At some point or other in our lives, most of us experience some degree of financial need. I can think of a few of times in my own life when I had serious financial worries. The first was when I lost a lot of money on a business venture in my early twenties. The second was when I was a student for the ministry, and I was working as a delivery driver to make ends meet. The third was when I went nine months without a call to serve a church. ‘How will I survive?’ I kept worrying.
These were horrible months full of fear, anxiety, and stress. But, one day, while browsing a used book store, I came across a little book by Charles Spurgeon, The CheckBook of the Bank of Faith. It was a series of devotionals based on Philippians 4:19. The 10 cents I paid for that little book was one of the best investments I ever made. It brought me so much peace and calm. Let’s look at this verse in its context.
Which is harder? Contentment when poor or contentment when rich? Most of us would say it’s much harder to be content when poor. “If only the Lord would give me this income, this house, this car, this retirement, then I would find it really easy to be content.”
In Philippians 4:10-13, the Apostle Paul surprises us by saying that we have to learn how to be content whether we are rich or poor. Contentment does not rise or fall with our incomes and mutual funds. It rises and falls based upon our spiritual condition. How can I learn contentment?
Scientists estimate that for every hundred pieces of information that enter our brains, ninety-nine end up in the spam folder. Noticing only one thing out of every hundred is a good thing. As many suffering autistic people will tell you, if you don’t have a good mental spam filter, you can be overwhelmed with useless and harmful data.
The problem is, many of us have spam filters that are fantastic at letting in only the negative things and filtering out the positive. With such a grim input of one-sided data, is it any wonder that we experience so much stress, demotivation, and relational breakdown?
How do we develop a better SPAM filter? In Philippians 4:8-9, Paul retrains our brains and SPAM filters so that we Scan for Positive and Affirming Messages.
Causes cure. What do I mean by that? The first step to curing a problem is discovering the cause of the problem.
For example, I get flare-ups of arthritis. I can take painkillers to tamp down the symptoms. But because I haven’t addressed the cause of my arthritis, as soon as I stop the Ibuprofen, it flares up again. Without knowing the cause, I don’t really have a cure.
Most of the time, the cause is too much stress and too little sleep. When I admit that, and trace my pain to that, then I’m identifying the cause and only then can I work towards a cure. In that sense, causes cure.
Same goes for anxiety. We can take meds to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, but it will almost always return when meds are stopped. So how do we cure anxiety? First identify the causes. That’s what Paul does in Philippians 4:1-7.
Are you a copycat or a copy-Christ?
When I was young kid, it was an insult to be called a copycat. We used it to mock someone who copied someone’s clothes, or actions, or words.
But being a copycat isn’t just something we see in children. Whether we like to admit it or not, we all copy someone to some degree. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are copying others, following their example, influenced by them. They are our models and we are their mimics. That’s fine when they are good examples but disastrous when they’re bad examples.
Paul saw this danger in Philippi. But instead of simply saying “Stop copying others,” he said, “Choose better models.” Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us (17). He sets himself up as a good model and warns about bad models. Paul’s asking the Philippians and us, “Who is your model?”
Forty years ago, I went on a mountain climbing camp with my church. On the first day we tried to climb one of the highest mountains in the Scottish Highlands. It was especially tough because most of the city-kids had ever climbed a mountain before.
After hours of agonizing ascent, I still remember getting to what I thought was the peak only to realize that it was a plateau before the real peak, which was probably another hour of even harder climbing. Most of us decided enough was enough and decided that the flat plateau would be our peak. But there were a few kids, mostly farm boys, who used the plateau as an opportunity to rest and renew before pressing on to the real summit.
In every area of life, most people plateau, while a few press on to the summit. Most just settle for mediocrity, but others refuse to settle and press on to peaks of excellence. It’s the same in the spiritual life. There are plateau Christians and there are peak Christians. How can we make sure we are peak Christians rather than plateau Christians? Let’s join the Apostle Paul on his climb to the summit in Philippians 3:12-16.