We must be ready to “strive for the gospel” during times of opposition like those the Philippians faced. How can we prepare?
Practice is Necessary
I mentioned a story from the Titanic in my last post—Captain Edward Smith’s crew understood that when he told them to “be British,” he was reminding them of the virtues that their culture and training encouraged. They had practiced the virtues of courage and self sacrifice in the small things, and it was this practice that made them willing and able to sacrifice themselves for the women and children aboard the ship.
Virtues like theirs must be practiced if they are to inform the automatic responses that kick in during a crisis. Similarly, if you want to play the piano, you have to practice your scales. No one plays a scale during a performance, but everyone must train with them so that their fingers will be able to flawlessly execute a beautiful piece of music on command.
If you want to play football, you must endure hours of practice and repetition. Those hours of practice prepare players for the dynamic moments of play that change the course of every game.
What can we do to practice living as Christians?
How can we strive together as athletes or soldiers for the faith of the gospel? (Philippians 1:27)
Our drills are:
- Scripture reading
These are the things that we do, day in and day out, so that in heart and mind and body, when the great moment comes, we’ll know how to respond and how to stand firm.
Our standing firm together is a sign of destruction for our opponents (Philippians 1:28).
Paul wrote that we are to stand firm and struggle together for the faith of the gospel in one Spirit—the Holy Spirit.
Whenever Paul uses this kind of language he’s referring to the unity of God’s people. We need one another. We need the fellowship that comes from being with one another. We need friendship. We need worship. Individual Bible study is good, individual prayer is good, and individual fasting is good, but the corporate nature of worship is perhaps even more important.
Jesus Trained his Disciples
Think for a moment about how Jesus trained His disciples. He had a few techniques that He repeated with different groups. Sometimes He worked with the large groups that followed Him, but usually in Scripture we see Him with just the 12 disciples. Sometimes He mentored smaller groups within the 12—Peter, Andrew, James, and John, for example. And then sometimes there were Peter, James, and John, or just Peter and John. He taught and trained them through conversation in the routines of life.
Jesus also taught during Jewish festivals. The whole Gospel of John is devoted to major festivals: the Feast of Lights, the Festival of Booths, Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to name a few. Jesus attended these festivals and taught the crowds in Solomon’s Portico, in the temple. He also taught His disciples privately, and He taught in the home of His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany at night.
Jesus liked to teach during meals. All the big festivals have food associated with them, and in the Gospels Jesus was often criticized for eating and drinking with sinners. The ministry of Jesus on a day by day basis, including the Sabbath, involved fellowship meals with people. All of us have to eat. What a great opportunity for fellowship.
We need to make our drills—worship, Scripture reading, prayer, giving, and service—a part of our everyday life. We need to be prepared. We don’t know when the critical moment will come, but when it does, in the power of the one Spirit with God’s people, armed with and contending for the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must courageously stand firm, striving together, not being afraid, knowing that whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.
Are you prepared to contend for the faith given to us by Christ? All of us need to be prepared to give an account of the faith that we hold. All of us need to be prepared to contend for the gospel.
The previous was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon that was featured on Dr. Sloan’s radio program, A Higher Education, on July 23, 2014.
Photo credit: “piano practice” by woodleywonderworks