Living Above Your Circumstances

Philippians 1:12-14

Tom Pennington  •  January 4, 2004
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Well, I encourage you to take your Bibles this morning and turn to Philippians 1. We're continuing our study of this wonderful little epistle. You remember when you were growing up how many stories ended with the blissful line "and they lived happily ever after". I think there is in every human heart a sort of deep-seated desire for that to be true of us in our lives. But you also remember if you're an adult when you discovered that real life was different. It doesn't turn out like the fairy tales. The reality is that life is filled with trouble and adversity. As Job 5:7 says, "Man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward."

Unfortunately, what compounds our problem is not only do we have lives that are filled with adversity and trouble, but our sinfulness leads us to respond poorly to those difficulties. How do we respond too often? Too often, we're prone to doubt the character of God. Why did God let this happen? We question God's power. Why didn't He prevent this? Or His goodness: how could He allow this as a good God? Or His wisdom: this can't be the best plan for me. We become embittered. We're tempted to doubt His love for us. We're tempted to complain and murmur about the situation and circumstances in which we find ourselves. We're even prone at times to despair.

How should we respond to these troubles that come like never-ending waves into our lives? Well, Paul teaches us by his example in the passage that's before us this morning. In spite of Paul's situation, you won't find in this little epistle one word of complaining or murmuring. Remember, Paul's in prison, uncertain of what his future will be. And yet, the epistle of Philippians, written from those circumstances, is often called the epistle of joy. How could he maintain joy in those circumstances? How could he be so filled with confidence in the midst of trouble? Well, he explains in the first chapter of Philippians.

In verses 1, 12 - 26, which is the section we begin today, it seems at first glance to be autobiographical, that Paul is simply telling us something about himself. But if you'll notice when we get to verses 27 - 30, he turns to the Philippians, and he ends the chapter with this in verse 30: "(you are) experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me." You see, Paul is in similar circumstances to what the Philippians are facing. And so he details his own response to his circumstances as a sort of living example of how they should respond to the trials and difficulties that they are facing. He wants them, and us as well, to follow his example. As he says elsewhere, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Jesus Christ." Think like I think. Learn to have the same attitudes I do toward trouble and adversity.

Notice how he responds. Philippians 1:12: "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear."

Paul's circumstances, as he writes this epistle, included really many of life's most difficult trials and, and troubles. He had lost his personal freedom. He had absolutely no personal privacy, a soldier always in his companionship. He had no personal comfort, no creature comforts. He was separated from the ones he loved. He was openly criticized, and his motives were questioned even by fellow Christians. He was deserted by many of his friends. He was in prison because of his faith, because of what he believed, and he was living under the impending threat of death.

All of his circumstances would be those circumstances that destroy joy. Yet Paul faced all those things with absolute and complete confidence and joy. How could Paul live above such terrible circumstances? Well, I think the secret of Paul's joy in the midst of trouble was how he chose to think about his circumstances. Oh, if he had allowed himself, he could have slipped into self-pity just like we do. But instead, he chose to think rightly about the adversity the Lord had allowed into his life. Remember what we studied when we first looked at the epistle of Philippians, and we looked at its purpose, its theme? We discovered that the theme of this brief letter, its primary purpose, is to teach us how to think like Christians, to train us in the basic attitudes and mindset of a Christian. And as we examine Paul's mindset in these three brief verses, we will discover four responses that will enable us, like him, to face trouble triumphantly, to live above our circumstances.

Notice the first response that should be ours to our circumstances. You find it in verse 12: live for God's purposes. You want to live above your circumstances? Then start by having this mindset: 'I'm going to live for the purposes of God.' "Now I want you to know, brethren (he says, verse 12), that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel." You see, the Philippians had heard about his imprisonment and had sent a financial gift along with Epaphroditus to assist him, but they were concerned about their spiritual father. Paul wants them to know what's happened to him. He wants them to understand a little bit of what's going on. "I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the progress of the gospel."

The word "progress" is an unusual word. It occurs only three times in the New Testament. It was used in secular Greek to describe that the work, the work that a group of men in the army did, much like our army corps of engineers - that group of men who went ahead of the army to clear a path for the advance of the, the march of the approaching army. Paul says my imprisonment has been just like those men out in front of the army. It's cleared a way for the army, but not for the army. Notice he says it's cleared a way for the progress or the advance of the gospel. My imprisonment has been like a corps of engineers ahead of me clearing a way, making a way for the gospel to advance.

Now what does he mean when he says "gospel"? We say that word. That's a part of our vocabulary, but let me just remind you of what he intends when he says "the progress of the gospel". In Romans, Paul clearly defines what the gospel is. He takes an entire book to lay out the essence of the gospel. And the essence of the gospel is that in the death, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has made a way to justify sinners. The gospel is all about what we call justification by faith, that legal decision God makes in which He declares the believing sinner righteous because He credits our account with Christ's righteousness, the merit of Christ's righteousness and His death.

This is very important by the way. Justification isn't some musty doctrine that the Reformers dusted off, and it doesn't really matter. Paul says in Romans it's the gospel. Listen to what he says in Romans 1:16 and 17. He says,

… I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also … [for] the Greek [okay Paul, so what is the essence, what's the, the foundational message of the gospel? Here it is]. For in it [that is, in the message of the gospel] the righteousness of God [that is, that righteousness which God gives to believing sinners] is revealed [and it comes by faith] from faith to faith [it's all of faith from beginning to end]; as it is written, "… THE RIGHTEOUS man BY FAITH SHALL LIVE."

"The man who is righteous by faith shall live", to paraphrase Habakkuk. Justification: that's what he's talking about. He says, "I am thrilled that in my imprisonment this wonderful message that God declares believing sinners to be right with Him forever is advancing."

Perhaps this morning your heart is crushed under a load of personal guilt for your sin. You realize that you don't have a relationship with God. You realize that you bear the weight and the responsibility for the sinful choices you've made and that God is just and right to condemn you forever to eternal separation from Him. And you would do absolutely anything to gain a right standing before God. The good news is you don't have to do anything. In fact, you can do nothing. Only believe. Believe in Him who, because of His grace alone, declares ungodly sinners to be righteous solely on the basis of the righteous life and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. That's what Paul's talking about in Philippians 1. He says, "Listen, don't be concerned about me. My imprisonment has made a way for the good news that God declares believing sinners to be forever right with Him through the death of His Son."

Here's the point. Because Paul's whole life was wrapped up in Christ and what he lived for was advancing the wonderful message of the gospel, his own circumstances didn't matter. Paul knew that God would use whatever happened to him for his good and for the advancement of the gospel, the advancement of the kingdom, and to Paul, that's what mattered. Notice verse 20 of chapter 1. He says, "It's my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." He says, "Listen, I only have one ambition. We're going to get there." This is a controlling verse. He says, "I have one ambition in life or in death and that is Christ would be exalted."

This is what Christ urged us, the attitude He urged us to have, you remember in Matthew 6:33. "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and (everything else, everything else you need) will be added to you." But be controlled, be dominated by, a passion to exalt Christ and to extend His kingdom.

You see, if you care most that Christ is exalted and His kingdom advanced, then your circumstances become relatively unimportant. Think about it for a moment. What are the darkest trials that you and I can face? What are the circumstances that you fear most? Devastating illness? Financial reversal? Loss of a loved one? A terrible accident? A rebellious child? Persecution for your faith? The prospect of your own untimely death? You see, if you're most concerned about pleasing Christ and serving as an ambassador of this wonderful news of justification, then none of those earthly circumstances can truly diminish your joy or derail your hope because regardless of what happens to you, Christ is building His church. The gospel is advancing. He's making a way to save sinners. He's glorifying Himself, and you have nothing to look forward to, nothing to anticipate but an eternity of blessing at the right hand of God, absolutely characterized by perfect, undiminished joy.

As 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, "For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison." You can live above your circumstances like Paul. If you will determine to live not for yourself, but for God's purposes, for the advancement of the kingdom, for the advancement of the gospel, then you see even in your most difficult trials opportunity for that to be advanced.

The next response that Paul models is also found in verse 12. Not only should we live for God's purposes, but secondly, we should look for God's plan. Look for God's plan. "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel."

In college, I read a very interesting book, a little booklet entitled Your Reactions Are Showing. The basic premise of the book was this: what happens to you is not nearly as important as how you respond to what happens to you. That reflects Paul's mindset here. Notice he says "my circumstances" – literally, "the things concerning me". But Paul doesn't describe what those things are. He doesn't describe his circumstances because the Philippians already knew. Remember that that's why they had sent the gift and that's why they had sent Epaphroditus and now that's why he's writing them back. So Paul uses this opportunity not to describe his circumstances, but rather to show them his attitude toward his circumstances. "I want you to know, brethren, something about my circumstances."

Now, before we go any further, let's remember what his circumstances were. He doesn't really tell us in this passage, but he does hint at it. Notice in verse 7: "my imprisonment", verse 13: "my imprisonment", verse 14: "my imprisonment", verse 17: "my imprisonment". The word "imprisonment" in the Greek text is literally "bonds" or "chains". It describes a small, short chain just a little longer than our handcuffs, about eighteen inches long. On one end of that chain is the apostle's wrist. On the other end of that eight, eight inch, eighteen inch chain is a Roman soldier. You see, from a human perspective, it couldn't get much worse. Over were the days of travel, preaching, going to the Jewish synagogues and evangelizing his own people, church planting, training up leaders throughout Asia Minor. He couldn't even visit his beloved churches. All he could do was write them letters. And he might soon hear that he would lose his own life. From a human standpoint, his circumstances couldn't have been much worse.

But what was his perspective? Notice what he says. The Greek word translated "greater" in verse 12 – you'll notice in your, in our Bibles, it's modifying "progress". That word "greater" is usually translated "rather" or "instead" most of the places it occurs in the New Testament – "rather" or "instead". So it's best to translate this verse this way: "I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances, rather than what you were thinking, have turned out for the progress of the gospel." You see, Paul didn't look at his circumstances the same way they did, and that's part of his secret for living above his circumstances. He could've focused on the chains and the guard just a few inches away, but he chose instead to look for God's plan in his trouble.

Isn't it true that the greatest comfort for us in the midst of adversity and trouble is to have the confidence, the knowledge, that God has a plan, that this isn't just happening to me, that this is not some random act in the universe, that instead God is working a plan? That's why I think in times of trouble and difficulty, we find ourselves turning so frequently to Romans 8:28: "For God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." God has a plan. My trouble is not for nothing. It is appropriate in the middle of life's trials to remind ourselves that God does have a plan. And it's even appropriate to reflect on what that purpose and plan might be just as Paul does here.

You look at other places in the Scripture, you see the writers of Scripture trying to deal with the purpose that God might have in the difficulty and trials that they're facing. Turn to Genesis 50. Some of you in our congregation have been studying this. Notice Genesis 50:20. Joseph is dealing with this issue, and he's trying to reconcile the fact that he was sold into slavery and that he was put in prison and he says this, verse 20: "But as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good [and here was God's plan and purpose] in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." You see, Joseph was looking at his trouble, and he was trying to discern God's plan and God's purpose in it.

Turn to Psalm 119, Psalm 119. You see the psalmist doing the same thing. Psalm 119:67: "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word." Notice verse 71: "It is good for me that I was afflicted [and here's what I see as God's purpose], that I may learn Your statutes." You see, he's dealing with these troubles and these afflictions that have come into his life and he's trying to discern God's plan and God's purpose behind them.

You see it in Acts 8, Acts 8:3. After Stephen's death,

Saul … [is] ravaging the church (verse 3 says), entering house after house, dragging off men and women, … [putting] them in prison. [Luke, the writer of Acts, looks for God's purpose in this. Why would God be doing this to His people?] Verse 4, Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

He says, "I see God's purpose. It was to scatter the saints from Jerusalem so that the gospel would be advanced, so the gospel would spread."

Even so, it's perfectly appropriate for you and I as we go through life's trouble - just as Paul did, just as Joseph did, just as the psalmist did, just as Luke did, to look for God's plan, to look to see what God is trying to accomplish. But while that's a valid thing to do, let me give you several warnings.

The first warning is: expecting to understand immediately. Don't expect to understand immediately. Sometimes it takes time to see the plan of God. You remember Joseph. He was sold by his brothers when he was seventeen. He became prime minister at thirty. It took thirteen years for Joseph to see the plan and purpose of God. Why would God allow that? Sometimes it takes time for us to understand God's plan.

There's a second warning - not only the danger of expecting to see immediately: but demanding to know ultimately. Sometimes, folks, we will never know God's plan and purpose in this life. What about Job? Job lost everything, and he never knew short of heaven that this was about God and Satan. This was about something much bigger than he was. All he knew was that he lost his family, and he lost everything that he had. Sometimes we will never know, and so, we can't demand to know, but it's perfectly appropriate to look for God's hand and plan and purpose.

A third warning I give you as you seek God's plan in your troubles is: don't think simplistically about God's providence, don't think simplistically. You know, I think sometimes when we run into troubles and difficulties, we ask ourselves, "What is the one thing God is trying to teach me? What is the one thing God is doing?" God's bigger than one thing. When God is at work, His actions are effecting millions of results. And even cross-generationally, God may be doing something in your life that isn't for you at all. It may be for your grandchildren or your great-grandchildren or someone that your great-grandchildren will minister to.

I'm reminded of the story of William Tyndale. I've shown you on Sunday evening my prized possession in life is this page from a Tyndale New Testament. Well, William Tyndale was printing copies of the New Testament outside of England, and his desire was to smuggle them back into the country so that his people could benefit. But an agent working for his enemy offered ostensibly to buy one of the first printings of these New Testaments and to smuggle them into the country. But after he'd given Tyndale the money, he took these New Testaments and rather than distributing them among the people, he took them to the authorities in the church in England. And all that work, months' worth of effort, was burned, went up in smoke and flames.

Tyndale could've looked at that lost energy and time and have been discouraged, but instead, he looked for God's plan in it. You know how he responded to the burning of that printing? He saw it with rejoicing because he said that first printing or that printing that was burned had errors in it and the money that he received in payment would finance a new and fresh edition, a corrected edition that would be more useful to those who would receive it. If you want to live above the vicissitudes of life, then you must remind yourself that God is good and that He has a plan. And in His plan, neither the ends nor the means can be improved upon.

Paul's third response to hardship and trials was: to lift up the gospel, lift up the gospel. Notice verse 13: "so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else." How could Paul be so certain that God had used his imprisonment to make the gospel advance, to show progress in the gospel? How could he be certain of that? Well, he gives us two reasons.

The first reason is in verse 13 and the second is in verse 14. So in verse 13, he's saying this: "I know the gospel has progressed because my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known." He means that many have come to know about Christ and the gospel because he's been in prison and to know that those are the reasons, Christ and the gospel are the reasons that he's in prison at all.

He says they've become well known, these facts have become well known. To whom? Well, he mentions two groups in verse 13. First, "throughout the whole praetorian guard". You see, the soldiers on the other end of Paul's eighteen inch leash were members of the emperor's personal elite guard, sort of a cross between our Secret Service and Special Operations Forces. There were about nine thousand men who were in this elite group. Now how could Paul say that all of them had come to know about his message? Well, remember Acts 28 tells us that he spent two years in his own rented room in Rome. And during those two years, every four hours there was a shift change. We don't know how many different soldiers were there, but we know that many different ones were undoubtedly routed through Paul's chain. Carson puts it this way:

Every soldier who was assigned this duty heard the gospel and perhaps something of his testimony and then they told others. Paul was neither a hardened criminal nor a suave, white-collar swindler. Instead of protesting his innocence or gauging his chances of impressing Caesar's court, Paul spent his time talking about a Jew called Jesus, who had been crucified at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and, if Paul is to be believed, had somehow risen from the dead. And according to this prisoner, not only will this Jesus be our judge on the last day, but the only hope anyone has of being accepted by God is by trusting this Jesus. In short, Paul was proving to be such an extraordinary prisoner that stories about him began to circulate around the palace – and not only stories about him, but the gospel message as well.

What amazing triumph. Paul tells us that most of these nine thousand men in this elite group, the praetorian guard, had come to know about him and his message.

But not only they, notice he adds: it's "become well known … to everyone else" - in other words, everyone else connected to his case, possibly many others connected to the seat of Roman government where he was. In fact, notice chapter 4 of Philippians, verse 22. He refers to the fact that "all the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household." There's some of the "everyone else". The gospel has penetrated even into the family of Caesar.

Now how did it become so widely known? How was it that the truth about Paul and his message became so widely known? Well, it was obviously Paul's witness. It was the fact that Paul opened his mouth and told them. I love the verses where he recognizes his need for prayer in this area. Look at Ephesians 6:19. He's urging them to pray and he says this, verse 19:

and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

Paul is asking for prayer that in the midst of his trouble, in the midst of his difficulty, he'll open his mouth with boldness and he'll share the gospel.

You see this again in Colossians 4, Colossians 4:3. Verse 2, he tells them,

Devote yourselves to prayer. Verse 3, praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.

Notice 1 Thessalonians 2. You see this same sort of prayer from the apostle. In this case, it's not so much a prayer as a report. He says, verse 1:

For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amidst much opposition.

This was Paul's character. But I love one last reference I'll give to you, 2 Timothy 2. Remember 2 Timothy is written from Paul's final prison cell from which he will not depart and he'll be shortly martyred. Listen to what he says in 2 Timothy 2:9. Let's start at verse 8:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which [that is, for Christ and the gospel] I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the Word of God is not imprisoned.

The Word of God still operates from a prison cell. You see, Paul spent two years in Caesarea as a prisoner and he shared the gospel with rank and file Roman soldiers and with key officers. While he was in Caesarea, he had the opportunity to share the gospel before two Roman governors, Felix and Festus, along with Herod Agrippa and their wives and their staffs. Now he's in Rome, and he's already evangelized the entire praetorian guard, others in leadership, and the gospel has even gotten to members of Caesar's household.

You see, Paul didn't have time to feel sorry for himself in trouble. In the middle of his greatest suffering in life, he saw an opportunity to share the gospel. The guard at the other end of the chain represented a person for whom Christ died. But remember, these were not wonderful, caring, loving men that he was chained to. These were hard, coarse and in some cases, foul men. But Paul saw it as a wonderful privilege, a wonderful opportunity to share the gospel.

You see, when you find yourself in trouble and adversity, see it as a special platform to share the gospel - the prison, the hospital, the intensive care unit, the cancer ward, the funeral homes. Those are often the gospel's most powerful pulpits. If you see suffering as an opportunity to share the gospel, then I promise you, you will live above your circumstances.

If you're ever in London, there's a site I encourage you to take time to see. It's a little known site. It's, I think, my favorite in all of London. It's a cemetery called Bunhill Fields. It's where all of the nonconformists are buried – men like John Owen and John Bunyan. The leaders of seventeenth century Church of England found John Bunyan's message unacceptable, and so they threw him into prison. He promptly began preaching to the prisoners in the courtyard, but something unexpected started happening. In addition to the prisoners that were in the courtyard, crowds, literally hundreds of people from the town of Bedford and even from surrounding villages, started gathering daily outside the prison walls to listen to Bunyan teach the Word of God.

Of course, word of this got to the leadership, and they decided to make a change. So they thrust Bunyan into this inner sanctum of the prison, deep within the prison, and they commanded him not to preach. Seems like his life has ended, his ministry has ended, but Bunyan speaks loudest from that silent cell because that's where he wrote his classic work that has ministered to millions of us and that is The Pilgrim's Progress.

You too can rise above your circumstances if you will determine in the midst of your trouble to forget yourself and to lift up the gospel of Jesus Christ. So live for God's purposes. Look for God's plan. Lift up the gospel.

Our final response to trouble and adversity should be this: don't let down God's people, don't let down God's people. Notice verse 14. He says:

"I want you to know that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel … so that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear."

You see, the other reason that Paul is sure that the gospel has advanced through all that has happened to him is that the majority of the Christians in Rome have gained courage. Notice he says "most of the Christians", the majority of them. Notice how he multiplies his words to speak of courage. The word translated "courage" literally means "to dare, to dare". They dare to speak the Word of God without fear. "Far more," that means to a much greater degree, to a much greater extent. And then he adds, "without fear". You know what Paul wants the Philippians to see? He wants them to see that if they will remember in the midst of their trouble, they can have influence on other believers just as he has influenced the Roman Christians in spite of the persecution and trouble. Now the Roman Christians were willing to speak up for the gospel.

They were willing to speak boldly the Word of God, and it's because of Paul's example.

Notice the grounds of courage. Verse 14 says: "and most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord." There's the grounds of our courage - having, literally it says, "having become confident in the Lord". The reason they could have courage is because they understood who the Lord was, they had courage in the Lord. Psalm 31:24 says, "Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord." That's where our courage comes from. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is simply the power to work through your fear.

And courage finds its foundation, it finds its grounds in the knowledge that God is in control, that nothing will happen to me that He hasn't permitted for His own plan and purpose; therefore, I can be bold, I can be courageous. Notice the instrument that God used to strengthen this trust in God: "because of my chains". The grounds of their courage was in God, but the instrument He used to strengthen that courage was Paul's imprisonment, Paul's chains. You see, as they saw Paul stand strong, they were emboldened.

Most of us have heard the story or read the story about those five Wheaton graduates in the middle of last century who were martyred by the Auca Indians, Nate Saint being the most famous. In fact, I had the wonderful privilege this last year to visit with the man who killed Nate Saint to see the radical change in his life as a result of the gospel, as a result of what God accomplished. But you know, a strange thing happened after the deaths of those five men, very strange indeed. First of all, college mission departments had a fresh vigor and enthusiasm. Missions became a popular major in Christian colleges. Mission agencies saw an influx of people wanting to become missionaries and to go to various places of the world and minister the gospel. Why is that? Because courage under fire awakens courage in others.

That's what happened with Paul. They saw Paul's courage in the worst of circumstances, the worst thing that could happen, in prison, anticipating death. And yet Paul is ministering to the guards. People are coming to faith in Christ. Even Caesar's household has been influenced by the gospel. And therefore, their own courage was strengthened, their own backbones were made straight. Notice how their courage expressed itself at the end of the verse. He says: "they have courage to speak the Word of God without fear." What does he mean by the Word of God? Well, look at verse 15. They were preaching Christ. They were dealing with the gospel, verse 16.

Because of Paul and because of Paul's influence on them as he stood in the worst of circumstances, as he was courageous in his own circumstances, their courage was strengthened, and they were willing to speak the gospel, to preach Christ, even in a very difficult place. Rome, in the middle of the first century, was a hard place to be a Christian, and yet they were emboldened, their courage was strengthened.

Listen, folks. When you find yourself in the crucible of adversity and in suffering of various kinds, remember that not only are unbelievers watching you to see if your faith is real, but believers are as well. Paul knew his response to suffering and hardship would affect many others and so will yours. People will be watching. Christians will be watching to see how to face the same trouble that you're facing. And if instead of becoming self-focused in the midst of trouble, you will seize the opportunity to be an influence for good in the lives of the Christians around you. In doing that, you will be able to live above your circumstances and, even in the worst of situations, your heart can be filled with joy.

My father-in-law, as most of you know, died this past January, January 31st of last year. Shortly before his death, in the few months he was able to, I think it was in September or early October, he delivered a couple of messages at Grace Church on Psalm 23. He called it, "Yea, Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death." He knew his death was imminent. He knew that shortly he wouldn't even have the capacity to speak. He did these messages on Psalm 23, and he just talked about what it meant as a believer to face death, that death was part of life and that death for the Christian was not something to fear because we had a Shepherd who accompanied us through it. That tape has become a powerful resource. In fact, it's literally circulated the globe. We've heard of people around the world who have benefitted from it. For fifty years, my father-in-law taught in a Christian college. He taught tens of thousands of students, but showing them by his example how to die was the most powerful lesson he ever taught.

If you want to live above your circumstances, don't focus on yourself and your problems. Remember, instead, your responsibility to your fellow Christians. Don't let down God's people. Follow Paul's example. Learn to live above life's adversity. What are the worst troubles you can face? What are the things you fear most? Think of those as opportunities, as opportunities to live for God's purposes, as opportunities to look for God's plan, to realize that God is good and that He has a plan and that He intends it for your good and for the advancement of His kingdom. In the midst of that trouble, lift up the gospel. Look for ways to share your faith with others. As I said, there is no more powerful pulpit than adversity for proclaiming the gospel. Unbelievers will listen because they have fear of exactly what you're enduring. And if you can endure it with joy, and you can proclaim the good news of faith in Christ and that that can equip them to deal even with life's most difficult days, they'll listen.

And then don't let God's people down. Remember in the midst of your trouble you don't live as an island. You don't live alone. You will influence others by how you go through trouble. And if you allow yourself to, to murmur and complain, you allow yourself to doubt God, to doubt His character, to doubt His goodness, to, to doubt His power, to doubt His, His wisdom – if you allow yourself to bring into question God's character in that way, then you will lead other Christians astray. You will show them by your example. You will always teach by your example. It will either be a bad example or it'll be a good example. Don't let God's people down.

If you will focus on those things in the midst of adversity and trouble, then I can promise you that you will be equipped to live above your circumstances just as Paul. Paul, he says: "I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my chains, have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear." May God give us the capacity to respond like Paul, to think like Paul thought.

Let's pray together.

Father, who is sufficient for these things? Even as we think about ourselves and the trouble that we've faced this last year and the possible trouble that You may bring into our lives in the coming year, we realize that we aren't capable of reproducing these things in ourselves.

And yet Lord, we want to obey You. We want to follow this way of thinking about our troubles. We want to consider it all joy when we fall into various trials.

Lord, give us that capacity, give us that strength. Help us to live for Your purposes. Lord, help what really matters to us to be You and Your Christ and the advancement of Your gospel, not our circumstances. Lord, help us to look in the midst of difficulty for Your plan, knowing that You do have a purpose, that You have something in mind that's for Your glory and our good.

Lord, help us always, whether in difficulty or in good times, to lift up the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that You declare believing sinners to be righteous on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ. And Lord, help us not to let our fellow brothers and sisters down. Help us to remember that our responses influence others. Lord, we thank You for this truth.

Lord, we pray also for someone who might be here this morning who needs the good news because they bear the weight of their sin. I pray that even this morning You would bring someone to repentance and faith because of the great news of justification.

Thank You, Lord, for using Your Word in our lives.

I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.