Standing Firm


February's magazine article.

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Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. (1Corinthians 16:13 NIV)

Sometimes people think of the Christian faith as a pleasant spiritual addition to an already fulfilling life.  Church and faith are more of a lifestyle decision than a personal commitment.  After all it's good for the children to have some good moral teaching.  Other people think of Christianity as a crutch for the weak.  The church becomes a place for those who can't manage life in the ordinary way.

While there is joy and peace, comfort and support in following Christ and being part of his people, it would be a selective reading of the Bible that didn't recognise that part of following Christ required courage and conviction in the face of many difficulties.

The apostle Paul knew this.  He referred to the Christian life as a battle (Ephesians 6:10-17; 2 Timothy 4:7) and he often challenged Christians and churches to stand firm in the midst of that battle, as in 1 Corinthians 16:13 above.

He gives us four challenges:

Be on your guard.  The idea is to be watchful.  It is easy to be taken in by people or ideas that are wrong.  It is easy to be pulled away from our faith by ideas we subtly take on from our culture rather than the Bible.  It is easy for friendships and relationships to pull us further and further away from following Jesus.  A glance through 1 Corinthians shows that all sorts of things had come into the church were pulling the people away from the faith.  They'd moved away from the message of the gospel - the cross - and were more excited by clever philosophy.  Sexual immorality and lawsuits between believers were accepted.  By not being watchful, they'd let all sorts of things into the church. It's not hard to see the parallels in our own day.  We need to be on our guard.

Stand firm in the faith.  Standing firm ultimately means sticking to the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ, whatever the cost here and now.  In the face of all those pressures, whether from the culture around the church, or the insidious false teachers and teaching within, we have to stand firm. In the history of our denomination that has meant dying for the faith.  The first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, was burned alive for ultimately holding to the gospel against the persecution of Queen Mary (interestingly he wavered, but ultimately stood firm).  We are, of course, hearing of more and more cases around the world of this kind of cost to standing firm as a Christian.

In the UK, we have become used to a much easier way of life.  People are no longer burned for their faith.  However, things are getting tougher for us in our society.  Despite all the talk of freedom of speech in recent weeks, we face far greater risk if we speak freely and clearly on the gospel - especially around issues to do with sin and sexuality and the uniqueness of Christ as the only way of salvation (as opposed to other religions).  Within the church, their are increasingly voices calling for us to compromise on the same issues.  But the apostle Paul reminds us that our job is to stand firm.

Be courageous; be strong. Being on guard and standing firm is not easy.  The reality of the situation in Corinth is what the Bible scholar Paul Barnett calls, "the ever-present danger of persecution for the early Christians."  I suspect that, even in our relatively safe context, we know something of that danger and so the need for strength and courage to stand firm in our faith.  It would be much easier to go with the culture, to not disagree with people and to avoid conflict.  Unfortunately, if we are to stand firm and be on our guard, then we will find ourselves facing disagreement and conflict.  When that happens, we will either fold under the pressure, or we will be courageous and strong.  Only the latter is the way of faithfulness to God.

Being a Christian does provide us with wonderful joy and peace, because we have a relationship with God.  It doesn't yet, however, remove us from the brokenness and sinfulness of our world. That means, that at times we will face opposition and temptation.  The challenge of 1 Corinthians 16:13 is that we be on our guard and stand firm in the faith.  That will require us to be strong and courageous.

Let me suggest a few questions to think about this month:

1. Do you know your faith well enough to stand firm in it and not be pulled away from it?  What are you doing to know your faith better?

2.  On the issues of the day (e.g. sex and sexuality, other religions) do you know what the Bible teaches?  How could you find out more?

3. Do you pray for strength and courage to be on guard and stand in your faith?  Will you commit to do that this month?

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