Heart Cry: The Power Of Principle Thinking
Philippians 3:18-4:1, 4:4-9
I love Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in part because it gives us such a wonderful glimpse of the heart of the great apostle. But I really love Paul’s letter to the Philippians because it is the Word of God.
“For as I have often told you before, and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their God is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again. Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His holy Word.
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
I am very grateful for Dr. Norman Vincent Peale who introduced into our vocabulary and into our understanding of our faith the phrase, “the power of positive thinking.” I believe in positive thinking. And I am grateful to Dr. Robert Schuller who introduced into our vocabulary and into our understanding of our faith the phrase, the power of possibility thinking. I believe in possibility thinking.
However, I have to tell you that over and above those two categories I believe most of all in the power of principle thinking. You see, when you have positively run out of all possibilities, it is then that you draw upon the great principles which are taught to us on the pages of scripture. The Bible is filled with incredible principles to guide and direct our everyday living. I am trying for all I’m worth to build my own life upon these biblical principles. They are not ideas that I have, they are ideas that have me. And therefore, today, I wish to share with you several of these principles. These particular principles are drawn from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the concluding verses of Chapter 3, the beginning verses of Chapter 4.
Principle number one: We are to be fools for Christ but for nobody else.
Listen to Paul. “For as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their God is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” In other words, Paul is saying, and mind you, he is saying it with tears, it is breaking his heart to have to say it, but he’s saying there are way too many people who are focusing their lives upon the foolish pursuit of material things in life. He is calling us to be fools for Christ, yes, but to be fools for nobody else.
Several years ago, I was startled by what I saw on the front page of the USA Today newspaper. On the front page were the pictures of two women. One was the picture of the recently crowned Miss America. The picture was spectacular. Perfectly coiffed hair. Rich, lustrous skin. Highlighted eyes. Pasted on smile. And underneath the picture, these words, “This is the standard for American women.” Four inches across the page, the picture of another woman. She was old. Skin wrinkled. No makeup. No lipstick. No eyeliner. There was a soft smile on her lips, a glow in her eye. It was the picture of Mother Teresa.
And the accompanying article told how when she received the Nobel Prize, she immediately took the $1 million prize and used it for the poor. It is the story of how a businessman gave her a luxury automobile. She immediately cashed it in, took the money, and used it to care for the dying. In the story was a line I’ve never forgotten. “She owned nothing and she owed nothing.” Two women, Miss America and Mother Teresa. One of them works the boardwalks. The other works the alley. One of them promises crowns, and flowers, and crowds. The other promises service, and surrender, and joy. You tell me. Who’s the fool?
I’ve always been impressed by the great John Wesley’s rather loose grasp on the material things of life. Now, it wasn’t because John Wesley made little money. He actually made more money than most people in 18th century England. But listen to what John Wesley said. He said, “Money and I are not very close friends. In fact, we scarcely have a passing acquaintance. I have made it my practice to make all I can, to save all I can, to give all I can.” And give he did. Oh, did he ever. Dear friends, here’s the principle for our living. We are to be fools for Christ, yes. But we are to be fools for nobody else ever.
Principle number two: We are to keep our eyes upon the prize.
Listen to Paul. “But our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body. Therefore, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends.” In other words, Paul is calling us to lift our eyes, our lives to higher things, to the things of Christ, and to the promise of heaven.
We are, he says, we are to keep our eyes upon the prize. At my desk at home, there is a plaque on the desk, a plaque I see every day. And on the plaque are these words, “Only one life. ‘Twill soon be past.” Only what’s done for Christ will last. Keep our eyes upon the prize.
Down in the worst slums in the city of Santiago in Chile, there is a Roman Catholic priest named Father Marrero, a graduate of Oxford University in England and the Sorbonne in France. He speaks seven languages. And yet, he’s devoted his life to the people who live in those slums. On one occasion, a missionary went to visit Father Marrero, wanted to see firsthand the work that he was doing in the slums. On that particular day, the Father was called away for another responsibility, and so he asked a young man who happened to be a communist in the slums there if he would be willing to show the missionary around. Father Marrero felt that maybe it would be a good thing for the missionary to see the slums through the eyes of an atheistic communist.
Well, they had barely begun seeing things and suddenly, a 10-year-old boy approached and he wanted to shine the missionary’s shoes. At first, the missionary resisted but the young communist guy said, “Let him shine your shoes.” When he had finished, the missionary said, “How much should I pay him?” And the young escort said, “Pay him whatever you wish.” And so the missionary got out some money, gave it to the boy. Immediately, the boy ran across the street to a bakery and he came out with an enormous loaf of bread. And when he called out suddenly, children seemed to materialize from everywhere, and he took that great loaf of bread and broke it into chunks. And he was very careful to see that every single child got some of that bread. The missionary turned to the young communist escort and said, “How is it that you get your children to be so generous, so caring and sharing like that?” The young man said, “Our communist children aren’t like that. That boy’s a little strange. He spends too much time with Father Marrero.” Too much time with a Franciscan friar with an Oxford degree speaking seven languages who, out of love for Jesus Christ, is devoting himself to lift up people who have fallen in the slums of Santiago. Spends too much time with Father Marrero. Too much time indeed. Only one life. ‘Twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last. That’s the principle. We are to keep our eyes upon the prize.
Principle number three: We are to look out, not for number one, but for the next generation.
Once more, the great apostle. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again. Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer in petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In other words, Paul is calling us to let our joyous spirit in Christ show so that other people will know who we are under Christ. And we are, Paul says, we are, yes, to build our own faith in our Lord to be sure, but we also are to be sure that that faith is passed on to those who are coming after us. We are to look out, not for number one, but for the next generation.
Boris Kornfeld is a name which will mean absolutely nothing to you. He was a Russian Jew trained as a doctor in the waning years of the Stalin dictatorship in the Old Soviet Union. Because of his great medical skill, he was embraced by the Soviet authorities and they gave him all kinds of perks and privileges. And because Boris Kornfeld hated Christianity, he fit in quite well with the Soviet authorities. However, there came a point where he was ordered to go to the prison where they held people who were arrested for their political or religious views. And he was there to fill out and sign false medical documents that made it possible for those prisoners to be used in torturous medical experiments.
For a time, it was fine. But gradually, Kornfeld became repulsed and disillusioned by what he was doing. And then one day, one of the prisoners proceeded to tell him about a Jewish messiah named Jesus. Kornfeld, as he listened, found himself captivated by what he was hearing. And as the prisoner talked, Kornfeld suddenly felt his hatred beginning to dissolve, his despair beginning to give way to hope, and his heart beginning to be filled with a joy he’d never known before. He recognized that if he took seriously what he had heard and gave himself to this Jewish Messiah, Jesus, that he was going to have to change the way he lived. And so he decided that that’s what he would do. Very much aware of the dire consequences of what he was doing, he then refused the Soviet authorities. He refused the order to fill out and sign those false documents.
Shortly thereafter, Dr. Kornfeld was visiting in the prison hospital. He was tending to a man who had just recently undergone surgery for intestinal cancer. And as he ministered to the man’s medical needs, he suddenly began to talk to him about the change that had come in his life since he had surrendered himself to Jesus Christ. The patient clung to every word Dr. Kornfeld said. The next morning, the duty nurse in the hospital ward announced to the patients that Dr. Kornfeld was dead, that someone had crushed his skull with a mallet while he was sleeping the night before. The patient was grief-stricken. He was devastated. But he was convinced somehow that the faith of Dr. Kornfeld had been transferred into his own life. The doctor died, but the patient lived. Dr. Kornfeld was never aware of the impact his witness for Christ had made. But the whole world came to know it. You see, the patient was one of the towering figures of faith and freedom in the modern era. His name was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Paul is calling us to pour out our lives into the lives of others, yes, but he’s also calling us if necessary to pour out our lives for others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer for one said, “A righteous person is one who lives for the next generation.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his own life lived and died for the next generation. Dear friends, we are to ignore the call of our society which tells us to look after number one. Instead, we are to invest ourselves in those who are coming after us. Those children and young people whom God is bringing into our lives through our families and through this magnificent church, that’s the principle we are to build our lives upon. We are to look out, not for number one, but for the next generation.
There is a little verse. I keep it tucked away in my heart. The verse goes like this, “I do not ask that crowds may throng the temple nor that standing room be prized. I only ask that as I voice the message, they may see the Christ.” My beloved people, today, I have tried my best to voice the message.
Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.