Last week, we identified the adversaries Paul overcame so that he could progress in his resolution to know Christ and to make Christ known to the world. These adversaries are arrogance, arrival, affections (plural), accomplishments of the past and apathy.
Throughout the week, I got feedback from some of you regarding your resolutions for this year. Some of you set out to study certain books of the Bible or even to read the whole Bible on your own. Some of you planned and began taking action toward becoming a woman of prayer. Others made a commitment to pray with your wife every night. These are all exciting and worthwhile resolutions that will grow your relationship with God and with your spouse.
Earlier this week, I was driving from my home to the office, and I saw along 101 by Lucas Valley, the YMCA sign that said something like, "We are the solution to your resolution for a fit body!" A fit body is great, and so is a fit mind. But neither a fit body nor a fit mind guarantees healthy relationships.
My mission as the pastor of this church is to learn and to assist members and friends of this church to live a right and healthy relationship with God and with one another through Jesus Christ. Having a right relationship with God is easy. God did the hard part of sending His one and only Son to die on the cross for our sin. We simply have to trust Jesus Christ as God’s solution to making things right between us and Him. But living a healthy relationship with God and with one another is not as simple.
Fourteen years ago, I was given a Bible, and I wanted to relate better with my parents, sister and friends, and I wanted to be a better person. So I slept with the Bible in my bed, sometimes under my pillow. You might think this is silly, but at the time, I knew something was special about the Bible, but I didn’t know what.
After I became a Christian, I was told that reading and studying the Bible will help change me into the person God wanted me to become and will help me with my relationships with others. I read the Bible and went to Bible studies for two years, but I didn’t change. I was still an impatient and angry young man. I was about to give up, until I discovered some of the things I will be sharing with you this morning.
I learned to integrate God’s influence into my life. What I was reading from the Bible and what I was studying became real to me, and I started to change. Now, I will not tell you about the changes in the last ten years in my life, but I will share with you the same steps that I took for these changes to occur.
In short, God’s influence dominated my life and the relationships in my life became healthier and healthier. Instead of allowing the influence from my habits, circumstances and prejudices to dominate, God’s influence became integrated into my life. But how do we integrate into our lives God’s influence?
This morning, Paul gives us four steps, that I wish someone had told me right after I became a Christian, to integrate God’s influence into our lives. As God has greater influence in our lives, we move from immature and unhealthy relationships to mature, healthy relationships. Let’s look at Philippians 3:15-4:1.
The first step to integrate God’s influence into our lives for healthy relating is to ask God to give us clear thinking in all things. We see this in verse 15.
Paul expected but was not afraid that the Philippians didn’t agree with his passion and perspective in life. After all, they were not as mature in their relationship with Christ, and they had different cultural backgrounds. But Paul did encourage them to seek God for clarity of thought in all things.
Every one of us brings with us preferences, prejudices, life experiences and cultures that color the way we see, do and react to things. But if we ask God for clarity of thought regularly, we have the chance to integrate God’s influence into our lives to reduce conflicts and immature reactions due to misunderstanding life’s situation.
I got a call this week from a person, not a part of this church, who needed some help. She had a major conflict with her Dad, to the point he kicked her out of the house. The Dad is currently paying for her hotel bills.
Both she and her Dad were born overseas. She told me that her Dad didn’t love her, was very negative with his words toward her and the conflict was due to her changes because she became a Christian but her Dad was not a Christian. The more she described the situation, the more confused we both got. So I asked God for clear thinking.
As I listened some more, God helped me see that the conflict was not due to her conversion to Christ, but due to her conversion to an American. She expected her Dad to love her the way her American friends loved her and to treat her the way her American friends’ parents treated her friends. She expected encouraging words, hugs and even independence at age 24 from her Dad’s house rules.
I explained to her that if her Dad didn’t love her, he wouldn’t be paying for her school and hotel bills currently. I told her that Chinese parents from overseas generally don’t love their children by pointing out the good in them but by criticizing and challenging them to do and be better. Also, in the mind of her Dad, she was not independent of his authority until she got married.
I told her, "Your conflict with your Dad has nothing to do with you becoming a Christian and he not becoming a Christian. Your conflict has everything to do with you becoming Americanized and your Dad not becoming Americanized as quickly. For the first time in our phone call, I could tell she began to understand the problem."
The first step to integrating God’s influence into our lives for healthy relating is to ask God to give us clear thinking in all things. Otherwise, we allow the culture we are in, the friends we have and our upbringing to influence our perception, actions and reactions in an immature way. Clear thinking prevents much relational misunderstandings.
The second step to integrate God’s influence into our lives for healthy relating is to live what we know from God. We see this in verse 16.
Paul tells the Philippians that they don’t need to know everything about God or God’s will in order to allow God’s influence to dominate their lives. They simply need to live what they already know from God, and that’s more than any of us are currently doing.
If you’ve been with us for the last four months, you would have enough knowledge of God and of how to have a right, healthy and joyful relationship with God and with one another. If you don’t believe me, go online to our website and read the manuscripts of the messages over the last four months.
For the young people, you’ve learned many good lessons from Kevin as he taught from the stories in the Bible. You’ve learned about the power of prayer in Daniel’s life to shut the lions’ mouths. You’ve learned how God’s plans were fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Yet, when the mouth of your friends or your brother and sister get out of hand, do you pray, or do you come back with something that hurts them more? When your plan for a school project or for weekend fun falls apart, do you remember God’s plan for you can not fall apart, or do you fall apart angry and whine?
So why have we not experienced consistently the healthy and joyful relationship with God and with one another? The answer is because we’ve kept what we’ve learned in our mind, if that, and we have not dropped what we’ve learned into our hands and feet. The lack of God’s influence in our lives is not due to our lack of knowledge, but due to our lack of living what we already know from God.
Not living what we know from God is unhealthy for two reasons. First, we never grow out of our immature living. For instance, how many of us know that we are to forgive others as Jesus Christ forgave us? How many of us have not forgiven a family member, a church member, a coworker or a classmate because they had hurt us in some way?
A second reason for why knowing but not living what we know from God is unhealthy is because we are healthy only when our minds and our actions are consistent. For instance, if I know stealing is wrong, but I go ahead and steal anyway, the conflict between my mind and my action produces guilt in my life. Not all guilt is bad; in fact, guilt is often God’s indicator that we are living inconsistent with His protective instruction for our lives.
Jesus said in Luke 11:28, and I paraphrase, "Happy are those who hear the word of God and obey it." Reading, studying and discussing the Word of God, the Bible, is like putting gasoline into the engine, but living the Word of God is turning on the ignition.
The first step to integrating God’s influence into our lives for healthy living is to ask God to give us clear thinking in all things. The second is to live out what we already know from God. Otherwise, we live immature, unhappy and neurotic lives. Living what we know empowers us to change.
The third step to integrate God’s influence into our lives for healthy relating is to pattern after godly people. We see this in verse 17.
Paul knew that the words he wrote were clear, but he also knew that action spoke louder than words. So he turns the Philippians from the words he wrote in the letter to the lives he and other godly people were living. And he calls the Philippians to pattern their lives after godly people.
To hear, read or know what God says is great, but to see what God says lived out in a person or in people will help us integrate God’s influence in our lives so much greater! That’s why Jesus came, to dwell among people, to grow up in an imperfect world, as we must grow up in an imperfect world, and to deal with the temptations and stresses and sins of others, as we must deal with the temptations, stresses and sins. Jesus is the Master Pattern.
I know God’s word tells me to endure hardship, to be thankful and to have joy in all circumstances. But these were just words until I met Nancy Buchanan. She has had more knee replacement surgeries and experienced more cases of pneumonia than anyone I know. She has had arthritis since her teen years, and the fingers on her hands constantly flood her with pain. Yet, you would never know any of that from the joyful letters and emails she sends to me. When I have physical discomfort or illness, I think of Nancy Buchanan and how joyful she is. Nancy’s example helps me integrate God’s influence into my life.
Do you have godly models and examples in your life? Most of our minds have weak imagination, and we cannot see ourselves living a God-transformed healthy life unless we see another person living such a life. If you don’t know any, begin by reading biographies of godly men and women. Better yet, begin by reading about Jesus in the first four books in the New Testament in your Bible.
Get to know each other in the church and look for each other’s strength. The spiritually young people in this church should feel free to ask the more spiritually mature people to be their mentor. As I get to know some of you, you are becoming my models of integrity, of obedience to God and of humility.
The first step to integrating God’s influence into our lives for healthy relating is to ask God to give us clear thinking in all things. The second is to live out what we already know from God. The third is to pattern our lives after godly people. Otherwise, we live without inspiration and without vision of the joy life can be with God’s influence. Patterning after godly people gives us a vision of who we can become.
The fourth step to integrate God’s influence into our lives for healthy relating is to make room for a biblical future. We see this in verses 18-21.
Because of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and because of His resurrection, we can trust Jesus and have eternal life. When we have eternal life, we don’t need to have our way all the time and grab everything we can grab out of this life. Paul points out that our current conduct reflects our belief about our future.
We live in a world of "I’ve got to have it now." Delayed gratification is a foreign term in most young people’s lives. Some people will buy now and pay later, while others protect now for fear there is no later. So we see people spending what they don’t have to satisfy their current cravings, and we see people hoarding what they do have for fear of the uncertainty in their future.
I can understand why unbelievers without a biblical future live that way. What they see now is all that they will get, and their future won’t get any better, 80 years or so and then fertilizer for daisies. They believe all they see is all there is. Christians, on the other hand, have a future filled with much more than we see and have today.
Paul reminds us that we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus lives. And when Jesus returns, he will give us a new body like His own. Therefore, Christians don’t need to live uptight and selfish lives. Christians can be the most generous people on the face of this earth. When we make room for a biblical future that gets better and is unending, we can easily integrate God’s influence in our lives now.
Let me read for us an excerpt from a biography:
Probably no foreigner exerted greater leadership over the people of Shaohsing, China, in the early twentieth century than Dr. Claude H. Barlow. This self-effacing medical missionary was the personification of a God-influenced life.
A strange disease for which he knew no remedy was killing the people. There was no laboratory available for research. Dr. Barlow filled his notebook with observations of the peculiar disease in hundreds of cases. Then, armed with a small vial of the disease germs, he sailed for the United States. Just before he arrived, he took the germs into his own body and then hurried to the Johns Hopkins University Hospital, where he had studied.
Dr. Barlow became a very sick man. He turned himself over to his former professors as a human guinea pig for their study and experimentation. A cure was found, and the young doctor recovered. He sailed back to China with scientific treatment for the disease and saved a multitude of lives.
One who has made room for a biblical future also has room for God’s influence and for compassion toward others. Citizens of heaven live secured lives on earth. Generosity replaces pettiness. Love replaces greed. Peace replaces anxiety.
The first step to integrating God’s influence into our lives for healthy relating is to ask God to give us clear thinking in all things. The second is to live out what we already know from God. The third is to pattern our lives after godly people. The fourth is to make room for a biblical future in our present lives.
Chapter 4 verse 1 tells us that as we take the steps of clear thinking, consistent living, intentional patterning and secured ending, we can stay true to God’s influence and to stand firm even when our surroundings and the people around us are falling apart. Healthy relating is the benefit of a life influenced by God.