How Can We Stand Firm in the Middle of Crisis and Pandemic? #99
Happy Monday, Friends! Today is DAY 20 of Quarantine/Shelter In Place/Stay Home Order for us in rainy central California. Yes, I said rainy. Boo. I’m not complaining about shelter in place, because it actually seems to be working, and I am kind of glad that California was the first to begin issuing those sorts of orders, but like you, I’m praying for God to heal our land, and things return to the new normal. If you’re paying attention to the numbers and the graphs, today was an interesting day for the U.S. Maybe a good day, but let’s see if its an anomaly, or a trend. I’m praying for a trend!
Today’s Bible passages are: Leviticus 9, Psalms 10, Proverbs 24 and 1st Thessalonians 3. Our focus is on standing firm, which is the thing that prompted Paul to write his letter to the Thessalonians in the first place. The thing is, the Thessalonians were in a very similar place to where many of our churches are right now. The were undergoing a heavy, heavy trial. Not a plague of virus, but more a plague of persecution. Paul and Silas founded the church in Thessalonica, and initially things were going well. They preached in the Jewish synagogues there, and several Jews converted and began to follow Jesus, along with several God-fearing Greeks (who were Greek/Gentile people that had adopted some of the beliefs and customs of the Jews) and several prominent Thessalonian women. So the young church was a rather eclectic mix of Jews, Gentiles that had adapted Jewish customs, and then just regular old Greeks. Unfortunately, many of the remaining Jewish people in the synagogue – many of whom had rejected Paul and Silas’ teaching – they were apparently very upset and the founding of this new church, and the teaching of Paul and Silas, and they ignited a city-wide riot, which led to Paul and Silas leaving the city in order to help restore peace. Paul and Silas travelled to Berea and preached there, but the incensed Jewish people of Thessalonica sent a band of agitators to Berea, and they also vigorously opposed Paul and Silas.
So – this church in Thessalonica was just weeks or perhaps months old, and had very immature leadership, and their pastors/church planters were forced to leave the city. Again and again, Paul and Silas tried to come back and visit the Thessalonian church to encourage them, but again and again they were prevented from doing so. And this made Paul more and more concerned that the church might be undone by these attacks, and not standing firm. So, he sent Timothy to encourage the church and check on their wellbeing, and the letter of 1st Thessalonians is Paul’s response to the news that the church was doing well and walking in faith. Let’s read the short chapter now, paying special attention to Timothy’s report.
6 But now Timothy has come to us from you and brought us good news about your faith and love. He reported that you always have good memories of us and that you long to see us, as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and affliction, we were encouraged about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God for you in return for all the joy we experience before our God because of you, 10 as we pray very earnestly night and day to see you face to face and to complete what is lacking in your faith?1 Thessalonians 3:6-10
You can tell that Paul is absolutely brimming with joy when he hears that the church is STANDING FIRM in the Lord. Considering how young that church was, and considering how strong the opposition against them was, it is a genuine miracle that they were standing firm. The good news is that, even though their human pastors had left, their chief pastor/shepherd – Jesus, the head of the church, had never abandoned them. I am reminded of His promise:
14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep…27 My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”John 10:14-15 and 27-30
That passage, in turn, reminds me of the wonderful song In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend – one of my favorite modern worship songs, that my wife and daughters led our church to sing during our livestreamed worship time yesterday.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,In Christ Alone, Stuart Townend
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand:
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
This passage and the song it is based on give us our first clue and our first hope in standing firm during affliction: The power to stand does not come from ourselves, but from Christ our Savior and Preserver – the AUTHOR and the FINISHER of our faith. What else does God’s Word say to us about standing firm? Let’s begin with Philippians 4:1 – “So then, my dearly loved and longed for brothers and sisters, my joy and crown, in this manner stand firm in the Lord, dear friends.” Now, if you’re like most people you might only read one chapter a day of the Bible, and while it is great to read at least a chapter a day, sometimes we miss things when we don’t read bigger chunks of Scripture, like the meat of what Paul is saying in Philippians 4:1. He’s just finished telling the Philippians HOW to stand firm in the Lord in trials and afflictions, but you’ve got to go back a few verses to see it:
12 Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. 16 In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. 17 Join in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and pay careful attention to those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, 20 but our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself.Philippians 3:12-21
This one section here has several truths that will help you and I to stand firm in a situation like the one we are faced with now – when the whole world is shaking!
Step #1 – Forget what is behind. Worrying about the past is as counterproductive to standing firm as worrying about the future, which Jesus also cautions us about. We stand firm by trusting God TODAY and walking in HIS DAILY BREAD. (Remembering Matthew 6:34, “Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own“
Step #2 Pursue Heavenly goals, not earthly goals. This is an allusion to Seeking FIRST the Kingdom of God. We stand firm by, first and foremost prioritizing the love of God, the loving of our neighbor and the seeking of the King of God. Vs. 19 shows the deadly danger that comes from focusing on earthly goals – such a pursuit ends in destruction. But those who first pursue the king and His Kingdom – who follow Jesus – they have this amazing promise from Jesus in Matthew 19:29
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields because of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life.Matthew 19:29
#3 Focus on the Hope that is the Return of Jesus. We are citizens of Heaven, says Paul – and as citizens of Heaven, we eagerly await the Return of the King to establish His Heavenly/Earthly Kingdom forever. In that hope, and in the eager waiting for the return of Jesus, is strength to stand firm. TWICE in the very short letter of Paul to the Thessalonians here he refers them to the Second Coming of Jesus and tells them to take comfort, hope and encouragement in His return:
13 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For we say this to you by a word from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.1 Thessalonians 4:13=18
So – there’s three ways that we stand firm in the midst of global affliction and shaking. We don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow, but rest in God’s daily bread provision of protection for us. We pursue Heavenly goals and the Kingdom of God rather than earthly/worldly goals, and we anticipate, hope for, and rest in the hope of the Second Coming of Jesus. Let’s ask Charles Spurgeon to close us out with a brief comment on 1 Thessalonians 3:8
When I have seen God’s people steadfast, my fears have fled. Yes, I have said, the Lord keeps the feet of his saints. He is a wall of fire round about his own. If it were possible, the powers of evil would deceive the elect, but it is not possible. The saints are steadfast, and each steadfast one cheers his minister and helps him lay aside his anxieties and rejoice in the certainty that the gospel will triumph.Spurgeon, The Spurgeon Study Bible: Notes (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1614.
The steadfast people benefit our life by stimulating us to greater exertion. I believe the steadfast help the minister to a high degree of usefulness. When the man of God sees his people living to God at a high rate of piety, he speaks many things that otherwise he never would have spoken. He glories in the work of God, and with no bated breath or trace of hesitation, he points to his people and cries, “See what God has done!” He exults over converts with a holy joy. He cries, “See what they used to be and what they are now! See how life has been made to spring up in the midst of death and how light shines where before darkness reigned.” Take away the living evidences of divine power from the church, and you lower the preacher’s spirit at once and deprive him of power to demonstrate his commission by the signs that follow it. Of godly established Christians, I may quote the words of David, “Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them. They will never be put to shame when they speak with their enemies at the city gate” (Ps 127:5). The best answer to all the opponents of the old-fashioned gospel is the godly zeal of a fervent church.
And I would add to what Spurgeon says here that it is not only ministers that are excited and encouraged to see Christians standing firm, but also OTHER CHRISTIANS, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, etc.