Heart Cry: You Can’t Lose!
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is incredibly beautiful. The words are written to a people for whom he had a special love. And we see so clearly the powerful emotional depth of his own belief. And when you recognize the circumstances under which the letter was written, he was in prison, facing his own death by execution. When you read the words, you cannot escape the conclusion that this is the Word of God.
“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last, you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you’ve been concerned, but you have had no opportunity to show it. I’m not saying this because I’m in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need. I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I’m looking for a gift, but I’m looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
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.
His name was Cyprian. Cyprian is one of my great heroes in the Christian faith. He was born in the city of Carthage in North Africa, in the very early years of the 3rd century AD. He lived a rather dissolute life until he was middle-aged. And then he was converted to Jesus Christ. He proceeded, at that point, to live so splendidly and so faithfully that ultimately, he was elected the bishop of Carthage. Because of his towering faith and his extraordinary leadership, he became a dire threat to the power of the Roman empire. The Romans arrested him. They threatened him with death by execution unless he renounced his faith in Jesus Christ. He refused to deny his Lord. And so it was. On September 14th, 258 AD, Cyprian was put to death, beheaded by the Roman authorities. But he went with a song on his lips into the arms of his Savior.
On the day before he was executed, Cyprian wrote some words, some incredible words, words which I treasure, words which I hold very close to me for my own inspiration. Listen, please, to the words of the great Cyprian: “If I could stand on a mountain and look out over all the wide lands, you know what I would see. Brigands on the high roads, pirates on the seas, men being murdered in amphitheaters to please applauding crowds, selfishness and cruelty, misery and despair under every roof. It’s a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But in the midst of it, I have found a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They are despised. They are persecuted but they care not. They will overcome the world. These people are called Christians. And I am one of them.”
I hold these words close. And it seems especially true now. You and I are living in what seems to be a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I, like Cyprian, have found a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They are despised. They are persecuted but they care not. They will overcome the world. These people are called Christians. And I, I am one of them.
Great Cyprian had incredible courage because great Cyprian had an incredible Christ.
Today, I wish to suggest to you that the words and the experience of great Cyprian parallel perfectly the words and the experience of The Great Apostle Paul. Paul, under the sentence of death for his faith, writing to the church that he especially loved, reached way down deep in his heart, and as he came to the concluding words of that great letter, he issued forth a magnificent triumphant cry. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Notice, please, Paul did not say, “I can do all things.” No. Had he said that, we would’ve laughed him out of court. No human being can do all things. No one can master any and every circumstance they encounter along life; it cannot be done. No. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ,” through Christ. Two incredibly important and powerful words: through Christ. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
You see, Paul was asserting not his self-confidence but his Christ-confidence. And he wants us to understand that this same Christ stands ready to give us the strength we need to live triumphant and victorious lives even in the midst of an incredibly bad world. Yes, through Christ, through Christ, we cannot lose. Let me show you what I mean.
Through Christ, we cannot lose in the circumstances of life. Disappointments and difficulties are an inevitable part of the human experience. Heartbreak and heartache come, sooner or later, to all of us. No one can win all of the time. Wallace Hamilton once put it like this. “Every person’s life is a diary into which he or she means to write one’s story but is forced by circumstance to write yet another story.” Oh, that’s so true, isn’t it?
When I was a boy, one of the things that I loved to do was to crawl up to my granddaddy’s lap and have him read to me. Most frequently, he would read to me from the Bible. But on occasion, he would read to me from that marvelous collection known as Aesop’s Fables. I remember one of those fables particularly today. It was a story of a mighty oak tree and a slender, humble reed, standing and growing side by side on the banks of a river. The oak tree thought himself superior to the reed, and he would regularly say to the reed, “You’re pathetic. You bend and bow before every wind. You ought to stand up straight and tall like I do. I will never bow before any wind.” Then suddenly, a storm broke, a furious storm. The wind was blowing at gale force. Suddenly, the great oak’s stiffness became the great oak’s undoing. The wind snapped the branches off. The wind cracked the trunk and the great tree fell into the river. But the slender reed simply bent in the force of the wind. But then, after the wind passed, it did not break. It stood straight again.
I believe that is a bit of parable about our Christian Gospel. The stiffness of self-confidence simply cannot stand in the face of life’s storms. Those who put their confidence in themselves only will find their experience snapped off by the gale-force winds of challenge and difficulty. Ah, but those who put their confidence in Christ, though they may bend in the wind, they will not break. And when the storm’s passed, they will stand again. Paul wants us to understand that when we put our confidence in Christ, not in ourselves, but in our Christ, then Christ will give us the strength we need to face up to anything we have to endure in the course of our living. Through Christ, we cannot lose.
I think it’s worth remembering today that John Milton was struck blind, that Beethoven lost his hearing, that Sir Walter Scott was lame, as was Lord Byron, that Elizabeth Barrett Browning spent most of her life as an invalid, that Louis Pasteur became a paralytic, Steinmetz was crippled, Helen Keller was blind and deaf. Paul wanted to take the Gospel to Spain, and instead, what did he get? He got jail and an execution. And Jesus Christ got a cross. But did they allow the challenges they faced to conquer them? No, no. A thousand times, no. They turned their tragedies into triumphs. They refused to look backward in resentment. They refused to look inward in self-pity. Instead, they looked forward in faith, and they went on to conquer, to overcome the obstacles which were theirs in life. Through Christ, we can do the same.
I’ve always loved the way Chuck Swindoll put it. He said, “God never used anyone greatly until they had hurt deeply and failed miserably.” Oh, those are words worth remembering. Now, my dear friends, if we put our confidence not in ourselves but in our Christ, then we can count on the fact that Christ Jesus will indeed strengthen us, strengthen us to face and conquer and overcome anything life sets before us. We can do all things through Christ, through Christ who strengthens us. And then through Christ, we cannot lose in our service to God. All of us, all of us who bear the name of Christ are called to serve God in our lives, to serve God with all we are, all we have, wherever we happen to be. I know we cannot always choose where we will serve God, but we certainly can choose the spirit in which we will serve Him.
We all cannot guarantee that we shall become world-changing forces for faith, no. But we can all guarantee that we will make an impact for Jesus Christ in the communities and in the homes where we live. Not all of us can be the chair of the board or the president of the class. Not all of us can be stars or soloists. Not all of us can be governors or poets. But all of us, yes, every single one of us, without exception, all of us can serve Jesus Christ right where we are. And we can count on the fact that God will give us the strength we need, through Jesus Christ, to serve Him no matter what, no matter where, to serve Him with our lives completely, totally. Surrender to the One who is our Lord. You see, through Christ, we cannot lose.
Another one of my great heroes in the faith is C. S. Lewis.
I would have to tell you that C. S. Lewis, in his living, even more than in his writing, has left an indelible impact upon my life. Let me share with you some things about C. S. Lewis that you may not know. C. S. Lewis taught for 30 years at Oxford University in England, 30 years. And yet, for 30 years, his peers and colleagues on the faculties of the colleges at Oxford University refused to grant to him the status of full professor at Oxford University. 30 years they refused to grant him that status. Instead, they consistently, constantly criticized him. They despised him for his Christian faith. They went after him because he spent a lot of time in Christian writing. They ridiculed him. They resented him. They rejected him. The only thing that he ever really longed for in his professional life was to be a full professor at Oxford University, and his peers there, for 30 years, would not grant him that honor.
Yet for all the pain in his professional life, there was also a pain in his personal life. There was the death, early on, of his mother whom he adored. There was the rejection of his father who turned against him. There was the tragic death of his life-long friend, Charles Williams, and the was the agonizing death by cancer of his beloved wife, Joy. It’s absolutely astounding what he had to endure in the course of his life. And what I find even more astounding is this. The disdain of his peers at Oxford University has carried over to Oxford to this very day. Do you realize there is not one single memorial to C. S. Lewis at Oxford, not one. The only way you can ever know that he taught at Oxford University is there’s a small stone plaque. It’s stuck on the outside back wall of the wall that runs around Merton College where he taught for so many years. And on that stone plaque are just a handful of words that C. S. Lewis wrote.
That’s the only way you know that he taught there, the place where he spent so much of his life in the service of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, a few years back, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, there was not one single celebration of his birth or his life at Oxford University or in the town of Oxford, not one. All there was celebrations by Christians all over the world. Not a single one at Oxford. And yet for all the criticism and opposition, he endured. For all the trials and the tragedies he experienced, he served his Lord magnificently right up until his very last breath. And what I want you to note is that today, not a single one of those full professors at Oxford University, in the time of C. S. Lewis, is remembered, not a one. No one within the sound of my voice can name a single one of the professors at Oxford University then. But the name of C. S. Lewis, oh, that name is loved, admired, respected, and treasured all over the world because he put his confidence in Christ, in the end, he did not lose. You know it’s true and I know it’s true.
The real key to life is not what happens on the outside of us; it’s actually what happens on the inside of us.
That’s where the real battles of life are fought, where they’re won or lost. Down inside each of us, there is where the great decisions in life are made. And if those great decisions include making a decision to put our confidence in Jesus Christ, then we can count on the fact that we shall win. We cannot lose. God, in Jesus Christ, will give us the strength we need to endure, to serve Him with all we have and all we are, and to serve Him in such a way that in the end, we shall know triumph and victory. Yes, we can do all things through Christ, all things, through Christ who strengthens us.
Back when I was in high school, graduating, they put across the top of the graduation program the words: they conquer who believe they can. I cannot accept that. That’s absolute rubbish. You see, there are so many people who are far from God, and they believe all the wrong things. And they will not conquer. They will not overcome no matter how hard they believe. No. If I could’ve created the graduation program, I would’ve put across the top: they conquer who, believing in Christ, believe they can. Dear friends, there is nothing wrong with self-confidence as long as the self is resting in Jesus. Those Christians who believe in themselves because they believe in Christ, those Christians will conquer. They will overcome. They will triumph. They will be victorious. They cannot be stopped. They cannot lose.
You see, we have a God of great power. The lightning slices across the sky and we see it. It’s God’s power. But no one can master it or stop it. The wind blows where it will. That’s God’s power. We see what it does; we cannot see the wind itself. No one can define or describe it. The sea moves in great unending swells. The tides ebb and flow all over the world. That’s God’s power. No one can master it or embrace it or control it. Oh, we have a God of incredible power, and our God stands ready through Jesus Christ, to send great jolts of that power down into your life and into mine. He did it for Paul. He did it for Cyprian. He did it for C. S. Lewis. He can do it for you, and he can do it for me through Jesus Christ. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
My beloved people, please, please hear me. I cannot remove the heaviness of life in this world. Sometimes I experience it myself. But what I can do is this. I can assure you that God, in Jesus Christ, strengthens backs when He does not lighten loads. And I can assure you of this, that the words of the great Apostle Paul are absolutely true. We, you and I, we can do all things through Christ. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Soli Deo gloria!
To God alone be the glory!
Amen and amen.