Are you discouraged today? Discouragement and depression are on the rise. Even our children are affected. ABC news reported that “Today’s Teens are More Anxious and Depressed than Ever.” Also “10 times more people suffer from major depression now than in 1945. This clearly shows that the root cause of most depression is not a chemical imbalance. Human genes do not change that fast.”
Why? “Results suggest that American culture has increasingly valued extrinsic and self-centered goals such as money and status, while increasingly devaluing community, affiliation, and finding meaning in life.” the authors write.
The reasons may be surprising, but this not new information, Paul the writer of Philippians shares timeless truths of how we can dump discouragement.
Paul is in prison and had four years of horrible circumstances. He’s spent two years in prison in Caesarea for a trumped up charge. Then he’s put on a ship to go to Rome to appear before Caesar. In route he’s shipwrecked, stranded on an island, bitten by a poisonous snake, waits the winter there, continues on to Rome, spends another two years in prison awaiting trial and possibly face execution. During this two year period in Rome he is chained to a guard for 24 hours a day. He has absolutely no privacy. Every four hours he gets a new guard. In spite of all of these situations, Paul says in Phil. 1:18 “I rejoice and I will continue to rejoice.” What’s Paul’s secret? How does he stay positive in prison, joyful in spite of the fact that everything has not turned out the way he planned it. Paul gives us four insights.
How Do I Dump Discouragement?
1. CHANGE MY OUTLOOK (about my problems)
All of us are in one of three situations: You are either IN a problem right now, or heading INTO a problem or just coming OUT of a problem.
Every one of us has problems. Never think they are only happening to you.
- Problems are part of life.
We all have them. We look at other people’s lives and think they don’t have problems but they do. You may want someone else’s life but you may not be able to their problems.
- My outlook on my problems is vital to keep me from discouragement.
Is the proverbial glass half empty or half full? My perspective makes the difference!
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”
The Greek word translated “advance” here has an interesting history. It is a Greek military term referring to the army engineers who go before the troops to open the way into new territory. “Wood-cutters who go before an army, clearing a way through the underbrush so that the army can march forward unimpeded.”
Instead of finding himself confined as a prisoner, Paul discovered that his circumstances really opened up new areas of ministry.
Paul is saying, “All these things that have happened to me have resulted in clearing the way so that the gospel might be preached more effectively.” Why?
- God can use my problems for good.
13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.
Paul had always wanted to go to Rome to have an evangelistic meeting: rent the coliseum; pass out flyers, and put a full-page ad in the New Rome Times.
Paul wanted to go to Rome as a preacher, but instead he went as a prisoner! God put him in prison where he would write ½ the New Testament!
He’s chained to the “palace guard,” or Praetorian Guard (refers to a provincial governor’s residence) The Praetorian Guard were the emperor’s elite bodyguards. They were kept loyal with the highest pay in the Roman military. When they retired they became leaders in Rome.
This is most strategic group that Paul could share the gospel with to reach the Roman Empire. Every 6 hours a new soldier comes in & chains himself to Paul. The soldier was doing his duty, making sure the prisoner wasn’t going to escape.
But Paul saw this as a wonderful opportunity to tell the soldier about Jesus. There was no way that the soldier could escape.
*This is where the term captive audience comes from!
Twenty-four hours a day Paul is chained to a guard and every six hours a new guard, which meant Paul, could witness to at least four men each day! Imagine yourself as one of those soldiers, chained to a man who was would naturally strike up a conversation about spiritual matters, who and who was repeatedly writing letters to Christians and churches throughout the Empire, constantly praying! It was not long before some of these soldiers put their faith in Christ. Paul was able to get the Gospel into the elite Praetorian Guard, something he could not have done had he been a free man.
In two years at six-hour shifts, Paul had shared the gospel to approximately 4,000 guards. These guards had an inside route to the emperor.
And it worked!!
For in the closing chapter of this letter, vs. 22, Paul writes, “All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.” *This is where the term “chain” reaction comes from.
Members of Nero’s family became believers, very likely because of this very thing. History tells us that Nero had his wife, mother and children killed because they became believers.
Young mothers may feel chained to the home as they care for their children, you may feel chained to your job or chained with a cranky co-worker but God has a plan for you in that to share the gospel to make the most of that opportunity!
14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
He says, “they have seen how God has protected me through difficult situations, & encouraged me, & given me strength beyond my own power.”
“Now they’re facing difficult circumstances, too. But because of what they have seen, they’re convinced that God will take care of them, also.”
His attitude towards problems has encouraged other people. Courage is contagious it rubs off on others. Other believers became courageous because of Paul being that way.
*So what are you chained to? Are you chained to an imperfect body? Are you chained to declining health? Are chained to 2 or 3 jobs, & you can’t make ends meet? Are you chained to a job that has no future? Are you chained to loneliness or grief or despair? Then you need to stop & ask, “How can God use this to advance the gospel?”
The secret is this: you look on your circumstances as God-given opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel; and you rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do.
- MOVE THE SPOTLIGHT (from myself to Jesus)
- When I seek the spotlight, it will reflect badly on me.
People can tell in a hurry when we are all about us, about fame, about reputation. It is obvious. If that’s your priority then that is reflected in your actions.
**A story is told of a turtle that wanted to spend the winter in Florida, but he knew he could never walk that far. He convinced a couple of geese to help him, each taking one end of a piece of rope, while he clamped his vise-like jaws in the center.
The flight went fine until someone on the ground looked up in admiration and asked, “Who in the world thought of that?”
Unable to resist the chance to take credit, the turtle opened his mouth to shout, “I did–” When seek the spotlight is when we will find ourselves on the way down.
- Living for the spotlight will bring me discouragement.
Another problem about the spotlight is that it is so fleeting, it is there one moment, gone the next. We quickly forget yesterday’s Oscar winners, Grammy winners, and Heisman trophy winners. If we live for that we will be discouraged because it doesn’t last. The spotlight should not be our aim.
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.
Paul says, some are jealous, envious, rivaling me. Other ministers are stirring up trouble for me while I am in prison.” One thing that is so discouraging is when people begin to criticize you.
But Paul wasn’t doing this for the spotlight or for popularity, but some were. Who do we remember today, the ones who were being selfish or the one in chains?
For instance in ministry, when serve in some way, in the Children’s ministry, in the band, as a greeter, our aim should not be pats on the back, kudos and acknowledgement, (yes as a church we should appreciate what people do) but if that’s our only reason for serving we will be let down. Our service should be all about Christ, for his glory, for his kingdom, for his church. We can serve because it brings satisfaction. We can serve because it brings joy to our lives. We should be careful to serve for popularity or recognition. Jesus is the spotlight and he deserves the spotlight. Not us.
18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Paul said he wasn’t going to let anything discourage him. Not circumstances or critics. He said their motives may be wrong, their style may be wrong, but if the message is getting out, so what? This is the only question in the book of Philippians. In Greek it literally means “so what”. What does it matter? It’s all about Christ, its not about me.
3. DEPEND ON OTHERS
I need strength to make it, to keep on going. Life can wear me out. Life can drain me completely. One crisis after another is draining. I lose my energy and power. If you’re ready to throw in the towel, like I have been. You need a fresh power supply. I can’t do life on my own for long, you can’t either.
Paul says, I have two things that give me strength and kept me going in spite of four years of imprisonment: the prayers of other people and the help of Jesus.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers…
Do you have someone or a group that prays for you regularly? I believe that the more people praying for me the better. Have you ever rejected someone praying for you? “No, no don’t pray for me, I don’t need it. I am getting along fine!” Probably not, because it we need all the prayer we can get. I want to encourage you to desire more people to pray for you and support you. When you come to The Ridge, you are prayed for. Our Prayer Group is amazing and prays for each request. I pray for each of us here that God works in our lives. Niki and I pray for our members regularly, AND when you are a part of a small group, you WILL BE prayed for regularly! In Growth Groups we pray for each other. Not only will you be learning, you will be encouraged, you will be supported and you will be prayed for. When you neglect the time for a small group you neglect getting the prayer you need, you are saying, “no thanks, no prayer for me, I am getting along fine.” Lastly Paul writes,
- LIVE FOR JESUS
and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
Paul also gets help by the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
- Am I living on my own power to solve my problems?
Sometimes we act like practical atheists, we say we believe in God, but we don’t act like it.
- Am I carrying a heavy load God didn’t intend me to carry?
I often struggle with trying to do too much by myself. At one point a 8 years ago, I was so discouraged and down, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, I even lost my appetite and for me that’s not normal! I was blaming myself for everything that was not going as I thought it should in our church, even the problems people were having must have been my fault because I was not praying enough, (NOT HEALTHY). I felt like quitting. Niki and I talked for hours I was about to call my friend Dr. David Burleson the counselor. I prayed and prayed. One morning on the way to take the kids to school I was listening to a song that caused me to just break down and cry like a baby. The Lord spoke to me, he let me know that I was doing too much in my own power, there was too much depending on me and not enough depending on Him. I felt a huge load lift from me as I gave it all back to Jesus. I tell you about this time in my own life of discouragement because you can connect to Jesus in so many ways not just prayer but through music, by journaling –writing, by drawing or other art forms and being with other believers.
Have you been trying to live solely on your own power to solve your problems and pressures in your life? God says, relax. You are carrying a burden that was never intended for you to carry. Come to God and give it all to Him, load it all on Him and ask Him to recharge you — physically, spiritually, emotionally.
Paul closes his thoughts with a powerful statement.
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Complete the sentence: “For me to live is ____________.”
Any other substitute for Christ lacks significance:
“For me to live is money, & to die is to leave it behind.”
“For me to live is fame, & to die is to be quickly forgotten.”
“For me to live is power & influence, & to die is to loose both.”
“For me to live is family, & to die is leave them alone.”
I’m going to suggest there is only one answer to that blank. There is only one answer that is going to last 100 years from now. There’s only one answer: “For me to live is Christ.”
That’s why I make no apologies in asking you to live for Christ and to join us in our mission: “To KNOW Christ and GROW to be like him” It is the greatest thing of all to live for. Christ and his purposes. As a church we work to make this message relevant through music, video, teaching and visual aids. Would you invite someone to come and check out the good news? We want to let our community know about Christ, this is why we put out door hangers, its why we print invite cards in your bulletin, its why are in the newspaper, its why we do email invites, google ads, mailers, banners, we get the message out to people who are discouraged and need hope, they need Jesus.
Think about what will really last? Football, will it matter in one thousand years who wins the super bowl or World Series? Will it matter in a million years how much you had in the bank? No what will matter is who knows Christ. This is what will matter for eternity. Are you living for what will last?
The secret of J.O.Y. — Jesus first, Others second, Yourself third.
Let me pray for us. “Jesus, thanks for these words from Paul. Help us change our perspective and see that you have a purpose for us even in our problems. Help us be less selfish not living primarily for popularity, position or material things. In our weaknesses may we depend on others and in all things may we live for you. Thanks for those who are receiving your forgiveness, peace and purpose that your death and resurrection secures. Amen.”
Sources: All verses are from The New International Version of the Bible
Bible Background Commentary