Paul was facing the certainty of uncertainty. Faithful to the mission of preaching the good news of the crucified and risen Christ, Paul was suffering the same old news of misfortune and persecution that followed him wherever he went.
It is likely that Paul was writing to the Philippians about 10 years after he preached the gospel of Christ for the first time in Philippi. A lot had happened in the uncertainty of those ten years as detailed by Paul in II Corinthians 11:24-28:
Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28 And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.
What sustained Paul during these 10 years as he lived in the certainty of uncertainty? Paul shares the answer to this question with these words from the third chapter of Philippians.
From Philippians 3:8b-9b:
“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
From Philippians 3:13b-14:
“…. forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
What sustained Paul throughout 10 years of uncertainty was faith that God had found him in the uncertainty of the world through the certainty of Christ. What sustained Paul was the certainty that God had called him to share the good news of faith in Christ in the midst of the uncertainty of the world. Life that called him to press on toward Jesus.
Morrna D. Hooker, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, states that “Paul is spelling out some of the implications of what it means to believe. To believe in the gospel is to put one’s trust in God. We need at least four terms in English – ‘faith, ‘belief,’ ‘trust,’ ‘faithfulness’ – to convey all the meanings of one Greek noun (for faith) pistis. To trust in something or someone means to rely on them, and complete trust suggests that there is no need to rely on anything else.”
p.530, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Morna D. Hooker, Abingdon Press, Nashville
A story about living in the certainty of faith while in the midst of uncertainty is told in an online posting of Our Daily Bread by a person identified as Mary O.
“When you have a child who has been born with challenges, you can rest assured that emotionally you will have some really bad days. I am sure that many parents who have a child with a disability will verify that. having a sense of hope while maintaining a sense of reality can be a very hard balancing act, for sure.
“As a Christian, my hope for Jeffrey’s progress and growth was in the Lord. I believed He had made me some very precious promises for this child and I had literally seen the working of His hands on my child’s life. I was not ignorant of miracles. I had my bad days, but I would have to say that most of the time I was expecting God to move and was confident that what He promised me He would deliver. That is except for one day … Jeff was about thirteen at the time and still struggling in the mornings to get on his feet. His balance was really off this particular morning. It always took time for his eyes to level out. . . . He would have to place his chin on his chest to look ahead. If that wasn’t bad enough, he was for some reason as pale as a sheet. He came out of his room, crashing off the sides of the walls, looking the worst I had seen him in a long time. All the faith I had for this child’s healing literally crashed to my feet. As I looked at him wobbling his way toward me, I thought, ‘You are really kidding yourself, MaryAnn. He is never going to grow out of this, be healed, whatever. It is just never ever going to happen.” My heart, my spirit, just sank.
Jeff, by this time, had found his way up to me. He stopped, looked me straight in the face, and said, “I will not forget you!” I was stunned. You have to understand. Jeff’s speech was very immature for his age and he had a problem with slurring his words. But this statement, which, by the way, was straight out of the book of Isaiah, was clear, strong, and said with such authority!
I looked at him and asked, “What did you say, Jeff?”
He repeated, “I said, I will not forget you!”
I asked, “Jeffrey, why did you say that to me?” He just shrugged his shoulders, turned to go down the stairs, and said, “I don’t know, I just felt like I was supposed to say that to you.”
And off he went! I stood there completely baffled. The words he spoke caused my spirit to completely rebound. I knew that it was the Lord speaking directly to me through my son. And I remained standing there with such a sense of awe. I thought, “What an incredibly kind God I have not to allow me to fall into the muck and mire of faithlessness and depression.”
It was just unbelievable. Needless to say, I continued on with the rest of my day filled with an extra dose of faith and hope and gradually coming to understand that it was all right if I crashed and fell from time to time because underneath me were those everlasting arms. And, no doubt about it, He would be there to catch me, dust me off, and get me going again!! (MaryAnn concluded her thoughts with the 7th verse of the 36th Psalm). “How precious is thy lovingkindness, O God! The children of men take refuge in the shadow of thy wings” (Psalm 36:7). —Mary O.
The certainty of uncertainty – life lived with faith, belief, trust, and faithfulness in Christ. Life that calls you to press on toward Jesus.
The Certainty of Uncertainty
by Pastor Marc Brown
September 5, 2021
Accompanying Scriptures: Philippians 3:8-14
(full online service video below)