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Stand Fast in the Lord

Philippians 3:17–4:1   

4:1 So then, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way keep standing firm in the Lord, my dear friends.

As you know, today is St. Patrick’s Day!  People everywhere will be marching in St. Patrick’s Day parades, celebrating their Irish heritage!  The thing is, Patrick isn’t even Irish!  He’s British—born in Britain over 1600 years ago!   So why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?  Well, when Patrick was sixteen, he was kidnapped by raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland.  After six years he escaped and eventually made his way home again.  And yet, he couldn’t shake the desire to go back and share Christ with his former captors.  So, at age 40, the church sent Patrick to Ireland as a missionary. 

The work wasn’t easy, though.  He faced death at least a dozen times, including once when the Druids kidnapped him and held him hostage for two weeks.  As Patrick repeatedly confroned human sacrifice, idol worship, immorality and witchcraft, and often doing so at risk to his own life, the question had to have crossed his mind a time or two, “Why am I doing this?”  How could he stand fast in the face of so much pressure to back down?

Every day the world we live in becomes more like the world Patrick lived in.  As our society slides further into paganism, we face more challenges to our faith and to living a godly life.  Positive role models are scarce.  Even within the church we have voices telling us that it’s okay to abandon the Bible’s moral teachings.  And as you and I get up every morning to fight the good fight of faith, maybe that same question has crossed our own minds a time or two: “Why am I doing this?”  How do we stand fast in a world that’s constantly pushing us to back down? 

Well, the same thing that enabled Patrick to stand fast is the same thing that enables you and I to stand fast: the Word of God.  And God’s Word to the Philippians reminds us that since our citizenship is in heaven, we stand fast—in the Lord!   


1.  Living the pattern.

The city of Philippi was unique among the cities of Greece because it was established as a colony for retired Roman soldiers.  So, as you listen to what Paul wrote, you pick up a distinct “military flavor” in his inspired words.  And yet these were words that the Christians in Philippi needed to hear.  The city they lived in afforded many opportunities to go astray, many temptations to fulfill every sinful desire you had.  How do you stand fast in the Lord in the face of those challenges and temptations?  “Brothers,” Paul said, “join together in imitating me and in paying attention to those who are walking according to the pattern we gave you” (v. 17).  Stand fast in the Lord, first of all, by living the pattern—the pattern of a Christian life!

And we learn to live the pattern of a Christian life by “paying attention” to those who are already walking the walk.  A powerful way to learn how to do something is by watching someone else.  Ask almost any teenager where they learned basic automotive repair and maintenance.  Sometimes they learn it from their parents; but now, for the most part, they learn it by watching Scotty Kilmer videos on YouTube.  It’s the same with learning to live a Christian life.  For you young people, it’s important to find someone to be your St. Paul:  a faithful believer who can mentor you in your own Christian life, someone who will let you look over their shoulder a little bit so you can watch what they do and see how they live.  If you’re older and have been living the pattern of a Christian life, then it’s just as important for you to start looking for a younger person to mentor, to help them with the nuts and bolts of a Christian life. 

Yet just watching isn’t enough, though, is it?  I mean watching is a good way to learn, but if you really want to learn how to do something, you actually have to start doing it.  And that’s why Paul invites us to become fellow imitators of him—to not only watch him march, but to get in line behind him and march!  That’s what Patrick was doing as he carried the gospel to Ireland.  He was following in the footsteps of Paul and every other evangelist and missionary who came before him.  We’re imitating the pattern, the template for what makes a Christian life—that template is the same for all of us.  The template that loves God with all our heart and loves our neighbor as ourselves.  The pattern that doesn’t just imitate Paul, but imitates Christ—Christ’s selfless love.    

So, what happens if we’re not living that pattern?  We wind up following a different pattern:  “To be sure, many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. I told you about them often, and now I am saying it while weeping.  Their end is destruction, their god is their appetite, and their glory is in their shame. They are thinking only about earthly things” (v. 18-19). 

Paul wept to think of what would happen if you follow the wrong pattern.  Following those who say that they’re Christian, but at the same time not only defend but loudly advocate for sins like adultery, abortion and homosexuality.  There’s a danger there, isn’t there?  And yet, there’s an even greater, more insidious danger:  following those who say they’re Christian, but who, by the way that they live, show that really follow other gods: money, possessions, and pleasure.  That person sets an example that leads more young Christians astray than any atheist biology professor.  “Their glory is in their shame.”  And the pattern of this world doesn’t end well.  “Their end is destruction.”  To just live for ourselves makes us enemies of the cross of Christ; it makes us people who hate the selfless sacrifice that Jesus was willing to make for us.

So what pattern are we living by?  Is our own personal comfort more important than living an openly Christian life?  Are we really all that concerned about the example that we’re setting—or following?  Or does it never cross our minds at all?  Are we living the pattern of Christ and His cross?  Or are we just following the pattern of this world?


2.  Loving the homeland. 

We deserve the destruction Paul is talking about as much as anybody else.  None of us has lived the pattern of a God-pleasing life perfectly.  None of us has set the perfect example for someone else to follow.  We haven’t always made good choices in who to follow, either.  So, then, why do we even bother?  Why do we even want to stand fast in the Lord?  It’s not just about living the pattern; it’s also about loving the homeland

These retired soldiers in Philippi understood what it was to have a homeland.  They were living in Greece, but their home, the place they really belonged?  It was Rome!  They were proud, registered Roman citizens who cherished the special privileges that citizenship entitled to them.  They dressed as Romans, spoke as Romans and lived as Romans—even though they were in Greece! 

Yet Paul now informs them that they are citizens in an even greater country:  “But our citizenship is in heaven. We are eagerly waiting for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.  By the power that enables him to subject all things to himself, he will transform our humble bodies to be like his glorious body” (v. 20-21). 

Our citizenship is in heaven!  And unlike a Roman soldier, we didn’t earn that citizenship.  It was a free gift!  Jesus followed the pattern of a holy life perfectly.  And He took that holy life all the way to the cross, where He redeemed us from our sins with His holy blood!  We are forgiven!  He has made us citizens of His heavenly kingdom through faith in Him!  And we have all the rights and privileges!  Our names are registered in the Book of Life.  Our prayers ascend to God’s throne.  And our lives are under His loving protection. 

And like any citizen soldier deployed in a foreign land, we can look forward to the day we can go home.  We look forward to the day when our Hero and Captain returns to transform our bodies from their weak, present form to be glorious like Him.  We can let that hope keep us going as we carry out the task at hand:  to stand fast in the Lord, living the pattern, marching together, striving to match our lives—not to each other, not even to St. Paul, but to Christ, and the pattern of the cross.  The pattern of love enables us to see each another as brothers and sisters, our joy and our crown. 

It was in that heavenly hope that St. Patrick kept preaching and teaching.  In that heavenly hope, he risked his own life in order to make himself a mentor to many Irish princes and princesses and led them to their Savior.  In a land where the people believed in spells and magic, he showed them the “good-spell”—the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the all-powerful Word of the Triune God.  In that heavenly hope, Patrick stood fast in the Lord.  So did Paul.  So did the Philippians.  And so do we.  Amen. 

Rely on God's Word for Victory

“Beware of the Dog” the sign on the fence read.  And behind that fence, stood a huge dog house, with the name “Killer” emblazoned across the top.  And lying in the doorway?  The biggest, meanest-looking rottweiler you’ve ever seen.  None of the neighborhood kids were dumb enough to jump the fence and try to pet “Killer.”  They valued their lives too much.    

And yet there is a threat out there worse than “Killer”.  The Devil likes to come off as a harmless pup, but once he has you in his jaws, it is next to impossible to escape.  In our own daily battles with temptation, how many times have we been stuck in the grip of his temptations?  If anyone needs a “Beware of…” sign, it’s the Devil. 

And yet what does Jesus do?  Does Jesus “beware” the Devil?  No!  He faces the Tempter head on!  He chooses to face Satan’s attacks with the same level of protection that we have, with His divinity “tied behind His back” to make it fair.  Only where you and I fail, Jesus succeeded!  He won the victory!  Because He relied on the greatest weapon against the Devil:  the written Word of God!  And since Jesus overcame the Devil’s temptations with that written Word of God, we also can rely on God’s Word for victory in our own daily battles with temptation.       


1.  Over the Devil’s seeds of doubt.

The Devil is crafty, like a grand master chess player.  For his opening move, the Devil waited till just the right moment.  After forty days of not eating, Jesus was hungry!  And wouldn’t you know it, that’s when the Devil showed up, and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread” (v. 3). 

Now do you see what the Devil’s doing here?  He was trying to plant seeds of doubt in Jesus’ heart.  Doubts about whether or not God was going to take care of Him and provide for His needs.  Here You are, Jesus, stuck in the desert with no food.  You can’t expect that Father of Yours to come and help You.  Why don’t you just tell that stone to become bread?  It will be okay, this one time.  You have the power; go ahead and use it!

It’s the same opening that the Devil’s been using for thousands of years.  He used it on Adam and Eve in the Garden when he asked Eve, “Did God really say…?”  And he’s still using it on us.  He wants us to doubt God.  To doubt God’s will for our lives.  To doubt who we are as God’s children.  To doubt whether God will keep taking care of us.  And once he fills us up with doubts, then the rest is easy.  Our doubts justify whatever we’re doing.  “Does God really care about that third helping of butter brickle ice cream?  Does it really matter?”  “I know God said sex outside of marriage is wrong—but I love this person!  Wouldn’t God say that it’s okay?” 

And yet, did you see how Jesus relied on God’s Word?  He said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God’” (v. 4).  He’s quoting from Deuteronomy, from God’s answer to the children of Israel when they themselves were wandering in the wilderness, wondering where their next meal was going to come from.  And that one Bible passage puts everything else in perspective.  Bread doesn’t give life; God’s Word gives life.  It’s God who by that same almighty Word grants us everything we need every day.  And it’s God who promises us in His Word that we can cast every care on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter). 

And we can rely on God’s Word for victory over the Devil’s seeds of doubt.  When we’re wrestling with doubts about God’s will—or even God’s love—we can answer just as Jesus did:  “Man shall not live on bread alone” (v. 4).  That’s what our Old Testament reading was all about.  There can be no doubt at all:  we didn’t get where we are in life all by ourselves; it’s God who has carried us to this point and given us all that we needed along the way.  Our lives are meant to give praise and thanks to Him! 


2.  Over the Devil’s false promises of glory.

Any good chess player has more than one strategy.  And the same is true of the Devil.  After Jesus cut of his first attack, Satan had another plan all ready to go.  When He can’t plant seeds of doubt, instead he goes to false promises of glory.    

From there, the Devil led Jesus up on a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and said, “I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, because it has been entrusted to me… So, if you worship me, it will all be yours” (v. 6-7).  He promised Jesus a shortcut.  He wouldn’t have to suffer; He wouldn’t have to bear the cross.  All He would have to do is commit idolatry, submit to the Devil, and the whole world—the world He came to save—would be His.  Quite the promise, isn’t it?  Satan makes those kind of promises all the time, promises of glory—if we would just follow his shortcuts.  But what happens when you take the Devil’s shortcut?  We can just ask Sammy. 

Sammy Sosa, slugger for the Chicago Cubs, had come out of nowhere to chase Mark McGwire for the single season home run record back in the mid 1990s.  But how did Sammy do it?  He cheated.  Performance enhancing drugs.  But the thing about cheating is: you become a slave to it.  And so, in the early 2000s, as his career was beginning to slide, he was caught cheating again by using a corked bat.  Sammy bought into the Devil’s shortcut.  “You’ll hit more home runs.  You’ll be more popular.  You’ll make more money.”  But since his retirement from baseball, Sammy Sosa’s pretty much been in a self-imposed exile.  Nobody in the Cubs organization wants to have anything to do with him. 

How many times have we been like Sammy?  How many times have we bought into the Devil’s shortcut—his promise of glory?  And yet, it’s a false promise.  The Devil lies.  And he’s still lying.  How many times has he promised us freedom, only to make us his slaves?   

Yet Jesus relied on God’s Word for victory over the Devil’s false promises.  He said, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (v. 8).  It all goes back to the First Commandment, doesn’t it?  When we’re tempted to put ourselves first and be in charge of our lives, God in His Word reminds us that He comes first, that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him—and not to us.  And that’s a good thing!  Especially when we remember that He sent His Son, Jesus, to free us from our slavery to the Devil—our slavery to sin.      


3.  Over the Devil’s twisting of the truth. 

The Devil had one more strategy up his sleeve.  Twice Jesus had answered his temptations with “It is written.”  And so now the Devil had his own “It is written” for Jesus. 

He led Jesus to Jerusalem and had Him stand at the highest point of the temple.  He told Jesus that if He’s the Son of God, He should jump off the top of the temple because, as the Devil said it, “It is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.’ And, ‘they will lift you up with their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (v. 10-11).  Satan quotes Psalm 91!  But something’s not right.  He’s twisted the meaning of the verse to make it sound like jumping off the temple would be the sign of someone who trusts in God.  “Go ahead, see if God’s Word is true!  Jump!”  He likes to twist the truth of God’s Word to convince us that doing something wrong—like killing yourself—is really an act of faith.  We might say it’s wrong to jump, but Satan will answer, “You’re not trusting in God enough!”  The Devil misuses Scripture to get us to do what he wants. 

Yet Jesus could still rely on God’s Word for victory!  He used the clear Word of God to clarify what the Devil had muddied up.  He points Satan to Deuteronomy 6:16, where it says, “You shall not test the Lord your God” (v. 12).  In other words, real faith trusts that God’s with us all the time.  So, we don’t need to take foolish risks and ride the razor’s edge of danger, just to prove that God is real. 

But did you see what Jesus did here?  He let a clear, simple Bible passage define a passage where the meaning was a little more difficult.  And that’s how you and I rely on God’s Word for victory over the Devil’s twisting of the truth.  We let Scripture interpret Scripture; we let clear Bible passages speak for Bible passages that are less clear.  We always seek to quote Scripture in its context, and let it speak for itself.      

And you and I can rely on that Word of God for victory over the Devil—even in the midst of our own defeats!  Every day the devil comes at us with both barrels of his lies and temptations.  And our skill at wielding the sword of the Spirit often leaves a lot to be desired.  So, we fail.  There are times when we’re weak, when his temptations get the better of us and we sin. 

And yet we still rely on the Word of God for victory!  On the Word that declares to us that the War is already won, that Jesus has already defeated Satan for us—not only here in the desert, but at the battle of the cross.  He crushed the serpent’s head by the power of His sacrifice, so that the Devil no longer has any power over us.  “One little word can fell him.”  And that word is Jesus.


And it’s His victory over the Devil—the victory of the living Word of God—that we rely on.  Join the Savior in the battle.  Join Him in fighting against the Devil’s lies and misdirection.  Join Him, relying on His Word to give us the victory, knowing that the victory—His victory—is already ours by faith.  Amen.

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