Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Secrets

Secret of Surviving Suffering and Struggles

dokimh - peira - purwsis
dokime - peira - purosis

No matter how you spell it, in Greek, English, or transliterated, no one likes to consider this word. In the Christian life this is considered the dreaded "T" word. It difficult to consider the trials that God either sends into our lives or allows to come into our lives as friends. Regardless of the admonition by the half-brother and former pastor of the Jerusalem Church, rather than embrace a trial, we despise them.

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing," (James 1:3-4, ESV) 

Rather than despise our trials or flee from our trials, we are to embrace them and consider the fact that a trial has beset us. Why? We know that the end result of the trial is God working in us to bring us to maturity as He conforms us to His image. (Romans 8:29) Trials are not punishments. God is not angry at you. God never punishes His children. He will however, lovingly chastise His children who fall into sin and remain unrepentant. He will use trials to mature, develop, grow, strengthen, and complete us.

In Philippians 4:10-14 we have a very unique and interesting look into the Apostle Paul's view of trials and circumstances. Paul has written this letter to the Philippian Church at the end of his two year Roman imprisonment and just before he was acquitted by Nero and released. Keep in mind that he has spent the last four years under house arrest. Paul spent two years under house arrest in Caesarea, survived a harrowing shipwreck and then an additional two years under house arrest in Rome. Paul knows something about unpleasant or adverse circumstances.

First, let me say some theologians have a hard time with this section. They think it is out of place and out of character and therefore cannot be attributed to either Paul or this particular letter. Second, some even feel that Paul has been somewhat ungrateful or even sarcastic about the gift that he is about to thank them for.

There seems to have been quite some time, maybe as much as six to ten years since the church at Philippi has given an offering to support the Apostle Paul. It may have been that the believers who dug deep and gave to Paul thought that he would have been happy to have received this money. After all he is under house arrest and cannot work in order to support himself. Read the text carefully. Paul's joy was in the Lord. The material supply in the midst of a trial made Paul happy. The key verb in this letter shows that Paul was more concerned about the attitude of being Christ-like, or having the mind of Christ.

Paul made it clear that the trial did not cause him concern. He was not affected by his "needs." Why? Paul had  learned to "be at home," or comfortable with whatever God chose to supply him with. Paul was content. What does that mean? Paul used the Greek word μανθανω (manthano) which means to "learn, or to increase knowledge." This word often appears in "mystery religions." It means to "learn the secret" and gives the meaning of a secret knowledge that only the "initiated" members of that religion or club knows.

Paul is saying he learned a secret. What secret did Paul learn? Contentment, particularly Christian contentment is learned through experience. This is why God allows times of trials or seasons of need in the life of His children. We cannot learn to smash self-sufficiency in our lives nor can we learn to fully develop dependence upon God except through circumstances of need, or through trials. Paul came to grips with his circumstances, be it shipwreck, hunger, thirst, imprisonment, being slandered, stoned, pursued by those who would harm him, abandonment, beatings, and anything else you can think of and he learned to fare well in them because of his learned dependence upon Jesus Christ.

Circumstances are the classroom of our spiritual growth. Paul was unaffected by riches or by poverty. Why? He learned to be unaffected by deepening His walk and relationship with Jesus Christ who is the sufficient one for us. Paul developed a solid "theology of things." Have you? Paul learned that ultimately things do not matter. Relationships matter, particularly our ever deepening relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This is how Paul rose above his negative and even painful circumstances. It is how you can rise above any circumstance that God allows into your life. Regardless of its pain, intensity, or severity. This is what enables someone like Job who lost his servants, sheep, ox, camels, donkeys, eventually all ten of his children, and finally his health to say, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD...Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 1:21; 2:10, ESV)

Briefly, how did Paul do it or how did he learn it? Paul depended upon Jesus Christ for the necessary strength. Paul endured these trials and circumstances by the strength that God provided through Jesus. Philippians 4:13 is misquoted, mishandled, and taken out of context to the point that the original and intended meaning of Paul is all but lost. Christians have a tendency to take this verse and make it a blanket statement about the spiritual abilities of a believer. Some Christians use this verse to act as if there is nothing they cannot do. Paul did not mean that therefore do not take this verse out of context and either abuse or destroy its meaning. Paul could rise above poverty, want and need through the strength provided by the Lord Jesus Christ. He could maintain the joy of the Lord in the midst of adverse circumstances. Paul could rise above plenty, abundance, and fulfilled needs through the strength provided by the Lord Jesus Christ. It takes as much grace from God to remain joyful and faithful to God in plenty as it does to remain faithful and joyful in poverty. Even in plenty, without the supply of the strength of Christ we fail to be grateful, we fail to give praise and glory to God, we become boastful, and use the abundance on our own desires rather than using the extra to further the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore Paul said, I can do all things, be content in poverty and be content in plenty through Christ, who gives me the strength.

Victory in trials, contentment in trials, and embracing them with joy comes from a conscious dependence upon God and His power in Christ. A mark of spiritual maturity is knowing how to depend upon God in every circumstance rather than complaining, running, grumbling, or murmuring.  

I will be the first to admit it is easier in good circumstances than in bad ones to practice such joyful dependence. I will admit I have failed many times. God has been faithful to first, forgive me, second, to strengthen me, and third to send a new set of circumstances to continue my development in Christ!

Lord, please allow me to learn this "secret" of the Apostle Paul daily, and not just for "S" day!

2010 A-Z Challenge:  S is for Stand Up For Jesus
2011 A-Z Challenge:  S is for Secrets


Ma said...

God never punishes His children. He will however, lovingly chastise His children who fall into sin and remain unrepentant

I had never heard it put quite that way...very comforting.

My dd asked me about Phil 4:13 and it's meaning just a few days ago. I got the opportunity to show her how to look for the context:)

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Excellently written Gregg, most enjoyable.


Seams Inspired said...

You explained 'the secret' quite well, Gregg. Thanks! My prayer is the same as yours, and I hope to learn and keep the secret in my heart every day.

Blessings to you on this Good Friday. :o)

Penned Pebbles said...

Another great post, Gregg! Focusing on the joys and riches of Christ really does leave little room for discontent. Praying with you! Blessings!

Robyn Campbell said...

Lovely words here, Gregg. I admit to being one that in a trial, I decided to have a pity party. (Seems I rather like those.) :-)

But I am content in my trial I am going through right now. I know God will deliver me. And as you said and said so beautifully, "God has been faithful to first, forgive me, second, to strengthen me, and third to send a new set of circumstances to continue my development in Christ!" God isn't just good, he is splendid, breathtaking, awesome, astounding, and every other word that describes great. :-)

Kansas Bob said...

"Contentment, particularly Christian contentment is learned through experience."

Absolutely Gregg! I wish it could be learned some other way. :)

Cathy M. said...

"...Blessed be the name of the LORD!" That has been an oft' repeated phrase around here lately. This was a good thought for Good Friday.

Ella said...

Thanks Gregg for sharing this secret and tilting my view~

Anonymous said...

Trials are the pits and I never look forward to going through them. As far as I'm concerned the best part about a trial is when it's over and I can look back and see how faithful my God has been even when I wasn't. Praise His Holy Name!

Anonymous said...

This is hard for me to read right now, but I know it's true.

Anonymous said...

"Circumstances are the classroom of our spiritual growth."

Oh, how true this is brother!

Susan said...

Great post, Gregg.

I've been computerless for a while, so I'm trying to catch up, and am a little late in commenting here...

Thank you for reminding me of "the secret"... it's one of those things you can know and yet fail at keeping when the rubber meets the road, eh? Thankfully God is LONGsuffering.

LittleGuyintheEye said...

Good study. Nowadays, to many, trials are indicative of one who is not walking with the Lord. This is the exact opposite of the witness of The Scriptures. Good article on this subject matter. This is what believers need to hear. YHWH Bless you and Keep you.