Focusing on the Positive
Focusing On The Positive
Have you heard the story of the farmer who was discouraged with his farm? So he decided to sell out & move somewhere else.
He engaged a realtor to look the farm over & prepare a sales ad. But before putting it in the paper, the realtor called & read the proposed ad to him, saying, “See if this meets with your approval.”
The ad spoke of a good location, a well maintained house, sturdy barns, lush pasture lands, a beautiful pond, fertile soil, & a great view. The farmer listened carefully, & then said, "Read that to me again, slowly."
So the realtor read it to him again. Finally, the farmer said, "No, don’t print that ad. I’ve changed my mind. I’ve always wanted a place like that. I’m not going to sell."
You see, how you look at something can make a world of difference in how you behave. Ella Wheeler Wilcox stated that same idea when she wrote: "One ship sails east & another west with the self-same winds that blow. ’Tis the set of the sail & not the gale which determines the way they go."
Life is like that. What you pay attention to, what you focus upon in life will generally determine the kind of decisions you make.
Paul gives us great advice in Philippians 4:8. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things."
Now we ought to commit that verse to memory, realizing that what so many are doing today is the exact opposite. Look at the TV listings, the popular magazines, even our newspapers & you will often see glorification of things that are impure, wrong
& untrue. People focus so much on the negative that the media seldom features positive news because they’re afraid they’ll lose their audience.
PROP. But let’s break that pattern this evening, & look at the Apostle Paul as he focuses on the positive.
In Philippians 1:12 26, Paul does mention some very negative things that are going on in his life unpleasant circumstances, unreasonable people, & his uncertain future. But Paul goes on to show that God was able to use those negative things in a very positive way.
I. UNPLEASANT CIRCUMSTANCES
A. Paul begins by talking about unpleasant circumstances. In vs. 12 he says, "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel."
We think we have troubles, don’t we? But how does your list compare to that of the apostle Paul? How many times have you been shipwrecked? How many times have you been beaten near death? Or how many times have you been arrested & imprisoned & chained up 24 hours a day?
Yet Paul says, "I remember all these trials, & I see that they have all served to advance the gospel."
Now the Greek word translated "advance" here in vs. 12 has an interesting history. It originally was used of "wood cutters who go before an army, clearing a way through the underbrush so that the army can march forward unimpeded."
Paul is saying, "All these things that have happened to me have resulted in clearing the way so that the gospel might be preached more effectively."
B. In vs. 13, he says, "As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard & to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ."
Now here is the situation. For 24 hours a day Paul is chained to Roman soldiers, each serving a 6 hour shift. So every 6 hours a new soldier comes in & chains himself to Paul. The soldier was doing his duty, making sure the prisoner wasn’t going to escape.
But Paul saw this as a wonderful opportunity to tell the soldier about Jesus. There was no way that the soldier could escape. And it worked, for in the closing chapter of this letter, vs. 22, Paul writes, "All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household."
Now that tells us that some of these soldiers became Christians, & the gospel made its way into the pagan household of Caesar all because Paul was in prison.
C. There was a second positive result. In vs. 14 he says, "Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously & fearlessly."
Paul is saying, "Because of my hardships, because of the things that have happened to me, other Christians have been encouraged. They have seen how God has protected me through difficult situations, & encouraged me, & given me strength beyond my own power."
"Now they’re facing difficult circumstances, too. But because of what they have seen, they’re convinced that God will take care of them, also."
ILL. Bob Benson, in his book, "See You At The House," tells of a good friend who had a severe heart attack & almost died, but was now well on the road to recovery.
Visiting him, Bob asked, "Bill, how do you feel about your heart attack?’ Bill answered, ‘I hate it. It nearly killed me’"
Bob asked, "Would you like to have another one?" "Certainly not!" "Would you recommend it for someone else?" "Absolutely not."
Bob went on, "Bill, now that you’re feeling better, do you treasure your life more than before?" "Yes, I guess I do." "You & your wife have always had a good solid marriage, but are you closer to each other now than before?" "Yes," Bill answered.
"And what about your relationship with God? Has that changed since your heart attack?" "Yes, I feel a whole lot closer to God now than I ever did before."
Bob asked, "Bill, in the light of all this, how do you feel about your heart attack now?"
SUM. You see, God can take the most negative things that happen to us in life, & make them positive, if we’ll just focus on the positive that is there.
APPL. So what are you chained to this evening? Are you chained to an imperfect body? Are you chained to declining health? Are you chained to a job that has no future? Are you chained to loneliness or grief or despair?
Then you need to stop & ask, "How can God use this to advance the gospel?"
II. UNREASONABLE PEOPLE
A. Secondly, Paul talks about unreasonable people. In vs. 15 he says, "It is true that some preach Christ out of envy & rivalry, but others out of good will." What Paul is saying is this, "There are some people who are envious of me, who see themselves as rivals, competitors in preaching the gospel."
Now what happens when people become envious of someone else? They usually try to tear them down. They point out all the negative things they can about that person, thinking that by pulling them down, they’re building themselves up.
SUM. Even to this day, anyone who is in a position of prominence is subject to all kinds of criticism.
B. Now vs. 18 is one of the most incredible verses in the Bible. Paul says, "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice."
ILL. Pat Riley, considered one of the greatest coaches in N.B.A. history, coached his teams to 5 national championships, receiving 3 “Coach of the Year” awards while coaching the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Knicks, & the Miami Heat.
He once told this story about Magic Johnson. For those of you who know about Magic Johnson, let me say that I don’t think that he was a good role model in most areas of his life. But he was one of the greatest basketball players ever.
Riley said that when Johnson was in Jr. High School, his basketball talent was already obvious. He was so much better than the rest of the team that he would score 50 points while the others would score 5. And they won every game.
But the other players were very unhappy because they didn’t get the ball or a chance to shoot very often. And their parents were unhappy, too. So Magic Johnson decided to change his role on the team. He would become an enabler, passing the ball to others, making them look good.
He played only 2 years in college before going to the NBA. He went to the Los Angeles Lakers, a team made up of a lot of superstars. They were all great players, but they weren’t winning because they were all playing for themselves.
Pat Riley said that Magic Johnson became a catalyst, deciding once again to make other players look good. He went to Byron Scott & said, "I’m going to make you the #1 scorer on this team. I’m going to pass the ball to you, & you’re going to score." And Byron Scott did.
He went to James Worthy & asked, "Why have you never made the All Star team? I’m going to make you an All Star." He started passing the ball to James Worthy, & soon James Worthy was on the All Star team.
During that season Kareem Abdul Jabbar set a record as the highest scorer in NBA history. But before that happened, Magic Johnson had told him, "You can do it, & I want to be the guy who passes you the ball when you make that basket."
Riley said, "On that night when it appeared that Kareem Abdul Jabbar might have the chance to sink that record breaking basket, Magic got off the bench, put himself in the game, passed the ball to Kareem Abdul Jabbar who shot it through the hoop, & the record was shattered."
Riley said, "If you’ll look at the video tape, you’ll see Magic Johnson leaping into the arms of Kareem Abdul Jabbar. And if you look closely, you’ll see tears streaming down his cheeks." He said, "He’s the most unselfish basketball player I’ve ever seen."
APPL. Now my question is, "If that attitude can happen in basketball, can’t it also happen in our lives? If we can become that unselfish, & our desire is to make other people look good, to encourage each other, to build each other up, isn’t that exactly what we are supposed to be doing as Christians?"
Paul says, "The only thing that matters to me is that the gospel is preached."
III. UNCERTAIN FUTURE
A. Finally, Paul mentions his uncertain future. In vs. 19 he says, "I know that through your prayers & the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance."
Paul is facing trial in Rome. If he is found innocent, he’ll be freed to preach some more. If he’s found guilty, he’ll be executed. He knew he was either going to live, or he was going to die, depending upon the results of the trial.
B. So he writes in vs. 20: "I eagerly expect & hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death."
Here is what he is saying: "My concern is, when I stand before a pagan judge in a pagan court, that I won’t do or say anything to embarrass Christ Jesus, my Lord. My only concern is that I will have enough courage to stand up in their midst & by what I say & do that Jesus Christ will be exalted. Whether I die or whether I live doesn’t matter. All I want to do is exalt Jesus."
C. Vs. 21 is a very familiar verse. You may have memorized it at one time or another. Paul says, "For to me, to live is Christ & to die is gain."
If you were going to write that verse, & truthfully describe your feelings, what would you say? "For me to live is money, & to die is to leave it behind." "For me to live is family, & to die is leave them alone." "For me to live is pleasure, & to die is to miss all the fun." "For me to live is fame, & to die is to be quickly forgotten." "For me to live is power & influence, & to die is to become insignificant."
D. In vs’s 22-24 Paul says, "If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart & be with Christ, which is better by far;"
ILL. Kenneth Dodge tells about an 8 year old boy named Frank. Frank had a date with his father to go fishing on Saturday. They were going to fish the whole day. On Friday night he had everything laid out. He was ready to go.
But on Saturday morning he awoke to discover that it was raining cats & dogs, & they couldn’t go fishing. So 8 year old Frank grumbled & griped & complained all morning long. He kicked the furniture, the dog, the cat. Nothing was right. "Why does it have to rain today?"
His father tried to explain to him that the farmers needed the rain. But that didn’t satisfy Frank. "Why does it have to rain today?" he said.
About noon the clouds broke & the sun came out. His dad said, "Well, we can’t go fishing all day, but at least we can fish this afternoon. Let’s go." So they jumped into the truck, went to the lake & fished all afternoon, & caught more fish than they had ever caught before. Their baskets were full, & they had the time of their lives.
They came home, & mom cooked some of the fish for supper. As they were sitting down to eat, Frank’s dad looked at him & asked, "Would you ask the blessing?"
8 year old Frank prayed this prayer: "God, if I sounded a little grumpy earlier today, it was because I couldn’t see far enough ahead."
APPL. That’s the problem, isn’t it? We’re so caught up in the circumstances & people & things that surround us that we just can’t see far enough ahead.
But when you take time to look, people, you’ll begin to focus more & more on the positive, because in Christ we have a wonderful future. It may seem uncertain right now, but we have a certain destiny in God. And one day we’ll see Him face to face & be with Him for all eternity.
Jesus promised to forgive your sins, to give you a brand new life as you start all over again. We encourage you to come as we stand & as we sing.
Where and when we meet
Chardon, Ohio 44024