July 26, 2021
Bridle Creek Circuit
New River District
Naming the Fox
Philippians 4:10-14 (NRSV)
10 I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
There’s a story that’s become a part of the Nettleton family lore. It involves me but I don’t remember it because I was 5 years old at the time. The occasion was my Grandpa Fletcher’s Birthday party. He was opening gifts and he came to mine. He picked up the package. It was big and floppy and when he shook it, the package rattled. He opened it and it was a big bag of M&Ms. Grandpa smiled. “M&Ms! That’s my favorite candy! How’d you know?” I looked up at my Grandpa and said very seriously, “Grandpa… It’s nice to share.”
It is nice to share. But it’s always a little awkward to ask someone to share isn’t it? The more for which we ask or the greater the sacrifice, the less direct we tend to be. When I was 5, I could ask my Grandpa to share M&Ms I had just gifted him but, by the time I was in my twenties, I would sit in the dark without electricity before I asked my parents for money. Asking someone to share is hard to do.
The Apostle Paul was a very direct man. When you read his letters, there is very little ambiguity. He states what he believes as well as what he believes others should believe. He famously states in the 1st chapter of Romans that he is unashamed of the Gospel. He doesn’t care one whit that people might find the discussion of a crucified savior scandalous and weird. “The cross is foolishness to the wise,” he says. In other words: ‘that’s their problem.’ Paul will stand before judges and princes and declare the things he believes boldly, forcefully, and clearly.
But when it comes to the issue of money, Paul tends to beat around the bush.
I wouldn’t blame you if you read our passage this morning and had no idea Paul was even talking about money. But that’s exactly what he’s talking about when he euphemistically thanks the Philippians for their “concern” and then thanks them for “sharing.” He’s not talking about M&Ms. He’s talking about cheddar… moolah… paper… he’s talking about money. Paul is thanking the Philippians for supporting him while he was under house arrest in Rome (an unfortunate consequence of his aforementioned boldness). Normally he doesn’t need support because he supports himself as a tent maker. But here he was not able to do that.
So, Paul has to ask for help.
The only problem is, he’s terrible at it. He thanks the Philippians for the money they’ve already sent him and then quickly says that he didn’t really need it… “I’ve learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” Then he comes to the line that Tim Tebow used to paint below his eyes: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Paul is not talking here about scoring touchdowns or achieving his dreams. Paul is talking about living without money. Paul is saying to the Philippians: “I’ve got Jesus; I’m going to be fine whether you help me or not.” Then he says, “In any case, It’s nice to share…”
Not a very good sales pitch, is it? “Thanks for the money you’ve sent so far. Didn’t really need it. But if you’re feeling generous you might send more.”
Why is someone who is otherwise eloquent and bold so terrible at asking for help?
Some of it is philosophical. Like so many Greek-speaking people in the first century, Paul was heavily influenced by Stoic thought, which emphasized being self-sufficient. Stoicism was also about keeping your emotions in check and not letting people know you’re having problems.
This is also human nature. 2,000 years after Paul wrote these words we still struggle with asking for help. We choose to struggle silently with our problems rather than reach out to a friend or family member. We would rather be in emotional, physical, and economic pain rather than admit to someone else that we have a problem we can’t solve on our own. We’ll let our problems devour us before we talk to a pastor, a financial planner, or a therapist.
Are you aware of what is eating away at you? Maybe it is something that started during this strange, painful, year or maybe it’s been eating away at you for a long time. What is its name? If you can name your struggle, you know your next step: you know who you need to finally ask for help.
This is okay! It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Asking for help takes courage and strength. It takes the kind of strength that Jesus can give you. Stop beating around the bush. Stop putting it off. Stop suffering in silence. Let today be the day you take control and seek the help you need.
Reach out to that person you know can assist you. I know it’s hard. It’s awkward and scary. If you need to break the ice; I have a suggestion. Hand them a bag of M&Ms and say, “It’s nice to share.”
Jesus! Thank you for being a constant source of strength in our lives. Help us to name the things that are eating away at us and give us the courage to seek help. Thank you for providing us with so many people who love and care about us. In their aid, may we encounter your mercy and grace. Amen.