In This Way Stand Firm in the Lord
How do we hold on to what matters most – how do we keep God’s Voice alive? Philippians 3:17-4:1 is a spiritual armor type section, helping us understand the way to stand firm in the Lord in the presence of many who oppose you as they oppose God and his Son. March 17, 2019.
“Lord, you I love with all my heart…” That must be one of your favorite hymns. How does it do that to us? A melody with enough majesty, a volume level to let ‘er rip! If it didn’t say text by Martin Schaller and tune from Strassburg 1577, I’d have guessed this text and this tune were a match made in heaven! Someone else’s words that help this Romeo speak love back to God just like I wanted to.
You turn out to the world with that taste in your mouth, that music in your lungs, you look at the people living right next to you in this world, and they know nothing of this - “What does it take, what can I do to tell you more this Lord, the best thing I’ve ever known? It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Just a small reflection of our Savior who weeps for Jerusalem and longs to gather all its people under his wing. With the music of eternal life in him, he came and stood here and talked to all the people living right next to him, only to be told, “Leave now. Herod wants to kill you.” “But it doesn’t have to be this way and how I’ve longed for you to know that, like a hen calling her own chicks under wing, but you were not willing and I’m going to die for you either way.”
There’s nothing in the world like this – taking heavens goods to the marketplace of the world just to give it away for free. If people don’t walk home with the riches of heaven, if they don’t sing our hymn, share our faith or join our churches, let it not be because we didn’t talk or try. If a two-year-old girl is abducted and under Amber alert across the nation and found dead off a road in MN as a tragic product of human trafficking, may it not be because no one cared enough to do anything about it.
We earnestly prayed in our Prayer of the Day because our weakness, vulnerable to attacks from the outside and from within. We may not have physical torment kind of persecution like the Middle East or Asia or Africa, but what is the impact on you to live like many others have among people who’ve long been numb to “let me tell you about Jesus?” Or all the subtle or not-so-subtle ways people throw the Word you value in the garbage and want everyone to know that’s where it belongs? It’s a persecution by hypnosis: “You’re getting sleepy, Church of God. You don’t want to grow in faith, ask questions in a Bible class, listen to a sermon. You don’t want to develop Christian friendships. You don’t want to get more involved in congregational life and efforts. You don’t want to talk about Jesus Monday to Saturday.”
How do we hold on to what matters most – how do we keep God’s Voice alive that calls in this wilderness, whether they like it or like it not? How do we stay the course and sing our hymn to the world even if they try to boo us off the stage? Paul writes to Philippian believers under arrest for his faith – “don’t let my chains or your suffering from your own neighbors throw you off your game or cut your hymn short.” This is a spiritual armor type section, helping us understand the way, the how to stand firm in the Lord in the presence of many who oppose you as they oppose God and his Son.
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. How many times have God’s servants been imprisoned? How many times for Paul – once the hunter – to now be the hunted? What impact did it have on his message? Or his attitude after being so rudely treated? None! It didn’t even matter…as he praises God all the same. He gets knocked down, but gets right back up again. Surely, if God is behind this it can’t be stopped! (Acts 5)
Do you identify with this? A part of something not just bigger than themselves but God’s singular mission to bring all to his Son...not just bigger, it’s the biggest. Urging us to see the community - my God and his God and their God … Not a random assortment, collection of untied, disconnected individuals, though our culture is certainly urging us into such a perception more and more – that we’re merely individuals, the sum of our own choices, so feel free to cloister yourself from the world behind your phone and engage with others only when and where you choose. Instead, Paul says, join together - this is one body, a community of saints, the supreme example of total assimilation and peak integration of all parts into one whole, a transformation into Christ, becoming like him in his death and sharing his “I’m going to press on today, tomorrow, and the next day.”
Follow the model of others – who is that for you? This is an imitation of those not intimidated but cling to the Word of God and trust in the God of the Word.…Forward In Christ articles that are personal stories, world mission fields and WELS connection updates…think of Pastor Huebner and his role as Vice President of the Synod along with other Synod leaders and Seminary professors – Lord, give them broad shoulders and an unflinching vision of love for the world and passion for the Word of truth!
Why so important? For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.
This wasn’t mere possibility, but a mainstay of Paul’s teaching, and of Jesus’ warning - it’s our expectation because we know people by nature. They are enemies of the cross of Christ. Why does Paul say “of the cross of Christ” and not “enemies of God” or “enemies of Jesus”?
Ground of the cross is the perfect testing place and demonstration of how different God’s thoughts are from the world’s ways. Very few celebrate the cross as the pinnacle of God’s glory and power for us. They’d rather celebrate God’s blessings to them (for being so good and obedient). Recent survey to estimate the number of the religious or the un-religious in each state. Not sure how valuable a survey is that asks you if you consider yourself “highly religious” - Even if 100% of Wisconsinites said “Yes, I do consider myself highly religious,” most of that may be an enemy of the cross kind of religion, with stomachs for gods who glory in their works, which are shameful, filthy rags!
The cross of Christ is like the Yankees, love him or hate him...here you can’t say that “we all teach the same thing” when you stand at Golgotha.
Their destiny is destruction, Paul says. The nature of all this is tragically flawed from the start - trying to sail with a boat that is incapable of even leaving the shore or staying afloat. Their god is their stomachache - how far will that fleeting pleasure get you before you are left unsatisfied and hungry again. People will never have permanently satisfied stomachs as long as they refuse God’s heavenly food and the drink that leaves you thirst less. Their glory is in their shame. All the things they are so glad to have - their toys, their good reputation and overall track record of kindness, trending in the right direction, their growing list of achievements or improving financial health - all the self-securities - so much pride and joy bursting out of their lives when they have these things - but it’s all condemned, an investment in what will only perish and spoil, false gods and idolatry of themselves that will all be counted to their shame on the Last Day.
Paul’s summary: so many, the religious and the no-religious alike, have their minds trapped in the zone of mere earthly things and pleasures!
Oh, who can bear the sight – “in this way stand firm in the Lord” – recognizing how different such thinking is from God’s so that you are not tempted by it. Rather we realize “you are but a breath away from hell and you don’t see it.” Such denial of our sin, humanity’s shame and collective destiny, everyone one of us, without him! A curse on my empty goal and earthly dreams, away with mere belly satisfactions that last only minutes.
But why with tears? Not just a side topic, it’s our mission - not a random byproduct we can circumvent or ignore if you want, it’s your purpose because it’s God’s purpose and the core content of your hymn and desire to praise God all the time and everywhere! The more you see it, the more it hurts! Problem awareness, not just a matter of friction or opposition but a rescue mission in the world where if we call off the search even for those who don’t want to be found, there’s nothing but drowning in their destiny and alone with their stomachs and shame. So, yes, with tears!!! And that’s how you stand firm in the Lord - only with such a clear vision of time in this world and people - you reframe opposition in this way - knowing that any vitriol you receive from others despite your good intentions is by no means a reason to quit, but all the more reason to refuel the rescue choppers and continue to press on in the Lord – today, tomorrow, and the next day.
All the while my hopes and dreams are tied not to how well I endure this or humbly carry out God’s work in the world, not tied either to the results - but I can bear all opposition that may come trusting in a Savior, with a heart already overflowing with heavenly thoughts: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
It’s like a call away again to be anchored on the other side of this life – not get sucked in by the black hole of the world’s ongoing hostile approach and actions. Open up your hymnal again. Remember what you live for. With all hope in the gospel...is there anything not firm about this - fixed, firm point - a permanent citizenship and belonging for his sake, the Triune God, who is three-in-one, yet in Jesus made a spot by grace for you, a home prepared to dwell in glory forever. Anything unfinished, left to say? He sets me at ease and brings my body and soul to completion. I can say, “I am but a breath away from paradise, one quick and final parting of the clouds for the second coming of my Lord.”
Don’t know what may happen to our bodies here. Many people with more earthly power and control over that. My body may be in shambles by then, begging for food, bleeding from hostile abuse - I may have long become a martyr under his name - but I’ll still be his and he will be the last one to attend to this body, to demonstrate his full care for my whole person that I may dwell body and soul in a glory “I can only imagine.”
In this way, dear friends, my joy, my crown, you whom I love and long for - in this way, brothers and sisters, with imitation of other believers, with clarification of the sinful nature’s opposition and the Spirit that will not quit, and with full hope of exaltation – in this way, stand firm in the Lord. Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on March 17, 2019