It's All In How You Set Your Sails

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Text:  Philippians 1:1-11


     If you were to retrace Paul’s steps through his life, it would be like tracking a wounded deer running from a hunter, leaving a bloody trail most of the way.  Paul retraced his steps in 2 Cor. 11:24-28.  Physically he must have been a wreck.  Everywhere he traveled he carried on his body a diary of scars that visibly testified to the hatred and hardships he went through.

     But here he is, sitting in jail again, isolated from the rest of the world, yet he found it to a perfect time to pen a heart-felt letter.  As he writes, he must have been thinking of the three converts he won to the Lord at Philippi.  It all started with a vision of a voice crying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”  There was Lydia, who was one of those listening to his preaching on the riverbank when he first arrived in town.  Then there was the slave girl that he cast a demon out.  That caused a ruckus and landed Paul in jail.  While singing and praising the Lord in the night, an earthquake released their chains, yet they were still there when the jailor came rushing in.  Impressed by them not taking the opportunity, the jailor takes them home to nurse their wounds and he and his household come to the Lord.  And then he and Timothy (who was with Paul through all these events) were led out of town on a rail and told not to ever come back. 

     What a short span of a few days for the beginning of a church…yet it thrived…because here is Paul, 10 years later writing them a letter, and he hoped to send it via Timothy (2:19-23).  But it wasn’t words of bitterness that dot the pages of this letter…no, it was sprinkled with words of joy.  How could Paul write such words from a prison cell?  Because he was confident that God was at work in them, in control of their lives, and that it would result in greater glory.

     Paul understood something that we need to firmly grasp…and that is that joy doesn’t depend upon circumstances, people, or possessions.  It’s an attitude that is determined by confidence in God.  Regardless of how difficult our path, our joy will remain constant when we chose to put our confidence in God.  I’ve got a poem for you:  One ship drives east and another drives west with the selfsame winds that blow.  ‘Tis the set of the sails and not the gales which tells us the way to go.  (Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “The Winds of Fate.”)       You see, it is our confidence in God that will guide us like an inner compass…like a gyroscope in the depths of the ship, that is going to keep us aright when the storms of life beat against us.

1.      Typical of letters written in that day, Paul identifies himself as the author, along with Timothy, and states who it is written to.  Thinking of how this church began, it would be easy for the Philippians to view them as greater-than-life heroes.  How does Paul introduce himself to keep that inflated view from happening?  (v.1 He says he is a bond-servant.)
Insight: Doulos – one bound to another; one who is in a relation to another which only death can break; one who serves another even to the disregard of his interests. (Wuest’s Word Studies)    No prima donna, no celebrity…just confidence in God in the role of a servant for life!
How about you?  Are you willing to set aside your will for the will of the Christ whom you serve?

2.      How does Paul address those at Philippi?  (v.1 As saints.)
Insight: From the youngest to the oldest…the immature to the mature…workers and leaders…he uses one name for them all…saints.  And so are we, for all of us who claim Christ are set apart from a life of slavery to sin, to a life of serving God and made holy by His grace.

3.      Next Paul commends a blessing upon them in verse 2.  Why do these two words (grace and peace) go together so well?  (Grace was the greeting of that day that Greeks said to one another; where peace was the greeting that Hebrews said to one another.)
Insight: Unmerited favor is something that comes to us.  Peace, on the other hand, is something that flows in us as a result of receiving God’s grace.
Insight: In the earliest form of the Greek word for peace (eirene), it meant to bind together.  It communicated the idea of being bound so closely together with someone that harmony is developed.  Isa. 26:3

4.      In verses 3-5 Paul states the source of his thanksgiving in this letter.  What is it?
Insight: Memories are dotted with days of the past, both good and bad.  Such were the days at Philippi 10 years ago.  But Paul chose to recall the pleasant memories, and harbored no regrets, nor ill feelings.  And his most treasured memory was their participation in the gospel with him.  They carried it on after he was forced out.

5.      Their first, only, and brief pastor was forced to abandon them, yet Paul was confident they would be all right.  How so?  1:6  (God was at work within them.)  Phil. 2:13; 1 Cor. 1:6-9; 1 Thes. 5:23; Heb. 13:20-21

6.      In verse 7 Paul states that he holds them in his heart because of their support to him while in prison and their defense of the gospel…in all of it, they were partakers with him.  What does it mean to defend the gospel?  (To hold it up when it is torn down; to believe it when others do not; to keep it pure when others adulterate it or water it down.)
Insight: In our defense of the Gospel there will be times when we are personally attacked.  It’s during these times we can count it a joy to be identified with Christ and stand firm in our convictions.  Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Pet. 3:13-17

7.      After expressing his deep affection for them (v. 8), Paul says a prayer for them.  1:9-11    Foremost upon Paul’s heart was to see that their love abounds still more, yet with proper boundaries.  Why does love need boundaries?  (Because they might pour their love out on the wrong things.)  1 Jn. 2:15-17 
Insight: Unchecked love can cause its own kind of damage.  Wisdom is needed with love to make sure we embrace the right things and people.

8.      Two things were going to guide them in the boundaries of their love according to verse 9.  What are they?  (Real knowledge and discernment.)  1 Tim. 4:1-2
Insight: Full or complete knowledge of our environment (the crowd around us) and what they are embracing is needed.  Then we need to apply a keen awareness of right and wrong as we discern whether it is something we should embrace.  Without these two riverbanks, like a flood, our love will spill over to embrace things that are wrong.  We need to test things for their worth of their spot in our heart before we put a stamp of approval on it.   When that happens, we’ve discovered the key that unlocks our joy…confidence in what we embrace!

9.      The result of “approving the things that are excellent” so that we will be found “blameless in the day of Christ” is that we will be “filled with the fruit of righteousness.”  What’s the difference between our own righteousness and the righteousness that comes from Christ?  3:8-9


     Let’s return to the last verse of the poem by Ella Wilcox.  Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate, as we voyage along through life.  ‘Tis the set of a soul that decides its goal, and not the calm or the strife.

     Your tomorrow may bring calm or strife, but with what we’ve learned three things tonight to guide us through the storm.

  • Our joy comes from a heart that focuses on thankfulness.
  • When we let God be God, that confidence reinforces our joy.
  • Joy abounds when we keep love within its proper limits.

     Life’s tough.  But when you can kneel before God and offer up thanksgiving and nothing else, your confidence in His sovereignty has brought your joy full circle.  Thankfulness is the key to a joyful heart.  1 Thes. 5:18; Phil. 4:6

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