Imperturbable in the Face of Goodness
This morning, as a way to lead us into a time of confession, I want to do two simple things:
First, I want us to look at an exhortation that Paul gives us from Philippians 1;
Second, I want us to apply the exhortation to an area that may not have an obvious connection for us.
So look at Philippians 1. Philippians is a book in the New Testament. It’s one of the letters that the apostle Paul wrote, and something really neat about this letter is that Paul wrote this letter while he was imprisoned in Rome. So, if you’ve been able to come to Cities before, you know we’ve been preaching through the story of Acts, and in that story we’ve finally come to the part where Paul is a prisoner in Rome. Well, while he was there, he wrote this letter.
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me [talking about his imprisonment] has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.
So Paul is in Rome, he’s imprisoned, and he’s been telling the Roman soldiers about Jesus.
Verses 27–28, this is how he exhorts us . . .
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.
To Be Imperturbable
So, Paul, imprisoned in Rome, writes to these Christians and one of the things that he tells them is that their fearlessness — their not being afraid, not being frightened — actually communicates truth about God. When they are not frightened by their opponents, their not being frightened is a symbol to their opponents on how things are really going to go down, that God will defeat his enemies, and God will save those who trust him.
And what we learn from this passage, and what we see elsewhere in the Bible, is our calling as Christians to be imperturbable. I love that word. It’s the idea of being calm, collected, and to not be frightened. And Paul says here that when we are that we are a symbol of final reality.
And of course we see the connection this has to suffering. One of the most beautiful things in the world is a Christian who, even in the midst of affliction, continues to trust God, and continues to move toward God instead of away from him. That even when heartache comes, or the threat of heartache comes, to be imperturbable means we are not terrified and not to worry ourselves sick. Now it doesn’t mean we don’t hurt, just that we are not consumed by fear. We’re not fretful or anxious or antsy. Our hearts instead stay firm.
In the Face of Goodness
Now we see how this is helpful during our hard circumstances, but I think we also need to make the connection for what it means in our good circumstances. See, it’s not just when things are hard that we’re tempted to be frightened, but it’s also when things go well — when God showers his goodness on us or when he clearly blesses us. Sometimes, when we stand under the rain of God’s gifts, rather than just be grateful, we can feel deep down inside like “Oh, no. Something bad must be about to happen.” Sometimes it’s when we experience so much good from God that we worry something has to go wrong. [Do you know what I’m talking about?]
It’s like we put this unspecified quota on God’s goodness and we grow cynical about this gifts. We think that things couldn’t possibly go this well. We may think this because we have experienced deep suffering before, and the pain we felt then still lurks in our memories. Or we may think this because we simply see God’s gifts to us as too good to be true — maybe we just can’t accept that God would love us like he does.
Well, either way, over time, we find ourselves, even in the face of God’s goodness, feeling the opposite of how Paul says we should be. We find ourselves, even in response to obvious blessings from God, frightened by them.
I want to acknowledge this morning that this is wrong and this is dark, and that I struggle with this in my own life, and maybe you do too. And because this is a sin that we should confess, I want to lead us now in a time of confession.
Prayer of Confession
Father, you alone are God, and that means that your goodness is both matchless in its worth and unending in its supply. You are good and you created all good, and therefore, you shower good on your creatures when and how you want. And we know, we acknowledge, that any good we have received from you is not because we earned it, not because we deserved it, not because we worked for it — but it’s only because of your grace. Your goodness is always a gift, and so your goodness is always humbling.
And that’s why we need your forgiveness. For so often, Father, even in the face of your goodness, we think dark thoughts about you. Even when you bless us time and time again, with big things or with small, with our families or with our heartbeats, we still doubt your sincerity. We still question your heart. We still can’t believe you love us like you do. And this is not humble, this is twisted; this is wrong. And so, Father, we confess it, and we ask that you would forgive us.
Make us see more clearly, please, and make us imperturbable in the face of feast or famine. Make us never frightened by anything, like Jesus, so that whether we hear you say, “This is my beloved child,” or we drink the cup of suffering, we trust you still and yield to your hand because you are our Father.
Now, Father, as Psalm 66 tells us if we cherish iniquity in our hearts our praying is pointless, for this sin and others we come to you in silent confession. . . .
Assurance of Pardon
This morning if you are in Christ, I have good news for us.
Because Jesus loves you, because he died for you and was raised for you, and because you have been united to him by faith and this morning you have confessed your sins:
By the authority of Jesus Christ, and as a minister of his gospel, I therefore declare to you his entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Congregation:
Thanks be to God!