“Standing Firm in Difficult Days” (Philippians 4:1-3)

So: this year we’ve had COVID, and a devastating winter storm, and now the eye of a hurricane pass right over us. Add to that all of the personal and family trials we’ve each had, and I know some of us are going, “I don’t even want to know what’s next!” right? These are difficult days in which we live. But thank God, we are “not like those who have no hope”! We have an anchor for our lives in the Lord.

So in these difficult days, God tells us here in Philippians, “stand firm.” “Stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” He starts off this passage with the word “Therefore.” Now, nobody just starts off a conversation with “Therefore”! You use it to refer back to something that has just been said. (We saw that in our Sunday school lesson this morning in Philippians 2). Here in Philippians 4, the “therefore” points back to what he had just been talking about at the end of Chapter 3, about how we should not live just for this world, but for heaven, for eternity.  He had said, remember, our citizenship is in heaven; Jesus is coming to take us there, and He will change us, and give us eternal bodies, so that our best days will always be ahead of us forever! So then he says here, “THEREFORE — because of all that — STAND FIRM in the Lord, my beloved.” You’re going to be tempted to live for this world; DON’T give in to it. Keep your Christian testimony & convictions in this morally & spiritually decaying society.  He’s saying, live for the Lord. Live for heaven. “Stand firm”! And he shows us in the next verses, several specific ways in which we can do that:

I.  Stand Firm in Christian Fellowship

Paul loved the fellowship of other believers. In fact, we see at least three different expressions here just in :1 that convey the love that Paul had for the people of God in Philippi:

— “my beloved brethren”: he really loves these people

— “whom I long to see”: remember, he had started this church; he loved these people; but now he had been away from them for a while, and from prison now he writes, “I LONG to see you guys.” This isn’t “perfunctory;” this isn’t, “I guess I need to go up there and see them.” He WANTS to see them; “longs” to see them!

— And then he calls them: “my joy and my crown”: he says his joy is found in these people; his “crown,” his reward with the Lord in heaven is going to come from his work and his relationship with these people. They were very special, and very dear to Him. You can tell from these verses that the fellowship of God’s people was very important to him. 

One of the things that church needed to stand firm in, was that kind of Christian love and fellowship. And one of the things that WE need to make sure to “stand firm” in too, is the fellowship of our Christian brothers and sisters.

Once a pastor went to see a man who had been absent from his church for some time. He walked in, and they exchanged a few pleasantries, and then for a while they just sat there quietly, looking at the fire in the man’s fireplace. After some time, the pastor got up, and took the poker and moved one little piece of wood away from the fire. They sat there and watched as the fire on that piece of wood, all by itself, gradually died out. After another quiet minute the man said to the pastor: “I’ll be back in church on Sunday.”

He got the message. It’s easy for “the fire” to go out when you’re by yourself; when you don’t keep in fellowship with other Christians. God made us to need each other. There are so many “one another” commands in the New Testament. The Christian life is not just about God and you alone. Now, you DO have to have a personal relationship with the Lord. You don’t get saved just by going to church. There has to be a time when you personally repent of your sins and follow Jesus as your Savior. But then you need to live out your new Christian life in the fellowship of God’s people. He did NOT design us to live our Christian lives in isolation. He made us to need each other. We help each other, we encourage each other, we learn from each other. That’s why He gave us the command in Hebrews 10:25 “not forsaking our assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  We need, we learn, we grow, through Christian fellowship in the church,.  

This is one of the important reasons we have our small group Sunday School classes Sunday mornings at 9:00. We get to have fellowship with each other in a smaller group context; we can ask questions, and learn about each other, and pray for each other, and just share in our struggles. My wife Cheryl said that last week in “The Rock” Sunday School class, that Vicki Chelette brought up something that she was really struggling with regarding prayer — and Cheryl said, that was EXACTLY what I was thinking too. And she said they had the best discussion on it in their group.  This is what we need. We can’t get that kind of thing in a one-hour worship service with 200 people. You need that small group fellowship to do that. I encourage you: if you are not doing it already, get in one of our small groups at 9:00. We have some GREAT classes — and you can go to any of them you’d like to. But these small groups is where some of the best real Christian fellowship in our church takes place.

And we NEED those connections in this “segmented,” often quarantined society in which we live today. This is one of the dangers of this “COVID crisis” in which we rely so much on video: FaceTime and Live Stream are GOOD tools for us to have when we can’t come to church; or when we really feel like we do not need to be among a lot of people. But I am reading that across the country, more and more people are getting “comfortable” video services only. It’s easy to stay at home, tune in to the worship service in your p.j.’s, and then get on with your day. And listen: I am GLAD that we have that video option for people who are sick, or for those who really feel that they do not need to be among groups of people at the present time. “Again I say”, that is a legitimate thing.

But at the same time: you ARE missing something when you do that, aren’t you? And the thing you are missing is the fellowship of other believers, in person. 

— You’re missing worship WITH live people around you. I’m glad we have video worship: but video is NOTHING like standing here and singing with live voices all around you, sensing the Spirit of God moving among you. As a number of people have said, “It’s the NEXT best thing to being there; but it is NOT as good as being there.”

— And you don’t get the interaction with God’s people; you don’t get to talk to people before and after the service; catch up with old friends; and meet those who are new in the church. 

— And there’s one thing you sure can’t get on tv: you can’t get a hug! Many of you know that Wednesday night, we took meals out to some families in our church and in our community who had no power, or who had a special need for a meal. I stopped in at Cliff & Deloris Tubb’s, to drop off a couple of meals there, and as some of you know, Mrs. Deloris has been very weak, and hasn’t been able to come to a lot of services lately, and it was so good to see her. She always gives me a hug on the way out of the service on Sunday mornings. And when I went to their house Wednesday night, the first thing she said was, “Can I have a hug?”  It was so sweet!  You don’t get that on tv! You can’t get a hug on tv!

We NEED that. We NEED the fellowship of other believers. We were not designed by God to live in isolation, but in fellowship with other Christians. Listen: God uses even the people we find “difficult” to teach us lessons in patience, and grace, and real love. We need each other. All of us, need all of each other. 

Ron & Andrea Warren are two of our newest members, and they have been so faithful Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. They came last Wednesday night, even though we didn’t have adult Bible study, and they took meals out to some people in the community — and they invited these people to come to their new church — I was very proud of them for doing that! But I heard Andrea visiting in the foyer with someone while we were getting all the meals ready, and I heard her say, “I came tonight because I need some Jesus time with my church family!”  

That’s it, right there. We NEED “Jesus time with our church family.” That is what Paul is saying here. Don’t give that up!  In these difficult days, stand firm in your commitment to the Christian fellowship that you need. 

II. Stand firm in Christian UNITY, by living in harmony with other believers.

After talking about the sweetness of Christian fellowship in :1, sadly, he then mentions a fracture in that fellowship in :2. He writes: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” He goes on in :3 to say that these two women were Christian workers (which we are going to talk about in a minute)  but they were not getting along. He said “I urge (them) to live together in HARMONY.” The word “harmony” here in the NAS is literally “to be of the same mind.” This is actually the same expression he used back in Chapter 2, when he wrote, “If there is any encouragement in Christ … make my joy complete by being of THE SAME MIND (that is the same expression he used here), maintains the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”  He was urging all Christians there to be unified; NOT to have divisions. And here he says, here’s an example, unfortunately, in your church, Philippians: Euodia and Syntyche are not getting along. He says, help these women get along together. They are both good workers. Help them to get along. Things can’t continue like this. 

(Now, as I said a few weeks ago when we were in Chapter 2, how’d you like to be called out BY NAME in prominent letter of the New Testament for not getting along with someone else in the church! Talk about embarrassing! (Can you picture meeting them in heaven: “I’m Euodia,” and you’ll be going: “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about you …’!))

But really, it was a strong measure, calling them out by name like that. But the REASON he did that is that Christian unity in the church is SO important. (Again, our Sunday School lesson today addressed that). Remember, in the last last prayer Jesus prayed here on earth, His “High Priestly Prayer” of John 17, He repeatedly prayed, “that they may all be one, THAT the world may know that You sent Me.” Our unity as Christians is vital:

— our unity is vital in our worship. You can’t really worship God wholeheartedly when you’re holding a grudge against the person in the next aisle over from you!

— our unity is vital in our service. We have to work TOGETHER as a church; as we’ve said before, it’s “all hands on deck” on our outreach and ministry projects — we’ve got to work together to be effective as a church. 

You may have seen some the rowing events in the Olympics, where they have either 4 or 8 rowers, depending on the event, with their backs to the front of the boat, and their oars all dip into the water and those boats just “glide” along the water so gracefully. I was reading about that the other day, and you won’t be surprised to hear that it said that the key to the event “is rowing in perfect synchronicity.” In other words, the key is that they all row together, at the exact same moment, unified, as one.  If they didn’t, instead of that “graceful glide,” it would be more like a train wreck.

 I remember when our son Paul was younger, and we went canoeing with another pastor’s family, he and the other pastor’s daughter his age were trying to paddle a canoe, and they just could NOT get coordinated; they were all over the river, from the left, to the right, crashing into the brush on the side — that’s what happens when you can’t work together!

And that’s the way it is in the church, too. We have to be able to “row” together, not working against each other, but WITH each other; all for the same goals: to worship God, and reach and teach and care for people. Not “me against them;” not “my group against their group,” but all working together for the Lord and His kingdom. When we do that, “the gates of hell cannot stand against us.” When we DON’T do it — then the church looks like a train wreck — and sadly that is exactly what happens in way too many churches. Our unity is vital in our service.

— And our unity is vital in our witness. Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would be one “that the world may know” — when we are unified as God’s people, it is an amazing testimony to the world. But when we are NOT unified; when we let little things come between us, the world looks on and shakes their head, and says if that is Christianity, I don’t need it. 

We CAN’T let that happen. I am so thankful for the unity we do have in our church. DO NOT let the devil use you to destroy that. Listen: being unified and showing love in the church is not easy.  You’d like to think it would just be so easy, “we’ll just all love each other” and everything in the church is just all “warm fuzzies.” But it’s NOT. There WILL be people in the church you don’t naturally like. There WILL be someone who says something that offends or hurts you. There WILL be some decision that you don’t agree with. With hundreds of people in a church, those kinds of things just ARE going to happen. But what we must do to keep unity is to decide beforehand: WHEN this happens (and it will!) 

— I am NOT going to be offended by it. 

— I am NOT going to let this become a point of division between me and another Christian or group of Christians in our church. 

— I am NOT going to let Satan use ME as his unwitting tool to cause distraction and division and discord in God’s church. 

With the help of God’s Holy Spirit, I am going to be willing to not get my way. With His grace I am going to forgive that hurt. With His power I am going to go forward with the people of God, and “row together” in “perfect synchronicity” and keep the unity of the church that is so important to our worship, our work, and our witness to the world.

Division is one of the most pervasive, and most destructive strategies of Satan vs the church. God says DO NOT GIVE IN to his temptations. “Stand firm” in Christian unity. 

II.  Stand Firm in Christian Service 

And just briefly, speaking of those teams of rowers in the boat — be sure that you are one of the rowers!

Paul emphasized that these two ladies who were having a conflict between them were NOT what you’d call “bad people.” Look at what he says about them in :3. He says they had “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.” Paul said these ladies are WORKERS for the Kingdom; they’d helped him spread the gospel — along with the other “fellow workers” there in Philippi.

So he’s applauding their service for the kingdom. They “shared the struggle in the cause of the gospel.” They were “fellow workers” in the church, along with others. The two words he uses here to describe their work are:

— “sun-athleo” “sun” means “together;” “athleo” means to “strive” — we get our word “athlete” from it. He says these people are my “fellow athletes” on God’s team!

— and then the uses the word, “sun-ergoi”. Again, “sun” means “together,” and “ergon” means “work.” He says they are “working together” with me in God’s Kingdom work.  

He says these people are my “fellow athletes;” my “fellow workers.”

It is vital for a church that its members are “fellow workers,” and “fellow athletes” on God’s team. There is so much to be done, if we are going to fulfill our God-given goals of “worshiping Him, and serving Him by reaching, and teaching, and caring for people.” We need people in the choir and praise team, and in the band, and on the tech team — our tech team needs some more volunteers to train to help in that ministry. It takes a whole church of people reaching out to bring people in — just one pastor or group of pastors can’t do it; it has to be the whole church, where everybody sees themselves as an evangelist; watching for opportunities to share Christ or invite people to church. We talked a minute ago about how important Sunday school and small groups are — but it takes dozens of workers who are committed to prepare and be there every week to be able to staff a Sunday school — and the same with Wednesday night, and when we do Sunday night discipleship. And it certainly takes us all to care. No one person or even small group of people can do all the caring that needs to take place in the church: nobody can make all the calls; nobody can make all the meals; nobody can do all the praying that needs to be done — but if everyone is “on the team;” if everyone is a “fellow worker,” than we CAN care for our people the way we should. But it takes us all, seeing ourselves not just as a “member,” who comes an hour or two a week; we have to consider ourselves as “on the team;” a “fellow athlete;” a “fellow worker” in what God is doing in our church.  

The question for you here is: “Are you on the team?” Are you helping with worship, evangelism, teaching, and caring in some way? Would Paul, looking at our church, say of YOU: “they are a ‘fellow-athlete; they are a fellow worker. They are ‘on our team’”?  

I’m so grateful for so many people in our church, for whom the answer to that is “YES!” But we’ve got to realize, it can’t just be half of us; it can’t just be 2/3 of us; it needs to be ALL of us.  

A pastor friend of mine was reading where a man had interviewed the chief of a volunteer fire department. In the course of the interview he asked the chief: “How many members does your department have?”  The chief said, “Are you asking how many come to the fish fries or how many fight fires?”  (Joe McK FB post, 7/22/21)

You could ask the pastor of a church the same question couldn’t you? “How many members do you have?” He might answer: “Are you asking how many come to the fellowships — or how many are actively worshiping, reaching, teaching, and caring?”  Or as Paul might say, How many are “fellow workers”?  How many are really “on the team,” doing the work of the Kingdom?  

Listen; I know the days we are living in are hard – we talked about that – COVID and winter storms and hurricanes plus all of our own personal problems on top of all that. It makes you weary. I’ll be honest with you, I have been weary in recent days. But you know what God keeps showing me in His word: “Don’t be weary in well-doing.” I just read it again, amazingly, this week of all weeks, when the hurricane came through, I was finishing up II Thessalonians and 3:13 says, “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.” I needed that. I bet you some of YOU may need that word too. “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.”   

Galatians 6:9 says the same thing: “Let us not lose heart is doing good, for in due time we will reap IF WE DO NOT GROW WEARY.” There it is again. He says, you’re doing good. God’s using you. Don’t stop. Don’t grow weary. God’s got great things for us ahead — IF we “stand firm,” and don’t grow weary.

That’s what this scripture is saying here: don’t grow weary, but “stand firm.”

— stand firm in your Christian fellowship

— stand firm in your Christian unity

— and stand firm in your Christian service. 

Be “on the team.” Don’t grow weary; but “stand firm”!  

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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