May 11, 2020
The why and how of Christian stability.
he Apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the church at Philippi during his first imprisonment in Rome. During that time of incarceration, no doubt he thought often of the little congregations he had established on his missionary journeys. We sense his affection for the believers in Philippi in his words, “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved” (Philippians 4:1). Paul obviously was concerned for their success.
Perhaps the Apostle reflected back to when that church began at the riverside where some women had gathered to pray. There were not many Jews in Philippi, so rather than following his usual practice of going first to the synagogue to preach, Paul had gone where he knew people assembled for worship. Lydia, one of those women by the riverside, was the first convert in Philippi. Then some of her family members turned to Christ. Another early convert was a certain damsel who had been marketed by her masters for gain. When she was saved, those masters were irate, which led to Paul and Silas, his traveling companion, being thrown into jail.
It was there in that jailhouse where some more Philippian citizens came to the Lord—the jailer and his household. Elsewhere in Paul’s epistle, we read of two other women who were part of the Philippian congregation: Euodias and Syntyche. These people were the beginning of the church at Philippi, and Paul’s heart went out to them as he encouraged them to stand fast in the Lord.
The importance of standing fast
The importance of standing fast is alluded to in some of Paul’s other epistles, where it is evident that everyone who started in the Gospel did not stay in it. Paul’s heart was heavy as he wrote to those individuals, imploring them to continue in what they had previously learned from him and the other Apostles. It is one thing to start and another to finish, and that is where standing fast comes in. We want to finish! We have begun in this Gospel way, and by the grace of God, we want to continue to the end of this race.
It is one thing to start and another to finish, and that is where standing fast comes in. We want to finish!
Paul reminded the saints at Philippi that a better day was coming. In Philippians 3:20 we read, “For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven.” We are citizens of a better land! One of these days, the trumpet will sound and we will be raptured, to enjoy all the special privileges of heavenly citizenship. Paul went on in the next verse to explain that these physical bodies of ours will be “fashioned like unto his [Jesus’] glorious body.” Directly following that statement in Paul’s letter is the word “therefore.” So, based on the fact that a better day was coming, Paul instructed these believers with the text cited earlier, “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.”
Where we stand matters
Notice that Paul specifically said they were to stand fast “in the Lord.” It matters where we stand! This past December, Debbie and I traveled to southern Africa. The first leg of our return flight took us from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Atlanta, Georgia—a sixteen-and-one-half hour flight. In Atlanta, we disembarked at one terminal and needed to go by train to another terminal to board our next plane. As we came down an escalator, probably not thinking too clearly after the long flight, I saw ahead of us the open doors of the train. There was a blinking red light above the doors and to me that light meant, “Hurry, for the doors are about to close.” To Debbie, it seemingly meant, “Stop, for the doors are about to close.” I ended up on the train, looking at her outside the train as the doors were closing. We were standing in two different spots! Debbie had a somewhat panicked look on her face, and I probably had a look of dismay on mine. I quickly did what the sign says not to do—inserted myself between doors so they would not shut. I thought she would look at me with admiration as she stepped onto the train but that was not the case. It seems she thought I should have stood fast beside her, and simply waited for the next train.
In terms of our Christian lives, we want to stand in the right place, which is “in the Lord.” We want to remain fixed and secure there until we reach the portals of glory.
In terms of our Christian lives, we want to stand in the right place, which is “in the Lord.” We want to remain fixed and secure there until we reach the portals of glory. The storms of life will come, bringing potential for discouragement and dismay. Circumstances will arise that could shake our footing and threaten to destabilize us. Perhaps something like that had happened in the church of Philippi. Whatever their exact circumstances, Paul reminded these believers to stand fast in the Lord. In essence, he was saying, “You took a position when you were saved; now you must continue to remain there with the resolve to make Heaven your home.”
When we stand fast, others benefit as well. Children benefit when they have parents who remain steadfast in the Lord over the years. Grandchildren benefit as well. No one benefits when there is a turning away! In all my years as a Christian, I have never seen a person better himself by turning from the faith. We want to stand fast in the Lord, and doing so is not difficult. Following are five attitudes and actions that will ensure success.
How to stand fast
We must be determined. Standing fast is not standing down. The instruction to “stand down” typically means to cease action—to back off and do nothing. Standing fast is different; it is an action of decisiveness. It shows tenacity. It is being unrelenting and determined.
We saw an example of determination recently in our three-year-old grandson George. He and his siblings had received some sweets, and he knew his parents would not approve of him taking that candy to church. However, he was determined to do so, and he had a plan. His Sunday best that morning included a cap. When he got to church, our son noticed that George’s hat was a bit awry. He reached over to straighten it, and when he did so, George’s candy fell out! You have to give our grandson credit for determination.
The Word of God includes many examples of individuals who showed determination. For instance, we see it exhibited in 2 Kings, chapter 2, when Elisha was determined to stay with the prophet Elijah despite the opposition from his peers. He even faced discouragement from Elijah at one point. When Elijah told him to stay behind while he went on to Jordan, Elisha said, “As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee” (2 Kings 2:6). That is what it takes to stand fast. The Gospel way is not for the faint of heart. It will take determination and perseverance.
We must be unified. That is what Paul was saying to Euodias and Syntyche when he admonished them in Philippians 4:2 to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” Paul was not suggesting that these women needed to think alike regarding every matter. Christians will not always be of the same mind regarding favorite recipes, career choices, political viewpoints, or a wide range of other matters. We come from different backgrounds, we have different personality types, and these will shape our opinions and preferences.
We must learn to distinguish between personality and carnality. Carnality includes actions or thoughts that flow from the fallen nature of the human race. Personality is different.
We must learn to distinguish between personality and carnality. Carnality includes actions or thoughts that flow from the fallen nature of the human race. Personality is different. Some people are more outgoing and others are more withdrawn; perhaps some are viewed as too overpowering and others are viewed as too laid back. That is personality.
We do not know what happened between these two women to cause Paul to call them by name and encourage them to be of the same mind in the Lord. However, the implication was that they were to put conflict aside. They were to be unified, and that is what Paul would exhort for us as well. We are to have a determination to uphold the work of the Lord together, understanding that God uses our differences to accomplish His purposes. We want to thank God for one another, and labor together in a united manner.
We must be joyful. In Philippians 4:4, Paul counselled the believers, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” Clearly, he felt the necessity of having joy was worthy of repeating.
Our daughter’s name is Alicia Joy and our son’s daughter has the same middle name; she is Margaux Joy. She is nine years old. While Margaux usually exemplifies the characteristic of her middle name, she can be a bit dramatic at times. She has four brothers; that might be justification for occasional frustration. One day a couple of years ago, she told my wife, “I do not know why they named me Margaux Joy, because I am not very happy.” As I said, she can be dramatic!
There is strength in being joyful! There is power! We should not allow anything or anyone to rob us of our joy. After all, we have the Lord, and that is enough to cause us to be joyful whatever our current circumstances.
Her proclamation reminds me of Proverbs 17:22, which says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” A merry heart—a joyful heart—has value. The prophet Nehemiah said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). There is strength in being joyful! There is power! We should not allow anything or anyone to rob us of our joy. After all, we have the Lord, and that is enough to cause us to be joyful whatever our current circumstances.
Paul did not have a morose spirit, even though he endured many hard places. As noted earlier, he was imprisoned when he wrote this epistle. In Acts 20, he told the saints at Ephesus that wherever he went, bonds and afflictions awaited him. However, he added, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy” (Acts 20:24). Joy is a condition that is independent of circumstances.
No one begins the Christian life feeling downhearted. Of course, when we approach God as sinners seeking salvation, we have remorse and godly sorrow for sin. However, once we ask the Lord to forgive us and receive the assurance that He has done so, the joy of Heaven comes in. We rejoice! That is how Paul began the race, and he set his sights on finishing his course with that same attitude—with joy. That is the attitude we want to have at each point throughout our life, by the grace of God.
We must be prayerful. Our men’s quartet sings a song that includes the words, “Down on my knees I learned to stand.” That is where we will learn to stand fast in the Lord—through prayerfulness. In Philippians 4:6 we read, “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” If we choose prayerfulness over fretfulness, it will bring us peace; it will hold us steady. Paul referenced that in verse 7, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
The Psalmist David was one who learned the power of prayer. In Psalm 5:3 he declared, “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” Does God hear your voice in the morning? Has God heard your voice this morning? In Psalm 55:16-17, he repeated the same thought, “As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.” The Lord likes the sound of our voices! If we want to be steadfast in Him, we must be prayerful.
We must be mindful of our thoughts. Paul advised the Philippians, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). If our purpose is to stand fast in the Lord, this is good counsel for us as well. We want to read wholesome content, associate with wholesome people, and engage in wholesome conversations. Doing so will help our thoughts stay focused on wholesome topics.
Paul concluded by telling the Philippian saints, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:9). These believers had spent time with Paul. They had heard sound doctrine from him, and had seen him model those teachings in his own life. Now he was telling them that if they wanted to stand fast in the Lord, they needed to recall what they had learned and received from him, and do likewise. If they did, the God of peace would be with them. They would stand!
The end result of standing fast
Today, like the saints of God in Philippi, we can remain steadfast in the Lord. If that is the purpose of our hearts, we will not find the Gospel way hard or laborious. We will not go through life as if we are half defeated; we will have an upbeat spirit because we have hope! We have confidence that as we stand in the Lord, when the trumpet sounds, we will be among those raptured out of this old world and found rejoicing around the throne of God.