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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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 Free Reformed Churches of Australia - FRCA
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
Title:The training school of the saints
Text:Philippians 4:11-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps. 108: 1, 2

Ps. 112: 1

Ps. 119: 25, 27

Ps. 37: 7, 10, 16

Ps. 4: 3


Scripture reading:       Deut. 8: 1 – 6; 1 Tim. 6: 1 – 12; Phil. 4: 1 – 23

Text:                              Phil. 4: 11 – 13

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

The Training School of the Saints               

Ps. 108: 1, 2

Ps. 112: 1

Ps. 119: 25, 27

Ps. 37: 7, 10, 16

Ps. 4: 3


Scripture reading:       Deut. 8: 1 – 6; 1 Tim. 6: 1 – 12; Phil. 4: 1 – 23

Text:                              Phil. 4: 11 – 13


Beloved congregation, saints in Christ Jesus,


Maybe you’ve heard about it – a prosperity gospel promising earthly riches and prosperity to all true believers.


The prosperity gospel teaches: God will bless true faith with health and wealth.  

It says: it is God’s will that His children be prosperous and happy in this life.   You are the son, the daughter, of a very rich King, and He wants you to be rich too.


Prosperity and happiness is then measured in terms of money and physical and mental health, even physical and mental power.   True Christians, they say, are happy, prosperous, dynamic, successful people who conquer this world.  

It is then said that the Lord Jesus, by His atonement, removed the curse of our sin, and therefore also removed the curse of illness and poverty. 

Deliverance from sin becomes then, first of all, a deliverance from poverty, illness and failure.   True life in Jesus is then a happy, successful, prosperous life here and now.


All you need to do, they say, is to believe these promises. 

Yes, if only your faith is strong enough you will ask God for a Mercedes Bens sport motor, and He will give it to you!   You just have to believe it and claim it!

“This is great!”, they say.   “It is a bargain to be a Christian!”


Now, brothers and sisters, such a prosperity gospel is prominent especially under Charismatics.   It is often also linked to faith healing.   They say then: it is not God’s will that His children are ill; if only your faith is strong enough you will be healed of all diseases!   


Money, health, prosperity – just believe in Jesus!


Within this movement of prosperity theology one also finds a great emphasis on the power of positive thinking and on personal empowerment, and courses helping you to conquer self-doubt!   To be filled with the Spirit is to think positive, speak positive, and to conquer!


Yes, you may find it hard to believe, but many thousands, if not millions, are caught by such a prosperity gospel.   And they made this verse one of their favourites:


            “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”


I can do all things!  


Christ empowers me so that nothing is beyond my capabilities!

You simply have to believe this, they say.


Dear congregation, you will realise, that this is a total misuse of Scripture.

The context in which the apostle spoke these words is a context of suffering and trial in which the power of Christ becomes manifest when Paul is weak!


It is the exact opposite of a prosperity gospel.   It is boasting in tribulations and humiliations and infirmities in as much as Christ’s power is manifest when we are weak.


The apostle confesses here that he has been instructed by the Lord how to endure when being humbled by poverty; when he had to suffer hunger and went through times of great need.   He has tasted times of abundance but also experienced abasement and humiliation, poverty, hunger and need.

It is no prosperity gospel.

It speaks of suffering shame and real physical need.

The life of a true believer looks totally different from that picture painted by the prosperity preachers.


How much did the apostle suffer for Christ’s sake!   But in all these trying circumstances the Lord did not forsake him.   In all these trials the Lord’s grace was sufficient for him.   The Lord Jesus gave him the strength to endure all these things.   And in that context he says:


            “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”


It means: by the power of Christ I am able to endure all these suffering and trials.  

The apostle is speaking about God’s training school in which we are trained by many and various trials; trained to put our trust in the Lord alone, and to be content with His grace in whatever circumstance or state we may be.


I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme:

The training school of the saints

We will note…

1.      The contentment of faith

2.      Being trained by God

3.      The sufficiency of Christ’s power

In the first place we note…

The contentment of faith


Here in this passage the apostle is thanking the Philippians for their support.  

They sent Epaphroditus to minister to Pauls need – chapter 2: 25.   

Also in the past the Philippians have more than once sent aid for Paul’s necessities – chapter 4: 16.  

And now, once more, they sent him a gift to provide in his needs.   And thus he writes in verse 18:


“Indeed I have all and abound.   I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.”


He is glad that they sent him this gift.   But his joy is not first of all because his own need has been relieved.   No, he rejoices much more about the fact that this act of love is a fruit of their faith.   That is what gladdens him.   He is not seeking the gift, but he desires that their faith bears fruit in abundance.   And now their support to him in his need is indeed a sacrifice well pleasing to God, and a fruit that abounds on their account.


He is so concerned about their spiritual wellbeing, that he is almost indifferent about the gift itself.   He is used to suffering want.   That is no big deal to him.   Now that he received their gift he has, at least for the moment, abundance.   But he rejoices especially because this is a proof of their spiritual wellbeing, and that their faith is bearing fruit.


We don’t know exactly what they sent him.   He simply calls it “things”, and he mentions that it was to supply in his necessities.   These “things” might have been food and clothing and financial support.  

Now, for some time the Philippians did not sent anything for Paul’s need.   This was not because they did not care; they simply lacked the opportunity – verse 10.  

The fact is, for some time he has indeed suffered want, but he hardly counts it worth mentioning, for he is very much used to such circumstances.   He has been well trained in sufferings for Christ’s sake.


And then follows our text:


“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am to be content…”


Now, when we consider the various trials the apostle has been enduring, it is not a pretty sight.

He wrote to the Corinthians saying that he was beaten above measure, frequently in prison, and often close to death.   And he gives some examples:


“From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.   Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned…”


In that passage he continues to give a long list of hardships and dangers he endured, including hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness – 2 Cor. 11: 23 – 27.

In 1 Cor. 4: 11 he wrote:

            “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and “            beaten, and homeless.”

He mentions all these things, and many more hardships, as part of his daily trials in the ministry.

Even now, while he is writing this epistle to the saints in Philippi, he is in chains, waiting to appear before Caesar with possible martyrdom awaiting him.

He also speaks here in chapter 4 of his “distress” – verse 14.


It is now within such circumstances that he says:


            “…I have learned in whatever state I am to be content…”


How then could the apostle be content while suffering hunger and thirst, nakedness and cold, beatings and scourging?


We read this morning that passage where the apostle says to Timothy: godliness with contentment is great gain.   And where he says: we should not seek to become rich, but be content with the very basic provision of food and clothing – 1 Tim. 6: 8

Yes, the gospel which the apostle proclaimed was very much different from the prosperity gospel which is so common in our day.

Food and clothing – with these you shall be content.


But the apostle was even content with less than the bare basics.   He knew by experience what it meant to suffer real want.   He was content even without food and clothes, yes, with hunger and nakedness.  

He was content even in the worst circumstances.

And we know why.

To the saints in Rome he wrote:


“…I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” – Rom. 8: 18


He was indeed awaiting great riches and glory, but not in this life.

It is the contentment of faith.

It is to be full and satisfied while you are suffering hunger.

It is to rejoice in great riches while you are suffering want.

It is to live by faith and not by sight.


Yes, it is the contentment of one who is assured of the infinite riches of God’s grace in Christ while his present circumstances are nothing but miserable.

It is by considering the glory which has been promised to us in Christ that we are able to bear and endure now whatever we have to suffer for Christ’s sake.

It is a contentment that cannot be lessen by hunger or nakedness or shame or tribulation.


Dear congregation, when we truly believe that the living God, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, has become our Father through Jesus Christ, and that He, the eternal and holy God who is true and faithful, has promised to care for us in all of life and never to forsake us, and that He will work all things to our benefit, and promised us eternal life in the presence of His glory – if we truly believe this, then our present suffering is swallowed up by great peace and contentment.    We are safe in the hands of our gracious and faithful Father in heaven.


These promises have been sealed to Alexander this morning; it has been sealed to each of us.

It is by believing these promises that we become content; fully comforted in life and in death.  

Yes, we read here of the contentment of the man who said:


            “…to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (1: 21)

It is the contentment of one who knows that he belongs to Christ and that nothing – no tribulation or trial or persecution or suffering or death – yes, nothing will ever be able to separate him again from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8).


That is the only explanation for the apostle’s contentment in such miserable circumstances.  


With the chains clinging on his hands and feet he writes these words:


            “…I have learned in whatever state I am to be content…”


He “learned” to be content.   Now, that very word, learn, implies a process of schooling.   We note that in the second place…

Being trained by God


Dear congregation, somehow we are in need of tribulation.   We do not do very well in times of prosperity.   Spiritually we do much better in times of suffering and trial.

Therefore the apostle says that…


“…we also glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Rom. 5: 3, 4


Or as the apostle James puts it:


“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.   And let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1: 2 – 4)


Our faith grows, and we are trained in the perseverance of faith, by means of various trials.


Scripture tells us that God trains us in godliness just as a father teaches and trains his son.   We read for example that the Lord’s chastening yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it – Hebr. 12: 11.


Yes, sometimes the Lord uses affliction to train us.   As David also says in Psalm 119:


            “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.”


And again he says:


“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.” – Ps. 119: 67, 71


This morning we also read a passage from Deut. 8 where it becomes clear that the 40 years of Israel’s journey through the desert was a training school where the Lord taught them to live by His word alone.   They were tested and tried in order that they may learn to put their trust in the LORD no matter what the circumstance may be.    Moses said to them:


“So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8: 3).


The Lord allowed Israel to hunger.   And when they saw no way in which God could provide for them, He did provide for them, and He did it in a way that was unknown before.   Manna came down from heaven!   In this way He taught them to rely on His word even in circumstances where it seemed impossible that God could keep His promise and provide for them.


He also tested their faith, and trained them in faith, by means of thirst.

We are quick to say that Israel was slow to learn.   See how quickly they complained!   Why did they not trust in the Lord and waited on Him?!

But what would you do if you had to travel in the desert and find no water to drink; when your little children are crying for water, and when it feels to you that you can die of thirst?

It was no small trial.


Yes, brothers and sisters, our circumstances may sometimes be very trying indeed.

But the Lord uses such circumstances to test our faith and to train us in faith, so that we may learn all the more, and all the better, to trust in Him no matter what our state may be.


Each of us needs this training in faith.  

Also the apostle Paul went through this training school.   And thus he says:


“I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.   Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”


To be abased means: to be brought low by humiliation.   The apostle says: he knows how to be humiliated; how to suffer shame.   He also knows how to abound.  He also knew times of relieve and refreshment.   He learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

He has experienced it all; not only good times, but also very hard times.   He has been trained by each circumstance to put His trust in the Lord and thus to be content with his circumstances, knowing that the Lord is in control and that Lord will care for Him and carry him through.


The apostle does not say this in order to boast of His strong faith, or his own perseverance; instead, if he is boasting at all he is boasting in his infirmities.   As he says:


            “If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.” – 2 Cor. 11: 30


And again:


“…the Lord said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’   Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.   Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.   For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Cor. 12: 9, 10


When you are humbled and abased, when you are brought low to the point where you realise your own smallness, when you come to know your own weakness and cannot see any way of escape – it is then that God manifests His power.    In such circumstances it becomes all the more clear that it is not your abilities, not your strength, not your cleverness or your perseverance that gives you the victory, but Christ’s gracious assistance; His power only, and not yours.


We are strong in the Lord when we know our own weakness and rely on the Lord’s strength only.   And to teach us this lesson all the better, the Lord brings us time and again to the point where we can do nothing but call on Him for His mercy.

Therefore these troublesome times are so blessed; therefore the most miserable state is often the most blest state – for then the Lord reveals His power.   And then it please the Lord to reveal His power, when we are weak.

He delivers when we see and acknowledge that we can’t deliver ourselves.


It is a training school in which we learn to put our trust in the Lord and, trusting Him, to be content in Him, knowing that He will not forsake us but carry us through this time again, and again.

In every trial we come to know by experience that His grace and power is indeed sufficient.   The bigger the trial the more He reveals His power.

We note that in the last place…

The sufficiency of Christ’s power


            “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”


It is no prosperity gospel; it is a confession of faith in the midst of much misery and affliction.   It is a confession that the Lord, by His power, will sustain me in every situation and enable me to endure all things.


In this regard we may also think of that well known passage where the apostle says:


“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also give the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – 1 Cor. 10: 13.


By His power He will enable you to endure every trial.   He will give you sufficient strength to meet the extent of each trial, and your trials will not exceed the limits of the strength He provides.  

Therefore we will be able to bear it.


Without His assistance we would not maybe fall, or perhaps fail, but we will surely fall even for the slightest temptation.   Without the Lord we cannot stand even for one moment.


So then, brothers and sisters, how will we be able to bear the trials and temptations in God’s training school?   Not by our own strength, but by the Lord’s strength only.   He will enable us to bear it all.

We have nothing to fear, as long as we trust His strength and not our own.


The apostle knows humiliation and hunger and nakedness, and he knows a countless number of other trials.   He has, so to speak, done his exercises in each of these courses.   He has done a course in humiliation.

He has done a course in being poor and despised.

He knows what it means to be reviled and defamed, and to be treated as the filth of the world – 1 Cor. 4: 12, 13.

He experienced it all and has been trained by it.


And he learned, in every situation – good or bad – to be content in the Lord.   That is, to be satisfied with whatever the Lord provides, knowing that His power and grace will be sufficient to bear it all.


Dear congregation, this morning the sacrament of baptism was administered to Alexander Kelder, and once more we heard the covenant promises which God has sealed also to each of us:

“…God the Father…promises to provide us with all good and avert all evil or turn it to our benefit.”


He promises us complete salvation in Christ.   In Christ we received everything.   In Him we are infinitely rich.   But we await the fulfilment of the promises after this life.   In this life of sorrow we only have a small foretaste of that glory which is to come, and in this life our sufferings will still be many and real.   But by the power of Christ we will endure, for He has promised it.


It is no prosperity gospel, but it is indeed a glorious gospel.   We are rich; so rich and blessed that we cannot even comprehend the extent of our riches in Christ.   We are full and completely satisfied, here and now in this life of sorrow – not by sight, but by faith.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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