It’s hard to believe it but a new year has arrived! I remember as a boy when I would think about the year 2000, I was just sure life would look like the Jetson’s cartoon from my childhood, with hover cars, and jetpacks…it seemed so far away, but here we are in the year 2022! All joking aside, there is something pretty special about a New Year isn’t there? It’s a time to think through new beginnings and fresh starts. It’s a time when most of us make our New Years Resolutions which hopefully we can keep this year and hopefully lead us to greater health, and a better year than the year before. So, there is something hopeful and exciting about the start of the new year, and we can say it, the last couple of years haven’t been all that easy! I remember last year at this time just being ready to put 2020 behind us, but I’m not sure 2021 was any easier! In so many ways though the New Year brings new plans, and this idea these new plans bring hope, and joy, and excitement…and hopefully we can stick with these new plans all year long. But, with another year under our belt, and more life experiences to draw from can we just talk for a moment about these plans? I mean, do they ever work out the way we draw them up in our heads? I can go through countless examples in my life of wonderful plans and images I had in my mind of how things were going to go…but the reality of the life I live has been that my best laid plans don’t go exactly according to my plans! How about you? Does everything you draw up in life work out just the way you want it to? I can look back over the last few years for all of us and say, I don’t think it does…this makes me think of a few places in Scripture…and we will start here in James today…
James 4:13 Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” 14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” NLT
I think it is awesome that we make plans and resolutions, frankly I think it’s important to have those goals, and I am not discouraging you from that…but I think this perspective from James is pretty important here, because in the end, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, there is so much unknown and really, only one thing that we can depend on and that is that we have God in our lives, who is in control, and is will always be with us, regardless of what happens next. I think this is why Solomon tells us that we can make plans, but we need to be sure that those plans are committed to God. I think this really is echoed by what James was telling us a moment ago.
Proverbs 16:1 and 3 Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word (MSG) 3 Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. NIV
So, life has taught us sometimes the hard way that in the end, our best laid plans typically aren’t going to go off as planned. Life isn’t easy, we deal with adversity, unknowns will hit our lives sometimes really hard, health stuff, relationship issues, stress, anxiety, accidents…so often our best laid plans come up incredibly short of our expectations, and when that happens we can struggle with the loss, frustration, and disappointment and well, we just don’t respond well to life and how hard it can hit…but if we commit our lives to God, our plans will succeed, even when things aren’t going the way we pictured, or how we drew them up, because in the end we know that God is with us, and that God has us…which is hard to hear when we are walking through challenges and pain and hurts that we didn’t write up as part of our plans! Solomon goes on to say something so profound, and maybe frustrating just a few verses later in Proverbs 16.
Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. NIV
Isn’t that so true, I know it is for me. I draw up some incredible plans for my family, for my life, and for ministry and what it should look like…wonderful plans with goals and dreams of amazing success and peace and joy along the way, but it just doesn’t always work out that way does it? Life is so tough, and hits so hard at times, and I think it’s only magnified when it shatters our idea or plan of how things should be going. Life is so hard…and while goals and plans are great and important in the end, we truly don’t know what tomorrow will bring. This often leaves us hurt, dazed, and confused, and just wanting someone to give us the answers to life. I think we can all feel this way, just hoping that we could have a guide or manual or just some way to understand life because nothing seems to be working, and it just doesn’t seem to get easier. Well, what if I told you that we do have that guide, that not only do we have God living inside us, but we also have the ultimate guide to life and love in God’s word…and to start the New Year conversation we are going to dive into the book of Philippians.
I’m really excited to dive into this study of Philippians with you because Paul does an incredible job of walking us through life and how we should live it and gives us so many good practical handles for us to live out this life of a disciple in this challenging world that we have already been talking about today. A world of challenges, and hurts, a world full of amazing highs and tremendous lows…a world where our best laid plans and goals just don’t seem to work out the way we would like and I want you to see something in the greater context of Paul’s writing…Paul understands the challenges you face in life, he also would have had plans and goals but understands what it truly looks like to give and commit all of those plans over to the Lord…because I’m not thinking much about Paul’s ministry went according to his plan or how anyone would have trained a church planter to succeed. Paul understands how challenging life can be and how much can get thrown at us along the way, because he lived it out. Check this out…
2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 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 Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 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. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. NIV
So, can I ask you something? Do you think Paul planned for any of those things in the list above as he set out to live his life? Do you think as he set out to plant churches shipwrecks, beatings, and snake bites, and all these other challenges were part of his three-step plan to greater success in ministry and in life? I doubt that too…but this is Paul’s reality, and the life he was living, and somehow in all of it he is worshipful, and focused on Jesus and lives with a joy and gratitude in midst of pain and hurts at levels most humans will never face. I think Paul can really relate to Solomon’s words we looked at earlier.
Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. NIV
I think because of the life he lived, and what all he walked through and how he did it, he is the perfect example and leader for us to learn how-to walk-through life from and this letter, Philippians is an awesome letter for us to study as we try to find a guide to help us with all we walk through in life. So let’s talk for a bit about this letter, give it some context that I think makes it even more profound.
First, I think it is really important for us to understand where Paul was when he writes this letter to his young Philippian church. Paul is in a jail cell in Rome. This was more like a dungeon than a jail cell, it was dark, and cold, and smelled…it was a horrible place to be, and Paul is in this prison waiting to die, with his execution over his faith in Christ Jesus more than a reality it is inevitable. Again, I don’t know that Paul would have drawn up the plan this way as he sat down and thought through his life and his ministry, but here he sits, writing to his churches from this horrific situation, which makes this next thing about the letter even more fascinating.
Second, and I don’t want you to miss this. This letter is known as Paul’s most joyful or happy letter. Some have named it “The Epistle of Joy.” The words joy and rejoice are used over and over again in this letter, and don’t miss this, where was Paul when he wrote this? In a dungeon waiting to die, writing to his church of the joy we can have in the Lord, and encouraging his friends and all of us focus on God, and engage the joy and love that no one or no circumstance could ever take from us! This is something Paul walked in and understood that he works so hard to help us all see. When Christ is in us, and God’s love is flowing in and out of us, the joy of the Lord can’t be stolen by external circumstances! I think it’s easy for us to say, yeah but Paul didn’t live in all the political drama and volatility that we do today. Really? Do we need to talk about Nero, the evil leader who was ruling Rome at this time? Do we need to go back over all Paul walked through? Paul has great integrity and a true grasp on the secret that all of us could walk in, because Paul’s focus is on God and no external thing, no circumstance or challenge take the joy of the Lord from Him! This is so big to see here today!
So, Paul plants this church, and is now doing what he does, writing back to them to help guide them and all of us as we try to navigate this difficult world that we live in. Paul really does a great job of encouraging them and all of us in this letter. They lived in very difficult times, just like Paul, and in many ways, it can feel like we live in such times where anything of God feels opposed in every way.
Philippians 1:27 …I will know that you are standing side by side, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it. NLT
I love this letter, and see so much wisdom and depth to what Paul is saying especially when you understand the context of where Paul is and what he is walking through as he writes this letter…so this is where we are headed as we get rolling in a brand new year, we look at Paul’s Ultimate Guide to Life and Love and I can’t wait for where all this can take us as we do our best to navigate all that life throws at us which I am hopeful we are agreeing and have clearly established that life does throws a lot at us.
It’s interesting, we have these ideas in our minds and plans of what should be and how it should look when it comes to life and our futures. We do the same with our spiritual lives, and even can do this with how ministry should look, which after being in and around church plants over the last 20 years I can confidently say that I think Solomon was very wise when he said that we can make great plans in our hearts, but the Lord determines our steps. Paul would understand this at a level that most never will, and I think it’s something we should draw out today in this new year and new discussion as we introduce Philippians to you. For most of us when it comes to ministry, we just want an outline or plan to replicate. I think a lot of us have an idea of what ministry should look like, and how it should be done. So, I thought what we should do as we dive into this study of Paul’s letter is to look at how Paul planted this church, and what is fun is we actually get to see how it was planted in Acts 16. Now what is interesting is there aren’t too many trainings out there to teach you to replicate what Paul does in establishing this church.
So, let’s take a look at how this church came to be. Paul is on his second missionary trip to spread The Gospel to the world and in Acts 16 starting in verse 11 we see them start the church in Philippi.
Acts 16:11 We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. 12 From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She was baptized along with other members of her household, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed. NLT
So, they make it to Philippi, and on the Sabbath, they go to where they think people are going to be and start talking, so this makes sense and seems to be like a great plan. They run into some women, one who is names Lydia, and she comes to accept Christ and her and her whole household come to know Christ! This is awesome, she invites them to her home, and they go and stay with her, and the church plant is underway with Lydia, who would be a person of higher society, dealing with purple cloth sounds simple now, but back then was very rare and high-end stuff. So far this sounds like a great way to plant a church and like everything is making sense and going according to plan…until it isn’t.
Acts 16:16 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a demon-possessed slave girl. She was a fortune-teller who earned a lot of money for her masters. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.” 18 This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her. 19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. 21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.” 22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks. NLT
Ok, now we need to stop and talk for a moment. Paul and Silas are now in prison, this can not be part of the plan, can it? They have come to do good things, help people, and plant churches and share Jesus…and so far they have helped Lydia and her family, they have been harassed by a demon-possessed girl until they help her…and her owners who were exploiting her for money are so furious ith them, they beat them up, drag them to the authorities, a riot breaks out with an angry mob against them, they are stripped naked and severely beaten, then chained up and thrown in prison. So, how is that plan of Paul’s to do good and plant a church going now? This is Paul we are talking about, who is an amazing man, and follower of Christ, who is the original church planter, who writes a lot of our New Testament for us…isn’t life supposed to go according to plan for him? Can you imagine church leaders later inviting Paul to a big Church Leadership Conference, having him stand in an arena to inspire more people to plant churches, wanting him to take the stage and share his ‘How to plant a church manual’ that he wrote from these experiences? I’m not sure too many people would be buying tickets to hear these stories and want to live out these things that Paul endured as he planted churches. Because it doesn’t go according to any human plan that is for sure. Can you picture it? Step one, find a location. Step two meet some people and introduce them to Christ. Step three insight an angry mob, get beaten severely and thrown into prison…this can’t be part of the plan, can it? I’m sure it wasn’t how Paul and Silas pictured the trip going, but I want you to see how they respond. Because it says a lot about who they are and what they are up to.
Acts 16:25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” 32 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. 33 Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God. 35 The next morning the city officials sent the police to tell the jailer, “Let those men go!” 36 So the jailer told Paul, “The city officials have said you and Silas are free to leave. Go in peace.” 37 But Paul replied, “They have publicly beaten us without a trial and put us in prison—and we are Roman citizens. So now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not! Let them come themselves to release us!” 38 When the police reported this, the city officials were alarmed to learn that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39 So they came to the jail and apologized to them. Then they brought them out and begged them to leave the city. 40 When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town. NLT
Ok, so Paul’s amazing plan for success seems to have been completely derailed here. I can’t picture this going like they drew it up and how does Paul and Silas respond? What are they doing? They are there in prison, severely beaten, chained and in the stocks, at midnight, in the dark…worshipping God. How does that happen? How do you joyfully worship God in that moment? Paul has something nailed down, that he will continue to try to instill to all of us. When Jesus redeems our lives and is now in us, and we are living centered and focused on Him and His love and grace we have something that can never be taken away from us…which is Jesus! Which allows us to live with joy, and gratitude even when our plans are derailed and can’t be taken away by anything in this world, in our culture, or by any person because it’s God in us! Paul is free even while he is in chains. Paul is in the light, even in the dark prison cell because Paul has Jesus in His life…and Paul will continue to encourage us all to live this way, and he doesn’t just say it, he certainly lives that out. Paul understands God’s in control, and running the show, and while I’m sure he had made his own plans, it’s very clear that he has committed them to God. Which shows us why Solomon’s words are so profound and wise…remember that?
Proverbs 16:3 Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. NIV
So, Paul is in a horrible spot, with his plans and goals shattered, or at least we would think they would be, but instead since it’s all committed to God, I think he believes he is in this prison for a reason, and that God has him right where he is supposed to be. How do I know that? Well because he is worshiping, and then when he has an opportunity to fix it and escape due to the earthquake, he doesn’t flea, and fix it on his own and get to life as he would want it, no, he stays there and leads the prison guard to Christ! When Paul had the opportunity to run for freedom, he stays right there and trusts God and loves on the jailer…and what do we see take place? The jailer and his entire family become Christians, and are baptized and the Philippian church is born…just like any human would draw it up am I right? A chance encounter with Lydia the purple cloth dealer, a demon-possessed slave girl, an angry mob, severe beatings, imprisonment, and a jailer and his family is how the Philippian church is built. Then Paul nearing his death writes back to this church who he obviously loves so much and gives us the ultimate guide to life and love that we will walk through here in the New Year.
So, as we close this thing down let me ask you a few questions as we start 2022 and begin this study of Philippians.
- As we start 2022 and we make new plans, commit to a new me in the new year and make different New Year’s Resolutions…have you committed those plans to the Lord?
- Take a moment and think about some of the best laid plans you had for your life, when things didn’t go exactly the way you wanted, how did you respond? Were you angry, depressed, did you quit trying, or did you respond like Paul with God focus and worship and a sense that maybe God had another plan in store for you?
- Do you believe that God has you exactly where he wants you to be in life?
- Do you see how the Philippian church was born and how does that affect your view of ministry, and the mission of Christ? A church built from Lydia and her family and a random encounter near a river, a demon-possessed slave girl who was harassing them and then healed, and a jailer and his family who had Paul and Silas in prison…how does that line up with how you see the mission or ministry, or how clean you thought ministry or church planting would be?
- If you are where God wants you, and people can come to know Christ under the circumstances we see in the that started the church in Philippi, then the real question becomes who around you know who needs God in their lives the way you and I do that you are bumping into each day?
- Do you see how Paul can be content and worshipful and undeterred, regardless of what life throws at him?
- What does it say to your heart today, that this letter, known as “The Epistle of Joy,” that we are diving into was written by a man in a dark, cold, smelly prison who was waiting to be executed for the faith he is encouraging us all to have?
- Last question, what challenges are you facing right now in your life, and how are you responding to those challenges on a personal level?
So, it’s a New Year, which is always a time for dreams, for fresh starts and for new plans for our lives which is awesome. There is something so exciting about that, but with each passing year we also gain learn some valuable lessons through all that we experience, and we have learned that the reality of life is that it isn’t easy, and nothing quite goes the way we draw it up in our heads. So, if that is true, then how we respond to life, to the twists and turns, and challenges we will face is going to be a big deal, and Paul is an incredible model for what can happen when we truly center our lives on Christ and live for Him and not ourselves anymore. Not only does he model it for us, but he teaches us how to do it ourselves, we are so excited to dive into Philippians with you here in 2022, what we see as The Ultimate Guide to Life and Love.
We love you and pray that 2022 is an awesome year for you and yours! Happy New Year!