Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Standing Firm - Philippians 1:21-30

Philippians 1:21-30
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith,  so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved-- and that by God.  For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

            If there is one person in the Bible who seemed to have a firm faith, it is St. Paul Paul in his writings in the New Testament is always talking in terms of  “I am convinced.”  “I am persuaded.”  “I know.” 

            But strangely, there came a time when some of Paul’s friends were worried that he might develop a crisis of faith. 

            His friends were in the church of Philippi And they were very concerned about their brother – their father and mentor in the faith. 

            Paul was in prison for preaching about the Christian Faith.  Now they know that Paul has been in prison before, but this is different.  In fact, Paul may well be near to death – about to be executed for his faith. 

            So in their concern for Paul, and in order to encourage him, they collect some gifts, possibly in the form of money, to be sent to him by one of their own members. 

            And it works.  Paul is encouraged by the actions of the Philippians, and he in turn tells the Philippians that they should also stand firm in the faith.

            That is a strange reversal.

            The Philippians are worried about Paul standing firm in the faith because he is in prison.

            But Paul, in turn, is worried about the Philippians standing firm in their faith because they have to live out their faith in the day to day world.

            And Paul tells the Philippians church, "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then ... I will know that you stand firm.”

            It is hard to stand firm in the faith.

            Day after day after day.

            I mean it’s one thing to come to church and sing the old familiar hymns. 

  How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
    Is laid for your faith in God's excellent Word!
    What more can be said than to you God hath said,
    To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

            But on Monday morning, it may be different.

            How do you live a Christian life in an unchristian world?

            How does a young person stand firm in the faith against taking drugs?  Or resist the peer pressure to join in bullying someone?

            How does an adult maintain integrity at work?


            How does a person resist sexual temptation?

            How do you stand firm in the faith in such a way that you live life in a manner, as Paul says, worthy of the Gospel?”

            It is interesting that Paul uses this phrase about standing firm twice in this very brief letter to the Philippians.

            First, he uses it here in the first chapter, and then he uses it at the end of the book, in the last chapter.  And at the end of the book he says, “Therefore, my brothers  ... that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!" 

            By using the phrase that way, it is as if Paul is saying that the entire book of Philippians is concerned with how to stand firm in the faith.

            When your faith is being challenged day after day?  How do you stand firm?

            First, Paul says in this letter to the Philippians, "Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you."

            To follow that example and that pattern is to follow the Word of God.

            In the New Testament book of II Timothy (3:16), it says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”


And in the Old Testament there is a verse in Psalm 119 expressed it, "How can a young man keep his way pure?"  And the answer the Psalmist gives is, "By living according to your word."

            When workmen began to renovate Theatre London in London, Ontario, they were determined to save the theatre's greatest glory -- its splendid arch with its hand-painted murals.  During the project's early stages they discovered that one side of the arch was supported by nothing more than a broken brick standing on loose sand.  A steel support was hastily erected before the arch collapsed!

            That's the Word of God in our lives.  We can survive without it, just like that arch building in Ontario did fine without having a strong support.  But if any significant stress would come along, everything would be in danger of collapsing.

            And life has stress all the time – and that’s when we need the Word of God to keep our lives from collapsing.

            Keep focused on the laws and decrees of God.  Keep focused on the Word of God.

            That is the first thing we must do in order to stand firm. Look to the Word.
            A second thing we need to do is to Look to Home.  I don't mean our earthly home, but our heavenly home.

            Paul says, "For, as I have often told you before and now say 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 on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven."


Our citizenship is in heaven – keeping focus on our heavenly destination can help us to stand firm in the faith.

            I heard an account of the Freedom Riders on NPR radio not long ago.  The Freedom Riders were those groups of people who would ride the busses through parts of the Deep South during the early 1960s as part of the Civil Rights movement.  In one town of Alabama the people were removed from the bus by the police and taken to jail.  Now the eyes of the entire nation were on this, so the police were very discrete in their attempts to demoralize the group.  The first thing they did was to bring the Freedom Riders food, but it was so heavily salted, no one could eat it.  The second thing they did was to taunt the prisoners.  The salty food didn't break the spirit of the group.  The taunting didn't break the spirit of the group.  But then the police came up with another plan.  One by one, the police removed the mattresses, so there were more prisoners than bed spaces. As time passed, the group began to compete for the mattresses. 

            The morale was just about to be broken, when someone began singing, "Amazing Grace."

            Then another joined into the singing.

            And another.

            Until the whole jail block was singing in unison, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind, but now I see."

            The police officers came in to see what the problem was.

            And then someone took one of the remaining mattresses, and pushed it through the bars.

            And then another, and another until there were no mattresses left.

            In the interview, one of the Freedom Riders reflected on his experiences from those many years ago and said, "We started thinking of ourselves as prisoners.  We started thinking that we belonged in prison.  That was our mistake.  Once we were able to remember that we were just passing through, we didn't care if we had mattresses or not.  After all, we weren't going to need them to sleep on a week down the road.  Remembering that we were just passing through helped us put up with anything the police could throw at us.  You can salt my food, you can taunt me, you can take away the mattresses and do whatever you can think of to make my life miserable, but you cannot take away the faith on which I'm standing firm."

            If we keep our minds focused on the fact that we don't belong on earth, but that we belong in heaven, we will stand firm in our faith.

            Paul, in another one of his letters, wrote,   "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  (2 Cor 4:16-18)

            If we want to stand firm, we need to keep our eyes fixed on our heavenly citizenship.


            When I was in college, one of my fellow students lived in the same dormitory, right down the hall from me, and I would frequently visit him in his room.

            He was not a good student.  Not because he didn't have the ability to study and learn, but because he enjoyed too many parties.  He was having too good of a time at school.

            One day I walked into his room and hanging in his room, in full view, was a graduation cap and gown. Right next to it, hanging on the wall, was a frame.  But it was an empty frame.  I asked him what that was all about.

            "I hung those up there to remind my why I'm really here," he said.  "More than anything, I want to graduate college, but at night and on weekends, I forget about a college degree and graduation and I think about having a good time.  Someday, I plan to wear that cap and gown, and someday, I'm going to put a college diploma into that frame."

            Standing firm is not easy.

            It doesn't matter if you are fighting oppression and working for social change, or if you are a young person surrounded by friends who use drugs, trying to stand firm against taking drugs.

            Or a teenager with raging hormones within, crying out for sexual fulfillment, trying to stand firm against sexual temptations?

            Or a person in business trying to resist the easy, unethical practices that everyone else seems to do.

            How do you live a Christian life in an unchristian world?
            Look beyond this world to your heavenly home.

            When you deal with the present, keep your eye on the future you have with Christ – and live your life worthy of that Gospel.

 copyright 2014
W. Maynard Pittendreigh