We can create the most detailed and elaborate plans in life, but life may not work out the way you want it to.  You can even plan out your kid’s future in great detail, but it doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.  You know this don’t you?  It’s our life experience.  As many plans as we make, ultimately, God will determine how things will work out.  This doesn’t mean we don’t make plans.  It means we make plans and when we face challenges, and we will, we will need to place our hope, our control, our expectations in God.

That is what Sam talked about last week.  Remember how he explained how the church in Philippi got started?  If you walk through the story, it was kind of a train wreck.  Paul starts out great.  But then ended up stripped, beaten, and in jail.  I was so glad he walked us through that because it took scripture and made it real.  He shared this scripture with us.

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.  NLT Proverbs 16:9

Let’s have some fun.  Put yourself in the story from last week.  You try to start a church.  You have some success.  Then, you end up stripped, beaten, and in jail.  I have a few questions for you.

What happened to your plans, your hopes, your dreams of building the next great church?  Is God still with you?  Did you fail?  Did God fail?  Are you succeeding?  What do you do next?  Do you quit because it doesn’t look the way you want?  Do you get depressed about life?  Do you become angry at God because things aren’t working out?  Do you quit your job, take another job that pays more and tell others that God is leading you?

Sam shared how Paul and Silas responded.

Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. NLT Acts 16:25

That’s amazing.  Most Christians today make an enormous mistake.  We don’t believe scripture when it says, …but the Lord determines our steps.  We believe that God is only with us when things go our way.  We believe God is only with us when things are easy and successful.  We believe God is only with us when we get the job that has the pay raise.  We struggle to believe that God is with us when we face challenges.  We struggle to believe God is with us when life is ordinary.  Because of this, our understanding of God can be very selfish and very shallow.  The story of Paul proves to us God is with us in our darkest times.

The small house church in Philippi has started.  One unique fact about Philippi.  It’s a city where Roman soldiers go to retire.  It would be like our State of Florida.  That means the city of Philippi is filled with people who are known for their die-hard patriotic nationalism.  They are very loyal and passionate to Rome as a country and Caesar as their king.  Imagine when Paul shows up to explain, Jesus is the true king of the world.  That wasn’t a popular message.  Paul faced resistance and persecution.  Even after Paul left Philippi, the small church continued to face persecution.

Fast forward, around 10 years later.  Paul is in Rome and in jail again.  He is under house arrest waiting to meet with Caesar.  He is much older and is facing the end of his life.  As he waits to meet Caesar, he is chained to a Roman guard 24-hours day, in 6-hour shifts.  The church in Philippi hears about this and sends him money to support him while he is in jail.

So Paul writes them a letter to thank them for their support.  They love him and he loves them.  As you read this letter, you realize it is a very different letter for a couple reasons.

First, Paul isn’t confronting anything.  In other letters like Corinthians, he is confronting bad behavior.  In Galatians he is confronting bad theology.  But in Philippians, it’s different.  He explains how we can be disciples of Jesus.  If you want to be a Christian, this letter really is the ultimate guide to life.

I want to read for you the core part of this letter.  If you understand what Paul is writing here, if you surrender your life to this scripture, it will transform your life.  If you don’t understand or surrender your life, there won’t be much transformation.  In fact, Christianity will be weird and clunky.  Here it is.

1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – a crucifixion.

9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth – even those long ago dead and buried – will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. MSG Philippians 2:1-11

Paul is saying, the core of Christianity is surrender.  It’s having the attitude like Jesus.  Jesus is God.  Jesus didn’t use His God statues to His advantage.  Instead, Jesus surrendered His God statues, humbled Himself to die for your sins.  And because of that, God honored Jesus.

The core of Christianity is surrendering your life to God.  That means your life isn’t yours anymore, it’s God’s.  Scripture says this.

19b You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. NLT 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Paul is saying, in all areas of your life, have the attitude like Jesus.  In your relationships, you humble yourself.  Love each other.  Help others get ahead.  Don’t be weird and try to get a title or be obsessed with getting your own advantage.  Actually, if this helps, quit focusing on yourself long enough to help others.  And if it becomes hard for you, remember this is what Jesus did for you.

Imagine if we lived this out.  It would transform every relationship.  I didn’t say it would be easy.  It’s not easy because we don’t want to surrender.  I said it would transform every relationship.  Every family.  Every marriage.  Every work environment.  Every church.  You show up in every relationship with an attitude like Jesus.  Today, I’m not going to endlessly focus on me, my hurts, my selfishness, my jealousy, I’m here to help you get ahead.

Surrender is the core of Christianity.  If you surrender your life to Jesus and live this way, your life will be transformed.  If you don’t surrender your life to Jesus, there won’t be much transformation.  Christianity will just be weird and clunky to you.  You will try to follow the rules and try to show others how you have it together.

Again, what makes Philippians different, Paul explains how we can be disciples of Jesus.  It’s surrender.  And if you get that, everything in the Philippian letter will make sense.

The second thing about this letter that makes it different, it’s about joy.  And that’s very odd.  Paul has been falsely accused and is in prison waiting for possible execution.  He is writing to a church who is facing resistance to God’s message and experiencing persecution.  How in the world can Paul write about joy?  Well, remember, the core of Christianity is surrender.  Joy begins with surrender.

There is a difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is based on things that happen.  Happiness is temporary, it comes and goes.  It’s surfacy.  That means, if things go my way, I am happy.  If my life is comfortable, I am happy.  If things don’t go my way, I am not happy.  If I am not comfortable, I am not happy.  Happiness is a real emotion but it’s shallow compared to joy.

Joy is different.  Joy it’s permanent.  It’s not based on things happening around me.  Joy is based on something very deep.  It’s based on what God has done for me.  It’s based on me surrendering my life to God.  That means I know God loves me.  I know God has shared His grace with me.  And every day until I get to heaven, I will enjoy God and help others get ahead.  And regardless of what happens to me, it can’t steal what God has done for me, it can’t steal my joy.  It may steal my temporary happiness, but it can’t steal my joy.

That’s what Paul had.  Paul had joy so when he experienced extreme persecution, he wasn’t defeated.  Let’s be clear, in persecution Paul wasn’t happy.  Paul however, had joy.

I want to read the opening of this letter.  Please remember a couple key things.  Paul is in prison.  He is writing to people in a small church, and they are facing persecution.  Remember, the core of Christianity is surrender.

This is the opening of Philippians.

1 This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons.

2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

7 So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. 8 God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation – the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ – for this will bring much glory and praise to God. NLT Philippians 1:1-11

Paul is saying, what really matters as you walk in this very difficult life, is love.  As a church in Philippi, I know what you are facing.  I know the city will discount you.  I know they may resist the message of Jesus as king.  I know you face persecution.  But the way you respond to this evil world, is love.  Live a life that is pure and blameless.  Don’t live obsessed with yourself and what you can get out of it.  Don’t always be focused on your hurts, your selfishness, your jealously.  Regardless of what you face, have character because even if others don’t like you, they will see God in you.  When you do that, you will be bringing honor to God.  It’s called spiritual intelligence.

Here are a few questions to wrestle with.

Have you surrendered your life to Jesus?

If you have surrendered your life to Jesus, does it show up in how you treat others?

Do you go out of your way to help others get ahead?

Are you obsessed with getting your way most of the time?

What would those around you say about you at work, in your marriage, in your family, in church?

In your relationships, are you focused on what others can do for you?

In your relationships, are you focused on your hurts, your selfishness, your jealousy of others?

Are you struggling to surrender your life to Jesus, and it has made your Christianity weird and clunky?

Are you struggling to surrender your life to Jesus, and it has made loving others at church hard?

Are you only happy when things go your way?

Do you find your emotions all over place based on things that happen to you?

Are you joyful regardless of hard times?

Are you able to walk through hard times and not be defeated?

Are you able to walk through hard times and know God is with you?

What if a day came when Christians are persecuted, how would you respond to your enemies?