Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Stand and Strive

Saint Paul wishes to see the Philippian Christians standing firm in one spirit and striving together for faith in the gospel.  This is the life worthy of the gospel of Christ, that they stand firm in the Spirit and faith that Paul gave to them, that they strive to remain in the one true faith.

            This is Paul’s desire so much that he rejoices in his own suffering because it serves to advance the gospel in which they stand.  While he is imprisoned others have picked up the slack and proclaimed the Word of Christ in fearless fashion.  More people are preaching the gospel because Paul is in jail, and that makes him happy.

            Paul desires them to stand and strive so much so that he is convinced that he should stay on this earth alive so that he may work harder and serve the Philippians with the gospel.  His greatest desire is to depart and be with Christ, that his suffering on this earth would be done and that he could be in Paradise, complete rest from his labor.  

But more than his personal comfort, Paul wants to be God’s instrument in strengthening the faith of the Philippians.  If it were up to Paul (and I should stress here that it is not) he would stay and labor so that the faith of the Philippian Christians would grow.

The reason for this is two-fold: that their opponents would receive a sure sign of their destruction and that the Philippians themselves would receive a clear sign of their salvation.  

The world hates people who stand firm in the Spirit of God, who hold fast to the truth rather than being swayed by the wind.  It was true 2000 years ago at the time of Paul’s writing, and it is equally true today.

Why can’t the Christians just get on the right side of history?  Why can’t we be open to worshipping more than one god, to say that Jesus was just a man?  Why can’t we simply endorse abortion, homosexuality, pornography, gossip, and other blatant evils?  Can’t we just cave in and go with the flow?

Why does the world want that?  Because seeing people hold fast to one God shows the futility of all other so called gods and idols.  Because seeing a group of people who will not endorse their evil behavior, who not put a rubber “OK” stamp on the wicked desires of the human heart, makes people feel bad.  It makes them feel guilty.  And with good reason.  They are guilty.  They just don’t want to admit it.

It is a sign of their destruction.  It is a call to repentance.  It is evidence that they are falling far short of what they were created to be.  

Of course this is why we need each other too.  This is one reason why Christians need to gather together, not just listen to worship on the radio.  I need to see others living lives of firm faith so that I see where I need to repent.  

This man is more faithful in attendance than I am.  This woman is more pious in her speech.  This family expresses their love for one another more clearly than I do.  These things bring forth guilt and drive us back to Christ, to receive His full and abundant pardon through His death.

Of course Jesus Himself is the one who stood firm in the Spirit of God.  He is the one who strove for perfect faith and achieved it.  He was not frightened by His opponents, but rather always met their challenges with sure confidence in His heavenly Father. 

That is why the world hated Him.  He was too good.  He was too perfect.  He showed them, and us, all the things we are doing wrong.  And He showed us that he is the only hope that we have of being what we were created to be.  He is our one exclusive chance at repentance and forgiveness before God.  There is no other.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is not one legitimate option among many.  It is our only possibility.  Jesus is all.

Stand firm in one spirit.  Strive for the faith of the gospel.  Hold fast to Jesus, for that is a clear sign of your salvation given from God.

When the world presses us to cave in, yet we cling fast to Jesus, it is a sign to them and to us that we are in fact God’s children, for we know that only the Holy Spirit can produce such faith.  Only God Himself can keep us grounded.  Only the Spirit of God can move us to strive for the one true faith.

It has long been part of the Lutheran confession that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, or come to Him.  But rather the Holy Spirit has called us by the gospel, enlightened us with its gifts, sanctified and kept us in the one true faith.  

The Spirit works through the gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to call us to faith.  That faith, so empowered by the Spirit, stands firm and strives to endure strong in God’s Word.  And being thus immersed in God’s Word, faith is strengthened to stand and strive.

Our greatest temptation is that when we struggle, when the world presses in on us, we drift away from the Word of God, we put distance between us and the Spirit.  We cut ourselves off from the very thing that can save our lives.  We need to hear the promise of God when the world presses us.  We need it then more than ever.

It becomes a beautiful cycle.  We hear God’s promise that Jesus has stood firm and striven through all manner of suffering, even death, to ensure that we will stand with Him on the Last Day.  That promise is used by the Holy Spirit to build faith in us, to stand us firm on the work of Christ.  

Faith then wants more of Jesus, more of the promise, more of God’s Word.  So it feasts on the Bible, sermons, hymns, worship, communion, devotion, conversations with other Christians; faith cannot get enough.  It strives to receive more of the gospel.

The more gospel we receive, the more we want.  The firmer we stand, the more we strive.  And it is all the work of the Spirit through the Word.  God is building your faith.  He is shoring up its foundations.  He is fortifying its walls.  

Paul’s hope, his deep desire, was that his life would be useful to aid the Philippians in standing firm in the Spirit and striving for the faith.  My hope is the same.  My desire is that you will be the fruit of my labor.  No matter what becomes of me in this life, you will stand firm in Jesus Christ.  You will strive for and thrive under the grace of God.  The Holy Spirit will see it done. 

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