HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you were able to spend some quality fun time with friends and family. In light of this transition, I am wondering if you would take time to reflect on the previous year?
For me, I often spend some time reflecting on the previous year during the Holiday season. I usually think of things I’ve done, and what I hope to see change in the new year; I set them aside as things to give to God in prayer. I don’t set resolutions personally, but I know many folks that do set resolutions. I find myself often at the gym, and the one thing we all know is that at the beginning of the new year, many folks set resolutions to work out and to lose weight (I need to do this as well). The thing is…over the span of the next 1-3 months, many of these folks end up stopping or not showing up at all after a few sessions. There are many reasons for this, but today I am not going to address that side of resolution setting. Rather than talking about the outcome of resolutions, I want to talk about the reasons which we are motivated to set resolutions in the 1st place.
I think the primary reason we set resolutions is because there are ultimately certain elements/aspects of our lives that we are deeply unsatisfied with. Whether with our own body image, the hardships of our lives, unanswered prayers, unhappy employment situations, broken relationships, or suffering from a difficult season, we set resolutions because we are not content or happy with our lives in one of these areas. This dissatisfaction becomes a place of brokenness, shame and often is what leads to unhealthy choices or paths towards even more struggles and pain. I was recently reflecting on the text of Phil. 4 and considering Paul’s words from verses 11 through 13.
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
What gives Paul such unerring confidence and peace in the midst of his imprisonment and suffering to be able to trust God? How can that peace or confidence or contentment or joy be found in Paul’s life… and more so how can we come to have that as well?
I think that as I thought about this, I realized that Paul is so at peace and so tremendously able to find confidence in God in the midst of his hardship because his understanding of God’s Gospel is so rich; it is a truth and a reality in his life and the source of his confidence. It is this confidence in the Gospel that gives Paul his strength, and is often I think where we may fail in our own lives that leads us to be so easily discouraged or shaken when we encounter stormy weather of trials and hardships.
According to Gordon Fee, he points out that to the Philippians, who were Greek trained… they would have understood Paul’s words here (Phil. 4:11-13) as a nod towards stoicism. Basically this “stoicism” is the seeking of an inner peace to help face the external pressures of life; it is this self-sufficiency, complete self-adequateness, where a person needs no assistance. This is also where we get the word “stoic” from… which is when a person can endure pain/hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.
This is so true and can be found in our lives even today especially while considering the reasons why we often set resolutions. We believe that the Gospel gives us some sort of means or tools to overcome situations and be tough and confident in God in the midst of pain, suffering, loss, hardship, struggle, job loss, death of a loved one, etc. The truth is this: this is NOT the Gospel and is not about a dependency on God, but a reliance upon self. The Gospel is not a tool in which we use at our discretion; it is the entirety of our perspective of life. When you fixate upon this strengthening to resist the buffeting of storms with your own power… I think this is more related to what is culturally acceptable and what is often taught in our lives today… whether thru self-help books or thru what is taught via media. The Philippians were facing life with this stoicism just like we often do, and what Paul is stating here is a contrasting view to the stoic way of thinking.
The Gospel that Paul finds such peace and trust in is a far cry from the “tool” mindset of facing life with stoicism or with a Gospel tool. The Gospel is so much more! In this passage, the stoic way of thinking or the way may lead us to think is that we are to somehow avoid or transcend the circumstances by our own will power or strength. But what Paul points out here is that rather than avoiding or circumventing the circumstances of our hardship… it is to live in the midst of it! Our lives are still affected by our circumstances… but rather than moved left and right, we cling to Christ in the midst of it! This sufficiency is not finite nor is it limited, but it is infinite and unlimited.
Consider Phil. 4:13… “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” More often than not this is used wrongly by people to talk about how we are to overcome and do amazing things by God (aka Dwight Howard on his sticker for slam dunk contest a few years back). I confess that I was of the same camp in thinking this way, but what Paul says here is NOT about new/crazier things, but how he has learned to live in the midst of these things through Christ. Martin Luther’s words then are so poignant as I consider Paul’s words: “The Gospel cannot be preached and heard enough, for it cannot be grasped well enough.”
Rather than setting a new year’s resolution and applying a temporary fix of discipline to your life, apply a change that requires the entirety of your life (all of your mental, physical, emotional, AND spiritual focus). This kind of application is what Paul has discovered in coming to understand the Gospel. The question we must consider then is what is the Gospel to you and I? Is the Gospel simply a tool to be used at certain moments, or is it the rhythm/melody/theme to which you base your entire life and mindset on? Change happens not temporarily but infuses Paul’s soul and life. The reason Paul is able to face the hardships of life is because the Gospel is the central foundation of his life; Christ strengthens Him because His promises are true and are a reality in every perception of Paul’s life. Too often people have seen the Gospel as a message that speaks to a person up to the moment of their salvation. They think that once you hear the news, there you go… you are in! But what Paul is saying is … the reason I can live how I live is because I have come to see the Gospel in everything I do. “I can truly do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”
How often are you seeing the Gospel as the reality in which you live your life? Has the Gospel changed everything in your life? If not, then today, I challenge you to try out an experiment with me. Rather than setting a temporary new year’s resolution, let’s apply this Gospel mindset into an area of your life, and reflect about how Christ’s life, death, and resurrection speaks to that part of your life. Let the sovereignty of God, Christ’s victory over sin, and the Spirit’s powerful working in your life speak to that area of your life. Feel free to email me personally (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I would be glad to journey with you in this experiment; I’ll practice the same exercise with you!