This week it happened again. I was working with great fervor, but not being a careful enough steward of my body, and my resistance to the cold and flu broke down. I hate getting sick. I don’t mind the physical symptoms as much as I hate to waste time lying around accomplishing nothing and watching the work back up. The breakdown of my resistance was the invitation for sickness to overtake me – just like it is in you. We cannot always avoid being around sick people – but we can compromise our system and rob our body’s ability to fight off invading infection by our own decisions. How? One way to do that is eat badly. (All holiday eaters say “check”.) Another way to do that is get too little sleep. (All holiday party goers say “check”). Another way to do it is live with additional stress. (All holiday shoppers say “check”). Isn’t it a wonder we don’t all just die between Christmas and the New Year celebration?
Resistance is a concept well known in modern life.
• In electricity, it is defined as “a measure of the degree to which an object opposes an electric current through it”.
• In physics, it explains “drag” on our aircraft or boat with “fluid or gas forces opposing motion and flow”.
• In medicine, the term is used to describe: ”the protective assistance gained through taking a specific medicine or following a specific regimen of treatment”.
In short, resistance is about forging the ability to stand firm in the face of pressure.
Why are we talking about it? Because God’s Word addressed a problem long ago that we are observing again in our day. Anyone paying close attention is really beginning to notice that in the world of the twenty-first century Western church – resistance is quickly evaporating.
There are increasing numbers of people who claim to follow Christ with few distinguishing marks that separate them from the culture around them.
Believers appear to be less able to stand firm in the face of the deluge of immoral thinking and outlandish behavior of our day. A wise old Pastor wrote: “If the church is to be the church, it must resist the track of the world. It must guide the world in God’s intended path, and challenge the immoral lifestyle and unconscionable cruelty of sinful expression in society.” Dear ones, God has called on His people to stand firmly on a wall of truth and resist a tsunami of lies…It is our privilege, and it can be done with great security and intense JOY – but we must be instructed on how to do it.
Look back with me into the letter of Paul to Philippi that was later divided into four chapters. Identify the call in the opening of the final chapter in Philippians 4:1 “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” Can you see the call? Paul had one thing he was driving home to the congregation – STOP BACKING UP. Stand on the ground God put under your feet. Resist.
Key Principle: Believers can effectively resist the moral slide of our nation when we follow the pattern God gave to us.
Before we dive too deeply into the verses of chapter four, let me ask you something. Did you notice how Paul positioned what he was about to say? The chapter opened with a “THEREFORE” – as Paul beckoned us backward in the letter, urging us to look at the setting carefully for his point. His ending instructions were rooted in the previous points he raised. When we last looked at this letter, we tried to grasp the Spirit’s call to JOY in the face of trouble as it was expressed in what is now called the third chapter of Paul’s writing to Philippi. Since it has been some time, let’s recall the three steps we observed to move from panic to peace in the face of trouble.
• The first step was to DEAL WITH OUR OWN HEARTS before anything else. A man with limburger cheese stuck to his lip thinks the whole world stinks – when the problem is that all his sense of smell is dominated by a close odor. His senses are fouled but it seems like the world is. Paul said in Philippians 3:1 to rejoice, and that he didn’t mind repeating that call at all. We have to face the fact that we cannot see all that God is doing, and we aren’t qualified to judge the day from where we sit. What we can do, and what we MUST do, is look inside and place our hearts under the light of the Master’s scrutiny. Is my attitude one of trust or of insecurity?
• The next step we observed in the letter in 3:2-11 was the call to KEEP OUR EYES AND EARS OPEN. Looking within can make one be blind without. Troubles were plaguing the early church, just as troubles plague the work today. Some problems came from the intentionally planted “dogs” (3:2) that were moving about in the churches and couldn’t be pinned down. They had great criticism for churches and believers, but offered no regular help and commitment. They FED – but they didn’t provide anything but an occasional critique. Some were plants of the enemy to disrupt, but some were simply immature believers that had not been challenged and held accountable to learn and live God’s Word. They drifted about, feeding on whatever was currently fashionable and convenient. They didn’t build anything; they just used what others were building. A third group was found in those who got terribly impressed with physical accomplishments – those who thought spiritual assessment could be accurately made in this world. In each case – dogs, drifters and deed measurers – God warned that distraction would come if His people didn’t recognize what was happening – keeping eyes and ears open.
• The third step we mentioned was found in the end of chapter three – we must KEEP PUSHING RELENTLESSLY TOWARD THE PRIZE. Paul leaned into the future – pressing to grow to be what God truly desired of him. He didn’t pull back to a monastery – but anticipated what was coming. The temptation to GIVE UP is very real, but needs to be checked. Paul didn’t say that his future goal was about ACCOMPLISHMENT IN THIS LIFE – but rather about his honest and full surrender to Jesus Christ REGARDLESS of where that would lead him. He wasn’t saying he was going to DO great things for God that other men could see – but that he would reach out to the hand of Jesus in Heaven and grab it more deliberately, more strongly. That is something you CAN do, and that is something you MUST do.
As chapter four opened, Paul had expressed that if a believer dealt with his heart before God, looked with understanding and care at the situation of the local church body, and kept his eyes focused well beyond the constraints of the physical world – they would be ready to face the challenges of troubling circumstances with assurance and stability. That would certainly set them on the right path toward offering stiff resistance to the world’s onslaught of their Biblical values. At the same time, Paul wasn’t done. He now offered six actions that construct a wall of resistance. He argued that resistance was essential to keeping the Gospel open to future generations. The wall needed to be constructed, and the Spirit used his quill to tell believers how to accomplish this vital task.
Six Ways to Build a Wall of Resistance
We can panic and run into monasticism, or we can acquiesce and accept moral ambiguity – but both would be disobedient to God. We are to stand firm in the faith. We are to live in a way that contrasts with the world. We are called to build a wall. How do we accomplish this? Here are six ways to complete the task:
First, to build resistance we must face interpersonal tension – we may struggle to harmonize.
When believers fail to get along, and become settled with the idea that division is acceptable – they say much about what they believe concerning God’s call and power. Paul told two co-workers in the Philippian church to get together.
Philippians 4:2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.
The terms “auto phronein” literally translate to “be of the same mind” or literally the same “midriff or diaphragm; the parts around the heart.” The idea was to “properly, regulate (moderate) from within, as inner-perspective (insight) shows itself in corresponding, outward behavior.” Essentially, Paul is calling for discipline of inner feelings that show in harmonized outer behavior. The task comes down to one thing alone: inner discipline. We cannot expect to get along if we feel we have the right to verbalize every emotional outburst and “let it all hang out”. We MUST learn to deal with our heart within, and curb our mouth without.
Admittedly, we know little of WHO these two ladies were, or what their true role was. We DO know they fell out with one another—fueling a disagreement between them. Perhaps it began as a small slight, but it eventually mushroomed into a rift that began to hurt the entire congregation, and was reported to Paul in Rome. The women may have held responsible positions in their municipality. As a Roman colony, Philippi gave a level of independence to women that was not common in most Greek cities of the Roman period; this may account for the prominence of the women and their disagreement.
James reminds that troubles come between us because of troubles within us. James 4:1-4 offers these words: “1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Before you overreact to the hyperbole in James’ words, listen to the symptoms of a building conflict between believers:
• First, James said we start into quarrels and conflicts because we get hurt by the war within to have what we want, the way we want it, when we want it. We are focused on selfish pleasure so very easily, and when we are bit deeply, and our veins flow with the venom of self – it shows in our stubborn behavior toward one another.
• Second, James argued that when we are fixated with lust, and hunger for something dominates our thinking – we are more concerned about what we want then any care for the another person. We can “kill” them in our minds – their needs don’t count. We quarrel because our desire is our only passion.
• Third, James admits that we stay in a state of distance from God – either not asking Him to meet our inner needs because we know them to be debased, or allowing our hurt to even warp our view of God’s goodness.
• Finally, James ended the few verses with the recognition that we are all too friendly with the world, and that bond pulls our hearts from following God’s priorities. We don’t WANT what God desires; we want what the world offers. That poison can be seen in our comfort with an immoral world, and our bickering with the family of God.
Paul recognized what all of us in church leadership recognize: the greatest single hindrance to the spread of the Gospel is the behavior of God’s people – especially in relation to one another.
Churches can tear down in one business meeting what took generations to build in reputation in their community. Two arguing believers can reduce the great Sequoia of witness to a pile of ashes faster than felling and burning the actual great tree. The failure between us to get along is responsible for countless losses of testimony and embittering of lost men and women. Some of the people who are most avid haters of Jesus grew up in churches and saw our mistreatment of one another. We must face the fact that harmony is hard – but working for it builds the wall of resistance in a community searching for truth.
Second, to build resistance we must create systems to deal with the growing struggle, and recognize committed workers.
Philippians 4:3 Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
With the issue between Euodia and Syntyche still in mind, Paul enlisted an unnamed individual to intervene directly and assist in ending the quarrel between Euodia and Syntyche. It isn’t as easy to see in English, but in Greek both of the people in verse 2 were female. In verse three, Paul changed to masculine form and called on his “companion” to step in and help the women settle their dispute. One commentator, (Peter Toon) wrote in his commentary: “His identity is not known, but he was probably a respected and influential member of the church whose word would be heeded”. Much earlier, William Barclay, wrote: “Maybe the best suggestion is that the reference is to Epaphroditus, the bearer of the letter.” That sounds very plausible.
Regardless of WHO God used – the fact remains that the struggle needed to be solved and to do so would require intervention of someone. Paul made sure that person understood his RESPECT for both of the women and their help in times past. He made clear that they were believers, anticipating eternal life. He shared the problem out of a heavy heart, not a flippant spirit of gossip. Paul set up the necessary system to bring resolution. In fact, we possess indirect historical evidence that, perhaps, the women did reconcile and peace was restored. Tucked in the archives of the Apostolic Father, we have a letter from Polycarp of Smyrna. Early in the second century, the church in Philippi wrote to Polycarp to inquire about the fate of another minister who had been arrested and taken to Rome. Their letter appears lost in history, but Polycarp’s reply was preserved. In it, he commended the congregation saying: “have followed the example of true love and have helped on their way, as opportunity offered, those who were bound in chains.” He added: “I rejoice also that your firmly rooted faith, renowned since early days, endures to the present and produces fruit for our Lord Jesus Christ.” Scant evidence, I know… but we may be able to conclude that our dear servant ladies resolved divisions and tensions.
Beloved, we must grow up! We cannot allow divisions to foster and disgust to build. We need ways to resolve problems and we need to be insistent in doing so – so that our wall of resistance to the world’s moral deluge is buttressed. The church cannot preach unity and reconciliation with God while fighting behind the scenes amongst ourselves. I have enjoyed many years of Pastoral peace because some around me have insisted on confronting problems and resolving conflicts. It has made serving Jesus where I am much more joyful and secure.
Third, to build resistance we must recognize that the world will watch our demeanor as closely as they listen to our message.
Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
Don’t be deceived! The world isn’t listening to our doctrinal disputes as much as it is watching our expressions and listening to our tone. Look at the three truths Paul pressed in two short verses:
• He repeated the need for believers to be steady about rejoicing, not grousing. Beloved, some meetings of senior believers don’t sound encouraging or encouraged. We all recognize that things aren’t going well on the moral landscape, there is little encouragement on the governmental scene, and the financial prospects don’t appear to be improving. If we ever forget, there are news outlets on 24/7 dedicated to depression and the fostering of blame. Believers must be diligent to ward off the complaining spirit that is gripping the nation. We are to sound like the buzzing of those rejoicing. God is still on the throne. He hasn’t finished telling His story, and we want to thank Him for His endless goodness today! Drop the attitude. Shake off the negativity. Look up! God is still smiling, in spite of earth’s groans. He is readying the Bride for the soon coming wedding dance.
• Paul placed a goal before believers that they would build the reputation of gentle reasonableness. The term for “reasonable” or “gentle” in the text is well chosen. The word “epieikḗs” is a compound adjective, derived from epí, “on or fitting” and eikos, “equitable, fair”. It simply means “equitable”; and is “gentle” in the sense of truly fair- seeking to keep the “spirit of the law.” Believers must be known as people of principle, but not rigid and unbending in the complexity of life. We cannot toss aside truth, but we don’t wield it like an offensive sword. We have to try to be FAIR with people, and CARING toward them. It isn’t enough to be right, we need to be of a loving nature. Paul’s call was always to speak the truth in love. People don’t care what you know until they know that you truly care about THEM. They don’t want to be a project, or the object of your evangelism – they want to be loved and genuinely cared about. We must see people as God’s great gift, and try to HELP them see God. Pharisees hinder and hold out – followers of Jesus invite in and love. There are times we cannot, but they must be the extreme.
• He reminded them that the Master was close to them, watching and listening. We aren’t motivated simply by the eyes of the crowd. We serve One – and He is nearby. He cares what we are doing and HOW we are doing it.
If we would simply remember that our walk talks, and our talk walks but our walk talks louder than our talk walks – we would do well.
Fourth, to build resistance we must remember that the Lord only removes the stress we deliberately place in His hands.
Every time we address the subject of prayer in any text, I get concerned. It has been my experience that the subject of prayer brings much GUILT into the room, every time it is mentioned. Most believers I know well are very unsatisfied with their prayer life. I am not saying they are dissatisfied with God’s answers – quite the contrary. They are dissatisfied with the time they spend in prayer, and the very mention of it makes them feel dirty and inadequate. Stop. Listen for a minute to what the text says…
Philippians 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Can any among us truly say they have mastered worry and now stand before God without anxiousness about ANYTHING in their lives? I doubt it. If you are engaged in the battle, your mind is filled with concerns (that is the acceptable Christian word for WORRY!). Paul didn’t say what he said because he wanted believers to read it with dread for generations. He used the word DIVIDED- the term that is now translated “anxious”. Worry divides you energy and cuts your effectiveness. It keeps you awake when you should be asleep and recharging. It distracts when you should be focused. Look at the words closely.
Stop worrying. Give the cares to God. Ask for what you need. Pour out your heart. Share while you thankfully recall all that God has given you. Leave HIM with the problems, and take home the PEACE.
God’s interest in your prayer life is not self-serving. He isn’t lonely. He isn’t denying you the opportunity to do it on your own because you might have too much fun. Facing anxiety is like moving your couch. It is TOO BIG for you to move alone. You can nudge it, but you can’t get it out the door without another pair of hands. That is what God offers. If you want to clear out the clutter and get back to peace – you will need His strong hands to help. He’ll take your trouble and leave you the peace you long for – but only if you let Him.
Fifth, to build resistance we must fight the battle for the mind and learn to think properly.
The battleground in the believer is in the mind. The enemy has lost your soul, and now he seeks to mute your voice and curb your influence. The fastest way to sideline a powerful force for God is confuse the thinking within. Get them caught up chasing the wrong ideas, and thinking about the wrong things. Paul said it this way:
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Paul opened with thinking about things that are TRUE. The word “alēthḗs” is a negative – the “a” means “not” and “lanthánō” means “unnoticed, concealed. The term is “true” in terms of it being a fact or reality that is tested and cannot be hidden. The idea is that it has been tested and is truly authentic.
Paul moved to the HONORABLE. The term semnós comes from the word sébomai, “to revere, be in awe”. It refers to what is “august, dignified, weighty, deeply respected, majestic, of grave importance”.
He urged onward to what is RIGHT. The term díkaios is an adjective derived from dikē, “right, judicial approval” and literally means things “approved by God” or things “upright.”
He pushed them to think of things PURE. The term hagnós is an adjective meaning “chaste, un-adultered both inside and out; uncontaminated and undefiled from sin; not mixed with guilt or anything condemnable”.
He directed them to think on things LOVELY. The term prosphilḗs is a compound adjective, from prós, “extending toward” and philéō, meaning “worthy of personal affection” or “dearly prized”.
He called them to think on things OF GOOD REPUTE. The term “euphémos” meant “well reported of, spoken in a kindly spirit”, laudable, and reputable.
He marked out things that are EXCELLENT. This is the word arétē – the term for “moral excellence” which enriches life.
He called them to think of the PRAISEWORTHY. This is the term “épainos” from epí, “on, fitting,” and aínos, “praise”) – meaning apt praise, or accurate acknowledgment.
Let me ask you something… How should my desire to change my thinking change my actions?
• If I am to think of things that are TRUE what does that mean for the movies I watch, the books I read, and the games I play? Is fantasy that takes more of my day than reality a good thing?
• If I think of things HONORABLE, How much comedy should I build my life around? Should everything be a joke with me? Do I also feed on some ideas of substance? What have I read or watched that really took my breath away recently?
• If I think on things that are RIGHT – how much time should I spend in entertainments that encourage me to laugh at ungodly words or behaviors?
• If I think on things PURE, how many extra-marital affairs can I watch in the movie theatre before I am in disobedience?
• If I think of things LOVELY, how much gratuitous violence should be in my video gaming?
• If I think on things of GOOD REPUTE how much arguing, bashing, and shouting should I listen to on talk radio?
• If I thing of things that are MORALLY EXCELLENT, how many stations should never get turned on my TV?
Paul ended with: “These things consider”…logízomai is the word at the root of the English terms “logic, logical”. The idea is to “take into account”or “reckon” based on this thinking
Sixth, to build resistance we must stress the need for the team to be mentored and instructed to follow the recognized pattern.
Christianity is more caught then taught – but then, so is paganism. What should that mean about when and where we invest our time?
Philippians 4:9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Paul called on believers to learn, receive and practice truth together. It would bring peace to the body, and progress to the Gospel. People can’t simply get the lessons they need from a message or Sunday School class – they need PATTERNS as much as LESSONS. Consider this testimony:
“Howard Hendricks tells of a mentor who changed his life in his book Iron Sharpens Iron. Howard was from a broken family, and said, “I could have lived, died, and gone to hell without anyone bothering to care.” However, a man named Walt from a tiny church in his neighborhood cared about reaching nine and ten year old boys for Jesus. One Saturday while he was playing marbles on the sidewalks of Philadelphia Walt came by and asked him if he wanted to go to Sunday School. The very thought of school made him decline, but Walt then asked if he would like to play marbles. Howard was the best marble player on his block, and was sure he could beat Walt easy. Walt won every single game, and after that Howard wanted to follow him everywhere. Over the next several years Walt would take the boys hiking, even though he had a bad heart. His teaching and love for thirteen boys, nine of whom came from broken homes, made a difference in their lives. Eleven of those boys went on to pursue careers as vocational Christian workers, even though Walt had only gone through the sixth grade.” (Sermon central illustrations).