Sermon: Standing Firm, in God-Centeredness, Under Suffering (Philippians 4:4-9)

I won't publish all of my sermons here, but I thought this one expressed well what we're trying to become as a congregation here in the District. Below is the text. Copy/paste into WordPress doesn't work that well. So forgive some of the formatting. The audio is available here. Sermon: “Standing Firm, in God-Centeredness, under Suffering” 08.05.12, Kevin P. Larson, Karis Community Church

Know what it takes to create a visually appealing newsletter? It takes CRAP. Now I know I’m not supposed to use that word in church, but it really helps us in graphic design, one thing I really enjoy doing when I can. CRAP is an acronym for contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. In other words, regarding contrast, you don’t want someone to look at your flyer and see a mass of words that are difficult to navigate. Regarding repetition, although you don’t want to repeat yourself in your articles, if there isn’t some repeating in the features of the design, you’re going to give people headaches. Regarding proximity, you should have things that are together conceptually actually be near each other spatially. The last letter, the A, though, is perhaps most important. It’s alignment. If your headlines and margins and boxes and pictures aren’t lined up, it’s going to look awful. So, if you don’t use CRAP, your publications will look like, well, crap. And who wants that? Well, where am I going with this? We all want our lives to be characterized by joy. We all want our lives to impact others positively. One of the most important things for us, in order to have a joyful life that blesses others, is alignment. We have to be lined up with a standard. If we’re not, our lives will look like crap. We’ll be joyless, pathetic souls. And others will be for the worse from being near us. To live the lives our hearts desire and our Lord commands, we must be lined up with Him. We have to live in a God-centered, and thus, God-glorifying, fashion.

As we saw last week, Philippians 4:1 starts off this way: “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” The word “therefore” points to what we saw last week. In light of the glory of the gospel and the threat of false teachers, we must “stand firm.” But that little word “thus” indicates to us that the coming verses will tell us how to stand firm. Last week, we saw that we must stand firm in unity around the gospel. This morning, we will look at six imperatives or commands that are found in these verses, verses 4-9, that tell us additionally how to stand firm. Paul teaches that we are to stand centered around the Lord in the midst of suffering. Let us read those verses and begin with prayer.

Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

As you can see, Paul’s first command is in verse 4. He says, rejoice in the Lord. Hear verse 4 again. It reads, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” As we all know, in our fallen, broken world, we all suffer the affects of what theologians call natural and moral evil. Natural evil refers to disasters due to the breakdown of the created order. The tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis this past week is an example of that. Moral evil refers to tragedies caused directly by human sin. An example of this is the recent big news story about the woman, Jessie Davis, killed by her boyfriend in Canton, Ohio. Of course, there are simple, less dramatic examples. A hail storm pounding my house is natural evil. When I speak disrespectfully to Amy, that is moral evil. We experience both of these things. The vilest pagan will tell you that we suffer much in this world. The Philippians were primarily suffering moral evil at the hands of persecutors of the Roman Empire. Paul, thrown in prison in Rome, awaiting likely execution, was experiencing the same thing. How, brothers and sisters, when we experience suffering deriving from moral or natural evil, do we cope? This is what Paul is telling the Philippians here, and they’re words for us, also.

We obviously can’t find joy in the circumstances themselves. It’s ridiculous when your car breaks down or your mother comes down with cancer or your trailer gets swept away by a tornado or your cousin gets stabbed to think, “I find joy in that.” If that’s the case, you’re morally confused. God doesn’t find joy in those things in and of themselves, and neither should you. We aren’t told to rejoice in those circumstances. Paul says very clearly here to “Rejoice in the Lord.”

We’re also not encouraged to avoid the circumstances, to pretend they don’t exist. This no escapism here. The Philippians and Paul were experiencing true suffering. Paul doesn’t tell them to go to their happy place. He says they should “rejoice in the Lord” in the midst of their difficult circumstances. So how do we do this? Let’s turn back again to chapter 1 and verse 29 for an answer. It reads, once again,

Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Now the word “granted” there has the root karis in there, or grace. Two things are stated as grace-gifts to us: first, we have been granted to believe in Him. This is His predestination. Second, we have been granted to suffer for Him. This is His providence. Just above these verses in the text, we see that “standing firm” is mentioned again. Verses 29 and 30 are given as reasons why we should do that. But they’re also reasons for us to rejoice in the midst of trials. We can take joy that God is sovereign over salvation. We are His. He is also sovereign over His creation. Our suffering is in His hands.

My point: do we believe Romans 8:28 that says God works all things for good, giving us salvation, and growing us in our salvation through trials? If we do, we will rejoice. Now notice when we should do this. It says to rejoice “always.” This is because, as our circumstances change, they are all held in His hand. He is in control. And He never changes. He is what the theologians call immutable. He stays the same. We can rejoice in the fact that, while everything changes around us at internet speed, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Why should we do this? Paul, inspired by the Spirit, commands it. Let that encourage you, friends. It must be hard to do. Or He wouldn’t be telling the Philippians to do it. But ultimately we don’t do it simply because He commands it. We do it because we want to honor Him. And rejoicing, amidst difficult circumstances, in the Lord, glorifies Him greatly. It shows Him as our greatest treasure, over against changing idols around us. It proclaims that we see Him as good, which glorifies Him. And, keeping joy in Him during hard times, keeps us from being shaken. It keeps us together. So one way we are called to stand firm is with a God-centered view of our circumstances, our trials.

Second, we’re called to be gentle. Verse 5 says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” The term “reasonableness” has the idea of gentle forbearance. As John MacArthur puts it, it refers to “graciousness with humility.” So it doesn’t seem just being reasonable with others really captures its meaning. Of course, in the context of trials, it’s easy to do the exact opposite: ditch grace and go for self. It reminds me of when George Castanza shoves old ladies out of his way on his way to the exits when he hears someone shout, “Fire!” Under suffering, whom do we push?

We can clearly do this toward those on the inside, around believers. When we are squeezed, we very often take it out on those around us, those we love best. But we can also do it toward people on the outside, those that aren’t followers of Jesus. The word “everyone” likely refers to Gentiles here. We can so easily melt down, under suffering, and go off on those outside the fold who are causing or adding to our suffering. And that pushes people away from the people of God. Why be gentle? First, so we can have the exact opposite effect. So that unbelievers can see the way we handle suffering, our graciousness with humility, and they will be drawn to Christ. That is partly Paul’s point here. So in trials at work, suffering in our family, heartaches in relationships, whatever we might experience, we can respond with grace or harshness. We can respond with humility or pride. How will we respond? But see another reason why we should respond with “reasonableness.” Second, God is near. Verse 5 again says, “The Lord is at hand.” As D.A. Carson points out, this idea of “at hand” can be taken temporally or spatially.

In other words, Christ is coming soon, or Christ is in the room. It likely refers to both. So Paul’s point is this: if Jesus were coming back in two minutes, would you act in a harsh, prideful manner? And, if Jesus were standing in this room, would you act like a judgmental jerk? The truth, of course, is that Jesus could come back at any time. And He is with us, right here. He is coming back, He is “at hand,” for judgment. One day, He will judge that person afflicting us. And if we are not people characterized by grace, He will judge us. And He is near, He is “at hand,” for our encouragement. It should give us great hope that, during our deepest pain, He is very near.

I love pro football and one player I can’t understand is Randy Moss. Somehow he got signed by the Patriots this year. I don’t know for the life of me how he will fit with that upstanding, do-things-right franchise. I just remember him last year, pouting on the sidelines as he played for the Oakland Raiders. He ripped on his teammates. He talked about how great he was. He said he wanted to win, but as perhaps one of the most gifted receivers of all time, he didn’t play hard and fight. He was not gentle, harshly, proudly, going for self, not team. Randy, during adversity, didn’t choose gentleness.

How does God command us to stand firm? With a God-centered view of ourselves and others, that’s how. That will honor His nearness and help us to stand. We’re to imitate our Savior, who as 1 Peter 2:23 puts it, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

Third, Paul says, “Don’t worry.” Verse 6 starts by saying, “Do not be anxious about anything.” It’s interesting to me that it feels as if I struggle with all of these commands pretty significantly. I can get pretty down and not rejoice during hard times. I can be anything but gentle; ask my wife. And, I’m a child of a long line of chronic worriers. For example, just a few weeks ago, my dad had surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm. This is a serious thing. It’s exactly what comedian John Ritter died of a year or two ago. If my dad wouldn’t have gone in to have his back looked at, and if he wouldn’t have had a really good nurse practitioner, he might be dead right now. Well, my mom told me, the one who taught me to worry, that these can be hereditary. So I’m going around thinking I feel something in my abdomen. My wife is getting increasingly angry at me, that is, when she’s not making fun of me. She then describes the symptoms to the nurse at our doctor’s office, and, no, they actually think I may have an ulcer, which along with diet, has always been said to be tied to worrying. I know worry. Why not worry? Well, the reasons are the same that we have seen in our last two points. Some say that the “Lord is near” phrase should actually be tied to this command not to worry.

There has to be some connection due to their proximity to each other. When Hadley has been scared in his room, my wife and I reassure him that we’re just across the hall in our beds, and that typically works. We can be in his bedroom fast to help him. In the same way, it should “work” for us. It should reassure us and work against our worry to know that the “Lord is near.”

Also, the same reason we should rejoice is why we shouldn’t worry. He is in control. Remember back in Matthew 6 in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus deals with the idea of worry. He says, look at the lilies of the field. See the great clothes they wear. Look at the sparrows. Check out the food they eat. They don’t worry, and God provides for them. He is completely in control. Paul says elsewhere, in Ephesians 1:11, that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will.” That is why Paul says here that we should not worry about “anything.” The Lord is in control of everything. That should give us hope. Be encouraged again that the command not to be anxious validates our struggles with worry. The Philippians found this difficult, also. It is so hard, in the face of trials not to worry. So, how, then, do we do it? What good does it do to command someone not to worry? Isn’t worry an emotion? How can you command someone to feel a certain way? Is there any hope? I can tell you, the solution isn’t for you to just “grin and bear it” and try to convince yourself you’re not worried. There is a better way. This leads to our fourth imperative found in this passage. God gives us a means to fighting worry. He doesn’t just give us a command, but also help in keeping it.

Fourth, then, pray to the Lord. We’ve seen the problem; we struggle with anxiety. See then in verses 6 and 7, a prescription and a promise for this struggle of ours. Hear those verses again:

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The prescription for this ailment is prayer. He uses redundancy, speaking of prayer in three different ways, to make his point. We need to tell the Lord about our worries. But why? Well, clearly, this isn’t to inform God or to change Him. He is omniscient, knows all. As I said before, He’s immutable, doesn’t change. Rather, it’s to inform us and change us. Speaking these to our Lord and hearing in His word truths about His ways can relieve us of stress and ulcers. This process of talking to God through prayer and hearing Him speak through His word reminds us again of Romans 8:28. It reads, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” And front cover to back cover, all over the Bible, this is a message we see if we’re looking.

Notice also the when of this passage. We are to do this “in everything.” This is, of course, meant to be a contrast with the “about anything” just before it. We are not to worry “about anything.” We are to pray in “everything.” Paul’s point is that we are to talk to the Lord in prayer through all circumstances of life. Particularly he is talking about the hard times that, at least in my experience, are the hardest time to pray. It’s so much easier to just get in bed, throw the covers over your head, and just give up. But those are the times God wants to comfort us.

Notice also the how in this passage. We are to pray like this “with thanksgiving.” We are to thank God for His sovereign, good control over our lives. We are to survey our past, seeing His hand, and think of the future, trusting His grace, and thank Him. And this is so hard to do in trials. This is why, as D.A. Carson points out, this likely refers to what the author of Hebrews speaks of, in Hebrews 13:5, of the “sacrifice of praise.” It’s hard to praise God, to thank Him, through tough stuff. It takes great sacrifice. But it’s a sacrifice that brings great reward.

We see that reward in what is promised in this text. Again, verse 7 tells us that peace will guard us when we pray. Picture that the President comes to visit your house, and, as we’re in a time of terrorism, there are swat teams and soldiers posted all around your house. While you’re chatting there with George W., you’re completely safe. Nobody is going to get into that house. Think of that promise similarly here in this text. God’s peace, His shalom, will surround our “hearts and minds,” keeping us fixed on “Christ Jesus.” He will protect us from the fiery darts of our enemy who wants us to worry, worry, worry. In the times when we are experiencing the toughest of suffering, when we can barely even open our mouths to pray, He will protect us with this “peace” which “surpasses all understanding” in the center of our beings. We’ll be amazed at what is happening. And He will do this through our prayers. In the place where anxiety, from everything we can see, should reign, there will instead be peace. We won’t escape these circumstances. But, along with joy, there will be peace precisely within them. As 1 Peter 5:7, we should cast “all [our] anxieties on him, because he cares for [us].” We will experience that caring through our prayers. Carson puts it well in his book Basics for Believers, when he says, “I have never met a chronic worrier who enjoys an excellent prayer life.” How, then, does God tell us to “stand firm?” It’s with a God-centered focus during trials. We fight worry with prayer. This glorifies Him greatly as the Sovereign. And we experience peace. And this helps us to stand.

Fifth, we are commanded to think holy thoughts. Aaron Dallas, of Carbondale, Colorado, recently had this strange sensation and excruciating pain in the back of his head. He went into the doctor, feeling like his head was moving, thinking he was going crazy, and the man found out that he had five bot fly larvae living beneath his skin on top of his head. He got them removed, and now he’s better. Apparently he got this infection during a summer trip to Belize. His wife cracked, “I will love you through your maggots.” Folks, we wonder why we have so much trouble standing firm in today’s world. Well, it might have to do with the fact that we have too much sick-out stuff swimming around in our heads.

One of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, in The Knowledge of the Holy, a book available on the book table, once said, “What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Why would he say such a thing? It’s because our thoughts affect our emotions. Our emotions drive our behaviors. It all starts with the idols of our minds. So if we want to see change in our lives, we have to start with our minds. Hear again the commands in verse 8. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

In other words, we are to think of things true, not false. Honorable things, not those base. Just or right things, not those wrong. Pure things, not things that are sleazy. Lovely things, not those ugly. Commendable things, not those things embarrassing. Excellent things, not things bad, or even just good. Praiseworthy things, not things to be cursed. Essentially, the apostle tells us to fix our minds on the opposite things from what our culture celebrates. We should do that, that is, if we want to have changed hearts and actions that enable us to “stand firm.” There are clearly lots of things today that I could mention that aren’t worthy of our minds and that end up negatively impacting our hearts. We must avoid them. The statement is quite well put that says, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

But let me give you another angle on this. I’ve read two excellent books the past month or two about Christianity and culture. One is All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes by Ken Myers. The other is The Culturally Savvy Christian by Dick Staub. I hope they can both be at the book table sometime in the near future. Myers argues in his book that we can isolate three types of culture in our country, in particular, those of high culture, folk culture, and pop culture. High culture refers to things like gourmet meals, nights at the opera, sophisticated artwork, and classical music. Folk culture refers to things like home-cooked meals, bluegrass music, microbreweries, and the like. Says Myers, “Folk culture, while simpler in manner and less communicable from one folk to another, has the virtues of honesty, integrity, commitment to tradition, and perseverance in the face of opposition.”

High culture, on the other hand, he says, “has its roots in antiquity, in an age of conviction about absolutes, about truth, about virtue.” Myers’ point is that somewhere down the road, with the coming of modernism, the rise of the industrial revolution, and the “melting pot” of America, a new culture was formed, called “pop culture.” This culture is characterized by mindlessness, timelessness, sentimentalism, instant gratification, superficiality, and an overall lack of excellence, just to use a few big words to describe it. This is McDonalds, Britney Spears, People magazine, Full House, and the like. This is music, literature, food, art, and TV and film that appeal to broad, large audiences. This is what “sells” and generates profits with the most consumers. So producers sell them. They are popular. And we buy them. And before you know it, we start thinking “McChicken Sandwiches” taste good, and the Backstreet Boys make sweet music.

The church, sadly, has reacted to pop culture by unwittingly succumbing to it. Two things have happened. First, the American church got tired of fighting against the content of media that comes against her. So we wanted something with a more wholesome message. Second, businessmen with dollar signs in their eyes began to see the evangelical Christian population as an untapped market. The result? Our own version of pop culture with watered down, aesthetically unpleasing, lyrically shallow, Christian “art.”

An illustration of this jumps out in my mind from my past. At the church I served in Springfield, they held, for who knows what reason, this kids’ talent night. I’ll never forget this 5th or 6th grade girl standing up on the stage at the church, lipsyncing and provocatively dancing to “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. The children’s director got up after the performance and somehow dealt with the embarrassing situation. But people were wondering, “How can we let that song be sung at church?” Somewhere right about the same time, a young man whose family was involved in our church got asked to audition for this new Christian band. Seriously, the kid was living this prodigal lifestyle, and shacking up with his girlfriend at the time, I think, but boy, could he sing. So he tried out. Before he knew it, he was singing as part of the Christian boy band, Plus One. Suddenly he was standing on stages doing choreographed dances with middle school girls screaming. Only he was singing about Jesus. Apparently he dated Jaci Velasquez for awhile, and lived the Christian pop culture life. But he eventually left the group, moved home to marry his high school sweetheart, and I think still lives there. I think he got sick of the pop Christianity. Folks, we so often ask if what we’re putting in our head is evil. We think of what we put in our heads primarily in terms of content. We focus on the lyrics, the message. But, on the other hand, we should also think about the medium itself.

Is this form of literature or music or food or film or television, even without dirty words or sexual innuendos, just plain bad? Is it unworthy of a Christian made in the image of God to perceive and create beauty? Because, if it is, putting it in our heads isn’t good for us. It contributes to our mindlessness, superficiality, sentimentalism, and the like. One could also easily say, “Plastic in, plastic out.” Now some of you might say, “Kevin, you’re just talking about styles here. Who says one style is better than another?” True, we could haggle about the merits of various musicians or filmmakers and perhaps disagree. But God as Creator is the standard of beauty and source of all beauty. We have to say, as Christians, that there is some objective standard of beauty. And we can come to some mutual decisions. For example, Johan Sebastian Bach made better music than Sebastian Bach of the 80s metal band Skid Row. So here’s my point: our only question, when we come to this text is not, “Does the media we take in have evil content?” As Dick Staub says in his book, “Bad art is evil.” Another question is, “Is the media we take in evil in and of itself?” Is it just crummy and time-wasting? Here in America, our heads are full of both—morally bad, wicked stuff, and aesthetically bad, shallow stuff. What do we do about it? Well, here’s not a very helpful solution. It doesn’t work to try to dig it out. We can sit around for hours and years trying to erase somehow, in our brains, all the wicked, and just plain stupid, things in our brains. It just won’t happen. The solution is to push it out. Let me illustrate it for you. In our kitchen is a utensil that I think is invaluable. It’s called the Wondercup. What is it? It’s a different kind of measuring cup. You have this flexible plastic cup on the inside with a hard plastic sleeve on the outside. How it works is that you pull down the inside cup, fill it up with your ingredients, and then push it on the bottom, plunging it all out into the bowl. It works great, for example, for peanut butter. Instead of spooning it slowly into a regular measuring cup and then scooping it out spoon by spoon, you fill up the Wondercup and then push it right out. Friends, our minds are the same way. If we try to scoop out the bad stuff, it doesn’t work well. It’s far easier to push it out. How do we push it out? With the opposites of what much of our culture offers. With the morally good and aesthetically good. We think holy thoughts. We observe that which is morally good. We read God’s word, we meditate on it, we memorize it, we sit under teaching about it, we talk with our friends about it. We read good Christian literature that stretches our faith. We sing and listen to great hymns. We fellowship with God’s people. Those are just a few things that fill our minds. But we also enjoy that which is aesthetically good. We push away mindless, worthless pop culture and look for things, even done by unbelievers made in God’s image, that reflect that image of God as Creator of all things good, and true, and beautiful. We listen to good music, read great books, listen to beautiful music. We make such things our steady diet.

The solution can’t be to just isolate ourselves from the sinful messages of our culture in some parallel universe, just consuming Christians things, because I’d argue much of that is aesthetically bad, evil in that sense. And we can’t separate ourselves from our culture at large that has media that is both morally and aesthetically bad. We shouldn’t even isolate ourselves completely from popular culture. We can’t be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good, because we are called to be on mission. We are called to reach people in culture. So we need to know our society’s poets and musicians, and the like. After all, Paul did. The truth is that only by being heavenly minded can we be any earthly good at all. Because when our minds are filled with what Paul calls “true” and “honorable” and “just” and “pure” and “lovely” and “commendable” and excellent and “worthy of praise,” we can have a standard by which we can view the world. We can see society around us through divine lenses as it really is and truly have perspective from which we can reach people. We can then make connecting points with people through culture, knowing their artists and heroes, to the gospel, showing them the way out of moral and aesthetic evil to He who is good and true and beautiful, Jesus. We can cultivate in ourselves a biblical Christian worldview, showing others trapped in competing, fallen worldviews the truth of the gospel and how it gives the best explanation of the world. So, as Staub says, we can’t be either cultural gluttons—there is too much sin there, or cultural anorexics—there is too much mission to be done.

So, how does Paul say we should stand firm during suffering? We should stand with a God-centered worldview in a difficult, hostile culture. Or we’re toast. Let briefly look at the sixth imperative, imitate godly people. This follows right along from what we saw last week in chapter 3 and verse 17. Speaking of plastic, I remember watching this show some time back about regular people who were going under the knife so that they could look like their favorite celebrities they obsessed over. They were getting plastic surgery to look like already plastic stars. Paul says, “What you have learned and received and heard in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Imitate the right people, he says, in order to stand firm, namely me. Not wicked ones or fake people.

The call to imitate godly people reminds us that we can’t do Christianity on our own. We need someone to follow and imitate. And it also reminds us that we’re being watched, for good or bad. I remember NBA star Charles Barkley saying many years back that he wasn’t a role model. He was, and you are, to some degree. Be a person that can be imitated.

But mainly Paul is saying here to follow the example that he has given through his words and through his actions. Do that Philippians, do that Karis, and we will have God’s peace, His shalom, and we’ll have His presence. He will be with us. The promise to Israel that they would be His people, and He would be their God, will apply to us. If we stand firm, and God uses human examples in our lives to accomplish this, we will experience forever peace with Him. So, how do we stand firm? We do so by keeping our eyes on God-centered role models. So, we’ve seen this morning that we are to rejoice, be gentle, not worry, pray, think holy thoughts, and imitate godly people. And to refuse to do any of these is both sinful and dangerous. Even though we don’t often think about this whole list in that way, to not obey any of those commands is sin. We can easily see that thinking about dirty pictures or being an arrogant jerk is sinful, but we often act like worrying and not rejoicing are no big deal. But the problem is that not doing each dishonors our God. It shows our lives are not centered on Him. It shows we’re fixed upon and relying upon ourselves. We’re not living, as the Westminster Catechism says, “to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.” And this is also dangerous. Why? Each is a command to tell us how to “stand firm,” amidst suffering, in a fallen world. He uses our struggles to make us Godcentered people. And in that suffering, we will either stand firm, as Paul commands, or we will fall flat. It will be either an instrument of growth or a cause of our downfall. If we heed what Paul says here, it can be the former.

But to some of us, these commands seem overwhelming. How can we begin to obey? Unbeliever, first you need a relationship with Jesus. You need to be brought into the fellowship of His church. You need to trust in Christ’s life and death for you. His Spirit will come into your life and enable you to overcome what enslaves you. Believer, you need the same thing. You need to rediscover yourself in the gospel. You need to come to Jesus daily to experience His forgiveness, the power of His Spirit. He will change you. He will change me. Doing what this passage commands is hard. It takes supernatural strength. What we need is to continually center our lives around Him. We need His grace, not our efforts. Or we have no hope to “stand firm.” Our enemy is fierce. Who wants a life out of alignment? Who wants a life that’s crap? No one does. Let’s become God-centered people.