NOTHING TO FEAR – John 6:16-21

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Have you ever been frightened by the forces unleased in nature?  Can you remember hearing lightning cracking overhead, and then “KA-BOOM!”, the thunder was deafening and the ground vibrated under your feet”?  Did you shake for a moment also?  When Mt. St. Helens exploded and those tons of ash were billowing up into the sky, did you feel a twinge of fear as you watched it from a distance or on your television sets?  I wasn’t in the Pacific Northwest when that event occurred, but I have experienced an earthquake in Southern California, a tornado while going to school in Iowa, and a typhoon while stationed at an Air Force base on Okinawa, and I trembled with fear on all three occasions!  I can imagine that you have some stories that you could tell about instances in your life when the forces of nature caused fear in you also.

In John 6:16-21, the apostles also experienced the forces of nature, but that wasn’t their only source of fear.  Let’s examine the experiences of the disciples that evening, and their responses, in the light of what preceded it.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 16-17)

Jesus had just finished feeding 5000 men, together with their wives and children, with five barley cakes (“tortillas”) and two fish (“dried sardines”), and His disciples gathered twelve baskets full of leftovers (one basket apiece).  They saw the power and the provision that only God could provide in such a miraculous way, and were reminded of God’s faithful provision of the manna to their ancestors in the wilderness for forty years.  Another lesson was taught them by Jesus, and now it was time for another examination to determine whether the lesson was learned and would be put into application.

You might call this a “stress test” or a “distress test”.  I like to think of it as a “practicum” – putting into practice the things they had learned.  Immediately after the disciples came back with the baskets of fragments from the meal, John writes, in verses 14 and 15, that the people were saying that Jesus must be the Messiah.  Jesus realized their intent to take Him by force and make Him king, so He “withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.”   Mark’s gospel fills in a few details that are missing.  Mark 6:45-46 says, “And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the multitude away.  And  after bidding them farewell, He departed to the mountain to pray.”  The Lord Jesus told His disciples to get in the boat and leave immediately because He didn’t want His disciples to get caught up in the frenzy of the crowd to make Him king.  It still wasn’t clear in their minds that Jesus was the Son of God.

Jesus’ purpose for going up on the mountain was to pray.  Jesus was truly a man of prayer.  As you read through the Gospels you will find that He often spent time communicating with the Father in prayer, sometimes spending the whole night in prayer.  His disciples recognized this and asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray”.

Going back to John’s gospel, verses 16 and 17 tell us, “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum.  And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.”  During the time of the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, sunset was at about 7:00 p.m.  So the stage is set:  Jesus is on the mountain, they are in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, and it’s dark.

II.  THE STORM (verses 18-19a)

Verse 18 says, “And the sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.”  The Sea of Galilee is situated below sea level in a bowl in the hills.  Winds can travel up the valley of the Jordan River at great speeds.  Not only that, but I’ve read that cold air can suddenly come rushing down from the mountains surrounding the Sea of Galilee and collide with the warm, moist air rising from the surface of the water.  The Sea of Galilee is also relatively shallow, so the waters can become stirred up very quickly.  Add up all those factors and you have “Trouble with a capital T!”  This storm must have taken the disciples by surprise.  Was Jesus surprised by the storm?  Not at all!  Sending them into the storm was their exam.  He was testing their faith to see if they learned the lessons He was teaching them, and had come to a true understanding of Who He was.

Several of Jesus’ disciples were expert sailors and they knew that they had better get the boat to the other side of the lake as soon as possible.  They had been in a similar situation recently, but on that occasion Jesus was with them in the boat, sleeping.  This time He’s on the mountain.  What were they going to do?

Rather than calling upon God and trusting in Him to provide for their need, they keep on rowing.  They’re going to get themselves out of this situation on their own!  This wind and these waves aren’t going to get the best of them!  They are failing the test but they’re not ready to give up yet!  Does Jesus know that there is a storm on the Sea of Galilee?  Yes, He certainly does.  Mark 6:48 begins with the words, “and seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them”.  How can Jesus see them if it’s dark and stormy, and they are in the middle of the lake?  Good question!  It’s the Passover celebration.  The Passover is also called the new moon celebration.  When God sent Moses and the people of Israel out of Egypt, He provided a full-moon to light the way for them.  From His vantage point on the top of the mountain, Jesus could see them by the light of a full-moon.  Then, why doesn’t He do something about it?  He is:  He’s praying for them!  As a wise and caring Teacher, He’s also giving them extra time to complete and pass the test!

Let me give you a mental picture of the examination scene at this time.  The apostles are in the boat rowing with their backs to the wind and their faces pointed in the direction of the dock where they had embarked for their cruise across the lake.  Little do they know that Jesus is looking at their faces and watching them as He continues to pray for them.

Have you ever run on a treadmill or an elliptical machine?  If you have, I imagine that you’ve thought about the fact that you’re running hard and are becoming exhausted, but you aren’t going anywhere.  You’re still in the same place where you started!  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve talked to people who have those machines but still like to run outdoors in good weather.   They do so not only because they like the change in scenery, but also because of a greater sense of accomplishment that comes from arriving at a destination rather than reaching a time limit or going the distance based on the odometer reading.  If you compare this illustration with the situation of the disciples, it’s as if they’re on a rowing machine, rowing hard and steadily, but going nowhere!  The boat they were in was probably one of the boats used for carrying passengers across the Sea of Galilee.  If so, it would normally be large enough to hold 12 passengers and had oars rather than a sail.  The Greek word refers to a “small boat”  These boats could easily become swamped in a storm because they were not as high above the water and as sturdy as many of the fishing boats.

From Matthew, Mark, and John’s gospels we learn that they are in the middle of the lake and it’s now the fourth watch of the night.  The fourth watch begins at 3:00 in the morning.  They started crossing the lake at about 7:00 the previous evening, so they’ve been rowing for eight hours or more!  Mark 6:48 states that Jesus “saw them straining at the oars”.  They must have been completely exhausted but they hadn’t learned the lesson from the feeding of the 5000.  They failed another test because they failed to bring their need to God in prayer and trust Him to meet that need.  They failed to follow the teaching and the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This brings back to my mind a course I took in college as a Business major.  The course was Business Communications, and it was taught by a professor who had been a journalist.  As he gave us our first business letter to compose, he told us his grading system.  Then he said, “There is no excuse for misspelled words or wrong punctuation.  A misspelled word is an automatic F (a failing grade).  Each punctuation error would reduce the grade for the paper by one letter-grade.”  Most of the students, including myself, didn’t pay heed to his words, and over half the class failed the first assignment because of misspelled words and wrong punctuation.  Needless to say, we students got out our dictionaries and brushed up on our English grammar for the remaining assignments!  We learned the hard way to heed his warning, follow his advice, and not be overly confident in our own abilities!

III.  THE RESCUE (verses 19b-22)

The examination is now over.  When I was in high school, several of my teachers were in the habit of leaving their desks when the bell rang, walking down the aisles in the classroom, collecting the tests, and then taking them back to their desks.  In this case, Jesus was going to collect His disciples and bring them to the other side of the lake, but in a very unusual and miraculous way.

The second half of verse 19 says, “they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.”  Mark’s gospel gives more details:  “He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them.  But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were frightened.”  Jesus’ timing is perfect, as always.  He comes to them at the moment when they have finally given up hope.  They were in the middle of the lake and all their efforts were getting them nowhere.  They were physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and spiritually unreceptive.  They weren’t prepared for what was going to happen next.   Suddenly, they see something that their minds refuse to believe.  Jesus is walking toward them against the wind as if there were no wind at all, and walking on top of the water as if the water was dry ground!  The wind and the waves are having no effect on Him.  Their response was to cry out in terror, imagining that Jesus was a ghost.  The Greek word is “phantasma”.  We get our English word “phantom” from that word.

Why did they respond in such a way to Jesus?  For one, they weren’t expecting Him because they failed to pray to God and trust in the power and authority of His Son to meet their need and rescue them.  The second reason is given in Mark 6:52, which says, “their hearts were hardened”. They hadn’t learned the lesson from the loaves and fishes.  They tried to overcome the storm their way, and now they concluded that it was an impossible and hopeless situation.  It was impossible alright, humanly speaking, but it wasn’t hopeless!

Why did Jesus choose to walk to them on the water?  He could have saved Himself a lot of time and effort if He had just appeared in their boat, or called out to the wind and waves in a voice loud enough for them to hear, telling the wind and waves to quiet down.  That’s what He did in the previous storm (see Mark 5:39).  Jesus walked to them on top of the water in order to give them a visual demonstration that the things they now feared, (the wind and the waves), were completely under His control.  Jesus was showing them something that only God could do; and in response to their terror, He said, in John 6:20, “It is I, do not be afraid.”  Jesus spoke those words to them in Hebrew, and He was literally saying to them, I AMdo not be afraid”.  The Lord Jesus was using God’s covenant name, pronounced “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”, and was applying it to Himself.

In Exodus 3:13, Moses asked God, “What is your name that the people may know that you are the true God, and that you have sent me to them?”  God answered Moses with these words:  “Say to the people of Israel, ‘I AM (Yahweh), the God of your fathers . . . has sent me to you.”   The name Yahweh suggests, first of all, that there is no cause for God’s existence outside Himself; but the name had a much more personal meaning than that.  Yahweh is the God who is near to His people, close to them and available to them in time of need.  He controlled the forces of nature for them when He parted the Red Sea, provided manna for them to eat, and stopped the Jordan River so that they could enter the promised land.

During the previous storm, when Jesus was in the boat with them, He rebuked the wind and the waves, telling them to become calm, and they immediately obeyed His voice.  In response, His disciples asked the question, “What kind of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:27)  Now, after seeing Jesus walking on water and hearing those words from His mouth, the disciples answer their own question when they say, “You are certainly God’s Son!”, and they worshipped Him. (Matthew 14:33).  This is the first time Jesus is called the Son of God by His disciples.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk on water?  Other than Jesus, Peter is the only one who knows, and his experience didn’t last very long (Matthew 14:29-31)!  When the two of them got into the boat, it was apparently close to the shore – another amazing occurrence!  The rescue was now over.

LESSONS TO LEARN AND APPLY:

Before we consider the fear of the disciples, and our own fears as well, I think we should all thank God for giving us the emotion of fear.  He has given us, as well as  many of the animals He created, a built-in alarm system to warn us of danger.  It was designed by Him for the purpose of protection and preservation.  It’s natural for us to be afraid in times of danger, and there are times when we, as human beings, should choose to follow our fears.  There are also times when we should choose to overcome our fears by the power of God.  A question we need to ask ourselves honestly is “What do I fear, and why do I fear it?”  Then write those fears and the reasons for them on a sheet of paper so that we can sort them out and think about them.  Only then can we ask the question, “How should I respond to those fears, in the light of God’s Word?”

The first lesson given in this passage of Scripture is one on prayer.  Jesus was up on the mountain praying.  I think His first request to the Father was that the apostles would realize their helplessness and turn to the Father in faith, asking Him to rescue them.  When they failed to do so and they were about to drown, I believe that Jesus’ second request to the Father was that the Father might use Him to rescue them and show them that He was truly the Son of God.  His request might have been something like this:  “Father, give me the power and authority to walk on the water to rescue them so that You and I might be glorified.”  Or maybe He just asked for their deliverance and the Father told Him what to do in answer to that prayer.  We don’t know for sure, but we do know that God answered His prayers.  Jesus’ prayers “held a lot of weight” in the eyes of His Father because of the close relationship and deep trust between them.

What’s the value of our prayers to God?  How much weight do our believing prayers have in God’s sight?    Many years ago Henry Bosch shared the following true story which he entitled “Weighing A Prayer”.

Soon after World War II, a tired-looking woman entered a store and asked the owner for enough food to make a Christmas dinner for her children.  When he inquired how much money she could afford, she answered, “My husband was killed in the war.  Truthfully, I have nothing to offer but a little prayer.”  The man was not very sentimental, for a grocery store cannot be run like a breadline.  So he said, “Write your prayer on a paper.”  To his surprise she plucked a little folded note out of her pocket and handed it to him, saying, “I already did that during the night while I was watching over my sick baby.”  As the manager took the paper, an idea struck him.  Without even reading the prayer, he put it on the weigh side of his old-fashioned scales, saying, “We shall see how much food this is worth.”  To his surprise, it would not go down when he put a loaf of bread on the other side.  To his even greater astonishment, it would not balance though he added many more items.  Finally he blurted out, “Well, that’s all the scales will hold anyway.  Here’s a bag.  You’ll have to put them in yourself.  I’m busy.”  With a tearful “thank you,”  the lady went happily on her way.  The grocer later found out that the balance was out of order.  As the years passed, however, he wondered if that really was the solution.  Why did the woman have the prayer already written to satisfy his premeditated demands?  Why did she come in at exactly the time the mechanism was broken?  Frequently he looks at that slip of paper upon which the prayer was written, for amazingly enough, it reads, “Please, dear Lord, give us this day our daily bread!”

Has God ever answered your prayers in unusual or unexpected ways?  God delights in answering believing prayer for the supply of our needs.  The apostle Paul reminds us of this in Philippians 4:19, which says, “And my God shall supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  Our God is very rich and very generous!  Don’t let a need go by without asking Him to supply!

The second lesson comes in answer to the question, “Why didn’t the disciples pray to God when the storm began?”  “Pride” is the answer to that question.  Two popular sayings probably describe their attitude:  “I’ll do it my way”, and “I’d rather do it myself”.  I could understand if they kept rowing for 15 minutes in the hope that the storm might die down, but not for eight hours!  That’s ridiculous!  Are you filled with pride in yourself and would rather be independent of God?  Are you drowning in your own sins, but unwilling to lift a hand in prayer to the only One who can reach down and pull you out of the dark waters of separation from God for eternity?  I hope and pray that you will reconsider your attitude and your situation, and choose to put your life in His hands and under His control.

The third and last lesson applies to fear.  I’m sure that we would all agree that fears come in many different forms, and can affect us in many different ways.  Do you find yourself controlled, or hindered by various forms of fear, such as fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change, or fear of what others may think?  Fears can be tied to the past, the present, or the future.  Worry is also a form of fear.  Worry has been defined as “a small trickle of fear that meanders through the mind until it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”  Worry is like a rocking chair.  It will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.  The apostle Peter tells us in I Peter 5:7 to “cast all our anxieties on Him (the Lord Jesus Christ), for He cares for you.”

Proverbs 29:25 tells us that “the fear of man will prove to be a snare.”  It can drain us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  This incident of the storm, in John 6, tells us that we can banish our fears by recognizing and relying upon the faithful presence, power, and providence of God.  Let me close by sharing a few other Scripture passages with you that tell us how to respond to fear in our lives.  Psalm 16:8 says, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  In Psalm 23:4 king David says, “I fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”  Psalm 34:4 reads, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. You may also want to read and memorize Isaiah 41:10.

It may also encourage you to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for you right now (Hebrews 7:25).  Some day, the Lord Jesus will come for us, take us to His heavenly haven of rest, and the storms of life will be over forever.  I hope that I’ll see you there!   

DEALING WITH WORRY – Philippians 4:1-7

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If anybody had an excuse for worrying, it was the apostle Paul. He had friends in Philippi who were disagreeing with each other, and he couldn’t be there to help them. There were also problems at the church in Rome. Paul also faced the possibility of his own death. Paul had many reasons to worry, but he did not! Instead, he takes time in his letter to explain the ways to have victory over worry. What is worry? The Greek word translated “anxious” or “careful” in verse 6 means “to be pulled in different directions”. Our hopes pull us in one direction; our fears pull us in the opposite direction; and we are being pulled apart! Worry can give us headaches, neck pain, ulcers, even back pain. It can affect our thinking about circumstances, people, and things. It is the greatest thief of joy. Telling others to quit worrying doesn’t work, does it? In the passage of Scripture we’re studying today, Philippians 4:1-7, the apostle Paul gives us part of the solution to worry.

I. AN EXPRESSION OF LOVE AND CONCERN (verse 1)

First of all, in verse l Paul lets the members of the church at Philippi know how special they are to him, and how concerned he is about their spiritual growth and victory in their daily lives.

II. THE IMPORTANCE OF HARMONY (verses 2-3)

Then in verse 2 Paul challenges two specific women to live in harmony. Euodia and Syntyche were not on speaking terms. They were both believers and members of the Philippian church, but they had a difference of opinion and the quarrel between them had become so serious that it reached the ears of Paul in his prison quarters in Rome. It grieved Paul greatly, and he pleads with them to resolve their differences and get along as Christians. If you have something against another Christian, you cannot solve it by not speaking to him or her. The very opposite is true. You should go to that other person and seek to get back into fellowship. If you refuse to speak, you injure yourself more than anyone else. This reminds me of a story of a certain farmer who lived on one side of a mountain, and he went to see his neighbor who lived on the other side of the mountain. Leaning on a rail fence, he watched his friend plowing with a mule. Finally he said, “I don’t want to butt in, but you could save yourself a lot of work by saying “gee” and “haw” instead of jerking on those lines to guide your mule.” The old timer mopped his brow with his red handkerchief and replied, “Yep, I know that; but this here mule kicked me six years ago and I ain’t spoken to him since!” This may sound foolish but the kick in the pants by a mule is no more foolish than many of our “spats” over little things. If you are not speaking to another brother or sister in Christ, what are you gaining by continuing to feud? Start with a smile, and follow it up with a gentle, kind remark, and then, forgetting your hurt feelings, be friends again!

In verse 3 Paul must be speaking to Epaphroditus, the man who brought Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Paul asks him as well as Clement and the other church leaders to help these women resolve their differences. Instead of worrying, Paul went to work and did something about it, delegating the responsibility for meeting this need to others he trusted and respected.

III. THE IMPORTANCE OF REJOICING (verses 4 and 5)

Verses 4 and 5 focus on the importance of rejoicing. The apostle Paul says in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always”. “Always? But if you only knew what I am facing!” Yes, but what about the apostle Paul? He had been beaten repeatedly, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, and was often falsely accused by his enemies. But he didn’t complain or give up. He knew the secret of joy, and without boasting he could point to himself as an example for believers to follow.

We may not always feel like rejoicing, but we can and we must choose to rejoice. Even though circumstances may change, we have an unchanging God, and in Him we can always find cause for rejoicing. In verse 5 Paul says that we are to have a “forbearing spirit”. This means being satisfied with less than we feel we deserve in this life. Our joy is based on what God has for us in heaven, not on what we can get out of this life.

IV. THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER (verses 6 and 7 )

In verse 6 Paul is saying, “Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything”. The word “prayer” is a general word for making requests known to the Lord. It has the idea of adoration, devotion, and worship. Think about the goodness and majesty of God! We need time to remind ourselves in prayer that God is big enough to solve our problems. Too often we rush into God’s presence and hastily tell Him our needs, when we ought to approach His throne calmly and with deepest reverence and adoration.

The second form of prayer mentioned in verse 6 is supplication – sharing with God our needs and our problems, and confessing our sins to Him. Nothing is too small to bring before the Father’s throne. What a difference it would make in our day if we talked to God about every problem and concern. As the hymn writer said:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!

The last form of prayer mentioned here is thanksgiving. It’s not easy to have a thankful heart in every circumstance in life, is it? Yet the Scriptures say in I Thessalonians 5:18 and in other passages that we should give thanks in everything. There was a godly old preacher whose pastoral prayer was a source of great inspiration to the members of his congregation. Sunday after Sunday he would begin his prayer with praise and thanksgiving to God. Downhearted worshipers were often lifted by his positive spirit. One Lord’s Day, however, it seemed as if there was nothing that anyone could be happy about. The weather was cold and damp, only a few church members came to the service, and gloom was everywhere. The few who did show up that morning wondered what can the pastor be grateful for on a day like this? At the beginning of the service the pastor stood up and folded his hands in his usual manner. Then he began, “Thank you, Father, that every Lord’s Day morning is not like this one!”

Even if we can’t be grateful for what we receive, be grateful for what we escape. Yes, in everything God wants to hear us say, “Thank you, Father!”

The result is that the “peace of God” guards our hearts and our minds. This peace does not mean that the trials of life are gone, but it does mean that we have a confidence within us, regardless of circumstances, people, and things.

Daniel gives us a wonderful illustration of peace through prayer. When the king announced that none of his subjects was to pray to anyone except the king, Daniel “went to his room, opened his windows, and prayed as before”. You will find this story in Daniel 6:1-10. Note how Daniel prayed. He “prayed, and gave thanks” before his God in verse 10, and he made supplication in verse 11. Prayer – Supplication – thanksgiving. And the result was perfect peace in the midst of his difficulty. Daniel was able to spend the night with the lions in perfect peace, while the king in his palace could not sleep! We find this in verse 18.

Those who place themselves in the care of God experience the peace of God. Instead of being anxious about everything, you could be anxious about nothing. Instead of praying about little or nothing, you could be praying about everything. And, through prayer, your heavy load of worry would become God’s, and His gift of peace would become yours. You won’t find a better bargain than that in your Christian life!

If your life is filled with worry, and you have no peace with God and no evidence of lasting joy in your life, apply these principles of prayer to your life. Declare to God in prayer that He is a holy and righteous God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for your sin. Acknowledge your own sinfulness; confess your sins to Him and ask for His forgiveness. Invite Jesus Christ to come into your life and be your Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9-13, 27-30). Thank Him for His presence and His power in your life. Spend time daily in the Bible and in prayer. Get involved in a Bible-teaching church, receiving encouragement from other Christians and serving your loving Lord with all your heart. And don’t forget to tell others about what Jesus Christ has done for you.

Philippians: Background and Survey

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Jesus Christ was described in Scripture as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  Yet He possessed a deep joy that was beyond anything the world could offer.  As He faced the cruel death on the cross at Mount Calvary, Jesus said to His followers, “These things I have spoken to you that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be made full.”  About thirty years after the death of Christ, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi from his cell in a prison at Rome.  Yet his letter is filled with joy.

II.  HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

Paul first came to the city of Philippi about ten years earlier while he was on his second missionary journey.  Philippi was named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great.  The city at that time had a population of close to half a million people.  Most of them were Greeks, with a small group of Jews and Romans.

The first converts to Christianity were Lydia, a dealer in crimson fabrics, and the town’s jailor.  The members of their families also became Christians.  The church at Philippi was the first church in Europe.  It has been referred to as the birthplace of European Christianity.  Most of the congregation were Greeks, along with some converted Jews.  By the time Paul wrote this epistle, the church at Philippi had grown and become well-organized.  It had both elders and deacons.

Philippians has been called Paul’s love letter to the church at Philippi.  It contains less correction and more praise than any other epistle.  Many Bible scholars have called it “the epistle of joy”.

III.  AN OUTLINE

Here is a simple outline to Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Chapter l – The Joy of Christ Our Life

Chapter 2 – The Joy of Christ Our Example

Chapter 3 – The Joy of Christ Our Goal

Chapter 4 – The Joy of Christ Our Sufficiency

IV.  THIEVES OF JOY

The epistle of Paul to the Philippians talks about four thieves that can rob you and I of Joy:

1.  CIRCUMSTANCES

Most of us would have to agree that when things are “going our way”, we feel a lot happier, and we are much easier to live with.   Little Peggy said to her girlfriend one day, “Dad must have had an easy day at the office.  He didn’t squeal the tires when he pulled into the driveway, and he didn’t slam the door when he came into the house; and he even gave Mommy a kiss!”

But have you ever considered how few of the circumstances of life are really under our control?  We have no control over the weather or over the things people say and do.  The person whose happiness depends on ideal circumstances is going to be miserable most of the time.  And yet here is the apostle Paul in the worst of circumstances, writing a letter filled with joy.

2.  PEOPLE

A second thief that can rob us of joy is people.  A little girl jumped off the school bus as it stopped in front of her home and slammed her way through the front door.  She marched up the stairs with an angry look on her face, went into her room and again slammed the door.  All the time she was muttering under her breath, “People . . . people . . .people . . . PEOPLE!”  Her father went to her door and knocked softly.  “May I come in?”  She answered, “No!”  The father asked, “Why can’t I come in?”  She answered:  “Because you’re a people!”

All of us have lost our joy because of people, haven’t we?  Maybe it was because of the way they were, or what they said or did.  And no doubt we’ve helped make someone else unhappy.  It works both ways, doesn’t it?  But we have to live and work with people.  We can’t isolate ourselves and still live to glorify Christ.  The apostle Paul was in prison with some of the cruelist and most sinful people, yet he still had joy.

3.  THINGS

A third thief that robs us of joy is things.  A wealthy man was moving into his mansion, and his Quaker neighbor, who believed in simplicity of life, was watching the activities carefully.  The neighbor counted the chairs and tables, and the vast amount of knicknacks that were being carried into the house.  Finally, he said to the owner of the mansion:  “Neighbor, if thou dost need anything, come to see me and I will tell thee how to get along without it!”

Abraham Lincoln was walking down the street with his two sons, who were crying and fighting.  “What’s the matter with the boys?” a friend asked.  “The same thing that’s wrong with the whole world”, Lincoln replied.  “I have three walnuts and each of the boys wants two!”

Things!  What thieves they can be!  Yet Jesus said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against laying up treasures on earth.  They aren’t safe, they don’t last, and they never satisfy.  Yet most people today think that joy comes from the things that they own.  Actually, things can rob us of the only joy that really exists.

4.  WORRY

The last thief that robs of joy is worry, and this is the worst thief of all.  How many people have been robbed of peace and fulfillment because of worry.  You can purchase “sleep” at the drug store, but you cannot purchase “rest”.  If the apostle Paul wanted to worry, he had plenty of reasons.  He was a prisoner facing possible execution.  He had no mission board supporting him and no Legal Aid Society defending him.  But in spite of these difficulties, Paul does not worry.  Instead, he writes a letter filled with joy, and tells us how to stop worrying.

Worry is actually wrong thinking and wrong feeling about circumstances, people, and things.  Philippians 4 tells us that we have God’s peace, God’s power, and God’s provision available to us.  With resources like these, why should we worry?