05-12-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
Phil 1:3-6 (NIV) 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Did you ever have one of those days when you just don’t seem to have the energy to get up and go?
Unless you’re a mom (whom we all know are super human; they’re always on the go; moms cannot be stopped — even by a truckload of toddlers) — so unless you’re a mom, you’ve probably had times where you felt short on energy…under-powered.
After all, even Superman had his Kryptonite days, right? We know it when we need something more:
It’s one thing to feel empty or powerless about life in general.
But what about when we feel that way about our spiritual life? I’m not talking about being a spiritual superman…a spiritual giant: killing giants, conquering strongholds, taking thoughts captive, leaping tall buildings in a single bound.
Let’s face it: most of us would be happy just to get throught the day without any major screw-ups. Right? Most of us would be happy if we could just not fall flat on our faces. To just not drop the ball.
We don’t feel like spiritual giants. We don’t leap out of bed, flexing our spiritual muscles, raring to take on the devil: “Bring it on, Satan!”
It’d be nice to be a spiritual giant, but most of us would be happy just to be still be standing upright at the end of the day.
We’re human. We struggle. We know our spiritually weaknesses. We know what it is to face temptation. We know the frustration of believing one thing — but living another.
So here’s my question: Why do we so often stop short of our potential in Christ? Why don’t we have a church full of spiritual giants? Why do we settle for less than what God plans for us? What expects of us?
It seems Christians are often content with being merely forgiven when God wants them to live in power!
Of course, we are human. We are stuck in this earthly world. We’re trapped in weak bodies of flesh. It’s only natural to live beneath God’s full intentions for us. It’s normal in this world to live sub-par Christianity.
We struggle with weaknesses and temptations. We are easily irritated. We are impatient. We give in to anger. We get discouraged. We wring our hands, and we worry. We plague ourselves with doubts and fears and questions: “Why? Why not? What if?”
We try hard to be holy and blameless and humble — but then we’re proud about how humble we are. We put on a brave front in public. We do the best we can — but standing alone in front of the mirror, we can see through the facade. We can see the pain, the shame, the fear just beneath the surface.
This may seem extreme, but as humans, I don’t think we’re not much different from Ariel Castro in Cleveland who hid deep, dark secrets behind boarded windows and padlocked doors for years. Shameful. And when those secrets were brought to light, did you see what he did? He was still trying to hide. He covered his face as he was led away to be booked. In court, before a judge, he could only look down.
Some of you are thinking, “I’m not like that guy.” And of course, you’re right. You are different. You haven’t done the things he did.
But you have done things. We all have done things. The Bible says we all have sinned. We have all fallen short. There is none who is righteous. No, not one. So in the final analysis, we’re not that much different from each other.
We like to compare our faults and our sins so we can rank ourselves higher than some other poor schmuck, but really…we’re not all that much different.
Which begs the question: Why do humans struggle so? Even Christians! What prevents us from living in the fullness of God’s purpose and plan? What gets in the way? What holds us back from the full impact and finishing power of God’s grace?
These kinds of questions were likely on the mind of the apostle Paul as he sat down with his disciple, Timothy, to write his letter to the first-century believers in Greek city of Philippi.
Paul was the one who had taken the news about God’s plan to the people of Philippi in the first place — the vision, the Macedonian call (Acts 16:9-12). It was in Philippi that Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison. But around midnight they were praying and singing hymns of praise, and a violent earthquake shook the foundations. The doors all flew open and all the prisoners chains fell off. Because of Paul’s suffering and God’s earthquake, the jailer and his whole family became believers (Acts 16:25-31).
So Paul knew the Philippians had experienced God’s grace. He also knew they had a ways to go.
Just like us. We also have a ways to go.
We talk a lot about the spiritual journey. We all are on a journey through life — a spiritual journey. You begin it when God taps you on the shoulder and gets your attention. Along the way, if you respond to him, you accept his gift of grace and forgiveness. Your life is changed. You experience new life. Miracles. Hope. A future — an eternal future. You become different than you were before.
But none of us have yet reached the final destination. None of us is complete. In fact, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re still humans — forgiven, but human, nonetheless. We still have to deal with human weaknesses and flaws.
So we’re all on this journey moving towards what God wants us to be. But even a spiritual giant as notable as the apostle Paul who wrote this letter had to admit that he had not yet laid hold of everything that Christ intended for him.
Phil 3:12-13. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 …I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it…
Not yet. That’s encouraging to me. Does it help you to know that the apostle Paul — a spiritual giant if there ever was one — had not yet reached his spiritual goal?
Not yet. We all are in the “not yet” phase of our Christian journey: We’re not what we were, but we are not yet what we’re supposed to be.
So here’s the deal: You don’t have to beat yourself up if you’re not yet what you should be. You don’t have to wallow in guilt or struggle with shame just because you have not yet reached your goal.
If your faith life feels impoverished and weak — well, that’s what it sometimes feels like to be human.
If your energy is spent just trying to survive rather than to thrive, well, that’s often what happens with humans. Even humans who are forgiven.
But Paul — who was perhaps writing as much for himself as for the Philippians — wanted to get his eyes off of his human struggles and lift them up to see the potential of God’s promises!
And so he wrote to the Philippians (and to us) reminding them that they can tap into God’s power.
Phil 1:6 (NIV) …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
(MSG) 6 There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians talks about very real struggles and challenges of life.
- We’re forgiven, but we’re not yet complete.
- We have God’s power at our disposal, but we’re not yet free from our human weakness.
- We’re on the way to eternity and heaven, but we’re not yet away from this earth.
- We’re not the same as we were, but we’re not yet what we will be.
We are in the not yet stage of our journey. But Paul wants us to see into the future — what we are becoming, what we will one day will be — so we can take practical steps in that direction now and see real, practical change.
The Bible calls this “sanctification.” It’s a complex theological term which, at its most basic level, simply means to become holy, to be set free from sin, to be specifically set aside for God’s purposes.
Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit — living within us, empowering us — so we can be better today than we were yesterday. We are already saved, already forgiven, already justified. But we’re still in the process of becoming holy.
And Paul says God will complete this process: he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:6)
Someone has said that we are “people of the future” — we live in the present — in the now, but we look forward to what is coming. Though we live on this earth, we are “citizens of heaven” (3:20) who can begin now to live according to heaven’s ways (which is our future life).
We must not lose sight of where we are going. We cannot forget what God is still doing in us! This is why this short letter (only four chapters) calls us to ongoing spiritual growth and continual improvement:
- …my prayer: that your love may abound more and more (1:9)
- Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. (1:27)
- …continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling… (2:12)
- Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead… (3:13)
- …press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus (3:14)
So if you have faced overwhelming circumstances or disappointing setbacks, if you have stumbled on the journey, if you’ve fallen on your face a time or two, you need to know three things:
(1) You’re not alone. We’re all in this together. But you also need to know
(2) You can be more than you are right now. You can grow and improve. You do not need to live in a downward cycle of spiritual defeat.
You can rise above anemic, impotent faith. You can rise above your circumstances! Spiritual weaklings can grow stronger. They can win victories. And even if they don’t have a perfect season, at least they’re doing better than they used to. One day, they will become overcomers. How?
(3) God will give you power. There are biblical principles to help us strengthen our relationships. We can work and pray for positive changes in our homes, our marriages, our jobs.
God will complete the good work begun in you! God intends for you to become more and more like Christ — in your attitude, in your conversations, in your work, in your family, in your love.
Phil 1:9-11. 9 And this is my prayer [Paul wrote]: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
In another place, Paul said God’s predestined plan for his people was that they should “be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29).
You can try all you want and as hard as you can to conform yourself to the image of Christ. But you will never succeed without God’s power, God’s enabling, God’s dynamic Holy Spirit. Our human efforts will always come up short.
About 80 years ago (~1930) Elías García Martínez painted a fresco of Christ entitled “Behold the Man,” showing Jesus with a crown of thorns. It was painted on a column inside a church near Zaragoza, Spain.
Over the years, however, humidity and salt residue caused the oil painting to deteriorate. The paint began to flake off. The colors faded.
So last summer 82-year-old Cecilia Giménez, a devout church member who often took solace gazing at the painting, saddened by its state of disrepair, she took it upon herself to fix it. But, as she put it, “very quickly it started to go wrong; the paint absorbed into the damp. It got out of control.”
“I was only trying to do a good thing,” she said. “I wanted to return it to its former glory.” Unfortunately, her best attempts fell short. Some now call the painting, “Behold the Monkey.”
In our human strength, when we do our best, very quickly things start to go wrong. When we try to replicate the image of Christ in our lives, we will always botch the job.
But God is able to restore the likeness of Jesus in you!
…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:6)
God began this good work. And, if you put yourself in his hands and allow him to keep working on you, he will complete his work in you. More and more people will see Jesus in you.
God wants to change your behavior, your attitudes, your conversations, your character, and your confidence in him. God wants to energize you! He wants to empower you to live for Christ.