As the writer of Hebrews says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (11:1) The ancients believed in the promises of God even though they never personally experienced those promises. Many a Christian has stumbled when faced with the same challenge. I know I have. Yet, how deeply rooted is a faith that hasn’t been purified and strengthened by trials and tribulations?
Several of my dear friends are going through seemingly never-ending hard times. My heart hurts as they experience trial after trial. Setback after setback. Rainy day after rainy day. Yet each of them clings to the promises of God. They believe in His goodness and holiness, and they cling to His promises as their lifeline. But, I'm sure their experiences wear them down leaving them weary, discouraged and demoralized. I know if I were in their place, I’d want to yell at God the way Job did: “Why me, God?! What have I done to deserve this?”
I know life isn’t fair, but sometimes the disparity is glaring. Why do some Christians (and non-Christians) skate through life relatively unscathed and others get hammered at every turn? When will the latter receive the promised joy that comes in the morning?
I guess at the heart of this is the question, “What is the true nature of faith?”
A good place to look for answers is in Philippians. I’m studying it right now with my ladies’ Bible study. This little book is chock full of spiritual treasure. It’s inspiring, encouraging and uplifting, but when studied closely sets a high standard for living out our faith.
We’re only at the beginning of chapter two, but so far I have learned so much! At first read, the text seemed pretty straightforward, but as we’re discovering, every verse contains nuggets of truth when unearthed and dusted off for closer inspection, reveal tremendous insight. Already we’ve amassed quite a collection of treasure.
I even shared some of this treasure on a recent visit to the prison as I led the men in prayer. The similarities between Paul’s situation and our ministry team’s put flesh and bones on Paul’s ancient words, bringing them to life in a vivid way 2,000 years later.
I wish I could gather you all close so we can talk about Philippians, share our thoughts and experiences, listen to one another’s insights and go even deeper with the Almighty. Perhaps some day we will do just that, but for now I want to share ten lessons on faith I’ve learned so far from Paul:
- Faith binds us together. Despite the religious differences that exist, as followers of Christ we’re all on the same team—partners, working together. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. Paul was linked to the Philippians spiritually and emotionally. (1:27)
- Faith is not an attractive accessory that adds goodness to our lives. It is a radical, all-encompassing experience. Paul’s faith wasn’t part of who he was; it was ALL of who he was. He relinquished all of himself—his rights, his hopes, his thoughts, his schedule, his comfort and his desires—and chose to become a slave to Jesus. He was all in, body, mind and spirit.
- Faith is active. It’s growing and dynamic and vibrant. We never get to a certain point in our walk and say, “I’m done. I think I got this Jesus-thing down, I’m going to put it on cruise control.” We keep working on “more of you Lord and less of me.”
- Faith has a purpose. We’re not supposed to take the gospel and keep it for ourselves. It’s not private. We have a high calling to advance the gospel, unite in Spirit, encourage the body, share thanks and grow the Church. This union of purpose is what bound Paul so strongly to the Philippians.
- Faith means we can rejoice in all circumstances. Happiness depends on our external circumstances and our feelings. It comes and it goes. But, joy transcends the superficial. It is given to us supernaturally by the Spirit. And it allows us to be certain, as Paul did, that our circumstances will result in our deliverance. (1:19-20)
- Faith does not guarantee a comfortable life. In fact, it seems to promise just the opposite. We tend to expect our faithfulness will result in outward signs of God’s blessings, like happiness, comfort, prosperity, health and safety. But Paul says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him…” (1:29). Scripture says God uses our trials and tribulations to make us more Christ-like. (Mt. 5:11-12; Ac 5:41; Jas 1:2; 1Pe 4:14).
- Faith means God is not finished with us. The process of being made more like Christ does not rest on our own efforts (thank goodness!). Sure, there are things we need to do, but Paul assures us that God will continue the good work he started in us until Jesus comes again. (1:6)
- Faith means the good things in our life may not be the best. Paul prayed for the Philippians that they would “grow in knowledge and depth of insight” so that they could discern not just what is good, but what is best. Our lives may be filled with good and wonderful things, but they may not be the best that God has planned for us. Wisdom shows us the difference. (1:9-10)
- Faith means we must live authentic lives. In all we do, we need to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting citizens of heaven. (1:27)
- Faith means that our true identity comes from God alone. We don’t get our worth from our marital status, our children, our neighborhood, our job, our education, our service, our hobbies, our popularity, our bank account or anything else. As Paul says, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” (1:21) Paul’s life found all it’s meaning in Christ and so should ours.
As we delve into Paul's teaching, I'm learning truths that are both comforting and hard to grasp. I'm thankful that our understanding doesn't come by our own efforts, but through the Spirit working in us. I can’t wait to see what more Paul has in store for our study. Will you pray for us as we continue? Pray that we grown in understanding and insight, that God reveals His will in our lives, and that each of us draws closer to Him.
What does faith mean to you? What area of your walk are you struggling with? Where do you have victory?