Summary: Make stress a learning experience. Make stress a growing experience. Make stress a fruitful experience. Introduction to the book of Philippians and the series
PHILIPPIANS AND STRESS: MAKING THE BEST OF IT--Philippians 1:1-11
***We are beginning today a series on stress. Before we begin, I want to give you a stress test, developed by the American Institute of Stress.
On the screen, we are going to project a picture of two dolphins jumping out of the water. A study at the institute found that although most people see two identical dolphins, people who are under a lot of stress see differences between the two jumpers.
(Project a picture, of a dolphin and a cow jumping out of the water. You might find it by searching on the internet for “dolphin cow jumping.”)
If you see more than one or two differences, you might need a vacation.**
Stress: It’s a part of life. The only ones who never have any stress are found 6 feet under the earth.
Surveys indicate that perceived stress is higher today than a few decades ago. College and university counseling centers report a spike in students having difficulty dealing with anxiety. Medication use is up (which is not always bad), and self-medicating in the form of alcohol or illegal drugs is rampant.
Stress is not always bad. The stress of sports, or facing a challenging task, or helping people solve a problem can be a great experience, while a total lack of stress might be boring or unfulfilling. Yet when our stress level gets too high, it saps our strength, or even overwhelms us.
Sometimes stress is a symptom of life gone bad: unemployment, health issues, destructive relationships, injustice, or conflict. In other times, stress exists more in our minds than in our situation, in the form of worry, fear, or anxiety.
The apostle Paul knew a lot about stress. In 2 Corinthians 11:25-29, he said, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”
Notice that Paul’s stress was not only physical; his greatest stress was caused by his concern for other people! Maybe you can relate to that, as a parent or grandparent, anxiously asking, “Will the kids be OK?”
In this series on stress, we will be studying Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. When he wrote this letter, he was in prison, probably in Rome, where he spent the last 2 years of his life before his death. He did not know whether he would be freed or executed, and the uncertainty had to be stressful.
Yet in this letter, Paul seems more stressed about the future of the church than his own future. The people in Philippi were living in a pagan culture, where Greeks and Romans would think them strange, and Jews might directly oppose them. Paul himself had been imprisoned in Philippi, because he cast an evil spirit out of a young fortune-telling slave girl who was making money for her masters. He was charged with subverting the good order of the proud Roman city. (The Philippian jail was thrown open by a violent earthquake, and Paul and Silas remained, causing the jailor to ask, “What must I do to be saved.”)
Paul alludes to the stress the Philippian Christians felt from nonbelieving Greeks in Philippians 1:29-30. They also faced opposition from Jews, who pressuring them to be circumcised. Paul was pretty worked up about that, as he said in 3:2, “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.”
Yet a greater source of stress was from inside the church. In chapter 2, Paul addressed the selfish ambition and vain conceit of some in the church. In chapter 4, he is more specific, pleading with 2 women in the church to get on the same page.
Paul had reason for concern, as the church was in danger of losing its focus on Christ. The Philippian church was “his baby,” and his baby was in danger. That, and his personal circumstances, caused stress.
The letter he wrote to the church is a lesson in how to handle stress. It is a letter shaped by a mature faith in Christ, forged in the crucible of challenges and spiritual growth. In the first part of the letter, he takes a gentle approach, encouraging the Christians in Philippi to make the best of their stress.