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Spiritual Growth: Seeing Circumstances as Gifts

Today Pastor Ed Allen continued his series on "Spiritual Growth: What it is, how it happens, & why it works" looking at the latter half of Philippians 1, verses 12 through 30.

First, he unpacked the text using three questions:

How does Paul evaluate his circumstances?

Then, as now, the main reason to write letters was to tell about your circumstances.  The Philippians were concerned, because they'd heard Paul was in prison.

Paul doesn't say a thing about prison conditions, his health, or food.  He tells them that his imprisonment has actually served to advance the gospel.  Built into the Greek word for "advance" is the idea of overcoming obstacles.

The ultimate critieria by which Paul measures his circumstances is whether or not they contribute to the advancement of the gospel.

How did Paul evaluate the ministry of others?

He admits that some were preaching out of envious motives.  They thought their ministry was clearly better than Paul's because he was in prison and they weren't.  Today in America, many fall into the idea that God is only about blessing us, and you can judge your spirituality by how healthy, wealthy, and successful you are.  By this standard, Paul - and Jesus - were failures.

Paul's focus was: Is Jesus Christ being glorified?

Is Jesus Christ made attractive because of the way you're living?

How did Paul view his future?

He was convinced he'd be delivered - either through death or for further fruitful ministry.  He was utterly free of the fear of death because of his complete focus on Christ.  He honestly saw both alternatives as deliverance.

Three Critical Parts of Paul's Faith:

Paul's Settled Conviction:  God is sovereign.

This ties back to verse 6 - God is working in our lives.  Paul talks about God working in all his life's circumstances.

Paul's Driving Concern:  The glory of Christ.

If God would be glorified, that makes it good - even if it's uncomfortable for Paul at the moment.

That settled conviction and driving concern combine into:

Paul's Freeing Point of View:  ALL circumstances can be received as a gift from God.

What does this mean for me?  (verses 27-30)

Our settled conviction, driving concern, and freeing point of view can be the same as Paul's.

Be just like Paul in these attitudes!  You won't be thrown off kilter by difficulty.

Seeing every circumstance as a gift from God is the result of spiritual growth.

God is working even in this - in fact, He's working precisely in this.

Every circumstance is a gift from God.

Spiritual Growth: Excellence

This morning, Pastor Ed Allen continued his series on Spiritual Growth: What is it? How does it happen? And why bother? Today we started looking at the book of Philippians, looking at Philippians 1:1-11.

The focus of today's sermon was Excellence.  Part of what happens in us when we are growing spiritually is that our capacity to choose and do what is absolutely best is enhanced.  It's a super power!  Knowing-and-doing-what-is-best.

Looking at Philippians 1, Paul uses a standard form for opening a letter in Greek at that time.  Only his thanks is offered to God, not to gods.  And the prayer he offers for his hearers in verses 9 to 11 is epic.

Paul lays out a critically important spiritual principle.  The key is: How can I become the kind of person who can consistently approve what is best?

There are Three Challenges to our ability to choose what is best.

1)  We really believe the key to better decisions is more information.

Choices actually get harder when they're very nearly equal.  We get paralyzed because we think the difficulty is because we don't have enough information.  We wish for a Netflix channel that would show us how our future would work out if we went down either path.  But if that existed - it would paralyze us.

More information is not the key to good decision-making.  The key is our love abonding more and more.

2)  We believe our decision-making is improved with more options; the more the better.

Studies have also shown that this isn't true.  Dr. Barry Schwartz, who wrote The Paradox of Choice, says that this idea is flat-out crazy.  We think we'll be happier the more choices we have, but too many options paralyze people.  More choice also produces less satisfaction, because it escalates expectations.

Greater choice leads to paralysis and dissatisfaction.  What we need is love that abounds more and more into knowledge and depth of insight.

3)  We are not good at knowing what makes us happy.

Studies have shown that 5 years after the event, those who have become paralyzed in an accident and those who have won the lottery are equally happy.  We place far too much value on certain events to affect our happiness.  And we are far too easily influenced by extraneous and unimportant factors.

We aren't good at knowing what will make us happy.  We need our love to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that we may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.

Back at the beginning of Philippians 1, Paul feels joy because of the Philippians' partnership in the gospel - their fellowship and community.

Our community, too, is partnership in God's story.

These Philippians said Yes, and we do, too.

Paul also felt confident in the Philippians - because God was working in them.

Without me, God won't; without God, I can't.

Let's resolve to do our part this year.  God will work!

What God wants for me is for me to be the kind of person who can discern what is best.

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