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How to Stand Firm
As a young man Philip was kidnapped and held as a hostage in Greece. There he remained for several years. During this time he received a military education. Then he returned to his homeland, which had conceded many defeats and had lost much land. Within five years he had become king.
Philip II of Macedon desperately needed his army to stand firm. He is remembered for two major innovations. First is the sarissa, a very long spear. Second is the re-development of a rectangular military formation used by ancient armies (known as a phalanx). A core of highly-trained infantrymen armed with Philip’s longer spears stood shoulder to shoulder in files normally eight men deep.
As long as they stood firm and did not break rank they were virtually invincible and struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. Using this tactic, Philip united the city-states of Greece and took the city of Philippi (which is named after him) in 356 BC.
Sometimes, it seems that the Christian life is like facing a powerful enemy. It feels like an intense struggle in which another team is attempting to push us back and break down our ranks. If we don’t stand firm, we fall on our backs and slide in the mud in the wrong direction. We have seen how Jeremiah warned the people many times against backsliding (Jeremiah 2:19, 3:22, 5:6, 14:7, 15:6).
It is not a matter of us standing firm on our own. , We are part of a community. Paul uses this image of the phalanx with which Philip II of Macedonia once conquered the city of Philippi (Philippians 1:27). Shoulder to shoulder, the church can stand firm. This is one of many occasions that Paul exhorts the church to ‘stand firm’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
1. Get a firm grip on your heart and your eyesPsalm 119:33-40
It has been said that ‘a great oak is only a little nut that held its ground.’ The temptation to fall away and backslide usually begins with our heart and eyes. The psalmist clearly experienced a battle within himself. He wrote, ‘Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things’ (vv.36–37a).
So often, our backsliding begins by setting our hearts on what’s in it for us, or allowing our eyes to wander onto ‘worthless things’ (v.37) or as The Message puts it, ‘Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets’.
The reality is that when we turn our hearts and eyes to God’s words, then we can stand firm. The psalmist speaks of God’s word as the place where he finds delight (v.35) and where he experiences perseverance (v.37,40). This is because God’s ‘laws are good’ (v.39). The psalmist prays, ‘Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end’ (v.33). Jesus said, ‘whoever stands firm to the end will be saved’ (Matthew 24:13).
Lord, help us to find delight in your words. Turn our hearts away from ‘selfish gain’ and our eyes from ‘worthless things’ (vv.36–37).
2. Hold firmly to the truth of the gospel2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
In this passage, Paul urges his readers to persevere and stand firm, holding firmly to the truth of the gospel.
He warns the Thessalonians against being deceived. He writes, ‘Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way’ (v.3). He says, do not ‘become easily unsettled or alarmed’ (v.2).
Satan is a deceiver. Paul warns about ‘the coming of the lawless one’ which ‘will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives’ (v.9). Those who ‘refuse’ to ‘love the truth’ will be taken in by ‘a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie’ (vv.10–11).
We are not to be taken in by those ‘saying that the day of the Lord has already come’ (v.2). When Jesus returns, it will be obvious to everyone. There will be great darkness before the dawn (vv.3–7), but then the powers of evil will be revealed. These powers are absolutely nothing compared with Jesus. ‘And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming’ (v.8).
The early church lived in daily expectation of the second coming of Jesus. So should we. Martin Luther said, ‘I live as though Jesus Christ had been crucified yesterday, had risen this morning and was coming again tomorrow’.
Whilst we wait for Jesus’ return, we must stand firm. Paul has every confidence that the Thessalonians will do so. What is true of them is true of every Christian. They are ‘loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved by the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (vv.13–14).
We have our part to play. We have to ‘stand firm and hold to the teachings’ (v.15) of the New Testament. However, the reason that we can be so confident in standing firm to the end is because of the love of God, ‘the sanctifying work of the Spirit’ and the power of the gospel which enables us to share in the glory of Jesus Christ (vv.13–14).
So Paul writes, ‘may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word’ (vv.16–17).
Encouragement is like sunshine. It warms our hearts and brings light to our lives. God himself has given us ‘eternal encouragement’ and now wants to ‘encourage our hearts’ (vv.16–17).
God encourages so that we may encourage and help others ‘in every good deed and word’ (v.17). We are encouraged to live like Jesus ‘who went around doing good’ (Acts 10:38).
Thank you that we are loved by the Lord and that one day we will share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to stand firm, holding onto the truth of the gospel in spite of opposition.
Thank you, Lord, that in this confrontation, you stand shoulder to shoulder with us. Thank you for your love and the work of your Spirit in our hearts. Thank you for your grace and your encouragement and your strength.
3. Stand firm together as a strong communityJeremiah 29:24-31:14
You are not on your own. God never intended you to fight your battles alone. He called you to be a part of a strong, healthy, vibrant, growing community of his people. Together we can stand firm, not only resisting falling back but moving forward together, as we see in this passage.
Jeremiah warned the people against being deceived by false prophets. ‘This is what the Lord says … Shemaiah has prophesied to you, even though I did not send him, and has led you to believe a lie … he has preached rebellion against me’ (29:31–32).
Yet, in spite of the fact that Israel had backslidden – ‘your guilt is so great and your sins so many’ (30:14) – God promises that he will restore them, ‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds … I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents and have compassion on his dwellings; the city will be rebuilt’ (vv.17–18). He promises at least four things:
- Joyful worship
There will be ‘songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing’ (v.19a). There will be shouts of joy, ‘they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord … They will be like a well-watered garden … they will sorrow no more’ (v.12). ‘I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty’ (31:13–14).
- Numerical growth
There will be growth and no decrease in numbers: ‘I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased’ (30:19b). Numerical growth is a blessing from God. We should pray for it, plan for it and prepare for it.
- Strong community
Their ‘community will be established’ (v.20), ‘a community in which I take pride’ (v.20, MSG) – something strong and immovable. We are not on our own. We need one another to help and support each other and enable us together to stand firm.
- Good leadership
The leader will be one of their own, ‘their ruler will come from their own ranks’ (v.21, MSG). Someone with the same vision and who walks in a close relationship with God: ‘I will bring him near and he will come close to me, for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?’ (v.21b). This is the challenge for all of us as individuals and as the church – that we should devote ourselves to getting close to the Lord.
God loves his people with an ‘everlasting love’ (31:3). God told them ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!’ (MSG). He promises to rebuild and restore (v.4). He ‘ “will watch over his flock like a shepherd.” For the Lord will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they’ (vv.10–11).
Lord, thank you for these amazing promises. Even when our guilt is great and our sins are many, you promise to restore. Thank you that you forgive our backsliding. Thank you that you have redeemed us through the blood of Jesus Christ. Thank you that you love us with an everlasting love. Thank you that you turn our mourning into gladness and bring us comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
Help us to stand firm as individuals and as a community in our local church and in the church in our nation. May there be sounds of thanksgiving. May our numbers increase and not decrease. May our community be firmly established. May the leaders of the church devote themselves again to you today. May we be those who stand firm to the end and are saved.
‘Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.’
Delight is such a wonderful word. The last place you would expect to find it is in obeying commands.