Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
Paul has reasoned how Jesus is our example of humility. He gave up his rights as God, he took on a lowly position, and he sacrificed himself for others. Those who work with Paul exhibit these same qualities. The Philippian believers are important to Paul. He founded their church and they have taken care of him since. When Paul thinks of how God used him to reach this people and when he sees how they have grown, it fills him with joy. However, although he loves his spiritual progeny profusely, he can not let them fall away because of internal strife and conflict. It is with this in mind that he tells them to stand firm.
Militarily, to stand firm is to protect a defensive objective. When one is attacked, one takes their shield and forms a shield wall on a high point. This defensive, shielded position is hard to break. It can not be outflanked or charged by cavalry and because it is dug in it has an advantage over marching units. What is attacking the Philippians? It would be easy to say Satan and his minions. In every destructive attack we face, there is an element of evil. However, what is the particular onslaught that Paul is addressing? It is slander, gossip, and divisiveness. I see these as flowing out of a corrupted heart, a heart that is twisted by the affects of sin. Slander is often rooted in fear. If I fear that justice is not being done, I fear that I am not safe. Either the rules that I believe protect me are not upheld, or I have felt wounded by one who has attacked me, so I feel justified in seeking revenge. Slander is often justified by the one who slanders. It is usually because it is responsive (in some even reflexive). In fact, even when it does not seem directly in response to an obvious attack, it is usually a protective response to a wound from childhood or life’s experiences. Gossip is also spread abroad by weak people. They seem strong because they tear down those with whom they are in competition. However, if we are full we already have all that we need. We do not have any threats and so we have no need to belittle a rival – we don’t have a rival. Gossip is often an attempt to show how beneath us others are. It is laced with contempt. We claim we would never dress, talk, parent, or behave the way another does. Thirdly, divisive people battle because they are in a war. The war is often created by them and winning is the only possible option. Why does the divisive person need to divide and conquer? They do not accept themselves as loved and precious (which I believe is related to Paul’s admonitions), so they have to form a team which is on their side. In their winning team comes their fragile security.
The answer to standing firm against these temptations is to accept that we are safe and secure in the fortress of God. As Luther wrote in his famous hymn, “A mighty fortress is our God.” We are sheltered by his wings, we hide in him like we hide in a cleft of rock from a storm. We are safe and so there is not need to come out from that safety to fight in battles that could harm us. We contend for the truth, of course, but we do not fight to elevate ourselves. Jesus is ours. He fills our hearts with love. This filling is constant and overflows. Since no-one can take away what God has given me, I often find myself fighting for things I don’t need. It’s as silly as my children fighting over who gets the first carrot at lunch time. If they stopped to think how their father provided carrots for them yesterday and the day before, they wouldn’t squabble as though this carrot was the last one.
Finally, we have to acknowledge that those who have taken care of themselves for years and not been broken and learned dependence on God might be more prone to fight. Those who have experienced great pain and sorrow, and who saw no purpose to it, may have a harder time embracing God’s provision. However, as I sat in a group with many openly broken people last night, it was strange to see the beauty of their perspective. They believed that in spite of having reached the end of themselves and being sinned against mightily, or God releasing them into their own depravity, they now cling to God more nearly and pursue him more fervently. Seeing them now standing firm in the face of such darkness is a mystery. However, it is a joy to those who, like Paul, are reminded by the testimony of God’s plan and provision.
Father, I am tempted to despair. I do not feel adequate to teach and I want you to teach through me. I do not feel that it is easy to make the right stand with my children, give me wisdom. Turn our minds to your power and compassion when we are tempted to fight and become offensive. The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.
- What previous points might Paul be building upon when he writes, Therefore’?
- Why does Paul use so many relational, emotional words around his command to stand firm?
- When you picture a person standing firm, what do you picture?
- How might you need to stand firm in God’s provision and care and cease going on the offensive?
- How can you encourage someone else to stand firm?