Warren Wiersbe recorded this conversation between a pastor and a deacon about another man in the church whom they were considering to be a deacon.
The deacon said, “The trouble with him is that he’s a thermometer and not a thermostat!”
This statement aroused the pastor’s curiosity. They were discussing possible board members, and Jim’s name had come up.
“Pastor, it’s like this,” the deacon explained. “A thermometer doesn’t change anything around it—it just registers the temperature. It’s always going up and down. But a thermostat regulates the surroundings and changes them when they need to be changed. Jim is a thermometer—he lacks the power to change things. Instead, they change him!”
Are you a thermostat Christians or a thermometer Christians? Do you change your circumstances, surroundings and people? Or are you changed by your circumstances? Do you make better your network of friends? Or do you just go along with them? Are you encouraged and an encourager in spite of your problems or are you discouraged by your problems and therefore a discourager?
Paul ends his letter to the Philippians thanking them for their sacrificial giving to him and his ministry. Paul is grateful, however, in a very hard situation. He was in prison for preaching the gospel not living in a half-million dollar home (1:7). His enemies had successfully taken Paul away from what he loved to do, missionary work. In one since, Paul had lost his job. Not only were his enemies against him but there was a group of believers also attacking him (1:15-16). His family of Pharisees rejected him when he converted from Judaism to Christianity (3:7). And there was division in the church at Philippi. Two believers were not speaking (4:1) and had most likely divided the church. Add Paul’s constant physical suffering from his thorn in the flesh. Not only did Paul have problems, but the people around him had problems.
Paul had a choice. Will he be defeated by his oppressive circumstances? Will he allow others to bring him down to their level? Will he be discouraged and a discourager? Will he be a thermometer? Controlled by others. Allowing others and his circumstance to set his spiritual temperature.
Or will he be rise above his circumstance? Will he lift those around him to his level? Will he despite his negative circumstances be encouraged? Will he be an encourager? Will he be a thermostat? Will he set the spiritual temperature around him?
What about you? You have a choice! Sorry, life is not perfect! Sorry, life happens! You can choose to be defeated by people and circumstances or you defeat with God’s help. You can like the thermostat change your environment.
1. You Can Be An Encourager, a Thermostat Believer, by Rejoicing in the Lord, not Circumstances (4:10)
A. We can rejoice in the Lord
B. Because God’s people give us the opportunity
1) The Philippians encourage Paul in spite of their own troubles.
Paul rejoiced because the Philippians “again” showed their love for God and him by financially giving (4:10a). Paul started the church about ten years earlier at Philippi in Acts 16 when he first pioneered missions into Europe. When he fled to Thessalonica, the Philippians, who were poverty stricken, sacrificially gave twice (Philippians 4:14-17). Paul then had to move on to Berea, Athens and finally to Corinth. At Corinth, the Philippians gave again (2 Corinthians 11:9). Now the Philippians learn that Paul is in house arrest in Rome and they give the fourth time. In this house arrest, Paul had to pay his own rent, provide for his own food and bedding. This time the love offering is sent by Epaphroditus, the mailman for the early church, who nearly lost his life in delivering this gift (2:25-30).
The Philippians had been concerned, but they had lacked the opportunity to help (4:10b). Possibly because of their own poverty. Paul details their financial woes in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2. These believers at Philippi were on food stamps and unemployment and yet they did not use that as an excuse not to give sacrificially. The Philippians may not have known where Paul was.
Wiersbe observed that many Christians today have the opportunities, but they lack the concern! Not the Philippians. Paul is not rejoicing because of the gift but the attitude behind the gift “your care of me” (4:10a). Their care “had flourished again.” This word describes springtime after a long, cold, hard winter when flowers blossom again. Paul was experiencing wintertime in his life. The Philippians brought springtime and sunshine into Paul’s life. The Philippians are thermostat believers. In spite of persecution and poverty, they refuse to be discouraged nor to be discouragers, they focus not on themselves and their problems but on Paul’s needs.
2) Paul encourages the Philippians by writing them this thank you letter in spite of his own difficulties.
That is what all of us have to do if we are to encourage others. Because each of us has our set of problems. Some of you have physical problems. Others have financial problems. Still others have family issues. We all have problems. If we become self-centered then like a thermometer, we will only reflect our problems. We will be discouraged by our difficulties and not reach out to help others.
I have on my refrigerator four thank you notes sent to Becky and me. One just this week. They caused me to rejoice in the Lord. Each of these people who sent us a word of encouragement has his/her own problems. But they are thermostat believers. They are encouragers, thermostat believers, who rejoice in the Lord not their circumstances.
2. You Can Be An Encourager, a Thermostat Believer, by Depending Only on the Lord, not People (4:11-13)
A. This Dependence is Learned (4:11)
What happens when people do not encourage you? Or when you don’t receive gifts of appreciation or thank you notes? We do as Paul learned. We learn to depend only on the Lord. This dependence on the Lord only is not standard equipment that comes with salvation. If Paul had to learn this dependence, most likely the rest of us will also. But if Paul learned this dependence on the Lord so can we.
B. This Dependence is Contentment (4:12)
1) Contentment makes us independent of our circumstances.
Paul has borrowed a word of philosophy from the Stoics when he wrote, “I have learned to be content.” The Stoics taught self-sufficiency and independence of circumstances. “They held that a man should be sufficient in and unto himself in all things. When asked who was the wealthiest, Socrates said: ‘He who is content with least, for self-sufficiency is nature’s wealth’” (A. T. Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ: Studies in Philippians. page 251).
We are not independent of our circumstances because we are self-sufficient but because God is our sufficiency as Paul taught in 2 Corinthians 3:15: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is of God.”
2) Contentment is learned from the extremes of life, the ups and downs of life.
Paul lists these ups and downs in 4:12. Think yo-yo!. Think Duncan yo-yo! I was so happy when as a child I got my first Duncan yo-yo. I could do a few tricks with my Duncan yo-yo. The Sleeper, Forward Pass, and Walk the Dog. But I went on-line recently and watched the yo-yo experts which should be part of the summer Olympics. They can do the The Man on the Flying Trapeze and the Skyrocket where you do an around the world and throw the yo-yo up in the air and it lands in your pocket. One guy had two Duncan yo-yos doing these crazy tricks: Two Men on the Flying Trapeze.
Maybe you feel like the yo-yo at the end of the string. Your life is one extreme after the other. So was Paul’s.
“Abased” or humbled as in 2:8 and “abound” or exalted as in 2:9. Jesus abased or humbled himself in His death for our sins and therefore God exalted Him in His resurrection. If we exalt ourselves, God will humble us. But if we humble ourselves, God will exalt us.
“Full” as in Matthew 14:20 when Jesus fed the multitudes with the multiplied loaves and fishes and “they were filled” and also they took up 12 baskets full of leftovers. Paul most likely grew up “full” because his dad was wealthy enough to hire the most expensive tutor in the first century. Beware if God has filled your cup: Prosperity can be more tempting than poverty.
The opposite of full is “Hungry.” Jesus was hungry after His 40 day fast. Paul has been hungry in prison at Rome and yet he is content or satisfied.
3) The opposite of contentment is covetousness.
The writer of Hebrews contrasted contentment and covetousness: “Let your life be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have” (Hebrews 13:5). Contentment is satisfied with the things we have and covetousness is not satisfied with the things we have. If there is something bigger and better, I will not be happy until I buy it. When I-Phone 5 comes out I must buy because it is thinner and has more pixels in the pictures than the four.
A movie star who suddenly acquired great wealth was able to buy anything she wanted. She was asked how long it satisfied her, “About 20 minutes,” was her reply.
Listen to Paul in 1 Timothy 6:6-8: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therefore content.” Now Paul is going to warn of the dangers of covetousness: “But they that will to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money (and the things money can buy) is the root of all evil.”
Contentment does not come from “gain” or profit or big salary or things or toys. Contentment comes from “godliness.” This important point leads to the last point. Dependence on God comes from God.
C. This Dependence is God Given (4:13)
Paul was not bragging in 4:12, when he said, I know how to be poor or wealthy, etc. He was not saying, “I am a self taught rugged individual who needs no one to survive.” In this context of being able to do all things through Christ who gives us strength means we can serve Him in the extremities of life or the ups and downs only with God’s strength. Sometimes it is God’s will to serve Him in prosperity, good health, plenty of friends and high approval ratings. Sometimes it is God’s will to serve Him when the bottom drops out: All the emergencies of life have drained your emergency fund, one physical problem after the next has plagued you, your friends have either rejected you or sorely disappointed you.
Paul’s joy, satisfaction, happiness, and victory were not dependent on circumstances. He was a thermostat. He set the spiritual temperature of his life. He raised others to his level of Christian growth, he did not stoop to their level. He was not a thermometer. He did not allow others to drag him down. He lifted others up who were down. He did not get in the ditch with them. He pulled them out of the ditch. In a few verses, Paul will shout, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in Christ Jesus.”
I read this poem that illustrated the power God has given us to lift others and encourage others who are discouraged and want to quit. It is called the The Race.
The Race by D. H. Groberg
Quit!” “Give up, you’re beaten!” they shout at me and plead,
“There’s just too much against you now, this time you can’t succeed.”
And as I started to hang my head in front of failure’s face,
My downward fall is broken by the memory of a race.
And hope refills my weakened will as I recall that scene.
For just the thought of that short race rejuvenates my being.
A children’s race, young boys, young men; now I remember well.
Excitement, sure, but also fear; it wasn’t hard to tell.
They all lined up so full of hope. Each thought to win the race
Or tie for first, if not that, at least take second place.
And fathers watched from off the side, each cheering for his son,
And each boy hoped to show his dad that he would be the one.
The whistle blew and off they sped, as if they were on fire
To win, to be the hero there, was each boy’s desire.
And one boy in particular, his dad was in the crowd,
Was running near the lead and thought, “My dad will be so proud.”
But as he sped down the field, across the shallow dip,
The little boy who thought to win lost his step and slipped.
Trying hard to catch himself, his arm flew out to brace,
And ‘mid the laughter of the crowd, he fell flat on his face.
So, down he fell, and with him, hope. He couldn’t win it now.
Embarrassed, sad, he only wished he’d disappear somehow.
But, as he fell, his dad stood up and showed his anxious face,
Which to the boy so clearly said, “Get up and win the race!”
He quickly rose, no damage done, behind a bit, that’s all.
And ran with all his mind and might to make up for the fall.
So anxious to restore himself, to catch up and to win,
His mind went faster than his legs. He slipped and fell again.
He wished he had quit before with only one disgrace.
“I’m hopeless as a runner now, I shouldn’t try to race.”
But, in the laughing crowd he searched and found his father’s face.
That steady look that said again, “Get up and win the race!”
So, he jumped up to try again, ten yards behind the last;
“If I’m to gain those yards,” he thought, “I’ve got to run real fast!”
Exceeding everything he had, he regained eight or ten,
But trying so hard to catch the lead, he slipped and fell again.
Defeat! He lay there silently, a tear dropped from his eye.
“There’s no sense running more. Three strikes, I’m out…why try?”
The will to rise had disappeared, all hope had fled away.
So far behind, so error-prone, a loser all the way.
“I’ve lost, so what’s the use?” he thought, “I’ll live with my disgrace.”
But, then he thought about his dad, who soon he’d have to face.
“Get up,” an echo sounded low, “Get up and take your place.
You weren’t meant for failure here; get up and win the race.”
With borrowed will, “Get up,” it said, “You haven’t lost at all,
For winning is no more than this–to rise each time you fall.”
So up he rose to win once more. And with a new commit,
He resolved that win or lose, at least he wouldn’t quit.
So far behind the others now, the most he’d ever been.
Still, he gave it all he had, and ran as though to win.
Three times he’d fallen, stumbling, three times he rose again.
Too far behind to hope to win, he still ran to the end.
They cheered the winning runner, as he crossed the line, first place,
Head high and proud and happy; no falling, no disgrace.
But, when the fallen crossed the finish line, last place,
The crowd gave him the greater cheer for finishing the race.
And even though he came in last, with head bowed low, unproud,
You would have thought he won the race, to listen to the crowd.
And to his dad, he sadly said, “I didn’t do so well.”
“To me you won,” his father said, “You rose each time you fell.”
And now when things seem dark and hard and difficult to face,
The memory of that little boy helps me in my race.
For all of life is like that race, with ups and downs and all.
And all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall.
“Quit!” “Give up, you’re beaten!” They still shout in my face,
But another voice within me says, “Get up and win the race!”