Deep down we all know it. We’re weak. And we hate it. And there’s a whole market out there that knows and caters to it. The bestseller lists and bookstand fillers, the supermarket checkout magazine covers, those online listicles: “12 ways to up your flannel game”; “Timeless truths to live your life by”; “7 principles for cool dads”. There’s a whole slew of principles providers out there and there’s a natural inclination to seek them out – to box life in, to shape life up, to make things stronger. Many will provide and we’ll always be looking for ways to be standing firm. This morning Paul’s telling that, contrary to what we’ve heard or read or felt, standing firm = watching & waiting.
This idea comes in Paul’s letter to the congregation at Philippi. It’s a letter of joy – no big condemnations going on. It’s encouragement, friendliness, but there are some warnings. Paul’s warning this morning is a little like that now over-familiar song on the radio about temptations. It goes like this:
One sip, bad for me – One hit, bad for me – One kiss, bad for me – But I give in so easily And no thank you is how it should’ve gone I should stay strong – But I’m weak, and what’s wrong with that? Boy, oh boy I love ya when I fall for that… (Songwriters: Adam Metzger / Jack Metzger / Ryan Metzger; Weak lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.)
That’s just like what Paul warns us off of here. There is the principle out there of just giving in, taking in, enjoying whatever. Temptations from v.19 to have all the worldly things around us be in our minds, be our way of life – your existence is your mortgage or your Amazon shopping list or the next spring outfit. Maybe a brand of that: to worship the stomach – to worship the feelings these bodies have and to feed the desires these hormones and brains and nerves bring. And he includes the progression in that vein, to take pride and glory in the things that are shameful according to God’s Word – every illicit kiss, or illegal hit, or excess sip – like the song: I’m weak, but I love it.
And the warning hits home because I don’t think Paul means just the gross and obvious sins out there in the world. He warns because the enemies are many right here among us – that there are plenty of “Christian” people whose principles you can find and follow, ones who embody these temptations. Ones who say that Jesus would want you to be happy – he’d never box you in with that kind of doctrine. Or that God would never be that judgmental. Or that God made you to feel these things. But these are enemy thoughts, enemy propaganda. Paul calls them, “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Ideas that oppose the central figure and the central symbol of God’s Word. Making life stronger by giving in to sin or finding confidence in the sinful world is exactly opposite the truth of the cross. That Jesus had to come in weakness and die because sin demanded death payment and left unchecked only contributes to weakness that leads to eternal death. And that’s how Paul warns us. These temptations lead to destruction because they separate us from the saving work of Christ at his cross. They call us to put our trust in the strength of the sinful world. They leave us to revel in the guilt and the filth of sin.
So he calls us to watch… He says, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” It’s like Paul’s asking us to do what many of us normally do. We go out there into the world and we recognize that some examples are terrible and some role models are dangerous. But some are excellent. Those ones you curate, don’t you? You’ve got your small stable of writers you like or blogs you share, novels you love; there are articles you clip; recipes you save. Paul calls you to “take note of” and curate your folder, your list of Christian men and women who follow his example – and to follow that pattern.
What kind of pattern? The kind that takes up Christ’s cross and follows him…
- Perhaps Jeremiah’s example this morning. Observe those who have stared the angry world in the face, have looked bamboozled “believers” in the eye and have spoken God’s Word even when it was dangerous or hard. Boldly speak the truth like them.
- Paul’s example – Romans 7. Take note of men and women who confess that they’ve sinned, they struggle with temptations, they fail; and their only joy is in Christ who wins the victory. Recognize and repent and rejoice like them.
- Or like Paul in chapter 3. See the people who are running the race – with or without worldly success, they’re pressing on to win the prize of their heavenward call – that’s what they think about and plan about and consider; it’s what they study, it’s in that they worship; their minds are focused on heavenly things. Imitate their example and look up.
Because standing firm = watching out for all the temptations of this world by watching for and imitating these ones. And standing firm = waiting like these ones too. Waiting with a longing for what our Savior can do.
Just think of it this way: so often in our lives, we are longing for change of some kind. We want to get to the new house or make it out of this health stage or find a better job. We become dissatisfied with relationships or we want new things. Some of those are natural and easy and even right. Sometimes they become temptations that pull our eyes away from who we really are. Paul reminds that we don’t belong in this world. No – “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ who…will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
Don’t we confess this expectation each week? That we’re not enamored of this sinful world? That we don’t need its powers and principles to change life into something great? That we actually already are loved and longed for by God? We do. Every time we confess the creed together we tell of who God is and what he’s done and who we are. That we’re ones who know a Savior who ardently drove on till his crucifixion death, who rose again to life, and who “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” And because his Holy Spirit works faith, we receive the life he gives and rejoice in the rule he exercises. We worship him and revere his Word, and in his Church we find forgiveness for our daily sins and peace for life in this world. In fact, while we’re watching for good examples and following Christ, “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
Paul’s encouragement this morning is related to that confession. If we’re looking for change and glory and confidence and joy, it comes in the Savior who has done and will do glorious things. In fact, if we trust that he rules and he will raise the dead and he will provide eternal life, then, “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control” like that, he will also change all the things that seem weak and broken into life and joy with him finally. Strong, confident life is living in this grace of our Lord and relying on his power to bring us from lowly to glory. It is knowing that true glory isn’t in our power or the principles of this world but in being able to serve under him and suffer for him until he brings the change. At the end he will do it. And for that, in the meantime, with great expectation we wait.
And that may sometimes seems weak, but it is actually standing firm. For “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and, [of the things we cannot see, the things God’s promised, being certain].” To make it so, watch for the examples God has provided you in believers who love the cross of Christ and carry it. Wait expectantly with them for your joy in heaven. And trust in the Savior whose power can do anything, and will change us from weakness here into strong and certain glory with him. Amen.