Preached in Welland, Hanley Swan 19/11/17 Upton 14/1/18 Hanley Castle 11/2/18

10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

One of my first funerals was for an elderly lady called Alice. I’d got to know her beforehand through communion visits to the nursing home she lived in. She didn’t really like it there – no real privacy, constant noise and interruption. And to make matters worse she was in pain the whole time– she had a hernia the size of a football  and the doctors couldn’t do anything for it. And yet despite all the pain and difficulty, her faith in the Lord was so strong. I found her really inspiring.

I guess we’ve probably all met someone like that, whose faith shines bright  through all the hard times, the pain and difficulty of life.

And yet you don’t have to hang around church life very long to know that there are others who don’t cope so well, and when hardship comes they crumble.

And our passage this morning – from the book of Philippians – is all about standing firm.For the last few months as I’ve preached here, we’ve been working our way through  a short book of the Bible called Philippians – its a letter written by a guy in a prison cell,  we’d call him a prisoner of conscience now,  and he’s writing to the church he’d founded in Philippi, to encourage them to live out their faith day to day, or as today’s reading puts it, to

 “stand firm in the Lord …dear friends.” (Phil.4:1)

So you may want to have the passage in front of you – it’s on your noticesheet – and let’s look at or first characteristic of people who stand firm in our wobbly world.

 

1) Those who stand firm see themselves as Citizens of Heaven!

Now we all have labels we use to describe ourselves don’t we? For me, it’s husband, father, vicar, and then we get into hobbies,  Sunderland fan, bit of a photographer, likes computers and novels etc.  It’s starting to sound like a dating profile, sorry. We all use labels like those to describe ourselves.

But here’s another label we can add to the list.It’s there in v20 of our passage, a big label that says

“You are a citizen of Heaven.”

If you are a follower of Jesus, if you’ve trusted in Jesus’ death on the cross, then you are a citizen of Heaven. You may also be a citizen of the United Kingdom, and of your village, but your main citizenship, the one that will last forever, is in Heaven.

Why does this matter? Well the psychologists tell us that the labels we give ourselves tend to effect how we behave. Suppose one of your labels is “jogger”,  what does that do to your behaviour? Well obviously it means you like running. But it effects other parts of your life too –like what you eat through the rest of the day. Your sleep patterns. Even the clothes you buy.

Suppose you have a more negative label, “Failure.” Perhaps that’s a label a bully at school gave you, or a PE teacher. Same thing. A label like that is hard to overcome. If you think of yourself as a failure, it’s gonna’  impact how you live,  your willingness to take risks and so on.

What about “citizen of Heaven”?  Will that impact our behaviour?  Of course it will, because there are times in life when we find ourselves tempted to do things that citizens of Heaven aren’t supposed to do. And if we’ve a really strong sense of belonging up there, then it’ll help us say no.

Seeing yourself as a citizen of Heaven is a great way to help you stand firm. You might remember just over a year ago the Daily Telegraph breaking that story about the Archbishop of Canterbury learning that his father wasn’t who he thought he was.  For anyone that would be a shocking revelation Something that would make you doubt, just about everything you knew about yourself.

But I thought the archbishop handled it brilliantly. He gave an interview in which he talked about his childhood and the messy family life and the troubles that had lead to the situation and then finished by talking about what it meant for him and his identity. Here’s what he said,

I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes…

That’s what seeing yourself as a citizen of Heaven can do for you. It gives you a security that’s not built on temporary stuff  like jobs or family or property. Instead it’s a security that’s guaranteed from Heaven for forever and a day. So stand firm, you’re a citizen of Heaven!

Here’s a second characteristic of those who stand firm.

 

2)Those who stand firm have good role models.

Now one of the things I love about being a dad is I get to watch my kids learn things for themselves. I don’t mean stuff like science and maths and philosophy, I mean the really basic behavioural stuff:  like walking and talking.

My youngest is nearly 7 months old now, and he’s learning all that stuff by imitating the rest of the family. Imitation is how our minds are programmed to learn – and that urge to imitate doesn’t go away as we get older, it just gets expressed a bit differently – and we start talking about having role models. And they can come from all walks of life –  but if we want to stand firm in our faith, then having good Christian role models can be a real help. That’s there in V17,

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

He’s saying that we need to get some good role models. Because they can inspire us when the going gets tough.

Let me tell you about one of my role models. She’s someone I think about when I’m struggling to persist in prayer. Her name’s Deborah and she’s one of those people who prayed for the same thing every day and never gave up. And the thing she kept praying for was her husband Alan – who wasn’t a Christian. And eventually God answered her prayers – Alan chose to put his trust in Jesus He became a Christian. A citizen of Heaven! It was wonderful.

It’s not all been plain sailing though. I saw them for the first time in a few years last year, and Alan gave me a bit of a shock. He said, “Mind Barry, I’ve got to go back into prison in January.”

I looked a bit dumbstruck when he said that. And then he smiled and told me he was now volunteering with a group that runs the Alpha course in prisons.

So how do we spot a good role model? Well Jesus is always our perfect role model. That’s why Paul started with him up in v10. But we can have other role models too, and our passage suggests a couple of things to look for to help us work out whether they’ll be any good. Take a look at v18-19, First of all – don’t choose someone who lives as an enemy of the cross of Christ, pick someone who loves Jesus with a passion instead.

And secondly, don’t choose someone who makes a god out of their bodily appetites, Pick someone whose known for being self-disciplined instead. Good role models can help us stand firm.

Now we’ve time for one last characteristic of people who stand firm. And this is all about how you stand firm when you fail. Now you’re maybe thinking, “Hang on Barry, how can you stand firm and fail? Surely people who stand firm, don’t fail?

Well no, that’s not the case at all. Everybody fails. We all fall into sin at times. Or we have problems with our health Or troubles at work or with our families.And those are the sorts of things that can knock our faith for six. But the key difference between those who stand firm and those who don’t is what they do when they fail.

Not long after I became a Christian, I remember making a fool of myself at a party.  Not by drunkenness or anything like that. It was all to do with selfishness and self-pity.  And afterwards I was really embarrassed. I remember deciding I would never ever socialise with any of those people again and with tears in my eyes  I opened up my Bible to read before going to bed,  and read v13 of our passage:

“forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

And I felt God nudging me ever so gently, saying, “That’s what you need to do” And I realised that feeling sorry for myself was a waste of time, and I resolved to get up and get back in the race. So here’s the third characteristic of those who stand firm:

 

3) Those who stand firm get up when they fall over

Chariots of Fire is one of my favourite films. Its about two athletes competing in the 1924 Olympics, and early on in the film we get a glimpse of the determination of one of them, the gritty Scotsman Eric Liddell. He’s running in 400m race, and on the first bend, one of the other runners trips him.

If you’ve seen the film you might remember what happens next. The camera goes into slow motion as Liddell falls to the ground and rolls over. And then it cuts to one of the coaches watching him, who, stopwatch in hand, starts muttering under his breath, “Get up lad, get up lad”.

And then the camera cuts back to Liddell, as he gets to his feet and rejoins the race, and through a superhuman effort, manages to win it.

And it’s the same for us – when we’re tripped, or we trip ourselves, whatever the reason we tumble off the track, How are we gonna’ respond? Are we going to lie there feeling sorry for ourselves? Or will we hear the words of coach Jesus, saying “Get up lad, get up lad” and get up and get back in the race? And that’s how you stand firm when you fall over. And it helps to have some really good role models,because that’s the sort of thing “citizens of Heaven” do.

Let’s pray.

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