In a recent sermon I called up one of my adult sons to come stand beside me. When he had settled next to me I suddenly and unexpectedly reached out and pushed him hard sending him flying off to my left.
The congregation laughed nervously as I once again invited him to stand beside me. Once again I pushed him and this time he only took a few steps to the left. A third time I asked him to stand beside me taunting him by saying “It sure is easy to push you buddy.” Then I turned and pushed him hard. This time he was ready and braced for what was coming. My hard shove accomplished nothing and, looking at me smugly, he stood his ground. Then I said to the congregation, “Now you see why it is essential for the Bible to warn us to stand firm.”
For the past 18 months I have been preaching through Philippians. Although it's often only seen as an ode to joy and a gold mine of encouraging verses to put on fridge magnets, there is also a great depth of teaching to enhance maturity. One dominant theme that runs through it, and most of Paul's epistles, is his concern for believers to be spiritually stable.
After a Gentile church was established at Antioch, Barnabas was sent by the Jerusalem church to help them and we're told that when “he arrived and witnessed the grace of God… [he] rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord” (Acts 11:23). To this new growing Gentile church the message was clearly one of spiritual stability. To the Corinthians Paul wrote, “therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Later on he wrote, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). In his famous passage dealing with spiritual warfare, Paul three times commands believers to stand firm (Ephesians 6:11, 6:13, 6:14). Early on in Philippians Paul expressed his desire for stability this way: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). To the Colossians he wrote, “For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5). To know what the Bible says about assaults against you will make you stronger and more resistant. You need to know!
So what did Paul mean by standing firm? In the same way that my assault on my son caused him to fall and become unstable, so the Church has always been assaulted by the unholy trinity: the world, our flesh, and Satan. The world tempts us to compromise our moral standards and relax our stated purpose to serve and glorify God. Our flesh is our fallen, unredeemed humanness, which constantly struggles to be unrestrained and is so very vulnerable and easily tempted to sin. And Satan is lion-like in his aggression to see us lose faith in God, become angry and weary in our disappointments and practice moral and spiritual apathy as a result. The knowledge of what God says about these assaults is absolutely necessary when it comes to our being able to withstand them.
To succumb to these attacks makes us spiritually unstable. This instability leads to disappointment with ourselves and others. It makes us doubt God's attributes and existence and discourages our belief that Jesus offers a solution to problems. All of which renders us ineffective and useless witnesses for Jesus.
Knowing that this assault is always imminent, Scripture warns us to be ready when the unholy trinity attacks and to resist and stand firm. To us and the believers of his time Paul writes, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The answer to instability is the knowledge of and adherence to God's powerful and holy Word and the day by day reliance upon His Spirit for strength and hope.
So before push comes to shove and we're destabilized, let's get to know the Word.