The Fight to Persevere
June 15, 2014 Preacher: Ryan Christoffel Series: Standalone
Scripture: Philippians 4:1–9
1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
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. (Philippians 4:1-9)
The plan was for us to continue in Colossians this morning, but Lyndon isn’t feeling well, which means God had other plans for us. And so this morning, instead of being in Colossians, we will spend our time together in the book of Philippians.
Many of you know that just this last December we wrapped up a year-and-a-half study through Philippians. I, like you, did not anticipate revisiting this book quite so soon – but nevertheless, Philippians is where we’ll be this morning. And as we are there, we’ll be looking at the topic of perseverance. Persevering in the faith, so that all our days might be spent worshipping, loving, serving, and enjoying our Lord.
The Christian walk of life takes place on a narrow path. There are many dangers, toils, and snares that aim to knock believers off their feet and make them abandon their faith. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and if you have been a believer for any real length of time, then you have probably experienced some struggles in your walk with Christ.
As believers each of us face difficulties that, in small or large ways, may lead us to ask the question, “Is it really worth it? Is following Christ really worth it?” Have you ever asked that question? Maybe not out loud, where others could hear you, but in your heart of hearts, have you doubted that the Christian life is worth it? Have you been in a place where you were so wearied by the difficulties of the Christian life that you quietly started considering throwing in the towel?
Each of us are faced with challenges that tempt us to give up. There are both internal and external forces that challenge the Christian. First, the internal. Being a Christian is hard because it creates war in our inner being.
21 I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Romans 7:21-23)
The apostle Paul here testifies of the battle that takes place in the heart of every Christian man and woman. Before being saved, there was only one force at work in our hearts driving our every thought, word, and deed: our sinful flesh. We were slaves to it, and as slaves, it was only natural for us to obey.
Before the Spirit of God transformed us, our natural inclinations were rooted in sin. There was no war within us because sin had full reign. Sinning was natural for us. And when something is natural to you, it doesn’t take much effort to do.
But when God saved us, His Holy Spirit came to dwell within us. We were given a new master, a new king. This created conflict in our hearts, because the Spirit and the sinful flesh are opposed to each other, so they wage war against each other. The Spirit urges us to do good, and the flesh urges us to do evil. We have two radically opposite forces seeking to influence us, to drive us. This war in our inner being makes it hard to be a Christian.
But that’s not all. Being a Christian is also hard because it puts us at odds with the world. As if the war within us wasn’t enough, we also face external forces that seek to destroy us. The devil, his demonic forces, and the unrepentant sinners that dominate the world are all opposed to us. They’re opposed to us because they’re opposed to God.
In recent history, American Christians have faced less persecution than many brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, but that is beginning to change. We may not be facing threats of martyrdom any time soon, but there has been a steady growth of intolerance for biblical Christianity. None of this opposition should surprise us though, because our Lord said in John 15:19, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
With opposition both internally and externally, it is hard to be a Christian, and because of that, it is hard to persevere in the faith. I stress this point because many believers in our culture actively pursue a sort of casual, comfortable, easy version of Christianity that, according to Scripture, doesn’t exist. Such people will, when things get tough, fail to persevere in their faith. They’ll fail to run the race of life so as to win the prize.
Christians must have a wartime mentality, recognizing that full peace will not come until this life is over and the next begins.
It is precisely because the Christian life is hard that God has given us many exhortations in Scripture that urge us to persevere. Our passage this morning kicks off with one such exhortation.
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 4:1)
As Paul begins to wrap up this letter to the Philippians, chapter 4 kicks off with this bold exhortation to stand firm in the Lord. This is a call to persevere in faith. Then in verses 2-9, which we’ll be looking at soon, he gives us several things that are essential to helping us stand firm, helping us in this work of perseverance.
In view of what we’ve already covered regarding the difficulty of the Christian life, the only options we have are fight or flight. We can fight to persevere in the Christian faith, or we can abandon the faith. There is no middle ground; there is no such thing as neutrality when you’ve been engaged in a war. Each soldier has a responsibility to fight. Each of us needs to do everything possible to help ourselves persevere in faith. That’s where this passage will help us.
There are three things we find in Philippians 4 that are essential to perseverance.
1. Perseverance requires unity with fellow believers
2. Perseverance requires satisfaction in Christ
3. Perseverance requires a constant, Christ-centered renewing
We’ll look at all three of these things in detail. First off…
1. Perseverance requires unity with fellow believers
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2-3)
A couple years ago I went on a mission trip with a team of people, and while on the trip some disunity arose between two members of the team. It came about not because of any serious issue, but simply because the two people had trouble dealing with each other’s differing personalities. That’s it, a difference in personalities. But because of this difference one of the people began making fun of nearly everything the other person did, and as a result a dark cloud of disunity overshadowed our mission of gospel work. As these two people each tried to gather support for their “side,” love for one another was lost and exchanged for fear of each other. For my two teammates, this issue clearly took their focus off of the mission we had been sent for. They admitted that they couldn’t wait to get home and get away from each other.
That’s what disunity does. It takes the focus off of gospel work and makes you want to get away from the spiritual brothers and sisters whom God has placed in your life.
Perseverance in the faith requires loving relationships of unity with fellow believers.
In verses 2-3 of our passage we find that some sort of disagreement has arisen between two members of the Philippian church.
Now you may ask, “What’s the big deal? We can all agree to disagree every now and then.” And if that’s what you’re thinking, there’s definitely some truth in your thoughts. Many times disagreements aren’t significant issues, and don’t need to be made into significant issues. But since this particular example is included in the Bible, I think it’s safe to say that it is no small matter. Since God chose to publicly address this matter through Paul’s letter, it must have been a conflict that threatened the very unity of the church.
Before considering this matter further, let’s look at the approach Paul takes in coming to this issue. He starts off in verse 1 by speaking of his deep love for the Philippians. Look at the words and phrases he uses: “my brothers,” those “whom I love and long for,” “my joy and crown,” “my beloved.” Paul is not shy in expressing how much he sincerely delights in his Philippian brethren.
But would those who are deep in conflict with each other use similar words to describe their love for each other? Just imagine two people who are in some serious conflict, who are engaged in a battle that’s threatening the unity of the church. Can you imagine such people using this kind of language to describe how they feel about each other? “My joy and crown,” “my beloved.” Maybe in very rare cases you could find somebody. But most of the time, there’s no way that those engaged in church-splitting conflict would speak to each other with such loving, affectionate words. Because in most cases, those who are engaged in conflict like this have, as a result of their conflict, abandoned the true Christian love that they’re called to have for each other.
The kind of love and affection Paul displays in verse 1 is the primary ingredient for unity. You cannot have genuine Christian unity without genuine Christian love.
Truthfully, all of us have faced situations where our love for each other waned. We sin against each other, and we find ourselves in conflict. This is a reality of living in a fallen world. But we are not to be content with that. We are to be peacemakers.
Paul, in verses 2 and 3, addresses a Christian’s responsibility to pursue peacemaking, both as a first-party and a third-party. He first entreats the two women who were in conflict to “agree in the Lord.” This is an example of pursuing peace as a first-party. When you’re the one involved in a conflict, you are to take the initiative to pursue peace. And then in verse 3 Paul addresses a certain “true companion” and asks him to “help these women.” This is pursuing peace as a third-party. It is to, out of love, enter into someone else’s battle in order to help them find peace.
Now, most of us are naturally all good and fine with unity as long as no one messes with us, or treats us in a way we deem unfair. Unity isn’t a challenge at all when people treat us like we want them to. The challenge is when we face friction. When friction comes in our relationships, our sinful flesh springs up, and unity is not what we naturally pursue.
Husbands, when your wife is giving you the cold shoulder, is your natural response one that leads to unity and peace? Parents, when your teenage child speaks disrespectfully to you, is your natural response to pursue unity? Kids, when one of your siblings does something that bugs you, is your natural response one that leads to peace?
Unity doesn’t come easy, but we are to pursue it in all of our relationships, pursue peace with everyone, even those who oppose us in some way. If we don’t make the effort to pursue unity, we will grow weary of each other, and we’ll be tempted to pull away from intimate community with one another. We won’t have the kind of powerful, life-changing relationships God wants for us. And we cannot persevere in faith without the people of God by our side, helping us along.
The second thing we find in our text about perseverance is that…
2. Perseverance requires satisfaction in Christ
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. (Philippians 4:4-7)
Jesus Christ alone brings true contentment. Because of this, our efforts should be directed toward pursuing lasting satisfaction in the only place it can be found – in Him.
Does watching TV, or buying the latest, greatest gadgets, or buying a new car bring lasting satisfaction? There may be some pleasure for a time, some happiness, but then it’s gone. Earthly things don’t satisfy for long.
Do you believe that? Not just in your head. Does the way you live each day, the choices you make, do they line up with a belief that lasting satisfaction is found in Christ alone?
In verses 4-7, we see a man, Paul, who is completely satisfied in Christ. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he says. This prisoner, this man who had a resume of suffering that none could compare with, he calls us to rejoice in the Lord.
The first thing to note is that our rejoicing is not to be some fake, empty form of thinking and acting “positive,” as if we can just pretend ourselves into happiness. No, our joy is tied to something, someone in fact, and that someone is the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Rejoice in the Lord always.” Earlier in this letter, in chapter 3 verse 8, Paul wrote, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He is absolutely infatuated with Christ. Everything else is rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. This kind of love for Christ, this kind of satisfaction in Christ is what will help us persevere.
But we won’t find Christ satisfactory until we give up the pursuit of earthly things. Some of you would say you’ve given God a chance before because you read your Bible once or twice, or prayed, and He failed to satisfy. But you never really gave up your pursuit of earthly things! You tried to add Jesus to the world, and it doesn’t work like that.
In Philippians 3:8 Paul says he counts all things as rubbish in order that he may gain Christ. There’s a purpose behind it. He knew that none of us can serve two masters.
A while back, I listened to a sermon by Matt Chandler where he was talking about this issue of being satisfied in Christ. Matt mentioned two lists that he had made for himself early in his Christian walk. One list was for things that helped stir his affection for Christ. The other list was things that hindered his affection for Christ.
Now, these weren’t lists full of just the obvious. Like, under “stirring affections” it wasn’t simply, “Praying and reading the Bible,” and under “hindering affection” he didn’t write “Sinning.” That stuff’s a given, we know it already. These lists were for the things that applied more specifically to him as a person made unique by God.
Matt recognized that there were certain things that, when his life was filled with them, helped stir an affection for Jesus in his heart, while there were other things that, when they filled his life, served to steal away that affection for Jesus and give it to worldly things.
What are those things for you? What helps you love Jesus more? What is there in your life that may not be an intrinsically sinful thing, but for you, when it’s in your life, it steals away your heart, and it does lead to sin?
Have you ever thought through things like that? One example for Matt that he mentioned was that “sleeping in” made the list as something that hinders his affection for Christ. Maybe for you, you’re like, “No way, that’s crazy! When I get to sleep in, it definitely helps stir my affection for Christ.” Whatever the case may be, each of us can be very different in these areas because God has wired us differently.
Certain things can draw our heart away from the love of our life, while other things may help us love Him even more.
I bring this up because, when it comes to being satisfied in Christ, the problem is definitely not with Christ. The problem is with us. Christ is satisfying. But if that’s not your experience on a daily basis, then maybe you need to evaluate why that’s the case.
Are you filling your life with things that strengthen your love for Jesus? Or is your life spent chasing other lovers?
If we’re serious about persevering in our faith, then we’ll be serious about pursuing satisfaction in Jesus.
You can’t love and enjoy Christ fully while you’re still bowing down to earthly things. And if you don’t find love and joy in your relationship with Christ, that relationship won’t last.
Back in chapter 4 of Philippians, we find some helpful instruction in verses 6 and 7. For those who are the tired and weary, for those who lack peace because the cares of life seem too hard to bear, Paul says, “do not be anxious about anything.” He says to take your burdens and cast them on your loving Savior. Rather than being tossed about by every storm in life, we are told to offer prayers of supplication and thanksgiving to God, seeking peace in Him.
Have you seen those commercials for the candy bar Snickers? You know, the ones where someone is really whiny, they’re cranky about how things aren’t going their way, complaining about hardships, but then they eat a Snickers, and all of a sudden they’re transformed into a more peaceful, happy version of themselves. They still have some of the same issues, but their attitude about them changes. Why the transformation? Because “Snickers satisfies.”
Now, if you really think about it, this is kind of similar to how things are in the Christian life. When we’re satisfied in Christ, we can face any kind of hardships and still be filled with joy and peace. Paul’s life is proof of that. But if we’re not satisfied in Him, if we don’t seek our peace in Him or cast our burdens on Him in prayer, we’ll have a really hard time persevering when life gets tough.
Satisfaction in Christ is essential.
The last thing we find in our text about perseverance relates to verses 8 and 9…
3. Perseverance requires a constant, Christ-centered renewing
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. (Philippians 4:8-9)
Now some of you may be looking at your Bibles and saying, “Ryan, we don’t see anything about a ‘constant, Christ-centered renewing’ in here.” I understand where you’re coming from, but follow me here. As we see this command to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,” and so on, let’s ask the question: who is the only person to ever live that perfectly fulfilled this commandment? Christ. In all His thoughts, and all His actions, He lived by what was true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and praiseworthy. He is our perfect model for these verses.
It’s true that Paul says in verse 9 for the Philippians to practice what they’ve learned from him – from Paul – but based on what we’ve seen in these verses, who is Paul really? Naught but a man obsessed with knowing and following Christ.
Since I said we need a “Christ-centered renewing,” I want to help set the right context for those words. The context we live in is that our fallen nature as sinners is unrelentingly self-centered. Apart from God’s transforming work in our lives, every one of us would be living only for self. But Christ’s nature, in contrast, is wholly God-centered. He is ever, only focused on doing the will of His Father. And based on these verses, we are to daily image Christ in our thoughts and actions, to daily put Him on display as we follow His example. We need a Christlike, Christ-centered renewing.
This takes consistent effort. Paul writes in Philippians 2:12, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” This idea of working out can be helpful for us.
What happens when you’re in the gym every day, lifting weights consistently day by day? You get stronger, right? Now, what if, after getting stronger and building up some muscle, you decide to take a six-month, or maybe even a six-year break from working out? Do those muscles stick around? No way.
And so Paul gives us this mental picture of working out to help us understand not only that being like Christ and persevering in the faith take effort, but also that they take consistent effort! You can’t just have quiet times for a couple days, then ignore God for the rest of the week, and expect your spiritual muscles to stay strong. Our minds and actions need constant renewing, constant transformation into Christlikeness.
Ultimately this idea of Christ-centered renewing can be summed up by saying that we must pursue Christlikeness in every area of life. Every area of life means every area. Christ cannot be compartmentalized; He must saturate every part of life. Nothing off-limits. We need to focus on our minds, our inner man, not just our actions. Behavioral change without heart change does not equal Christlikeness.
We need to fight the daily battle. In verse 9 Paul said “practice” these things, which is to say, “continually practice.” It takes daily effort to renew our minds and actions. It takes daily effort to persevere.
In closing, I’d like to read one more verse…
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3)
We are not alone in the fight to persevere. God has supplied us with everything we need to stand firm in our faith amidst the challenges of life. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can pursue true unity with one another, we can pursue satisfaction in Christ, and we can pursue Christlikeness.
God knows that the Christian journey is filled with hardship, so He has equipped us for that journey. He has given us this passage of Scripture, and He has given us His Spirit to help us live by it.
We are soldiers in a time of war. The war is real. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the war is real. The enemies within us and the enemies outside of us are not backing down. We have the victory in Christ! But that doesn’t mean the fight is over. May each one of us do everything possible to help ourselves persevere in faith.
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