Sunday 22nd November 2020

Philippians 4:10-13

‘I can do everything through Him who gives me strength…’

I want you to imagine something with me: You are back at school. You’re standing in front of the teacher’s desk and the teacher says to you, loudly and pointedly, “There are no excuses!” No excuses perhaps for forgetting your homework, not learning your spellings, getting all mixed up in your twelve times tables, getting your own back on someone in the playground, or all of the above!  I’m sure that wouldn’t have been you…I’m certain you were a perfect pupil at school! Whether or not you have ever heard, “No excuses!” at school, we are going to explore a ‘no excuses’ text this morning, actually, it’s one of a number of similar texts…

We continue to look together at Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, this joy-filled, encouraging, upbeat letter, but also a letter laced with challenge for God’s people; laced with challenge for you and me, and perhaps some of the toughest and yet most encouraging of those challenges, come through Paul’s ‘no excuses’ words, words like:

  • Rejoice in the Lord always…4:4
  • Do not be anxious about anything…4:6
  • I can do all things, everything, through Him, Christ, who gives me strength…4:13.

If only Paul had said:

  • Rejoice in the Lord quite a lot
  • Do not be anxious about most things
  • I can do some things through Him, Christ, who gives me strength…

But he didn’t; he said, ‘always, anything, all’, not, ‘quite a lot, most, some…’  No excuses…

In our text for today, Philippians 4:10-13, Paul begins to move towards a conclusion, and as he does, so he reveals one of his reasons for writing to the Philippian Church. And that reason is a simple but important one; he wants to thank them, thank them for their love, their kindness and their generosity. Paul was a tough and resilient man, but he wasn’t superman, and at times he needed and valued, just like the rest of us, the help and support of good friends.  Listen to what Paul says as he thanks them, and keep in mind the first of our ‘no excuses’ verses that says: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always…’

Verse 10 Paul writes: I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me…’

Isn’t that a really important link?

  • ‘Rejoice in the Lord always…’ (he said earlier) – ‘I rejoice greatly…’(he adds).

Looking at these two verses together, we can see the kindness, care, and concern of his friends at Philippi helped Paul live out rejoicing in his life at a time when he was in prison and in chains. In the same way, the kindness, care and concern of others, family and friends, can encourage us to rejoice in the Lord, especially in difficult times…And so, we are helped and encouraged with that, ‘no excuses’ verse – ‘Rejoice in the Lord always…’Through the kindness of others…

What about our second, ‘no excuses’ verse: ‘Do not be anxious about anything’? Paul speaks into that as well he goes on to say, verse 12, ‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…’, content being the polar opposite of anxiety…It’s important here to note what Paul doesn’t say:

  • He doesn’t say there won’t be difficult situations,
  • There won’t be challenges,
  • That we should pretend difficulties aren’t there,
  • Or even that we should just grin and bear it,

He does say:

  • He has learned to deal with such situations,
  • Accepts them when they come his way;
  • He is content, settled, certainly not overly anxious…
  • Another translation has Paul putting it this way, ‘I am just as happy with little as with much…whether hands full or hands empty…’
  • He’s content…

So, what is his ‘secret’? Not a secret in the sense that only Paul knows, rather a secret that comes through God-given wisdom and the experience of knowing God’s presence, guiding and strengthening over time…essentially a ‘secret’ found through learning to trust in the promises of God again and again…And isn’t that a great encouragement to us? Contentment in life, even when things are far from easy, is possible; it is a ‘secret’ that is very much attainable for you and for me. It needs to be worked at; but it is possible…And that wisdom, experience and trust, lived week in and week out, leads us straight to our third ‘no excuses’ verse. This is where the text has been heading…Paul wraps up everything concerning the contented life in these words: ‘I can do all things, everything, through Him, Christ, who gives me strength…’

It’s all made possible because of Jesus. We can do far more than we think possible, not because of ourselves, but because Jesus promises us His strength, a strength on the inside, a strength that comes with His very Spirit at work within us…And so,

  • We can rejoice in the Lord always – because of Jesus, because of His saving love, His saving care…And remember too, the importance of faithful friends in helping us find joy when we are struggling…
  • We can swap our anxiety for contentment – because of Jesus – that contentment is a gift from Him…
  • We can rise to whatever we are called to do – because of Jesus – again, His strengthening touch a wonderful gift…
  • He will never call us to do anything or go down any path we cannot manage in Him. We may think at times we are at the end of our resources, but in Jesus Christ we never are…
  • And that’s what enables us to say alongside the Apostle Paul, ‘I can do all things, everything, through Him, Christ, who gives me strength…’

Let’s pause for a moment to think about someone who lived this out, for her story can help our story. This little cameo is found in the Gospel of Mark. It’s a beautiful story set against a very dark border of mocking and insults. The lady in this account, will live out, in a simple and yet incredibly profound way, our three, ‘no excuses’ texts. She will enter a room full of mocking men. She could have come up with a myriad of excuses not to be there, but she didn’t. And she will leave with rejoicing and contentment in her heart, and she will have found the strength to do something few might have managed. And she will do all this because of Jesus…

Picture the scene: A lady enters a crowded room alone. This is far from easy for her, apart from one person in that room, she is not welcome. In fact, those surrounding that one man, mutter about her unkindly and harshly, she can hear what they are saying, they want her to leave; their faces scowl and their words pierce and hurt. But they won’t keep her away.

She is holding something in her hands, something of great value. It is a jar of very expensive perfume, worth thousands of pounds. She reaches the man and as she does she snaps the neck of the jar rendering it useless for the future and then pours the contents over the head of the man in an act of kindness and generosity. In the culture of the day this was done to honour a person, but without her really knowing, with such an expensive and fragrant perfume, this is like the anointing of a king, in this case, the King of kings…And having anointed Him, she slips away without a word; the hostile crowd still mutter insults and rebuke her as she goes. But she knows there is no rebuke from Him, quite the opposite, as she catches His words, “Leave her alone, why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing…”

And while those gathered continue to mutter about her unkindly, inwardly she rejoices and is more than content with all she has been able to do…because of Him…of who He is and this opportunity to honour Him…

I’m sure you know this account of the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany, it is told in Mark Chapter 14. She could have made any number of excuses not to be there, perhaps thinking:

  • It’s an all male gathering, I really shouldn’t go in…
  • I’m late, the meal had started, that makes it even worse…
  • I’m clearly unwelcome. Better to just go home…
  • And this perfume, it’s so expensive, maybe I should hold on to it…

She could have made any number of excuses, but she didn’t, and look at the result for her:

  • Rejoicing,
  • Contentment,
  • An inner strength found,
  • An inner strength she may need again in the future.
  • ‘No excuses’ because of Jesus, nothing would keep her from honouring and serving Him.

And there is something else, because in this one action she also did more than she knew – for in this anointing we have a summary of the whole gospel – Jesus will not be anointed after his death because God will raise him from the dead – and so in the pouring out of her gift on Jesus’ head, she anointed Jesus the Messiah and proclaimed His death and resurrection, even though she couldn’t have known that. And this account is so important, Jesus told us she would always be remembered.

Perhaps in your school days, from time to time, you heard those cross words, ‘No excuses!’ Through Scripture, God does not point at us, like a grumpy teacher, He loves us and wants the best for us, and through Scripture we are encouraged to:

  • Rejoice in the Lord always…
  • Because our rejoicing in the Lord both brings glory to God and lifts our hearts. There is no doubt there is a healing power in praise and such rejoicing.
  • Do not be anxious about anything…
  • Being anxious, while at times is understandable, can be wearing and even exhausting. Scripture promises we can swap anxiety for peace, through the power of prayer. God does not want us to be anxious all the time, He wants us to know His inner peace and contentment.
  • I can do all things, everything, through Him, Christ, who gives me strength…
  • Resolving, not in your own strength but by leaning on God, to be an ‘I can do’ person, is a mark of faith and can also help further grow our faith…
  • And, just as with the lady who anointed Jesus, when we step out in such faith, there may be consequences for the kingdom beyond anything we could know…

‘No excuses’…It’s tough isn’t it? But again, that’s not a bad thing, because that’s what keeps us prayerful, that’s what keeps us humble and that’s what keeps us dependent on God. So, let’s come to God now, rejoicing in His saving love and grace, content that He holds us in the palm of His hands, and confident that it’s not about you and me, it’s about Christ in you and me. Praise God.

Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, We are just ordinary people, You are the extraordinary One. You know Lord how we can struggle…Help us to always remember the answer to all our struggles lies in You and in the promise of Your joy, Your peace and Your strength. And thank you Lord for the people You give us in our lives who help us along the way, what a joy and an encouragement they are to us. We bring our prayer in Jesus’ name, Amen.