First the Sacrifice, Then the Joys

“I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.” —Philippians 4:13

DURING the course of our Christian lives, we sometimes face what appear to be insurmountable problems. It is at those times we should remember the words of this text. “I can do,” is the way it begins. Experts in the area of mental health say when people have problems, they should get up and do something. What they do is not as important as the act of doing. It may only be a long walk, a bicycle ride, or weeding the garden. By getting the mind active, solutions to problems often appear.

This may also be true in our Christian lives. Some problems may have solutions if we keep our minds active in ways that are pleasing to God. Of course there are other times when, in spite of our best efforts, some questions seem to have no answers. There is apparently nothing we can do. Surprisingly, this text of scripture may also provide help in those situations. Consider its rendering in Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott: “I am strong to endure all things with him who strengthens me.”

Another approach is suggested here—one which is equally valuable to us. When there is nothing we can do about a situation, then we must endure it. This may be even more difficult than trying to do something about it.


At the end of his life here on earth, Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for their coming experiences. In John 15:20, he says, “The servant is not greater than his lord If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” Just as Jesus was persecuted and even put to death falsely, so also will those who follow in his footsteps suffer persecution. This should not be a surprise. It is something that has to be endured.

In John 16:1, Jesus says, “These things have I spoken unto you that you should not be offended [that your faith may not be shaken, Jerusalem Bible].” Jesus wanted them to develop a strong faith in him and his Heavenly Father so they would not be disturbed when persecutions, misunderstandings, or hard and difficult times came upon them. These were events to be expected. The Apostle Peter made the same point: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.”—I Pet. 4:12

Paul’s Perspective

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from Rome. He was in prison, and knew that soon his life would be taken from him. Desiring to strengthen his brethren in their time of need, at the end of this letter he tells them to carry on, not in their own strength, but in the strength of the Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. When the apostle said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” he is telling us the source of his own strength to endure persecution. It should be a source of similar strength to all those who walk the narrow way which leads to life.

The Scriptures abound in promises of the joys and blessings belonging to the Lord’s people. And we are glad that they do. The Scriptures are full of promises and assurances of God’s love for, and his constant care over us. Not a hair of our heads can fall but that our Heavenly Father knows. However, blessings and joys are not the ultimate objective of our Christian life. The joys are only incidental to living a life of sacrifice.

We do not need strength to enjoy the truth—we love the truth! We do not need fortitude to enjoy the fellowship of the brethren—we love the brethren! We do not need courage to enjoy a study in the Scriptures—we love God’s Word! But we do need strength, fortitude, courage, and faith to continue in the way of sacrifice.

The Apostle Peter said, “Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.” (I Pet. 5:7) He went on to show why we should do this, for “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” (I Pet. 5:8-10) From this text we learn that the purpose of our trials and testings is to establish us in the faith. These experiences also prove our faith, and show that we are truly followers of our Lord Jesus.

We must never lose sight of the part suffering plays in our Christian life. Fleshly Israel did not understand this when Jesus first presented himself to them. They expected their Messiah to come as a king. And they expected this king to bring them glory, honor, and peace. They failed to understand their Scriptures, the Old Testament, which said this king would first have to die before the blessings could come to Israel and then the whole world of mankind.

Today there are Christians who make much the same mistake. All they see in the Scriptures are the promises of blessings, peace, and joy. They do not see that first it is necessary for the faithful footstep followers of Jesus to lay down their lives in sacrifice, that they must first suffer with Christ if they would afterward reign with him. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Rom. 12:1) One rarely hears any Christian cite these words of Paul to say he was laying down his life as a sacrifice. As it was with our Lord, so it must be with us. Jesus himself said, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”—Luke 14:27

Paul learned he could endure all life’s difficult experiences. In II Corinthians 11:23-27, he mentions some of them that he had successfully undergone: beatings, prison, stoning, shipwreck, and numerous perils. Through it all he endured, looking forward to the crown of life that would be his at the end of the narrow way. In Philippians 3:4-6, Paul mentions the high standing of his family—that he was a zealous Pharisee, and had an excellent reputation. “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ … for whom I have suffered the loss of all things.”—vss. 7,8

All the wonderful blessings that were his, due to birth and education, he counted as “dung” that he might win Christ. Concluding this thought, Paul said, “This one thing I do.” (vs. 13) In actual fact it was not “one thing,” it was a lot of things. He turned his back on the “all things” the world offered him, and he endured “all things” that were his lot in the Christian way. His “one thing” was his determination to serve the Lord, no matter what the earthly consequences might be.

The Lesson for Us

We should draw strength from the example of Jesus, the Apostles Paul and Peter, the brethren around us, and through the instruction and leading of the Holy Spirit. The strength from the Heavenly Father was very real in Paul’s life, and it can be just as real in our lives, if only we permit it to operate.

Are we forsaken of men, misunderstood, perhaps even criticized by the brethren? The Lord knows, and permits it to test, develop, and strengthen us. It may be an experience to teach us to trust not in our own strength, but in his strength. Let us say with Paul, “I am strong to endure all things with him who strengthens me!” The Lord will test us only according to our strength.

What do we have to build with as we strive to make our calling and election sure? The past, of course, sustains us, in the sense that the lessons we have learned strengthen us and instruct us. The future also sustains us, in the sense that we have the glorious hope of being with the Lord, and blessing all the families of the earth. But since we cannot do anything about what is past, the past is not really ours. And since we cannot do anything about tomorrow, it really does not belong to us. All we have is the present, day by day, hour by hour.

Paul said, “This one thing I do”—now, today—“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) Let us use today to make fresh resolves to be similarly minded.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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