I ran track in high school. I wasn’t the fastest kid in the school, but I did receive a varsity letter as a Freshman… I was the only one to try out. And the varsity team needed a hurdler, and since I was the only option I got the spot. As a freshman hurdler I knew I needed a lot of help. So I turned to God.
I’d be in the blocks getting ready for the gun. The starter would raise his hand, “READY…” (pause) “Set…” Whenever he said “set,” that’s when I’d recite it. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I’d say to myself. “BANG!” The gun went off and we were off and running.
I quoted Philippians 4:13, so I knew that I’d win. But then I didn’t. I put up a lot of 4th & 5th places in track. I was too short to be a good hurdler. I had to really fling my leg up to clear the bar and on top of that, I wasn’t the fastest kid in the world. Occasionally, I’d get lucky and get a blue ribbon… But not often. Why didn’t God come through for me? Why didn’t he give me the strength to do the impossible and actually win a track meet?
Maybe because that verse is was taken straight outta context?
We often do a disservice to Scripture when we take verses and isolate them from the verses surrounding them. We need to look at the context directly surrounding the verse in question. Beyond that, we look to the context of the letter or book in which it is written, and then we look at how it fits into Scripture as a whole. When we fail to read in context, we end up thinking that reciting a verse before a track meet will make us really really fast.
So what does “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” really mean in context? Let’s look at just the two preceding verses: Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. (Philippians 4:11-12 NLT).
Already you can begin to see the context. As Paul writes this letter, he has in mind his physical circumstances. He’s sitting in prison. Life is difficult. But throughout the entirety of the letter, we see that Paul maintains joy and contentment because of everything he has in Christ (see 1:14, 1:25, 2:14, 3:7-10, 3:21, 4:4-5).
So when Paul says “I can do all things through Christ,” the “all things” refers to persevering and remaining content no matter the circumstances by the power of Jesus. He knows that when his focus is on Christ he can endure prison, beatings, and shipwrecks. No matter what happens, he has all he needs in Christ. Through the promise and power of Christ working in Paul, he chooses contentment in all situations. Whether he has plenty or little, he can thrive in all circumstances through Christ who gives him strength.
So what’s that mean for us?
Well, hopefully this is an encouragement for you. This is a reminder that no matter what you’re going through, even in your weakness, Christ is strengthening you. If you’re in the middle of financial crisis, focus on what you have in Christ. If you hate your career and are looking for a way out, remember what you have in Christ. If you’ve lost a loved one recently or have a horrible diagnosis, you can persevere through Christ. Does it mean it’s easy? Absolutely not. But it’s a reminder that you can push through. You can endure. And you can still have a joyful life in Christ who gives you strength. Nothing can steal your joy when you’re in Christ.
I was reminded of this in a big way last week. Maybe you’re familiar with the name Ravi Zacharias. His ministry has been instrumental in bringing people to Jesus through logic and reason. I owe a lot to Ravi, because his teachings and writings helped build the foundation of my own faith. Sadly, he passed away last week. He’d been sick for a while and knew that physical death was imminent. So how does a man of great faith face death?
A few months before his death he recited this poem by Robert Baxter:
“Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give.
If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may long obey;
If short, yet why should I be sad
To welcome endless day?
Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Than He went through before;
He that unto God’s kingdom comes
Must enter by this door.
Come Lord, when grace hath made me meet
Thy blessed face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet
What will thy glory be!
Then I shall end my sad complaints
And weary sinful days,
And join with the triumphant saints
That sing my Savior’s praise.
My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But ‘tis enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with Him.”
His focus was on Jesus. His prize was Jesus. His joy was Jesus. When Jesus is your source of life, you can persevere and endure anything. True, lasting joy is found only in Christ. And the truth of this verse is worth repeating; no matter what happens, you have all you need in Christ.
A few years back I read If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas and he tells this story: In 1787 after the last Constitutional Convention met, Benjamin Franklin walked out of the meeting house and was approached by a woman who said “Well Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” And Franklin responded “A republic ma’am… If you can keep it.”
Benjamin Franklin was obviously talking about maintaining our freedom. In other words, freedom doesn’t just happen and it isn’t some magical thing that occurs on its own. Our founding fathers knew that freedom required responsibility to maintain.
And taking responsibility to maintain a goal or a desired way of life is prevalent throughout daily life. For example, if you want to be fit and stay fit, you have to take the responsibility to eat healthy and exercise. To capitalize on and maintain a goal, we have to take responsibility.
And when COVID-19 stepped onto the scene, the church was given a great opportunity that must be maintained.
In a matter of days, church as we knew it was turned upside down. We went from drinking our coffee, eating our donuts, and gathering in our buildings to drinking our coffee (notice coffee is always present!), wearing our PJs, and watching a live stream. And over the last several weeks the Good News of Jesus’ love displayed on the cross has been streamed and sent out all over the world. On Sunday mornings Facebook and Youtube is flooded with the Gospel! Churches are now doing daily bible studies and live prayer times. And people are loving their neighbors by delivering groceries and checking in on each other. While it may not feel like it, the Church has grown up at an exponential rate.
But that’s not the only digital message that grew. As more and more information about COVID-19 continues to come out, I see more and more experts on my Facebook and Twitter feeds (SEE CERTAIN TIMES VIDEO). According to many of my friends, Bill Gates and 5G networks are responsible. To others, the republicans and the democrats are in bed together to screw us all over.
Not only that, but many have become scientific experts on viral diseases and seem to know exactly what to do to make sure we beat this pandemic. Wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask. Social distance. Who cares? Quarantine the oldies. Build your immune system. Sanitize your groceries.… And the list goes on. And as we have continued to live through this pandemic, it seems that our hate, shaming, and judgment of others has also grown at an exponential rate.
So, what do we have here? Well, we have an opportunity, if we can keep it.
The irony is incredible to me. The Gospel has gone out over the interwebs at increasing speeds… Yet, the same people sharing those links to the livestream are often the same people spewing hatred and more through their keyboard. We have somehow gotten to the point where we think we are so special that everyone wants to hear our opinion.
And it needs to stop. As horrible as this pandemic is, God has given us, the Church, an opportunity… If we can keep it. And here’s how I’d suggest we keep it.
First, decrease your time online. The more time we spend online, the more we get sucked into the vortex that is social media. Stop scrolling. Go outside. Open your Bible.
Second, filter what you do post. Before you post maybe ask some of these questions:
Is this a positive message?
Is this true?
How does this portray Christ living in me?
Is this kind?
What is it about this post that makes me so mad?
Have I considered what the other person might be going through?
Can I have this conversation via a more loving platform (phone call, video call, etc.)?
Even if I’m right, is it worth risking the relationship over?
In times of crisis the church has a great opportunity to step up and be the Church… But we can’t keep this opportunity if we’re praising on Sunday and shaming on Monday. We have an opportunity to share the Gospel in ways we never have… if we can keep it.
I love spy movies. Mission Impossible, James Bond, and Jason Bourne are all classic spy movies. And not that you care, but my all time favorite spy movie is a tie between The Man who Knew too Little with Bill Murray and Get Smart with Steve Carrell. My least favorite, ironically given the title, is Spy with Jason Statham. What a horrible movie…
Now that you know that I’m an expert on spy movies, let me give you a piece of advice. Whenever you find yourself watching a spy movie, always remember that not everyone is who they say they are. There is often a code word or a memory shared between two people that lets the other party involved know that who they are talking to is in fact someone they can trust.
But at the end of the day, code word or no code word, the identity of the other party is always brought to light by their actions. And this is exactly what we see happening in one of the most famous stories in the Bible.
In Matthew 14:22-36 Jesus sends His disciples out ahead of Him so that He can be alone and pray. In the middle of the night a storm comes upon the lake and the boat begins to be tossed by the wind. Jesus does what any of us might do and takes a stroll ON THE WATER to go help them out. The disciples are freaked out when they see Him walking on water and understandably so. But Jesus reassures them by saying “Take Courage. I am here.”
And here comes the codeword… In Matthew 14:28 Peter says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”
Hold up… That’s not a very good code word, Peter. There’s no question like “How many people can 2 fish and 5 loaves feed?” Or “If it’s you, what kind of music do I like (ROCK and roll, obviously). Or “Which side of the boat is best for fishing.”
Peter and Jesus have had multiple encounters and memories that would have given Peter more assurance that it was in fact Jesus… But Peter simply says “If it’s you, tell me to come walk on the water.” Kind of a dumb question. If it was a ghost, like they originally thought, all the ghost would have had to say (assuming ghosts can talk) was “Yep… It’s me.” And boom, Peter drowns.
But remember, the identity of the other party is always brought to light by their actions… And when Jesus tells Peter to come, there is really only one way to know for sure that it is Jesus. He had to get out of the boat. He had to take the leap of faith. He had to take a step trusting that it was in fact Jesus. And these moments of faith happen all the time… We get nudges all the time and wonder, “Is this you, God?” Nudges like:
Start the Business.
Reconcile the relationship.
Give them some money.
Quit the job.
Start the program.
Take the mission trip.
The calls to faith are numerous. And while there is some criteria on knowing if a nudge is from God (Conversations with mentors, is the action loving?, what does Scripture say?, and prayer), really the only way to know if it’s from God is to take that first step out of the boat. We have to take the risk trusting that it is Jesus speaking and that He will hold us up and keep us from drowning.
So, Peter, maybe you’re not so dumb. Maybe you were asking the question for a little security. But deep down, perhaps you knew that Jesus’ identity would be made clear by his actions. And sure enough, he held you up and gave you the power to walk on water. And you and everyone around recognized who He was because of your faith…
When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.
Some of the most convicting words in all of the Bible read: What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:14-17 NLT).
Every time I read these words I get an emptiness in the pit of my stomach. Because I realize how apathetic I often get in my faith. Sure, I might talk a big game but I often fail to put my money where my mouth is.
It’s easy to believe that once we are in Christ, everything is hunky-dory. I’m in Christ so nothing bad can happen to me. I’m in Christ so He will take care of me no matter what. I’m in Christ so I can just offer a prayer up and everything will get better. I’m in Christ so I don’t have to worry.
But I’ve found that our “In-Christ-ness” is often used as an excuse to not actually live in Christ. God will take care of me, so I don’t need to get a job. God will heal me, so I don’t need to work the program. God is watching over me, so I don’t need to eat right and be healthy. God loves her, so I don’t need to share my faith. God provides for people, so I don’t need to be generous.
See what I mean? And we could keep going. It’s easy to lead an apathetic life when we disconnect our faith from our actions. And before all the naysayers step in with “But what about…” Let me go ahead and answer your rebuttal…
Yes, we are saved by faith alone. Yes, salvation is a free gift of God. No, you can’t earn your way to God. Paul was right in Ephesians 2, we are saved only by faith in Jesus. But our dear friend James, whose words we read up top, carries the same Scriptural authority as our beloved Paul. And James tells us that faith without works is dead. And I daily need this reminder.
We need to be reminded that we exist as a people who love. A people who work out our faith. A people who take action. A people who believe that our tiny little action of giving a sandwich to the hungry, a dollar to the beggar, or a coat to the freezing is an outworking of our faith in Christ.
Faith does not only mean belief… Faith means action. Faith means we do whatever we can to love. To share. To be generous. And to point people to Jesus.
Reflecting on the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof in Luke 5, Shan Wood noted that apathy says, “My friends will find their way to Jesus.” But actions says, “I’ll get my friends to Jesus.” You see the difference? If the man’s friends weren’t living out their faith, the poor fella would have still been laying on his mat unable to walk.
But because they were living out and acting upon their faith, this man not only received the ability to walk, but also had his sins forgiven. I heard one speaker say once, “Small acts done with great love can change the world.” And that’s exactly what it means to act on your faith. Our actions may be small. But our God is big. And He asks each of us to act on what we believe, trusting that He will do more than we could imagine.
So what’s it look like for you to live out your faith? To choose action faith over apathetic faith?
Well, maybe it means…
You start volunteering on a weekly basis.
You start giving to God first.
You start a conversation with the neighbor.
You welcome in foster children to your home.
You tell your family that Jesus has changed your life.
You ask for forgiveness.
You start the non-profit.
You give up some of your stock piled food and toilet paper.
You care for refugees.
You forgive those who hurt you.
There’s a wide variety of ways to take action in our faith and we’d love to hear how you’re taking action. Drop a comment below to let us know ways to live out our faith!