Let's open our Bibles together to Philippians chapter 4. We are going to embark upon a wonderful new study of the first nine verses of this great chapter. And the title of our study over the next several weeks is "Spiritual Stability...Spiritual Stability." There are many things that we shall find in this the last chapter in the rich epistle we've studied for a number of months that are already familiar to us. There are many portions of this particular chapter that perhaps you have even committed to memory. There are some very familiar portions.
As is often the case in those chapters and sections of Scripture with which we are familiar with certain verses or certain phrases, sometimes we miss the overall intent. We may see the trees but not the forest. We may understand the parts but not the whole. We may be able to capture a few basic principles but not the reason why. I want us to see the big subject and its components as we look at this great chapter.
In order to do that we have to take verses 1 to 9 as a unit. And the theme of these verses is spiritual stability. It introduces us, I believe, to a subject that is of great importance. I am convinced that it's fair to say that the church of Jesus Christ in our country today has experienced a great amount of instability. From the leadership on down it tends to be an unstable church. It is unstable in the sense that its own leaders do not seem to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, they appear to be unstable. I received a letter this morning reading it on my desk from a well-known evangelical who said to me, "My heart is broken because seven of my dear friends have defaulted from the ministry in the last year." And pleaded, as it were, with me and before God somehow to find a way to deal with this great instability, this great vulnerability that is demonstrated in the fall of those in spiritual leadership.
It is an unstable church. It is a church fraught with problems and anxiety and worry. It is a church that seems ever and always to be trying to patch itself up, to fix itself, to solve its almost inestimable number of problems. It is my judgment that the church in fact is unstable and it is unstable because it has not come to grips with the biblical principles of stability. It tends to pursue stability in areas where it does not live, reside, exist. It tends to be seeking answers that aren't there, solutions that are short-term, at best.
Now we can grant the assumption that the church will be under attack. Jesus said it, "In this world you shall have...what?...tribulation," John 16. He said, "There will be days when people will actually persecute you, take your life, to do you what they did to Me, they will take you before their courts, they will throw you in their prisons, expect it." There is a hostile world, there is a hostile flesh and there is a hostile devil and you will be in conflict. The Scriptures warn us that we must be watchful. Jesus said, "Watch and pray." Be alert, be aware is a ringing theme in the words of Peter and Paul. The devil moves around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. The flesh, as it were, stalks the redeemed self to debilitate it, to distract it.
There is the world with all of its allurements that endeavors to entice the believer. We are always under assault. In our personal lives there will be times of persecution and trial, severe trial. Subtle persecution in our society which I think sometimes is more difficult than that which is not so subtle, I think in a society where being a Christian cost you your life and where being a Christian makes you a prisoner and where being a Christian shuts you off from society all together, once you have declared yourself a Christian and it's cut and dried it might be easier to maintain that testimony than in our society where we are accepted by the world to the degree that we want their acceptance and somehow we are afraid to make our Christianity an issue. And so, subtly we compromise because we are caught between being different and being part whereas in a society where you're definitely apart from the system there's no subtly. I think our persecutions may be in some ways harder. I remember a Russian pastor saying to me right on that front row through an interpreter, I said to him, "How is it to pastor a church? Is it difficult?" He said, "It's easy, you always know where everyone stands." He said, "What I don't understand is how in the world you can pastor a church in America where the compromises are so common and subtle."
We have that persecution. We also face personal trials and troubles that cause us to break down in terms of our trust, that make us nervous and anxious and cause us to worry and fret and fume and retaliate and feel vengeance and carry bitterness and bear sorrow. And where do we go to get fixed? We have problems in our marriages and in our families, struggles and dilemmas. And we pursue solutions and resolution. We fight even in our own lives strong temptation to sin. And the world is very clever in its allurements and the flesh is very vulnerable and the devil is very aggressive. And it is very much a battle to stay stable.
And that is really what is on Paul's heart here. Don't be under any illusions about the Philippian church, it is true that the Philippians had a special love bond with Paul. There's no question about it. It is true that they alone had shared with him, as we shall see later in chapter 4, in the middle of his need. It is true that he had a love for them that maybe surpassed some others, a bond that was perhaps unique and had been cultivated through the years mutually. It is true that he had a passionate longing to fellowship with them. There was a deep caring between them. But that does not mean that the Philippian church was in all respects everything it ought to be and that does not mean that there was not instability there. In fact, reading through Philippians as far as we have already, now coming to the last chapter, we have noted very clear hints that there was selfishness in that church, that there was self- interest in that church, that there were people who had stumbled and fallen from their spiritual stability into conceit and pride and were more concerned about the things of their own life than the things of others. They did not have the mind of Christ.
We also know that there was some conflict in that church of major proportions will be dealt with in verses 2 and 3 of this chapter. Two women who apparently may have been able to lead factions that could have split the church, they had an intense disagreement and others were no doubt party to the quarrel. Two women who couldn't agree doesn't seem like a lot of problems except the fact is these were two prominent women and apparently it was significant enough for Paul to have identified the women by name in verse 2.
What may be equally troubling is that in verse 3 he has to ask somebody to fix it up which means apparently the leadership of the church had not really done what they should have done in dealing with the problem. That, too, was a failure.
So there was some stumbling and some instability in leadership as well as in the congregation. It is obvious also that there was some depression there in that church, some unfounded sorrow, some harshness of spirit, some anxiety, some failure to take prayer seriously. There were some troubled minds. There were some minds filled with all the wrong kinds of things who needed to think on the right kind of things. There were some people who weren't trusting God. There were some people who weren't thankful. In other words, it was a church...just a plain ole church, just like every church.
And there were all levels of spiritual stability, all levels of spiritual strength. Paul is deeply concerned for the stability of this congregation. But it wasn't just Paul, I mean, this is reflected through the whole of the New Testament. Jesus was concerned about the stability of the church. I think about it in the restoration of Peter at the last of John's gospel in that final chapter where Jesus restores Peter back to function and as Peter begins immediately then to manifest another weakness, He says, "Stop right there and do what I tell you. Follow Me and it will cost you your life. Be strong." That's really the intent of what He said if not the words. Jesus was concerned about the strength of His disciples.
In Matthew chapter 10 He clearly delineated for them to anticipate difficulty, anticipate trials. He would repeatedly point out to them the weakness of their flesh, the weakness of their faith wanting in some ways to instruct and insulate them from future instability. And so this becomes a rather constant theme in the New Testament and I think one that needs to be addressed in the church in which we live today. We have a very unstable church...unstable leadership, unstable congregations. And sadly trying to prop themselves up with all the wrong things. So for a number of weeks I want to speak to you on spiritual stability.
I stand in the succession of the Apostles in a sense. You remember Peter in 2 Peter 2:14 he wrote about false teachers and agents of Satan who were always attempting to, and here was his phrase, "entice unstable souls." Do you realize that that is part of pastoral duty to somehow try to protect those unstable souls? Why do you think Paul warned for three years in his ministry in Ephesus with tears? Why does Peter repeat things and say I've told you these things over and over again to put you in remembrance so that when I'm not there you can stay strong? Because they concerned themselves with the stability of unstable souls.
Peter even said in 2 Peter 3:16 that Paul's letters, the great inspired epistles of Paul were taken by...he says...untaught and unstable people and they distorted the writing of Paul to their own destruction. What a statement! Boy, they're not alone, folks. They are not alone. There are many untaught and unstable people today who are distorting the teaching of Paul, who are distorting the teaching of Scripture, who are confusing people, who are misrepresenting and misinterpreting the Word of God.
James warned about the same thing. James said that the spiritually unstable are the double minded. People who waver about things. They don't know what they believe, they don't know what is right. They can't make decisions. They vacillate between doubt and faith. They are the spiritually unstable. They're not single minded, they're not fixed on righteous truth. They're not focused on the character of God to the degree that they understand Him, that they understand His revelation and thus they have a single mind.
But it isn't even really new to the New Testament. Although James concerned himself with it and Peter did and Paul did and surely John and Jude as well, Jude who said that God alone is able to make you stable and keep you from falling. Although they all talked about it, certainly they're not alone. You can go all the way back into the Old Testament and find this concern with instability. In fact, you can go all the way back to the first book of the Bible and let me remind you of a very wonderful chapter in terms of biblical history, the forty-ninth of Genesis, for in that chapter Jacob gathers together his sons and grants to them the legacy. And he begins, you remember, in that forty-ninth chapter with his oldest son whose name was Reuben. And I want you to listen to what he says to Reuben. "Reuben, you are my first born, my might and the beginning of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power." Boy, what a statement. Reuben, you are my first born, primogenitor, the right to the inheritance, you are my might, the beginning of my strength, you are preeminent in dignity, you are preeminent in power. What privilege, huh? What opportunity.
And then he said this, "Unstable as water, you shall not have the preeminence." That's sad, isn't it? What disqualified Reuben? His spiritual...what?...instability. He's not alone, as I said, it's not a new problem, it's a very old problem. Reuben had unequalled privilege, unequalled potential, unequalled opportunity and he forfeited all of it because he was as unstable as water. Specifically what he did was commit fornication in his father's bed, in his father's house with his father's concubine, Genesis 35:22. He was a fornicator, a demonstration of spiritual instability. And he was disqualified and his father said, "You shall not have preeminence."
Spiritual instability is a disqualifier for many things. Spiritual instability is a disappointment to everyone. Nobody likes that. Nobody wants to be unstable, nobody wants to fall to false doctrine, not a true Christian. We don't want to fall under trials and literally get crushed and so depressed that our depression, of course, is unrealistic. We don't want to fall to temptation. I think if you catch us in our moments of spiritual saneness, we will affirm that we want to be spiritual stable.
But the question is how...how? Boy, that is a big issue, isn't it? In a sense you can equate spiritual stability with godliness, Christlikeness, holiness, maturity. But it is nonetheless very basic to Christian living. And the heartbreak really in the heart of God as He views the church today must be over this tremendous demonstrable instability. We vacillate all over the place...theologically, in the midst of trials, in temptation, from leaders on down. So how can we be stable? How can we stand firm? How can we get over the ups and downs to an even keel?
Well, that's what we're going to learn in the next few weeks. Would you notice verse 1? And all we'll do this morning is look at it as the introduction. Would you notice the phrase in verse 1, "Stand firm in the Lord." You might circle that. That is the dominating verb and theme in this entire nine verses...stand firm in the Lord, spiritual stability. He knew what the Philippians were undergoing. Back in chapter 1 he had said to them in verse 28, "In no way be alarmed by your opponents." They were being persecuted. Verse 29 he says, "It's been granted to you for Christ's sake not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake." They were suffering. In fact, it was severe enough that in verse 30 he says they were experiencing the same conflict they had seen in him. So they were suffering very severe persecution. So they were vulnerable to instability at that point.
Chapter 2 seems to indicate to me that they were not all of the same mind. Chapter 2 verse 2, he commands them, "Be of the same mind." Back in chapter 1 verse 27 he says to them, "Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, standing firm in one spirit with one mind." It's obvious that there was some real disagreement in that church and dissension. So they were falling not only under persecution but under temptation. They were receiving, as it were, the onslaught. Verse 14 of chapter 2 indicates that there was some grumbling, and some disputing going on as they tried to survive in what verse 15 calls a crooked and perverse generation. They were having a tough time holding forth the word of life with clarity in the midst of a hostile, perverse and crooked generation. Everything wasn't going the way they thought it ought to go and there was some grumbling and disputing going on. They needed to sort of recharge their joy batteries, according to chapter 2 verse 18, and start rejoicing instead of fretting.
Chapter 3 verse 18 tells us that they were encountering the enemies of the cross. We learned that they were encountering Judaizers who were called in verse 2 dogs and evil workers and the false mutilation. And they were encountering libertines who were coming in in verse 19 and whose God was their appetite, whose glory was in their shame and who set their minds on earthly things. So there were some attacking the cross. The Judaizers saying to be saved you have to add works to the cross and the libertines saying after you're saved you don't have to add works to the cross. And so these enemies of the cross were attacking. They were getting it from a lot of sides.
You get in to chapter 4 and you've got the debate with the two women, the problem there. You get in to verse 6 and it's obvious that some of them are worrying and anxious. So they were falling victim to personal temptation, to corporate(?) attacks, to persecution. And Paul commands them to stand firm in the Lord. As I said, it isn't the first time he said that. Chapter 1 verse 27, "Standing firm in one spirit." This is the second time he calls them to stand firm.
Now the Greek verb here is stekate(?), it's an imperative command and it is a military word which means to stand your ground, stand your post in the midst of battle. That's what it means. It means to hold your position while under attack. It means what Paul said in Ephesians 6, in the middle of battle you've got your armor on and having done all to stand. Stand against the wiles of the devil. Stand firmly no matter what comes. You don't crumble under persecution and compromise. You don't crumble under testing and complain. You don't crumble under temptation and sin, you stand firm, spiritually stable.
You can understand how any pastor would want that, can't you? May I remind you again that this is a command? And may I remind you that we have somehow softened our view of God so that commands don't seem like commands anymore. This is a command from the living God through His Holy Spirit by means of the Apostle Paul. God says I want you to stand firm, this is a command.
It grieves my heart that we don't take command seriously. I guess it grieves my heart that we don't take God seriously. I was listening to a tape of A.W. Tozer preaching at a Bible conference a couple of decades past. In his tape he said, "I've been assessing the church for a long time," and he said, "my conclusion is basically that the church is politely bored with God." That's a fairly good assessment of the church today-- politely bored with God. He went on to say, "You expect me to entertain you. You expect me to do something that will attract your attention and titillate your emotions because frankly if all I do is talk about God, you'll be bored."
Well if one is bored with God, that is a blasphemous attitude and probably leads to the kind of apathy that would make a command of God something more like a suggestion. Can we somehow regrip the reality that our sovereign God is commanding us in the imperative of verse 1 to stand firm? And in the command is the inherent capability to obey the command which, of course, is supplied by God's Spirit who is able to make us stand. This is a command.
And all I want to do this morning is plant that command in your mind. It comes from God. He demands it. It comes from our holy almighty sovereign glorious God.
Now let me give you a little bit of the context. Let's go to verse 1 and you'll see a couple of things here as we just introduce this basic principle of spiritual stability. Notice the first word is "therefore" which always relates back to what has been said. It assumes that what is now to be said is based or built upon what has just been said. Because of this therefore this. Prior fact leads to this. And what in fact is that? Well we need only go back in to the third chapter. And if we were to summarize the third chapter we could summarize it this way, you remember it well, we are pursuing Christ's likeness which is both the goal and the prize of our Christian life. And we are waiting for that upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We are waiting for that day when we as heavenly citizens meet the Lord Jesus Christ, and then verse 21, and are transformed into conformity with the body of His glory.
In other words, we are pursuing Christ's likeness, we are citizens of heaven, we are waiting for the Savior who will make us like Himself. Since then we are heavenly citizens and since the goal of our life and the prize of our life is Christ's likeness, therefore stand firm.
Did Christ stand firm? Did He ever waver? No...no. Did He ever compromise? No. Did He ever sin? No. He who knew no sin, says the Bible. He was without sin, the perfect high priest. Jesus Christ then is the model. And He stood firm against it all and never violated God. Persecuted? Yes. Did He fall? No. Did He compromise? No. Tempted? Yes. Did He fall? No. Did He sin? No. Put through all kinds of trials of life, did He crumble under those trials, collapse, lose His confidence in God and wander around looking for a human fix? No. He stood firm. And since He is the prize and the goal of our life and since we are citizens of heaven and since some day we will be like Him and that is our present desire, we therefore must do as He did, stand firm...stand firm.
The second thing you notice here is not only the connection with the third chapter, but the second thing you notice in verse 1 is the pastoral spirit of Paul. This is a strong command and what he is going to say is kind of a staccato exhortation because he gives them short direct commands related to this single command. But in the middle of this rather militaristic kind of terminology and this very direct confrontive approach, would you please notice the graciousness and the loving spirit that this man has toward these people? Look again at verse 1, "My beloved brethren, whom I long for, my joy and crown...." and then he concludes, "my beloved." It almost gets gushy. But it isn't, it is real. It is not contrived. It is not manipulative. It is not dishonest. It is not flattery. It is his heart.
Look at it, "My beloved brethren...my beloved brethren." And he uses the strong word for love, the rich and deep word for love. He does love them in a very special and unique way and back in chapter 1 we noted that. He's so thankful for them. There's something about them that illicits deep affection out of his heart. In chapter 1 verse 8 he says that. In fact in chapter 1 verse 23 to 25 he says, "Frankly, I'd rather go to heaven but you need me so much I'll stay." That is a major concession of love. He deeply loves them.
He acknowledges that love even in chapter 2 and how he is concerned about them. In chapter 4 he expresses the tremendous bond that he feels because in verse 15 he says, "You're the ones who help me, no one else did." He does love them. He loves them deeply. And there's a bond there.
Now listen to me. There's a bond of love that does not preclude such a command. There's a bond of love that invites that command, right? Have we not said that to our children on numerous occasions? "I'm telling you this because I love you, cause I care about you." And then he adds in verse 1, "Whom I long for," or whom I desire. And the word expresses that he felt the deep pain of separation from those he loved. Paul was a paragon obviously of intellectual capability. He was a master of systems. He was a logician without equal. He was a supreme theologian. But he was also a man of deep passion and had a capacity to love people and that package was the best. Here you see the passion of his heart, "I long for you." He was a man who cherished relationships. Some people get along with them, not him. He deeply felt the pain of separation. They were his love. They were his love.
Then he says, "Not only are you my love," verse 1, "you're my joy." And I guess that kind of goes together. What do you mean you're my joy? "Well, you give me joy, the joy of my heart is over you." He didn't get his joy out of his circumstances, that would be hard to do since he was at this particular point chained to a Roman soldier as a Roman prisoner in a private house in Rome writing this epistle. He didn't get his personal joy out of circumstances. That would have been very difficult to do not only because of the physical but even because of the things going on around him such as people criticizing him mercilously of which he speaks in chapter 1 who were supposing to add affliction to his bonds. No, he had very difficult circumstances. He never gave much thought to them. But he found his joy in people. And he found his joy in the people that loved him and that he loved. He found his joy in his flock. You're my joy. He said the same thing to the Thessalonians when he wrote 1 Thessalonians in 2:19, he says, "Who is our hope or joy or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you?" Then in verse 20, "For you are our glory and joy." And he relates it to the Second Coming. You're my joy now, and you'll be my supreme joy when I see you in the presence of our Christ. My joy is seeing your salvation. My joy is seeing your growth and that's why I'm saying this to you. I'm not browbeating you. I'm affectionately exhorting you.
Then he says, "You're my crown." That is a wonderful statement. Not diadema, diadem, not a kingly crown, stephanosa laurel wreath. Basically in that culture two people received a laurel wreath. One was the athlete who won an event and they gave him a laurel wreath to wear. That was the corruptible crown Paul said the runner gets in 1 Corinthians 9. But there was another person who got a laurel wreath and that would be a man who was honored by his peers. A great feast or banquet would be held and this man would be brought as the guest of honor and as the guest of honor he would receive a laurel wreath. And what does Paul mean when he says to the Philippians and to the Thessalonians, "You are my crown"? He means you are my reward. The wreath was a trophy. The trophy in a sense said this man has lived a fruitful life. The trophy in a track meet says this man has run a great race. Paul says you're my trophy. You're the proof of my effective service. You're my crown. You're the reward that says this has been an effective life.
Boy, that's rich commendation. What affirmation Paul gives to these dear people. It's just what he said to the Corinthians, "You are the seal of my apostleship," 1 Corinthians 9:2. "You're the validation of my life. You're my love. You're my joy. You're the proof of my ministry." And then he closes by saying, "My beloved" again. That's rich affirmation. He says, "I love you, I love you so much I long to be with you. I long to be with you because you're the source of my joy and you are my reward."
Every pastor can say that if his heart is right. I can say that I love you as God's people given to me, for the love you have given to me and the love we share through these years. And I long for you and absence from you for any prolonged period of time causes my heart to yearn to be with you. There is the sense in which too you are my joy for my joy is found not in my circumstances but in the fruit of ministry and that becomes the laurel wreath. Sometimes people send me a plague about something. Sometimes people honor me in some way. But the truth is that the validation, the affirmation of any man's life are those people that God has used him to touch. You are my crown. I understand what he is saying.
So bathed in this deep and emotional love is this tremendous command rising "stand firm in the Lord." As sensitive, as warm, as soft, as gentle as the terminology is around it, it is the opposite. It is firm, it is strong, it is resolute. I want your spiritual stability.
The question comes, how? And that draws us to a little word in verse 1, the only word I haven't mentioned, "so." This is why I love to exegete the Scripture, taking every word. You just can't miss any of it. This is hutos(?) in the Greek, it means thus, or in this way. That unlocks everything. Because you are my beloved I want you to stand firm in the Lord in this way...that's what so means, like this. And then he goes on to explain how. And verses 2 through 9 are extremely basic practical principles for spiritual stability. And, beloved, Paul has under the genius of the Holy Spirit collected here the solution to the entire spiritual struggle. It's all pulled together. You want to be a spiritually strong Christian and stable? You have to learn the principles that are here. I believe it's all in the Word of God. It is all in the Word of God. For every difficulty and every stress, it's all here. In fact, in sort of a capsule form it is all here in these nine verses because I am convinced that the resolution to everything in this matter of spiritual stability goes right back to how you think about God. Did you get that? To how you think about God. And everything Paul says ties in and relates to that. So over the next couple of weeks we are going to learn about spiritual stability and we're going to work our way through the principles that Paul gives so that we might be spiritually stable. This is the pastoral heart. This is what must be done in the church.
I want to say as a footnote, I believe our church is more stable than most and I thank God for that. But we're not all that we ought to be. Let's not be under any illusion about that. None of us is. And this must be the objective of our ministry. You remember early in the book of Acts in chapter 11 and verse 23 it says in verse 22, "And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch, then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord." That's what every pastor does. You encourage your people with a resolute heart to remain true to the Lord. That's spiritual stability. That's what Barnabas did.
It wasn't just Barnabas. Peter had that as a goal. In 2 Peter 3:17 he says, "You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest being carried away by the error of unprincipled men you fall from your own steadfastness." Peter says don't fall, stay firm. You come into the fourteenth chapter of Acts verse 22, Paul is strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraged them to continue in the faith. And he said to them, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." So he strengthened them, he encouraged them, told them to expect tribulation. That's just ministerial function. Paul wrote to the Galatians, he says, "Look, for freedom Christ has set us free," chapter 5 verse 1, "don't you fall back but stand firm." Don't fall back into Judaistic legalism. In Colossians 4 Epaphras is praying that you would stand firm, complete in the will of God. That's...that's a cry throughout the New Testament.
I was thinking, too, of 1 Thessalonians, isn't it in chapter 3 verse 8? He says, "For now we really live if you stand firm in the Lord." Now there's a pastor's heart. You want to make my life enjoyable? Stand fast in the Lord, don't waver, don't fall.
Second Thessalonians 2:15, "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught." Don't waver from the truth. That's the command. I suppose the most familiar expression comes in these words, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast...what's the next word?...unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord," 1 Corinthians 15:58. It was Peter's concern, the concern of Paul, the concern of James, the concern of Jesus, the concern of Jude and John, the concern of the Holy Spirit and of God Himself that we have spiritual stability. The question obviously has to be answered, "How?" And we are going to endeavor to go deeply into the things of the chapter that can teach us how. That's for next time.
Lord, we have been blessed in this fellowship this morning and we are thankful. The beauty of the songs we sung and the encouragement to hearts of the prayers and the Scripture and now the refreshment of the precious Word has enriched us, and we thank You. And now, Lord, we would come to a point of commitment, work in our hearts. While your heads are bowed just in a moment of prayer, may I ask you to pray to God yourself? And say, "Lord, I want to be spiritually stable and in these days and weeks to come help me to learn the principles of stability and apply them. Prepare my heart." Will you pray that prayer? "Lord, I want to be spiritually stable, help me learn these principles and apply them." Father, that is our prayer that this church might stand firm against all that comes, not for our sakes but that Your name might be glorified. Amen.
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