As a Christian, you have a divine power to live life and keep on living into the future–the third person of the Trinity, the indwelling Holy Spirit. We know if the Spirit is not in you (Romans 8:9) then you are not in Christ.
Does normal everyday life wear you out? It can drain you and I completely. Add a group of pre-schoolers or a couple of teenagers and being worn out is a daily occurrence. You’ve lived it: a frazzled lady is standing at the door of her house in her bathrobe, a screaming baby in her arms and three kids at her feet. The dog is barking, there is a mess on the floor and she looks haggard. There is a poll taker at the door and he says, “What do you mean you’re undecided? All I asked you was, ’Do you live here?’”
Men often feel the same–they’re continually red lining on the internal tachometer of their heart. There isn’t a Sunday that goes by when someone in our midst is ready to throw in the towel. They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. If that’s you, you need God’s strength that only comes through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The word “provision” in verse 19 means bountiful supply and full resources. Paul is speaking of the resources of the Spirit. What you need to face tomorrow will be found in the body of Christ, with 1) the prayers of the saints and, internally through 2) the power of the Spirit. Here the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ, reminding us the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and proceeds from the Father in the name of Christ.
Paul says, “I don’t face the future on my own. I don’t rely upon my own strength to deal with what is ahead. I have the prayers of God’s people and the help of God’s Spirit in my life.” All true Christians have the Spirit as their indwelling teacher, intercessor, guide, source of power, and all-sufficient provider. It’s the Spirit who gives the internal strength to face the future.
Galatians 5:22 to 23, if you’re fearful about the future, the fruit of the Spirit is peace. If you’re sad about the future, the fruit of the Spirit is joy. If you’re concerned about having enough in the future, the fruit of the Spirit is goodness and faithfulness. And if the future looks lonely, the fruit of the Spirit is love.
You don’t have what it takes to face the future alone. But Christian, you have the indwelling Spirit. Zechariah 4:6, “’Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” And Ephesians 3:20, “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.”
It’s really quite simple. When you fear the future you are facing it in your own strength, in your flesh. When you have faith in the God who already exists in the future, you’re owning what’s ahead in God’s strength, in the power of the Spirit. Relying on the Spirit is called “be being filled,” Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit.”
Being filled with the Spirit is a moment by moment dependence upon the Spirit by following His Word in obedience and seeking His guidance in everything. The filling of the Spirit is best illustrated by a toddler holding his daddy’s hand. A little child desperately needs to hang on to his father’s hand in order to keep from falling, and in order to get to where his father wants to take him.
God has given us His Spirit in order to face the future like Paul. No matter what happens, with the Holy Spirit, Paul had a can’t lose future. Thirdly, God’s provided what you need to face the future by giving . . .
Third Strength from an ETERNAL focus
Verses 19 and 20, “for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope.” Paul found strength to face an uncertain future, even with the possibility of being beheaded any moment, by having an eternal focus, a focus on forever in Heaven.
The Greek word for “earnest expectation” is exactly what my family used to do when we lived six hours away from the ocean. Because we are beach people, everyone in the car was craning their necks to catch the first glimpse of the water. We all wanted to be the first one to catch sight of the ocean. First one to see the water would shout, “I see it.”
Back then, we could barely stand the excitement as we rounded each bend to finally get to the beach. We were literally captivated in our earnest anticipation of enjoying the beach and sea. In the same way, Christian–you can face any future . . . a future of painful cancer treatments, a future of family crisis, a future of uncertain economic hardship, a future of difficulty in school or work or health when your ultimate focus is eternity in Heaven with Christ.
It’s true, when it’s darkest on a clear night—it’s those dark nights when you see the stars the best. “Earnest expectation” is used only one other time in the New Testament, in Romans 8:19. There it’s translated “anxious longing”. Do you have an anxious longing for Heaven? Don’t get the idea this heavenly focus is a passive pining for the future.
In reality, the word “earnest expectation” is a combination of three Greek words painting a picture of one who not only is focused on eternity, but one who has also turned away from any other distraction. The Christian with a true earnest expectation is the one who has actively turned away from every other object or person and has riveted their attention upon only one thing.
Notice verse 19 tells us this focus includes an intense concentration on our hope. Biblical hope is not a wish, but a certainty–the certainty of being with Christ in Heaven forever in perfection and joy. You and I need hope to cope.
Cornell University did a study of 25,000 POW’s from WW II. They found the POW’s could handle anything as long as they had hope. Once they lost hope, they died. And God says our hope comes from a strong focus on eternity as described in the Word of God. In order to face the future, you need the 1) prayers of your spiritual family, and 2) moment by moment dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and 3) to turn your focus to eternity.
When the certainty of Heaven tomorrow becomes your focus, you can face anything today. Will you do, act, apply? When your heart recalls that in Heaven you’ll be rid of mourning, pain, sin, sickness, deception, hunger, and you will gain perfect love, total happiness, full joy, absolute beauty, and perfect immortality, then you’ll be able to face anything tomorrow dishes out.
When my boys were learning to walk, we would get down, let them go and cheer them on as they took those first steps. The entire time, they were smiling and their eyes were fixed on us, their open-armed parents. If they got distracted, they’d fall. If their focus was on us, they walked well. If they had anything else in their hand, they’d trip.
In the same way, God says to us in Hebrews 12:1 and 2, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Don’t look at yourself, don’t look to the right or to the left, don’t look at things or people, career or family–but look up to Heaven and to Christ Himself. Then and only then will you have the strength to face tomorrow. But that’s not all we have to face tomorrow. As Paul looked ahead to an uncertain future, he could say . . .
#2 Christ gives CONFIDENCE I’m in His hands
The next main verb is found in the middle of verse 20, “that I shall not be put to shame in anything.” And “put to shame” means to be disappointed, disillusioned or disgraced. Paul has confidence God will not let him be shamed in the long run. It doesn’t matter some Christians are saying Paul is all washed up.
It doesn’t matter it looks like Paul’s enemies have won, taking him out of action for over four years. It doesn’t matter. Why? Because Paul is in God’s hands. The verb “not be put to shame” is a future passive meaning, as I face the future, a disgraceful shaming is not going to happen to me. Paul is saying nothing can happen to me outside of God’s control.
God controls the future and all that happens to me–therefore I have confidence. He’s not the volcano god demanding me to jump in lava. He’s my loving heavenly Father and I’m His child–therefore I can face the future because my Father is already there. Paul is saying, “I have a friend who is already present in the future. My loving heavenly Father is already there. He’s gone before me. He’s already waiting for me there. No accident can happen to me in the future because He Who loves me is already in tomorrow and in control.”
You’re in good hands–not with Allstate, but with Jesus. Paul is not worried about being beheaded or being released, because God has it all worked out already, and His plans are perfect, loving and all-wise. Paul rejoiced—verse 20, he’d not be put to shame before the world, the court of Caesar or God Himself because he knew God would be glorified through his life.
The Old Testament affirms the righteous will never be put to shame, but the unrighteous will. Psalm 25:3, “Indeed, none of those who wait for Thee will be ashamed; those who deal treacherously without cause will be ashamed.” Christian, you can face the future because you have the strength to face tomorrow and you have confidence in the future because your Father is already there. You’re truly in God’s hands–and you can say with Paul . . .
#3 Christ gives me a PURPOSE to live for
Read the rest of verse 20, “but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” The true believer has a new heart. That new heart has a new purpose. And the purpose that drives a genuine Christian is to have Christ be exalted. The motive of the transformed heart is for Christ to be magnified.
Second Corinthians 5:15 reminds us “He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” The true Christian wants to live for Christ–not that we do perfectly. Every one of us battles with living for ourselves, but our heart’s desire is to live for Christ.
Every true born again believer wants their life to point to Christ. We want the Lord to be seen. We want Jesus to increase and our lives to decrease. We want everyone to see Christ through our lives. When exalting Christ is our purpose, we can face anything in the future. If we’re trying to live for power, prestige, pleasure or possessions we can’t face tomorrow, since we could lose those things at any moment.
But if our purpose is to show off Christ, then it doesn’t matter what happens in the future–whether I die or whether I live, I can exalt Christ and nobody can stop me but me. The main focus of verse 20 is “be exalted”–that means magnified. Paul says my purpose is to be the glasses for the world to see Christ better. I am the magnifying glass to enlarge the view of the living God. I’m the lens that makes seeing Christ unavoidable. I’m the telescope making a seemingly distant God seem very close. I’m the microscope enlarging those unseen aspects of God’s character.
If you wear glasses, you have a regular reminder of what your purpose is, Christian. Just like these lenses bring life into focus for me, your life is to bring Christ into focus for others. Your life is to help others see Christ clearly. My purpose is for Christ to be conspicuous, to make Him look as great as He is, and give Him glory.
Face it, Christian–you and I can’t control the future. I can’t make things turn out my way–I can’t make my life go the way that I want. I can’t make others turn out the way I want. I have no control about what is going to happen in the next hour, let alone the next week. But Paul says here, as a transformed, born again, indwelt believer I can for the first time have confidence I can exalt Christ no matter what happens.
This is how you face the future. This is how to get through trials. This is what gives purpose to your pain–that Christ would be magnified. First Corinthians 10:31, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Look again at verse 20 and see how powerful this purpose really is. For when you live to exalt Christ then . . .
First Christ makes me a COURAGEOUS witness
See the phrase in verse 20, “but that with all boldness”? Boldness literally means “all speech”. Paul says, “it doesn’t matter if they’ve locked me up and thrown away the key, because my purpose is to magnify Christ. I will speak to everyone about Christ. Nothing can shut me up. Nobody will intimidate me. The mightiest Praetorian soldier will hear me speak about Christ.
“The most powerful person on earth at the time, Caesar himself will hear me speak of Christ. My circumstances will not stop me from sharing. My trials will not shut me up. My hurts will not turn my focus on me. My failures will not cause me to give up my cause. And the uncertain consequences of speaking out, possibly leading to my death, will not silence me.
“I can face any trial, any torture, any death, any future and speak out for Christ cause I’m not living for my comfort, I am living for my Christ. I will speak out without reservation because I’m not living to preserve me but living to proclaim Him. I will speak out to all because I am not living for my easiness but for His exaltation.” Boldness means to speak all. That makes me a courageous witness. And . . .
Second Christ causes me to remain FAITHFUL
See the phrase in verse 20, “even now, as always”? Paul is saying, “my purpose has been to magnify Christ, and my purpose is still to exalt Christ.” He says, “even now while I am in prison and facing the possibility of death, I will as always seek to exalt Christ. It doesn’t matter what’s happening, good or bad, jail or free, facing death or making disciples–my purpose is the same as it always has been, to magnify Christ. My purpose in life encourages me to remain faithful no matter what’s happening in my life.”
You can face the future, if your purpose is to exalt Christ. For it’s this purpose alone that will cause you and I to remain faithful no matter what happens tomorrow, next month, next year and beyond. And when my purpose is to magnify Christ . . .
Third Christ allows me to pay any PRICE
Look again at what Paul says in verse 20, “whether by life or by death.” The Philippians are very concerned, as you and I would be. “Is our founding missionary and apostolic church planter whom we love and support going to live or die? What is going to happen?”
Paul says, “It doesn’t matter because my purpose is to exalt Christ–I’m free from every concern. I have a can’t lose mentality because I can exalt Christ with my life and can exalt Christ with my death–so either way I fulfill my purpose. I have joy either way. I can pay any price, face any future because either way I will have great joy and can fulfill my purpose.”
Christian, can you now see what God has given you in order for you to face any future? God has given us resources to face any challenge, every trial and all hurts–no matter how daunting? Paul shows us by his own example that we can say, “I have a strength to face tomorrow, I have confidence I am in God’s hands, and I have a purpose to live for.” And if that were not enough, you and I can face the future because Paul summarizes it all with . . .
#4 Christ gives hope through HIMSELF
Verse 21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” To live is Christ–and if I die that is even better. You don’t know what the future holds, but you know who holds the future, Christian. You have nothing to fear about the future. You have Christ, so death means a far more wonderful eternity than you have ever experienced. For the non-born again church attender, make believer, this life is the only Heaven a non-Christian will ever experience, and this life is the only Hell a Christian will experience.
To live is Christ is the secret to Paul’s life. This is the highest motive of the genuine believer. This is so significant, so life-transforming, so radical, so amazing, so profound . . . we will have to wait until next week to plum its depths. Don’t miss it. Let’s pray.