My favorite movie of all-time is Forrest Gump, and it has been since high school. I have always loved the relationships in this movie and its unique take on history. I am totally that guy you don’t want to watch this movie with because I will quote every line. Growing up this film made me laugh and it made me curious about history, but one thing it never did was make me cry. I knew there were moments where I was supposed to, but it just never struck a chord with me. However, now I can’t sit through this movie without crying at least two or three times!
So what gives?
At the end of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi – while he is cold and unkempt in a Roman jail – he writes these words:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13
Paul has a secret to being brought low, and he has a secret to abounding in his circumstances. That secret is Paul has Christ. In Christ our valleys and mountains need not be seen as such, but instead they are leveled out. Through the gospel we find a balance*, through the gospel we become more complete as redeemed people because we are being conformed to the image of Christ.
If you take one look at Paul’s first letter to Timothy, you can hardly back away without realizing Paul is seriously ticked off at certain people. Just look at the end of the first chapter alone and Paul is calling dudes out; he’s handing them over to Satan! Compare Paul’s tone in 1 Timothy to what he says in 2 Corinthians:
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open…In return, widen your hearts also. – 2 Corinthians 6:11, 13
This second passage almost sounds like Paul is a romance novelist! Your heart is say what!? How can this be the same guy who in his other letters is handing people over to Satan, or who urges us to contend and fight strongly against false teaching? The picture we get from Paul’s ministry is that he could convey a wide range of emotions when they were appropriate; he was leveled out and more complete as a redeemed person. The saving mercies and grace of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit were growing Paul to become more like his Savior.
The same should be true for us today. For those of us who were completely hard-hearted and unemotional prior to Christ giving us a new heart, we find that we begin to be more expressive and open to emotions. On the flip-side for those of us who were complete emotional train wrecks prior to Christ, we begin to find that we have a better control of ourselves and don’t lose ourselves in emotions as often. This is the power of the gospel at work in us, balancing and completing us.
It is for this reason Paul is able to tell the believers in Thessalonica not to grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We have our faith and hope in Christ, and that levels us out. In Christ we are given the strength to respond to all circumstances as Christ would. It should give us strength when necessary, as well as show us when it is appropriate to be weak. We have a King whose strength was shown in weakness, and it is that duality which should come alive in us.
*I give credit where credit is due, and I must say I owe most of this narrative to my Pauline Epistles professor Dr. Jeon. Doc, if you ever read this…thanks!