Sermon: Stand Firm

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Philippians, chapter 4. Philippians 4:1-9. Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is a letter of joy to a church he loves. Many of his letters come to church with deep disfunction in their life and theology. Paul can be blunt. Yet, in Philippi the main problem was disunity and pride. We have spent the last few weeks working our way through the teaching of God’s Word on these exact issues. However, as the letter draws to a close, Paul has one more call for the church: to stand firm in the Lord. As we listen to God’s Word this morning, listen not just for the call to stand firm, but how God calls us to do this. But before we hear God’s Word, please pray with me: 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, open your Word to us this morning so that we will hear and hear clearly. Soften our hearts to your Word so that we will receive it and receive it gladly. Strengthen our feet according to your Word so that we might walk in it and walk in it faithfully. Amen. 

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God: 

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. 

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

The church is called to stand firm in the Lord. Stand firm. As those called and redeemed, as those loved and rescued by the Lord Jesus Christ, as those saved by grace through faith, the church is called to stand firm. Paul writes these words to a beloved church, to people he loves and longs for, to brothers and sisters that are like his crown upon finishing the race. Paul writes to them, and the Spirit speaks to us, calling for the church to stand firm in the Lord. This is not a call to simple stubbornness, to a fossilized commitment to always doing things the way they have always been done. Standing firm in the Lord is not the grim determination of arms crossed and a permanent frown. 

The church is called to stand firm in the Lord. In the Lord. Not in what once was or in what we want things to be, but in the Lord. Like Israel guided by the pillar in the wilderness, God’s people are called to go and move following where God leads, and to stay and not be moved when the Lord calls us to hold the line. As the world and the culture around us has become less hospitable to Christian conviction, or in some cases resistant to it, the church is called to stand firm in the Lord. When the chaos of the present and the uncertainty of the future crash like waves upon us, we are called to plant our feet in the Lord in the midst of the shaking, shifting stand of the world around us.

But how? How do we stand firm in the Lord? What kind of posture are we to take as the people of God in order to stand firm in the Lord? According to God’s Word to us this morning, the church stands firm in the Lord with our hands raised rejoicing, on our knees in prayer, and with our eyes up considering the good. This is the posture of resistance – hands raised, on our knees, and with our eyes up. Stand firm in the Lord. 

Christians stand firm in the Lord with our hands raised rejoicing. It’s verse 4: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. This is so important Paul feels the need to repeat himself. Rejoice. This is not a suggestion or a good piece of advice, but a command. Rejoice. Christians stand firm in the Lord through praising, through rejoicing. 

Very practically, we don’t gather to sing praise to God every week simply because we like the sound of music. The world is full of so much hate. Cruel words threaten to dominate my inbox and my news feed. Angry at the government, at each other, at them (whoever they happen to be) almost seems to swallow up everything. 

Yet, when the church is called to stand firm in the Lord, we are not told to raise our fists, but to raise our hands in praise. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. We stand firm in the Lord in the midst of the shift sands of this world by rejoicing, by living with deep, abiding joy in Jesus.

I don’t watch a lot of sports anymore because I know what it does to me. As a child all the way into early adulthood, I always watched the game. By the game, I meant the University of Michigan football team. I know college sports are not a thing in Canada like in the US, so just imagine someone passionate about the Maple Leafs. But I bled maize and blue. Every Saturday afternoon, every fall, I was watching. But watching the game was very stressful. I jump up and cheer at every first down. I throw up my hands at every incomplete pass. I bury my face every time we gave up a touchdown. It was a stressful and full-body experience watching a Michigan game. If they won, it made my day and might even carry my good mood into the next week. But if they lost, I became sullen and grumpy and no one really wanted to be around me the rest of the day. My mood became determined by the outcome of a football game I had no part in and so it fluctuated all over the place. 

Now I was over the top and it is probably good for me that I don’t watch as much sports, even if there is nothing wrong with watching. I was a bit obsessed at the time, but the truth is that this is what happens to all of us. 

If we look out at the world as it is, we are not going to find joy, we are not going to rejoice. We will be like me watching the game, when my team is winning I am sky high, but when my team is not I am crushed. When life, when elections, when the winds of culture or fortune seem to blow our way, we will exult and be happy – but that is not joy. And when the wind shifts, when the team is down, suddenly we become despondent. That is not rejoicing. 

Instead of looking out to the world around us, to the current circumstances of our life, of our church, or of our world for joy, Christians are called to stand firm in the Lord by rejoicing in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

In a shaking world, we stand firm by praising the unshakeable one, the one who sits on the throne and cannot, will not, shall not be moved. We rejoice in the Lord. 

We gather to sing, we gather to praise, we gather to rejoice in the Lord every week here at Bethel because no matter what happens out in the world, no matter what ups or downs this past week has given us, the Lord is King and is worthy of our praise. Christians stand firm in the Lord by rejoicing in the Lord because the King is still on the throne. We begin with praise because in all circumstances, there is one who is worthy to be praised.

I am reminded of the meditation of the Jesuit Father Luis Espinal that he wrote shortly before he was assassinated on March 22, 1980 in La Paz, Bolivia. He said,

“There are Christians who have hysterical reactions, as if the world would have slipped out of God’s hand. They act violently as if they were risking everything. But we believe in history; the world is not a roll of the dice going toward chaos. A new world has begun to happen since Christ has risen…Jesus Christ, we rejoice in your definitive triumph…with our bodies still in the breach and our souls in tension, we cry out our first ‘Hurrah!’ till eternity unfolds itself. Your sorrow now has passed. Your enemies have failed. You are a definitive still for humankind. What matter the wait now for us? We accept the struggle and the death; because you, our love, will not die! We march behind you on the road to the future. You are with us and you are our immortality! Take away the sadness from our faces. We are not in a game of chance…you have the last word! Beyond the crushing of our bees, now has begun the eternal ‘alleluia!’ From the thousand openings of our wounded bodies and souls there arises a now triumphal song! So, teach us to give voice to your new life throughout all the world. Because you dry the tears from the eyes of the oppressed forever…and death will disappear…”

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Christians stand firm in the Lord by rejoicing in the Lord always. In all circumstances, when our bodies and souls are in the breach, let the triumphal song resound. When the Lord dries the tears from the eyes of the oppressed, let the ‘alleluias’ ring. If we look out at this world, we will go high or go low depending on the winds of the day, but when our rejoicing is in the Lord, when we look to Christ seated on the throne of heaven, we will have deep, abiding, unshakeable joy that will allow us to stand firm in the Lord every day. 

We stand firm in the Lord with our hands raised rejoicing. We also stand firm on our knees in prayer. It’s verses 6 and 7: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Sometimes we stand most firm when we fall on our knees. Prayer drives out worry. You lay up and night playing that same conversation over and over again in your head. You are driving and your mind comes back to that same decision you need to make. You try to work, but the email you need to write, the news you just received, or that person you love crawls back into your heart. Concern quickly transforms to worry and washes over us. 

What do we do? How do we keep our knees from buckling with worry? Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We respond to worry with prayer. Though the temptation to prayer without action exists, the temptation to action without prayer is often greater. We worry and work, we seek to stand firm on what God says or hold the line in our life of faith, but we forget to pray. But when we pray, worry is driven out and the peace of God floods in. 

We are to pray with thanksgiving, ever mindful of all the ways and times God has provided for us, including sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to die and rise again for us. We are to pray with supplication, which is a fancy way of saying we bring all our needs and requests before God. We cast our cares upon him because we know, as the catechism says, 

“we trust God so much that we do not doubt

he will provide

whatever we need

for body and soul,

and will turn to our good

whatever adversity he sends upon us

in this sad world.

God is able to do this because he is almighty God

and desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.”

We pray with supplication, with hearts bare before God, because we can trust him – trust his love and trust his power, even if we are not sure how to pray or how God will answer it.  This type of prayer casts out worry. Our fears that this is out of control, that nothing will turn out good, that we will not be able to handle what lies ahead, are stilled when we come before our Heavenly Father in prayer. 

We are not told we will have all the answers if we pray. We are not told that every miracle we ask for will be granted. But we are told that if we come to the Father, come with thanksgiving and come laying our hearts before him, he will give us his peace. 

Sometimes we stand most firm when we fall on our knees. The strength to stand firm in the Lord often comes from time spent on our knees in prayer. Worry flees as trust grows. Fear fades in the presence of the Most High. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. God himself promises to send his peace to guard us – guard our hearts from fear and our minds from worry. 

So pray. When worry washes over you: pray. When anxiety aches in your bones: pray. When uncertainty unhinges your day and consumes your night: pray. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. This is how we stand firm on our knees.

How do we stand firm in the Lord? We do it with our hands raised rejoicing. We do it on our knees in prayer. Lastly, we stand firm with our eyes up considering the good. It’s verses 8 and 9: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Keep our eyes on what is good. Try something for a moment: Don’t think about pink elephants. Don’t think about pink elephants. Don’t think about pink elephants. What are you thinking about? 

Let’s try it again: Don’t think about the election. Don’t think about the election. Don’t think about the election. What are you thinking about? I tried this all week and came up with the same results. 

Last time: Don’t think about how tired you are. Don’t think about how tired you are. Don’t think about how tired you are. What are you thinking about? How do you feel?

I think you get the point. We drive out the bad more by thinking about the good. There is a place for identifying what is wrong and dealing with it, but more often in our hearts and souls, we are better served by having our eyes up on the good. Sometimes the more we focus on avoiding thinking about sin or temptation or evil, the more time we actually spend thinking about it. By filing our minds with what is good, we will find ourselves better able to stand against all that is not. 

whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable…Instead of thinking of how to avoid lies, we should fill our minds with the truth. Instead of focusing on how to avoid shameful habits or activities, we should set our minds on what honors God and our neighbor. Focusing on the justice, purity, and beauty we do see will enable us to be able to stand firm against injustice, impurity, and ugliness in ourselves and in the world. 

Again, there is a place for identifying what is wrong, but we stand firm when we fill our minds and vision with what is right and good and fitting with God’s will. It is these things we are called to think about. Perhaps, most fittingly, when we have our minds fixed on the one who is the truth, who is glorious, who is just and merciful, who is holy, who is beautiful, who is worthy of praise – Jesus Christ – then we will be strengthened to stand and resist all that is evil in us and the world. 

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. What kind of posture should we have to stand firm? We should raise our hand in praise and rejoicing, knowing that the King is still on the throne and worthy of praise. We stand firm on our knees in prayer, bringing our thanksgiving and requests to God and receiving the peace only he can give. And we stand firm by fixing our minds on what is good and true and excellent – most of all, Jesus Christ. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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