Exceeding Abundantly Above, Part 5

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We serve a God who loves us. He loves us so much that He did this:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16, 17 TNIV)

God gave us Jesus to save us. But God’s giving didn’t begin or end with Jesus. God has always been giving to people. To the lost, He gives ample opportunities to get saved. To believers, God gives so much more. He meets all of our needs, both temporal and eternal. So far, we’ve looked at some of the things God has provided us with in abundance:

• In Romans 5:20 and Philippians 4:7 we learned that God has supplied abundant grace that has resulted in abundant peace between us and Him and between us and the world around us.
• Isaiah 55:7 told us that there is abundant pardon available from God. No matter who comes to God for forgiveness of sins, God is able to do just that in abundance.
• Only Jesus satisfies the needs of every human heart, according to Psalm 36:8.
• And thanks to the abundant life Jesus talked about John 10:10, believers can be living today lives full of heavenly power and blessings.

No matter what it is you need, God is able to provide more than what you are asking for. He’s not a cheapskate when it comes to blessings! The world, on the other hand, is also generous, except in reverse. While God gives good things in abundance, the world gives the opposite. For example, there’s plenty of strife in the world. There’s conflict everywhere. And there’s misery. For most of us, our lives feel like what Louis Armstrong sung about:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory hallelujah!
Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down
Oh, yes, Lord
Sometimes I’m almost to the ground
Oh, yes, Lord
Although you see me going ‘long so
Oh, yes, Lord
I have my trials here below
Oh, yes, Lord
If you get there before I do
Oh, yes, Lord
Tell all-a my friends I’m coming to Heaven!
Oh, yes, Lord

Talk about depressing! Oh, yes, Lord. The thing is this: That’s not how God wants you to live, and He has made it possible for you live in a state of abundant joy for your whole life, regardless of your circumstances.

That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:26 KJV)

That’s what Paul wrote, and he meant it. But just what did he mean? Let’s take a closer look at this “exceeding abundantly above” provision.

The church at Philippi

Paul’s letter to the Philippians has been called the “Letter of Excellent Things,” mainly for it’s excellent content, which is so positive and uplifting. Some twenty times, Paul used terms like, “rejoice,” “thanksgiving,” “be content,” and “praise,” none of which are dependent on outward circumstances. In fact, Paul wrote this upbeat, cheerful letter from prison, uncertain of his own future!

The city of Philippi was named after Philip, father of Alexander. The great battle between Brutus and Octavian was fought here and shortly after that, the mighty Roman Empire was born in 42 BC. It was a long-time military outpost, with an obvious and strong military presence. The citizens of Philippi were all Roman citizens and therefore enjoyed all the rights and privileges that came along with that citizenship.

Speaking of citizenship, the ethnic makeup of Philippi was diverse indeed. Greeks, Romans, and Asians all lived in relative peace, and each of their religions and philosophies were respected. In fact, Philippi was a city steeped in superstition and mythology. Given the city’s strategic location and their propensity toward all things supernatural, it’s understandable why Paul wanted to start a church there, which he did on his second missionary journey, around 52 AD.

The Jewish presence in and around Philippi was practically nil; not enough even to support a synagogue. That meant Paul had to change his church-planting routine, and instead of spending time in the Jewish community, he did the next best thing: He went to a prayer meeting, held down by the lake.

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:13 – 15 TNIV)

Lydia was convert number one. After her, a slave girl converted to Christianity, which got Paul and Silas thrown into prison. You know the story. Our two intrepid church planters started singing hymns and praising God and they were set free from their imprisonment by a supernatural earthquake. The head of prison, who saw the power of God, became convert number three, as well as members of his family.

At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. (Acts 16:33, 34 TNIV)

And so the now-famous Philippian church was born. A fascinating aside was the makeup of the congregation. Lydia was a pure capitalist – a somewhat wealthy business woman who was Asiatic. The one-time slave girl was Greek, and she represented the lower, working classes. The jailer was a Roman and he represented the middle class. Truly, this church exemplified the power of the Gospel to attract and to save anybody:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26 – 28 TNIV)

Persecuted and poor

We know that while the church at Philippi was spiritually solid, they were a persecuted lot, largely on account of their association with Paul:

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me…without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:7; 28 – 30 TNIV)

Not only were the Philippian Christians persecuted, but they were poor. And yet, they were one of the most generous churches Paul had ever encountered in his journeys:

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own… (2 Corinthians 8:1 – 3 TNIV)

Notice what Paul wrote, because it’s surprising. The Philippians’ JOY had combined with their POVERTY to make them GENEROUS. That’s the exact opposite to way the world operates. It says you can’t be joyful if you’re poor. It says poor people can’t be generous. No wonder the world is miserable! It runs contrary to the way the Kingdom of God runs in every way. Jesus gave us the Kingdom precedence in Matthew:

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16 TNIV)

Everything in the Kingdom is upside down compared to everything in the world! Really, though, in the Kingdom, everything is right-side-up; it’s the world that’s messed up.

Paul’s state

Paul wrote this positive, upbeat, and cheerful letter from prison.

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12 TNIV)

There’s that whole upside-down-way of looking at things again. You’d think that being thrown into prison would stop your evangelistic efforts. But, no! The exact opposite happened – being imprisoned helped to spread the Gospel even more! Dr Luke, Paul’s personal physician, friend, and traveling companion, tells us what Paul was going through at the time he wrote this letter.

When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (Acts 28:16; 30, 31 TNIV)

He was stuck at home, unable to leave, yet that didn’t stop him from sharing the Gospel. Funny, isn’t it? Sometimes the least contrary thing stops us from leaving the house and even just coming to church, never mind actually doing something of value for God! A headache…a tickle in the throat…a phone call…all those things keep us from the Lord, yet here was Paul, imprisoned in his own rented house, finding a work-around for his imprisonment! What a guy!

For their part, the Philippians were concerned for Paul and wanted to see him released but Paul had learned to be content and to do the best for His Lord in whatever circumstances he found himself. In fact, Paul was willing to die for Christ and he didn’t view that as a bad thing!

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21 TNIV)

The man’s whole life was wrapped up in Christ, in witnessing for Christ, in fellowship with Christ, and the goal of Paul’s life had become making his life a channel through which others may come to know Christ as Savior. Now, not everybody has that goal in life. For the businessman, a happy life may be wealth. For the slave, hard work and suffering. For the philosopher, more knowledge. For the soldier, victory and fame. For the ruler, a kingdom.  But for Paul, as it should be for all believers sold out to Jesus Christ, death should be seen as gain. To die would mean ultimate freedom – freedom from whatever it is that binds you from living a full and fulfilling life. It would mean deliverance from yourself – your pain and suffering. Far from an evil thing, because of the Cross, death has been turned into a way for believers to experience the new life of freedom and abundance that comes from being completely like Christ.

Yet he was willing to stay and work for the Lord, and that gets us to our fifth “exceeding abundantly above” provision, that of joy. Paul was convinced that he would be released from his prison (he was) and that he would see his friends again (he did):

That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:26 KJV)

The “abundant rejoicing” would be occasioned by Paul’s freedom. The greatest source of joy for the Philippians would be the answer to their prayer! Is it yours? Do you rejoice and experience abundant joy when your prayers are answered? Or do you barely notice? Here’s the problem. You and I frequently pray with a worldly mind. That is, we pray for things to happen the way we think is best. That may not be bad or sinister, by the way, but it may be worldly. Remember, the Kingdom of God doesn’t operate like that. In God’s economy things appear to be upside down to us, but really they’re right-side up. So sometimes, while it may appear that your prayer is either going unanswered or it is answered in a way differently than you prayed, God is answering it the right way: The way of the Kingdom. So you should rejoice no matter what. Later on in this letter, Paul got to the point:

Always be full of joy in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 TLB)

The Message, a quirky version of the Bible if ever there was one, translates this verse slightly differently:

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! (Philippians 4:4 MSG)

Revel in God, no matter what. Determine to be full of joy regardless of how you feel. An amazing thing happens when you start rejoicing when you’d rather not: you will feel happy. The Philippians were full of joy when the world said they shouldn’t have been. Paul was joyful when the world thought he should have been miserable. How do you feel?

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