Recall some of these Simple-Truths which we have considered, ones which turn out to be most profound: The Lord is my Shepherd. He has shown you, O man, what is good and what God requires of you. … Here, we look at Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength [that Him is God, or specifically Christ Jesus]. This seems like a very simple text, the kind of hopeful Bible verse we expect to find stitched onto a knitted pillow case! What could be confusing or complicated about such a comforting and assuring promise?
- Well, I do hope that you love this verse (for what it really means, in its fullness), but when the Lord God finds us in this wicked world, the attitude of each one of us is more like this: I can do all things … period! I am awesome, wonderful, sufficient, capable, and independent … so why would I need the help and strength of an invisible, distant Being?! Thus thinks the arrogant man of this world.
- But for His chosen people, the Spirit of God brings us to the place where we confess the opposite of what we were believing (or at least claiming) before, and so we are now agreeing with God (a linguistic description of repentance): I cannot do anything! This is an admission of total inability, at least in the spiritual realm of doing anything to merit God’s favor. I am incapable of saving myself from the pit in which I have fallen, from the troubles which I have chosen. But if the world mocks such an attitude of weakness, the Bible holds it out as the necessary testimony of the lost man who must be born from above, raised from the dead by a sovereign act of the living God.
- I am sorry to admit (this is my personal issue; perhaps it is yours too?) that many believers then move from confessing their total inability, through salvation in Jesus Christ, to this kind of false confidence: I am a Christian now … so now I CAN do all things [in my own power]. As if Jesus gave my battery a jump-start, so now I am good-to-go for another year. But this is the false-to-reality attitude of The Arrogant Christian (which is an oxymoron, for morons).
- Slightly better (we imagine within ourselves) is the attitude of the believer who has been around for awhile, so he knows some of his own weaknesses, but he still misses the big idea of this entire universe. So he claims: I can do all of MY things with the power of Christ (as if the highest use of the powerful authority and glorious attributes of God is to meet my selfish demands and to fulfill my self-centered desires).
- May God bring us, in His time (but soon, please!) … to grasp our continuing need to believe and to act upon every part of this simple verse: I can do / all things / through Christ / who gives me strength.
- Extending, and not contrary to this verse, and not inappropriate to the verse, but expositing this verse in light of other ones … aim for this spirit: I can do all of Christ’s things, through all of Christ’s strength which is at work in me (for it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me). The “all things” of Philippians 4:13 should be thought of as Christ’s things, all of Christ’s things.
- And the context of Philippians 4:13 guides us to this understanding. Many will assume that this is a verse about the believer’s ability to control his environment through a kind of self-talk or mind-control (which ends up in a version of matter-control), by which a faith-filled person can change his reality, making life or the world better for himself. And if Christ’s power helps us get to this better state more efficiently, then that is most useful! Well, Philippians 4 is actually about Paul’s resolve to be content, whatever the circumstances. Paul praises God because God has taught Paul (through many years and many trials) how to be satisfied in God, even when Paul was in a state of need, even when Paul was hungry, even when Paul lacked. I dare say (this is another rebuke to me; you?) that most Christians do not even want to have such a power (to be content with little). Have you ever prayed for such a gift?! And if we read beyond this favorite (but misunderstood) verse, we find ourselves in the midst of a thank-you note, from Paul to the church of Philippi. Paul expresses his gratitude and thanksgiving, that God used their generosity to meet Paul’s need. So this pillow verse is not (again) about the power of mind-over-matter, but it is about the power of the Holy Spirit over our typical self-centeredness, to convince us that others matter, and that my more-than-enough at this moment may be God’s very provision to supply the need of another … in order that all of God’s people are sufficiently supplied, so that God gets the glory.
I am grateful that my Doctor of Ministry pursuit at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) has me reading some great books … AND I am grateful that some of these books are already familiar to me! One of these familiar books was The PeaceMaker (by Ken Sande, a Reformed elder and Christian attorney). Proving the value of reading good books twice, I came across this phrase last month which I did not recall from my first reading nine years ago. Listen ~ and register an amen (or otherwise): Christians are the most forgiven people in in the world!
If you said and nodded amen, that means you agree ~ and so you regard this as true. Well, is that true?! If you are a Christian (and according to your public professions, most of you are Christians), do you often think of yourself as the most forgiven person? Just as critically, is this how the world thinks about us, that we are and we think we are the most forgiven people in the world … or do they think something else about our self-perception?! Since I am in the mood for great questions (sneaking in three of them already!), I may as well keep on charging ahead. Ask and answer these ones in your personal mental space:
· As part of that most-forgiven club, what is it you are forgiven of/from? There is a hidden, assumed word there, one which we must highlight: sin(s). So the most forgiven people in the world must have been great, low, chief sinners?
· Forgiven … by Whom? Surely not by the self, or by energy or a simple force. Forgiveness must be by a Person; Who?
· Why have you been forgiven? That is, on what basis? Who paid? What price?
· Forgiven … how much? … how often? … how deeply? That is, what does true and full and free forgiveness mean? What does that feel like ~ inside you?!
· Forgiven … for what purpose? Any reason, beyond mere guilt-clearance?
· Are you merely forgiven ~ or are you more-than-forgiven? Is “Forgiven-Sinner” the only label you wear now? Is that your best label? Did Jesus pay for more?
· Consider Bible connections between forgiveness, law, repentance, faith, and grace.
· Is there any Bible relationship between forgiveness and love? How about: God’s love produced your forgiveness which produces your love for God, for His gospel, and for other offenders, even those who have sinned against you? Especially since Jesus Christ put it thus: She who is forgiven much, loves much. And since we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” … is all of this true in your case?
· Does it follow in you (and in most Christians) that the most forgiven people are also the most forgiving people? Would there be evidence for or against this in your own trial?
· And what difference does all of this make concerning assurance of salvation, family and church life, on the job and at school, for your life in the community, in your dealings with this sinful world, and in your Christian witness?
In Genesis 39-41 we observe a young man, recently kidnapped and sold away from his home by his flesh-and-blood brothers, transported by cousins into distant Egypt, learning what it means to trust & obey the Lord in a challenging situation! Make that ~ several challenging situations ~ as God moves Joseph from slave quarters, to the master’s house, to the master’s estate, to the king’s prison, to the king’s palace (second in command of an empire). Though this part of Joseph’s story has him “alone” (in that he is not interacting with father Jacob & his brothers), Joseph is surely not apart from God, who is always with him. It is during these twenty years or so that we see illustrated sanctification principles, attitudes for those of us living 3,800 years after this Old Testament “hero” to practice in the midst of our own challenges.
- Faithful in little; faithful in much. Joseph had three “jobs” during this part of his life, and in each of them, God had him “start low” … and yet, after showing skill and excellence in the little matters, he was given more responsibility and opportunity. This fits with what Jesus said in Matthew 25:21, in His parable of the talents (the ten, the five, & the one): “Well done good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things. I give you charge of many.” Paul elaborates on the heart attitude under this pursuit of excellence. Colossians 3:22-25 ~ “Work as unto the Lord. It is the Lord Christ you serve.” A spoiled generation wants the fruits of success at the beginning (characterized by debt lifestyle & general dissatisfaction with “life at the bottom”), but this worldly and greedy spirit is not of Christ.
- Speaking the truth when it is easy, and when it is hard. In Genesis 40:12-19, the prison dreamers want to know what their futures hold, and Joseph is clear and honest with both. In Ephesians 4:15, one way we grow up into Christ our Head is by speaking the truth in love. In the Old Testament, there were two kinds of prophets: false ones made good livings at the palace by telling kings what they wanted to hear (the ultimate “yes-men”), while faithful prophets told the truth and sometimes ended up at the bottom of a well, or worse. We see the same division among New Testament preachers (some killed for saying the hard but essential things, others enriching themselves by scratching ears just so). Granted, it is always fun to bear good news, but an important part of our message pertains to judgment. As Eli said to Samuel, the young prophet: Don’t hold back; tell me everything!
- Regard all sin as rebellion against God. In Genesis 39:9, Joseph exclaims to the wife of his master Potiphar (who is trying to seduce him): “How can I do this great evil and sin against God?!” In Acts 5:4, according to Peter, Ananias lied not to men but to God (even though it is clear that he lied to Peter as well). In David’s famous confession (Psalm 51), the psalmist laments to God: “Against Thee only I have sinned.” In most cases, our sins are a combined offense against God & man, but the godly, growing disciple of Jesus is disturbed in the first place with what his sin (or in Joseph’s case, his opportunity to sin) would imply about his relationship with God. Loyalty to man is not enough. Ultimately, we live “Coram Deo” (before the face of God). Ironically, yet just what we’d expect, Potiphar’s wife had dozens of gods, but she seemed unconcerned about offending any of them through her actions.
- Flee from temptation. Again, Joseph is the classic exemplar of this principle, as he did literally what all of us must do literally, spiritually, emotionally, computerly, I-Phonally (however the temptation to sin is coming at you): Basically, put distance between yourself and the sensations which are luring you to sin. Joseph did the right thing, whether or not the temptation to be with Potiphar’s wife was getting to him. Paul writes to the church in licentious Corinth: Flee immorality … and flee from idolatry. Then to young pastor Timothy: Flee from greed, love of money, and youthful lusts. Flee instead toward righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Pursue them; even persecute them (that is the kind of intensity you must apply as you chase them down)! 1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:10-11; 2 Tim. 2:22. There are some very strong verbs at play here: fly from, escape as a fugitive. Sin’s nature, understand, is to get our attention, attract us, allure us, break down all arguments against full participation, then entrap us, leading to bondage.
- Store up for the day of adversity (Genesis 41:33ff). We are not told that God gave this specific plan to Joseph (how the Egyptians should put back 20% of the harvests in the years of plenty), but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. In Proverbs 6:6-8 we are challenged to consider the ant, who diligently plows and plants today in order to have a harvest later. Some call this powerful, unpopular habit “delayed gratification.” A strange parable Jesus told in Luke 16 about a shrewd (unethical) manager has one simple point: “Plan ahead!” Certainly, this is a challenging balance for Christians to maintain, as we are called to live by faith, to not be worried about tomorrow, to be generous toward the needy, and yet prepare ourselves for the possible future trials. For those of us who lack wisdom in this vast area, I am glad to know where we may get it (James 1:5)!
- Give all glory to God (Genesis 40:8; 41:16,51,52). Joseph credits God alone as he seeks to encourage the downcast prisoners, to take in Pharaoh’s praise, and to name his two boys. Peter, John, & Paul did well in this also: We are only men! These deeds were accomplished in the name of Jesus. Herod, you may recall, did not return glory to God! Humanly speaking, Joseph overcame much and exhibited strong character; the temptation facing him as his story began to take a comedic upturn might have been: “After all that undeserved suffering, it is about time that I get some recognition!” No, for Joseph, all glory was directed to his God. For Joseph, Yahweh would be his portion, not the false praises of man.
- Spreading the blessing around. In Genesis 39:5, we see no hint in Joseph of resentment toward his captors. Part of the Abrahamic Covenant is that God blesses those who bless us. We see this in the Jacob/Laban relationship while they were living together; the world that visited wise King Solomon was blessed through that interaction. The Christian is to be like a preserving, savoring, flavoring salt in/for his world, and we are to actively pray and work for the blessing of the places where we live (even places like Babylon). Well, it is a fine thing to say that this kind of thing will happen. It is even better to rejoice when it happens, to marvel at God’s power to use us in this way, to pray for more examples of this means of God’s grace to the world, and to intentionally bless our neighbors (even enemies) as we are able.
- Facial counseling! In Genesis 40:6-7, Joseph notices much by observing the faces of his fellow prisoners. At a minimum, this is because Joseph cares to look! We see God doing a similar thing in Genesis 4:6, concerning Cain. Mark 6:34 tells us of the compassion of Jesus, who perceived the multitudes as sheep without a shepherd. Those of us who are called to care and to keep cannot let “the job” replace God and people. Care for and about the one. Consider the many other Egyptian prisoners Joseph may have encouraged during his years of managing that place. As a man of God, it would have mattered very little to him if that ministry “paid off” in the end by improving Joseph’s lot. He was concerned for others.
- Upholding the just cause. Again, this requires a careful balance. In Genesis 40:14-15 we find Joseph speaking up on behalf of his own just cause when he is given opportunity. It is clear that Joseph does not believe he deserves to be in prison, and he wants to be released soon! Some will say that this episode of speaking up for himself did not work, for Joseph remained a forgotten prisoner for two more years; but it did work later when the butler remembered! Paul on several occasions utilized the fact of his Roman citizenship rights to avoid beatings, to appeal to Caesar, and to minister in Rome. See, a Christian does not want to be abused! It is good to speak up for justice, whether the episode of injustice you are protesting is harming yourself or others. We must balance with God’s wisdom the charge to “turn the other cheek” with being part of the just and righteous solution.
- Getting over it (or “It’s okay to be happy”). Genesis 41:50-52 depicts Joseph forgetting, rejoicing, and moving on. We are only halfway through this grand story; Joseph does not know about the happy family reunion still to come. Through the careful and faithful naming of his sons (Manasseh and Ephraim … God helps me to forget my previous troubles and Fruitfulness in a land of affliction) we understand that it is good to enjoy what we can of our half-finished stories. Ecclesiastes 3:11-14 memorably informs that, by God’s design, there is a time for everything (some of these “everythings” are sad or hard), and yet we can be happy, and do good as we live. Many find it hard to give up their bitterness, but it is a big part of pressing on and it is essential for those who want to grow to be more like Jesus Christ.
So in sum, we see that Joseph was not alone during these decades in Egypt; God was with him. Let us follow Joseph as he followed Christ! Even more, see King Jesus (the Prince of peace) ordering all these circumstances for the well-being and secure future of all His people.