17th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, it makes you do things you never thought you would or could. There was a time in my younger years when I thought something like, “’Real men’ don’t hold girls’ hands! ‘Real men’ have much better things to do than sit and talk to a girl for hours! ‘Real men’ would rather hang out with the guys than go for a walk with a girl!” But then…IT happened. You can’t really explain it either. All of a sudden holding hands with a certain girl was fun, all of a sudden sitting and talking for hours with a certain girl was enjoyable, all of a sudden everything else seemed just not as much fun as hanging out with a certain girl. What happened??? All of a sudden I was doing things that I once said only “sissy” boys would do, things I never thought I could or would ever do! So, what happened??? There’s one explanation, one little word? Love.
You see, a person who is “in love” is willing to do just about anything for the person whom he/she loves, right? From posting “will you marry me” on the big screen at the packed Metradome in front of millions of people to hand delivering a large bouquet of flowers to their lady at work to holding hands and hugging without any care who’s watching. Love is powerful, isn’t it? And, of course, love isn’t just some ooey gooey feeling inside of you, is it? Love is something that can’t remain hidden in the heart, it has to show itself in loving words and loving actions.
Love changed the apostle Paul’s life. Our text for this morning is one short verse near the end of the letter to the Philippians. Remember the situation: Paul is sitting in house arrest in Rome for about 2 years, he can’t roam around freely, he can’t simply do whatever he wants, and he’s writing this letter to encourage the Christians in the church that he started in Philippi, Greece. And here Paul said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Now, it’s important that we don’t simply pull this verse out of context in order to make it say something that God clearly did not intend it to say. We’ll hear many people in our world say things like, “I can climb every mountain” or “The sky is the limit” or “There’s nothing you can’t do when you put your mind to it.” Is that what Paul is saying here? No. Paul isn’t saying that you have a certain strength or power that’s inherent inside of you that you can draw upon to achieve your dreams and accomplish your selfish heart’s desire.
Rather, Paul is talking to Christians living their Christian lives to God’s glory. With confidence Paul said, “I can do everything” that is, everything God-pleasing “through him who gives me strength.” You know we could look at the apostle Paul and ask, “How do you do it?” Prisons, flogging, exposed to death again and again, forty lashes minus 1 five times, beaten with rods three times, stoned, left for dead, shipwrecked, constant danger, cold, hunger, thirst, naked, the concern for all the churches, the battling against his sinful nature. And yet, Paul still says, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”
But the question stares us in the face today: Do we have that same “I can” attitude toward serving God? We face the harsh realities of everyday life, the frustrations that come into our lives every day, and it’s depressingly easy for us to say, “I can’t.” I can’t control my temper, I can’t control my jealous thoughts, I can’t get to church or Bible class, I can’t pray, I can’t love my spouse unconditionally, I can’t be kind to all- what if they stab me in the back or take advantage of me? I can’t simply forgive someone after what they did to me, I can’t help but hold a grudge. I can’t quit that pet sin; I can’t fight that temptation that comes again and again and again. I can’t remain positive or joyful with all this garbage going on in the world. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. And worse yet, do we not often inwardly nurse a resentment against God for allowing these things or leading us into so many difficulties? But finally, when we say, “I can’t” to leading the God-pleasing life God wants us to lead, is it not the sobering evidence of our lack of love for Him? I’m guilty, you’re guilty, and if God were fair, He ought not love any of us.
But here Paul says, “I can.” How? Where did Paul’s “power” come from? How could he have this untiring patience under suffering, this amazing courage in the face of danger, be able to do so much work for God’s kingdom, and through it all maintain a joy and confidence even when facing death? Where did his power come from?
There’s this legend that a wealthy merchant on his travels in Paul’s day wanted to go and meet Paul while he was in prison in Rome. So Timothy arranged a meeting. He went into Paul’s room and saw him looking old and frail but noticed at once the strength of Paul’s faith. After several hours and on his way out he asked Timothy, “What is the secret of this man’s power? I’ve never seen anything like it.” Timothy said, “You don’t know? Paul is in love.” “In love” he asked. “Yes, Paul is in love with the Lord Jesus Christ.” The merchant was surprised and said, “Is that all?” Timothy smiled and said, “No, that’s everything!”
Paul was in love. First, it was God who won his love. God did the unthinkable, the absurd. There isn’t a love-sick boyfriend or infatuated husband who could do something so unthinkable, so bizarre, so humiliating as what our God in love did for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It was God’s love for us that moved him to do the unthinkable. Our God came into this world to take the spit, the mockery, the beating, the humiliation, the pains of hell that we deserved for our sins upon Himself. He willingly bore our shame and guilt on the cross, willingly shed His lifeblood to cleanse us. Willingly died that we might live eternally. That is the love of God for you!
Paul knew the love of God for him. It was the power of God’s love in the gospel that gave Paul the strength to live. He knew no circumstance could ever come up that would be too much for God, and therefore no circumstance could ever beat Paul. Paul rested “in him who gives me strength.” You could say back in the first Passover when the Israelites sacrificed that lamb that they were “In the lamb.” They were nourished by the lamb’s meat and they rested under the protection of the Lamb’s blood. In a similar sense we are “In the lamb of God, in Christ.” By faith we are sheltered by His blood and are nourished by His Word. As we grow in our relationship to Him we consciously and constantly enjoy the protection and power of being “in Him.” The more we grow in our faith, the greater our trust in Him becomes and the greater strength he gives us to face every situation.
It is the power of knowing God and His love for us in Christ that makes us not only just “make it through” every circumstance or situation of life, but actually moves us to find joy in whatever situation God places before us. It is the burning love God has created inside of us that moves us to do everything God-pleasing in our lives. God has won our love. His love has changed our lives to not say, “I can’t,” but to say, “I can!” Not “I think I can” but “I know I can!”
Empowered by Christ I can quit that pet sin, I can sincerely forgive, I can love my spouse unconditionally, I can be kind to all, I can face any situation, be content in any circumstance, face whatever difficulty, continue under any cross that God asks me to bear, and finally to live my life joyfully because I live with the strength of Christ.
Love, it makes us to do thing we thought we never would or could. And it’s the love of Christ that moves us to say, “I know I can! I know I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Amen.