05 April 2010

Be Strong

by Phil Johnson

Series Guide
(This post is part of a series, taken from the transcript of a message on 1 Corinthians 16:13 given at the 2010 Shepherds' Conference.)

Intro: "The church militant?"
1. "Watch Out"
2. "Stand Firm"
3. "Man Up"
4. "Be Strong"

"Be strong" (1 Corinthians 16:13)

t's not enough just to be bold; Christian soldiers need to be strong in order to withstand both opposition and persecution. If you are going to enter the battle in earnest, you will need to be able to endure antagonism, derision, controversy, contempt, and abuse of every kind. It will come from the intelligentsia and the dregs of society alike. Worldly governments, the common people, and the academic elite of this world will conspire together to oppose us, just as they did our Lord.

Jesus himself said (John 15:18-20), "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 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. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you."

First Timothy 3:12-13: "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."

If you're faithful, you will be persecuted, and in this worldly realm, you can pretty much count on one thing: those who persecute you will go from bad to worse. Things are not getting better in the world. That's why we have to stay on guard.

You need strength to stand in the battle. Paul is not talking about physical strength. Again, "the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh." This is still talking about character, so this is a command to cultivate strength of character—integrity combined with unflagging persistence. You have must that in order to triumph in the battle Christ calls us to fight.

Christ Himself supplies that strength through His Holy Spirit to those who obey Him faithfully. In the words of Colossians 1:11, We are "strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy." Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me." Therefore "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might." That is a command; not an option. It is what God demands of all believers, and especially the shepherds of His flock.

Now let me quickly in closing call your attention to verse 14, because this is the vital closing punctuation to everything we have been talking about: Verse 14: "Let all that you do be done in love." That's an echo and a summary of 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul gave them an extended discourse on the qualities of love.

Now lots of people are tempted to read verse 14 as if it nullified everything we have just said about verse 13. It doesn't. Jesus fulfilled every quality outlined in verse 13 to the uttermost (and if you don't believe me, read John MacArthur's exposition of Jesus' dealings with the Pharisees in The Jesus You Can't Ignore.) Love doesn't nullify any of the commands of verse 13; but it does define what should be in our hearts—and what our motive should be—as we wage this relentless fight against the ideological strongholds of Satan.

We're not supposed to be pugnacious. We don't relish conflict for conflict's sake. In 2 Timothy 2:23-26, We're commanded to "have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil."

But let's also be aware also that not every point that comes under dispute is petty and trifling. Not every debate is a foolish, ignorant controversy. The same apostle who wrote 2 Timothy 2:24 also said in Titus 1 that "there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers . . . whose mouths must be stopped." Being gentle and patient doesn't mean yielding ground to the purveyors of false doctrine. There are, even today, "many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers . . . whose mouths must be stopped"—and some of them are authors of bestselling books put out by supposedly evangelical publishers.

It is not "unloving" to recognize that fact and point it out when necessary.

But we live in a culture that has lowered the tolerance level for that kind of discourse to practically zero—in the name of a false and phony standard of charity and gentleness. In the past ten years alone, every fundamental doctrine I can think of has been placed on the table for debate within the evangelical movement. These are not mere trifles, and yet there is such a paranoia about being too militant (perhaps an excessive fear that we might fall into a fighting-fundamentalist spirit) that it shocks us nowadays when anyone does rise up in defense of some truth.

One of the favorite slogans of our age is, "Let's just agree to disagree"—and then virtually every point of truth is blithely set aside as trivial and unnecessary. That mentality—a refusal to fight for the truth—has done horrific damage to our churches and to the evangelical movement. It is not loving at all.

"Let's just agree to disagree."

Well, no. How about we just argue until one of us actually refutes the other and we come to a common understanding of God's Word? How is that "unloving"?

I'm not pleading for a constant spirit of contention. But the fact is that evangelicals currently have a lot of housecleaning that desperately needs to be done, and a lot of enemies who need to be chased from our camp. Truth has too been often set aside in the name of charity and unity. Genuine love starts with a love for the truth.

On the other hand, throwing truth under the bus is not charitable at all. Moreover, it doesn't promote genuine unity. Witness the ongoing meltdown of Emergent religion if you want proof of that. Authentic unity is when we agree and we all say the same thing—and that can't possibly happen if the people of God and the God-ordained leaders of the church refuse to use the Sword of the Spirit to demolish the ideological strongholds of Satan.

We need to remember that the whole point of tearing down those strongholds is the liberation of people who are held in bondage by them, and therefore everything we do—watching, standing firm, showing manly courage and determination, and drawing on the Lord's strength—all of it should be done in love. It is, after all, the love of Christ that sought us and called us and compelled us to enter the battle alongside Him in the first place. The love of Christ constrains us—to "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong."

Phil's signature


jlosinski said...

yess! I've never commented on this extremely popular blog and I'm the first! Anyway, I really enjoyed your message Dead Right, concerning the fall of fundamentalism.

David Rupert said...

I do think we need to talk things out. We are so split on so many things and I think its just because we haven't had the chance to work things out.

Love your take on this issue


olan strickland said...

Amen Phil! This is good ecclesiology; this is the purpose of the church; this is what equipped Christians will do!

Nash Equilibrium said...

Evangelicalism definitely has a lot of housecleaning to do. Rightly said! And you can't resolve conflicts by ignoring them.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Moreover, it doesn't promote genuine unity. Witness the ongoing meltdown of Emergent religion if you want proof of that."

Here's a recent article. Excerpt:

"When Darian Ahler leaves for church, he walks from his bedroom to his living room.

The congregation – San Francisco hipsters in their 20s and 30s – comes to him. No one delivers a sermon. No one sings. The group brainstorms together on what they can do to honor Jesus, besides just pray to him.

"These days, religion is intellectual masturbation. It's not experimental enough," said Mark Scandrette, the founder of the group, called ReImagine, and author of the book "Soul Graffiti."

"We look at what Jesus taught," Scandrette said, "then we try to develop an experiment that helps us learn that."

The group is one of a growing number of do-it-yourself Christian communities forming in the Bay Area, looking for alternatives to institutional churches and what its members see as their passive rituals. As other Christians attend church Sunday, ReImagine members will celebrate Easter by heading to the beach.

"The modern version of worship, of sitting on a bench and being read to, is on the way out. It's boring everybody, including the pastors," said Matthew Fox, an Oakland pastor and author of several books on spirituality. "People are hungry and thirsty for something to touch their hearts and souls."

Researchers at the Ventura-based Barna Group, which studies trends in religious beliefs and practices, have seen alternative Christian groups rise in popularity. About 6 percent of adults surveyed last year said they met regularly with a self-governed Christian group, and 33 percent said they had attended a worship service outside of a conventional church in the previous month."

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Here's a writer that's concerned that "evangelical talking heads" are failing a new generation, and perhaps it's because of being "too strong"?

Excerpt from Why Evangelicalism Is Failing a New Generation: "There are three major reasons that a younger generation is leaving Evangelicalism: pernicious sexism, religious intolerance, and conservative politics.


Outside of the church, more women became CEOs of powerful companies, judges on the Supreme Court, and viable candidates for President of the United States, so women began to wonder, "Why can't we be pastors? Why aren't there more women in our church leadership? Why would all the rules change once we stepped inside of the church walls?" Men and women alike began to long for gender equality in church leadership. But the sexism wasn't just in the church. Many Evangelicals began waging a culture war against "radical feminism," which, to a new generation of women, didn't seem radical at all. It just felt like equality."

donsands said...

Speaking the truth with compassion, love and gratefulness for one's own salvation, will cause some hot friction. I wish it didn't, and it doesn't all the time.
But it does. And it's hurtful when another Christian says he doesn't want to hear it, and doesn't even allow grace, the same grace he demands of you.

Thanks for the good words. Blessings to you and your family.

Jesus said: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Love Your Enemies
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."

boyd said...

So we can assume that a pastor with a big house and a six figure salary does not represent Jesus and is a fraud?