Long, long ago the people of Israel were finally tasting freedom from Egyptian slavery. Yet, after only a couple of days walk from Egypt , they found themselves in one of the most famous and iconic moments in all history: the red sea. We all are familiar with the epic visual of Moses’ hands lifted up and the sea parting into two enormous walls of water with a dry walkway between them. But maybe we don’t remember what Moses said right before this moment. The LORD led the Israelites to this situation by leading them to the sea. So there they were on the seashore when all of a sudden they heard the rumble and saw the storm of Pharaoh and his entire army in the distance coming towards them. With a vengeful Pharaoh in front of them and an impassable sea behind them, terror spread among the Israelites. They began to scream at Moses for getting them into this situation. Then, without the slightest hint of fear or doubt Moses said in Exodus 14:13, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.” Stop freaking out. Stop losing your minds. Stop melting with fear. Do not scatter and run. Do not fall on the ground in the fetal position. Stand up. Stand firm. And watch what God does. The rest is history.
Our sermon today is titled “Stand Firm.” Everyone in history who has ever walked with God in faith has found it necessary to stand firm. From one end of the Bible to the other God instructs his people to stand. “Stand firm,” God said in Isaiah 7:9, “If you do not stand firm in your faith you will not stand at all.” First Corinthians 16:13 tells us, “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith; be courageous, be strong.” We are exhorted again to stand firm in Galatians, in Ephesians, in Philippians, in 1 and 2 Thessalonians and several other places too.
Now the purpose of this sermon is very simple: I want us to stand firm. We’re going to look at 3 points and explore what it means to stand firm, how to stand firm, and why to stand firm.
The phrase “stand firm” comes from a Greek word that means “to keep your standing; hold your ground; to withstand; to persevere, or to persist.” That kind of “standing your ground” implies – obviously – that there is opposition coming your way. We are to withstand what opposition comes against us. We don’t quit Christ when it gets tough, we don’t change our theology and our biblical morals to be more appealing to the world that hates Jesus, we don’t run away from our commission or move from our firm stance with and in Christ. We stand firm, persevering and persisting through whatever we must go through in order to be faithful to our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul didn’t just exhort the churches to stand firm, he was an example of it when he said, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13). Another example of holding your ground is Peter and John, when commanded by the Jewish leaders to stop preaching the name of Jesus they said, “What is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you or to listen to God? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20) Stephen, the first martyr in Church history, did not shrink back when standing before the Jewish leaders but rebuked them and testified of Christ. He stood firm in the face of the greatest opposition – and it cost him his life.
There are anti-examples too of standing firm. There are plenty of examples of not standing firm. The disciples all fled when Jesus was arrested – after promising to follow him to death only hours prior (Mk 14:31, 50). Peter was given three chances to affirm he was a follower of Christ but vigorously denied it all three times (Mk 14:66-72). Demas didn’t stand firm with Paul but abandoned him to go follow the world (2 Tim. 4:10). The Galatian churches were not standing firm as they began to turn back to the Law of Moses (3:1-6; 5:1). Paul warned Timothy that in “later times some will abandon the faith and follow doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1-2). In his second letter to Timothy Paul named two men who did not stand firm in the truth, “Hymenaeus and Philetus” departed to go off into false teaching.
Stand firm! EFC: Stand firm!
Let’s look at some specific teachings here.
STAND FIRM IN SOUND DOCTRINE (2 Thess. 2:15)
Turn with me to 2 Thess 2:15. [READ]. The idea of standing firm here is that of holding fast to the teachings Paul gave them. Paul does not want them to let go of those teachings, but hold fast to them. He said in 1 Corinthians 11:2, “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions [teachings] just as I passed them on to you.”
The Greek word for “teaching” which is also translated as “tradition” has the idea of “giving up and giving over to.” Which seems strange, but think of it as Paul being in possession of the teachings that Jesus personally gave him, so Paul now had this body of teaching and he was to “give it over” to others so they could also know and benefit from that knowledge.
So it’s like Paul saying, “I gave you what was given to me. Do not abandon what I gave you. Hold on to it. This knowledge is now in your possession as well. Keep it. Don’t let it go. Don’t give up on it. Don’t change your mind and reject what was given to you. Stand firm in these teachings!” Paul was gladdened by the Corinthians that they were holding on to his teachings. He was overjoyed by the Thessalonians as well when he found out they were continuing in the teachings he left them. In 1 Thessalonians 3:8 he says, “Now we really live since you are standing firm in the Lord.”
We’ll come back to this verse soon because that verse is very important. But I want you to see that the reason the Thessalonians held fast to Paul’s teachings was because they didn’t think it was Paul’s teachings. They knew his teachings were God’s teachings. We know this because Paul said in 2:13 that they did not think Paul’s teachings were merely human words, “but, as it actually is, the word of God.” They held to Paul’s teachings because they knew that his teachings were not from Paul ultimately, but, from the Lord through Paul. So they were holding to God’s words, God’s teachings!
APPLICATION: Standing firm means believing the Bible is the very words of God. Do you really believe these are the words of God? It’s easy to “coast” in church and pay lip service to ideas in church because you’ve been around church so long. Your in church but your heart and mind never really have been. And then someday you just walk away from it and people wonder how you could when you’ve “believed” for so long. But the truth is you never believed. Church is just “what you did.” You didn’t stand firm in Christ because you never truly stood with Christ. So I ask again: do you believe for real that these are the very words of God? Standing firm requires it.
If you’ve ever read Galatians then you are struck with the difference in Paul’s tone. He is sharp and critical. Why? Because the Galatians were not standing in the teaching they received, but through outside pressure from Jews they were turning back to the Law of Moses. Galatians is a case study of people who were wobbly, who were unstable, and who were maybe standing but they were starting to slip. They needed a letter from Paul to make them stand firm.
APPLICATION: Hold on to the Apostles’ teachings. Notice again what Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Right now today we each have the very letters Paul spoke of. They are collected into a book called the New Testament. Let us each hold fast and stand firm in the teachings we find there.
STAND FIRM IN SANCTIFIED LIVING (Php 4:1)
Second we see that standing firm means sanctified living. Turn to Philippians 1:27 with me. [READ]
Now let me show you the connection in Paul’s thoughts here. He commands them to live worthy of the Gospel of Christ. That is sanctified living – living worthy of Christ. Unworthy means to live an unsanctified life, to conform to the sinful world around us.
Now the reason he explains that they are to live worthy is so that he will know they are standing firm. In other words, the proof that they are standing firm in Christ is their sanctified living. How we live demonstrates whether we stand firm in Christ.
Sanctified living will come at a cost. Christians will be made to pay for refusing to participate in sin. Notice how Paul says in verse 28 “without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…” Don’t let fear of men cause you to sin against God.
ILLUSTRATION: If you’ve never read through Foxe’s Book Of Martyrs I strongly encourage you to do so. It is a historical record of the martyrs in Church history. I was reading one account this week of the Theban Legion. The Theban Legion was made up of 6,666 men – every one of them Christians. When Emperor Maximian ordered the whole army to offer sacrifices to Roman gods and then told them they would be joining him in exterminating the Christians from the region of Gaul, the Theban Legion refused to do both. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs picks up and says,
“Alarmed at these orders, each individual of the Theban Legion absolutely refused either to sacrifice or take the oaths prescribed. This so greatly enraged Maximian, that he ordered the legion to be decimated, that is, every tenth man to be selected from the rest, and put to the sword. This bloody order having been put in execution, those who remained alive were still inflexible, [even] when a second decimation took place, and every tenth man of those living was put to death. This second severity made no more impression than the first had done; the soldiers preserved their fortitude and their principles….. enraged at their perseverance and unanimity, he commanded that the whole legion should be put to death, which was accordingly executed by the other troops, who cut them to pieces with their swords, September 22, 286”
Sanctified living is a hill we die on. Because sanctified living is essential for standing firm. But it will come at a cost. The Theban Legion knew being sanctified was worth it.
But we need examples of sanctified living. Philippians 4:1 says….. Notice he says “stand firm in the Lord IN THIS WAY…” What way? Well he is referring to what he just explained in the previous chapter. Follow from verse 14 with me up to verse 21….[READ] Paul exhorts them to press on towards the prize awaiting them at the end of this life; that we should take a mature view of things, that we should live up to what we’ve already learned, that we should follow Paul’s example, that we should not live like those who live for their fleshly appetites and who live like enemies of the cross and who set their minds on earthly things and we instead should set our minds on the coming of our resurrected Savior who will give us new bodies and who has made us citizens of heaven. IN THIS WAY we STAND FIRM! This is a description of sanctified living, and Paul told them that he has modeled it for them and they are to follow the example he has set and of those who also live like him (3:17).
Standing firm requires sanctified living, and that means a sanctified conscience. Romans 14:4… We are unstable when we mistreat our conscience. First our conscience needs to be shaped by God’s word. And second, our actions need to conform to our conscience.
Standing firm means running away. In 2 Timothy 2:22 Paul says “Flee!” He says it also in 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul says “Flee all sexual immorality.” To live a sanctified life it requires that we flee from sin. Thus, to stand firm in righteousness means we run away from sin.
STAND FIRM IN UNITY (Php 1:27; 1 Thess 3:8; Rom 14:4)
Lastly, stand firm in unity. Paul said about the Thessalonians, “Now I really live since I know that you are standing firm in the Lord.” What do you think that did or Paul in his own sufferings? It emboldened him to stand firm.
There is a unity among believers that is seen when believers stand firm together in the face of opposition.. When I see you standing firm in the faith it emboldens me to stand firm in my faith. Your strength strengthens me and my strength strengthens you.
ILLUSTRATION: In the 300’s during the height of the persecution of the Church, a young man named Timothy and his wife of only 3 weeks Maura were arrested and tortured for their faith. The governor burned Timothy’s eyes out with hot irons because he refused to give him the Scriptures he kept hidden so they could be burned. “The books will be useless to you now that you can’t see them to read.” Then the governor hung Timothy by his feet, tied a weight around his neck and put a gag in his mouth. “Maura tenderly urged him for her sake to recant his faith. But when the gag was taken out of his mouth instead of consenting to his wife’s pleadings, he greatly rebuked her mistaken love and declared his resolution of dying for the faith.” Then it says this: “The result was that Maura resolved to imitate her husband’s courage and fidelity and either to accompany or follow him to glory.” They were tortured further, the crucified next to each other.
Courage begets courage. When you stand firm it emboldens me to stand firm. I need you to stand firm and you need me to stand firm. Let each of us stand with manly firmness.
By standing firm together Philippians 1 says we are a sign of God’s judgment against those who oppose us. Turn to Philippians 1:27-28 with me….[READ]
APPLICATION: A clear conscience and moral strength are the basis of courage in the faith.
APPLICATION: Those who stand firm now are those who will stand firm for eternity: Proverbs 10:25 says, “When the storm [of God’s judgment] has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.”
CONCLUSION: Martin Luther
In 1517 an relatively unknown Catholic professor and theologian named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg. They were 95 complaints about the errors of the Catholic church. From that point on he became public enemy number one for the Catholic Church. He was excommunicated and condemned as a heretic. Luther was the picture of courage, though, not staying silent. Then he was called before the Diet of Worms, which is not a reference to worm food, but an imperial assembly that was to make a decision about what to do with Martin Luther. When someone warned him not to go to the meeting because his life was in danger he said, “If I hear that as many devils would set on me in Worms as there are shingles on the roofs, I will still ride there.” But most famous were his final words when standing trial before the council. When they pressured him to recant his accusations and teachings he said, “I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be right for a Christian to speak against his conscience. HERE I STAND; I CANNOT DO OTHERWISE. God help me. Amen.”
And stand he did. Let us all stand firm. Let us stand in truth, in sanctified living and in unity.