The Second Sunday in Lent March 1, 2015
447, 155, 430(1-6), 430(7-8)
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.
There is a hymn that begins: “The world is very evil…” (TLH 605), and none of us Christians would disagree. In fact, as we get older we tend to see and understand more and more the depth of corruption, disobedience, hatred, and violence that so often characterizes the things that happen around us. I think every Christian wonders if his own generation is the worst. I know I can’t help thinking, “Things sure seem worse now than they used to be,” and maybe you feel the same. It is said that Martin Luther thought his own times were so godless and unholy that he wondered aloud if the Lord would even wait another 50 years before bringing it to an end!
It is impossible to say whether a particular generation can be labeled “worst ever.” Jesus’ own time was quite terrible and so were the days of the Apostle Paul. The fact is, human sin has been in the world since Adam and it is bad wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head. It is also true that the impenitent, unbelieving, and wicked will be here in the earth until the Last Day. Jesus teaches this in His parable of the weeds and wheat (Matthew 13:24ff).
But knowing that evil is here to stay until Christ’s second coming does not need to drive us to despair or to make us think, “Woe are we, there is no hope at all!” Instead, the Christian should learn, when facing an ungodly world, to do as the Apostle Paul says: “Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 NIV). Or, as he puts it in today’s text: “Stand firm in the Lord.” I. Follow the example of other Christians and II. Trust that your citizenship is in Heaven.
Who is a person who stands firm in the Lord? People who stand firm in the Lord are those who remain confident in what Jesus says even when others around them say, “You can’t trust Him!”
People who stand firm in the Lord are those who do not allow the voices of others to overrule the voice of their Savior.
People who stand firm in the Lord are people who live as those who are thankful that their sins have been forgiven by the death and resurrection of Jesus, who understand that they have been rescued from an eternal punishment and who now live as people who want to please God, who hate sin, and who seek after righteousness.
People who stand firm in the Lord are those who press on after Jesus no matter what.
Standing firm in the Lord is hard when there is so much pressure around us not to do so, when there is so much pressure to belittle, disbelieve, or ignore Christ’s Word. It is hard when there is so much pressure to conform to the ways of the world—to act like “everyone else does”—rather than to act like the forgiven children of God we are.
Paul talked many times with the Philippian Christians about the pressures that would be on them to turn away from Jesus, particularly about pressures from the outside: “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.” [v. 18 NIV] It is such a sad situation that it moves Paul to tears, but it is so true that many around us live as enemies of the cross of Christ. We need to watch out that we do not become so influenced by them that we are unable to stand firm in the Lord.
These “enemies of the cross of Christ” are described for us as those whose god is their stomach, whose glory is their shame, and whose destiny is destruction. It is easy to picture just these sorts of enemies. We hear of and know of those whose “god is their stomach”—people who are only interested in satisfying their own fleshly pleasures, who are driven only by their cravings for things like food and clothing, money and goods, power or prestige. These are the people who don’t look beyond what they can get for themselves that will make them comfortable.
We know of those too whose “glory is in their shame”—those who delight in doing what is evil. These are people who view their sinful actions and behaviors as great achievements. They take pride in things like their drunken escapades, their adulterous encounters, or their ungodly talk.
People like these have their minds on earthly things. They are people who do not care about their sins or the price Jesus paid on the cross to free them from their guilt. They are, instead, enemies of His cross; and unless they have a change of heart, they are headed for destruction.
These people are indeed around us. We encounter enemies of Jesus at our schools, at our jobs, perhaps even among our relatives. Certainly in the course of day-to-day activity we come into contact with those who do not love the Lord and are not interested in living in a way that pleases Him.
“Do not follow their example,” the Apostle says. Stand firm in the Lord! Instead of following what they do “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you,” [v.17 NIV] Paul told the Philippians. He tells them to choose their role models wisely.
You hear a lot of talk these days about role models. Adults are told to be good role models to give young people a wholesome pattern to copy. Children are told to look up to adults who have demonstrated honesty, integrity, good character and values. Many times adults don’t set good examples and many times children don’t choose good people to follow. As Christians, choose your role models wisely.
Pattern your lives after those who have demonstrated trust in Christ and godly behavior. Pattern your lives after friends or relatives who make their confidence in Jesus evident on the outside. This may even be those who have already passed away and yet you remember their examples, their love for the Lord Jesus and their trust in Him.
The Apostle Paul invited the Philippians to follow his own example. Not that he was so proud of himself or thought that he was without sin and a perfect model. Rather he encouraged the Philippians to follow his example because he was a repentant sinner who daily turned to Christ for forgiveness and who tried with every measure of his life to give glory to the Savior who had given him so much. The important thing is to pattern your lives after those who love the cross of Christ rather than after those who are enemies of it. Stand firm in the Lord, following the examples of other Christians.
Now if you think living a life that seeks to do the will of God makes you “different” or “out of the mainstream” compared to much of the world, then you’re right! But as Christians you realize that this present earth is not your permanent home anyway. You have reason to stand firm in the Lord, not because it will bring you glory and honor here, but because you know that you have already been given something far better in the life to come.
Why do we stand firm in the Lord? Because our citizenship is in Heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there. [cf. v. 20] This is the good news that keeps us pressing forward when we feel pressure from the enemies of the cross to forsake our faith. Think about it: You have citizenship in Heaven on account of Christ. That means you are already counted as one privileged to enjoy eternal life with Jesus. By His sacrifice on the cross, the price for your wickedness has been paid and you are declared “not guilty” and worthy to be residents of Heaven. Your true home is there. That’s where you belong, and that is what is prepared for you. Jesus said to His disciples, “I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).
Further, Jesus is coming back to raise your bodies from the dead, if you are already dead when He comes again. He is coming back to give you that life in the new world, free from sorrow and disappointment, death and struggle. “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).
This is no fairy tale or imaginary dream. The Lord Jesus Christ has the power to do these very things. He has real power to bring all things in the world under His control. He has real power to change these lowly, humble bodies of ours. When He raises these bodies from the grave He has the power to make them new and perfect—even immortal. Jesus can and will do this. This is the good news that the Apostle preached to the Philippians. It is good news that the enemies of the cross find foolish, but that we find uplifting and encouraging. This is good news that helps us to stand firm in the Lord.
Your citizenship is in Heaven. Stand firm in the Lord trusting that truth with your whole heart. When you feel pressure from others around you to stray from Christ, to turn from Him in unbelief, to travel down an unholy path, or when you are tempted to view life as one whose mind is only on earthly things—then take refuge in the good news that your real home is in Heaven for Christ has made it so. Press on toward that goal and know that the enemies of the cross of Christ cannot take away your joy in that cross.
Stand firm in the Lord! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.