Welcome to a new year of universe Bible teaching here on Grace To You. Today, John MacArthur kicks off a series we look forward to another year of doing what we think is most important, and that is teaching people biblical truth, helping men and women grow stronger in their ability to study the Bible on their own.
Yeah, absolutely. That's why we're here. We're back.
We're refreshed. We're eager to open God's Word to you in 2023. And by opening the Word, I mean making the meaning of Scripture clear to you. This is our mission, so that you will know what the Bible means by what it says, so that you can apply its truths regularly and consistently and daily in your life. That's why we study it verse by verse. We don't want to leave anything out. It's all for our edification.
It's all to make the man of God complete, and it's all to be applied in our lives for the glory of God. There's nothing magical about the start of a new year. It's just a good time to think about setting goals for spiritual growth in the coming months, 12 months from today. Wouldn't you like to look back over the previous year and realize there were steps you took starting now, and then you continued week by week and month by month, and now you look back and you see how much growth you had in Christ? That would be a wonderful way to look back.
To be able to look back, you've got to start from the beginning, and I hope you'll do that. One thing for sure, we're going to be here day after day, week after week, month after month, proclaiming God's life-changing truth. So come along with us as we begin in Philippians 4, where we're going to look at a series called Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability. In a day when we're bombarded with so much uncertainty, this study will help you cultivate seven critical attitudes to keep you on your feet.
Stay with us today and through 2023. Yes, friend, even if 2023 hits you with immense trials, you can know true peace and deeper fellowship with Christ through all of it. This study lays out that path, so here's John to start showing you seven steps to spiritual stability. Let's open our Bibles together to Philippians chapter 4. We are going to embark upon a wonderful new study of the first nine verses of this great chapter, and the theme of these verses is spiritual stability.
It introduces us, I believe, to a subject that is of great importance. I am convinced that it's fair to say that the church of Jesus Christ in our country today has experienced a great amount of instability. From the leadership on down, it tends to be an unstable church. It is unstable in the sense that its own leaders do not seem to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
They appear to be unstable. It is a church fraught with problems and anxiety and worry. It is a church that seems ever and always to be trying to patch itself up, to fix itself, to solve its almost inestimable number of problems. It is my judgment that the church, in fact, is unstable, and it is unstable because it has not come to grips with the biblical principles of stability. It tends to pursue stability in areas where it does not live, reside, exist.
It tends to be seeking answers that aren't there, solutions that are short-term at best. Now, we can grant the assumption that the church will be under attack. Jesus said, in this world you shall have what?
Tribulation, John 16. He said there will be days when people will actually persecute you, take your life, do to you what they did to Me. They will take you before their courts.
They will throw you in their prisons. Expect it. The devil moves around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. The flesh, as it were, stalks the redeemed self to debilitate it, to distract it. There is the world with all of its allurements that endeavors to entice the believer.
We are always under assault. In our personal lives, there will be times of persecution and trial, severe trial, subtle persecution in our society, which I think sometimes is more difficult than that which is not so subtle. I think in a society where being a Christian costs you your life and where being a Christian makes you a prisoner and where being a Christian shuts you down, and where being a Christian shuts you off from society altogether, once you have declared yourself a Christian and it's cut and dried, it might be easier to maintain that testimony than in our society where we are accepted by the world to the degree that we want their acceptance and somehow we are afraid to make our Christianity an issue.
And so subtly we compromise because we are caught between being different and being part, whereas in a society where you're definitely apart from the system, there's no subtlety. I think our persecutions may be in some ways harder. I remember a Russian pastor saying to me through an interpreter, I said to him, how is it to pastor a church that's difficult? He said, it's easy.
You always know where everyone stands. He said, what I don't understand is how in the world you can pastor a church in America where the compromises are so common and subtle. We have that persecution. We also face personal trials and troubles that cause us to break down in terms of our trust, that make us nervous and anxious and cause us to worry and fret and fume and retaliate and feel vengeance and carry bitterness and bear sorrow.
And where do we go to get fixed? We have problems in our marriages and in our families, struggles and dilemmas, and we pursue solutions and resolution. We fight even in our own lives, strong temptation to sin. And the world is very clever in its allurements and the flesh is very vulnerable and the devil is very aggressive and it is very much a battle to stay stable. Nobody wants to be unstable. Nobody wants to fall to false doctrine, not a true Christian. We don't want to fall under trials and literally get crushed and so depressed that our depression of course is unrealistic.
We don't want to fall to temptation. I think if you catch us in our moments of spiritual saneness, we will affirm that we want to be spiritually stable. But the question is, how?
How? Boy, that is a big issue, isn't it? In a sense you can equate spiritual stability with godliness, Christlikeness, holiness, maturity. But it is nonetheless very basic to Christian living and the heartbreak really in the heart of God as He views the church today must be over this tremendous demonstrable instability. We vacillate all over the place, theologically, in the midst of trials, in temptation, from leaders on down. So how can we be stable? How can we stand firm?
How can we get over the ups and downs to an even keel? Well, would you notice the phrase in verse 1, stand firm in the Lord? You might circle that. That is the dominating verb and theme in this entire nine verses. Stand firm in the Lord, spiritual stability.
Now the Greek verb here is stekete. It's an imperative, command, and it is a military word which means to stand your ground, stand your post in the midst of battle. That's what it means. It means to hold your position while under attack. It means what Paul said in Ephesians 6, in the middle of battle you've got your armor on and having done all to stand. Stand against the wiles of the devil. Stand firmly no matter what comes. You don't crumble under persecution and compromise. You don't crumble under testing and complaint. You don't crumble under temptation and sin. You stand firm, spiritually stable.
You can understand how any pastor would want that, can't you? May I remind you again that this is a command? And may I remind you that we have somehow softened our view of God so that commands don't seem like commands anymore? This is a command from the living God through His Holy Spirit by means of the Apostle Paul. God says, I want you to stand firm.
This is a command. It comes from God. He demands it. It comes from our holy, almighty, sovereign, glorious God.
Now let me give you a little bit of the context. Let's go to verse 1. And you'll see a couple of things here as we just introduce this basic principle of spiritual stability. Notice the first word is therefore, which always relates back to what has been said. It assumes that what is now to be said is based or built upon what has just been said. Because of this, therefore this.
Prior fact leads to this. And what, in fact, is that? Well, we need only go back into the third chapter. And if we were to summarize the third chapter, we could summarize it this way.
You remember it well. We are pursuing Christ's likeness, which is both the goal and the prize of our Christian life. And we are waiting for that upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We are waiting for that day when we as heavenly citizens meet the Lord Jesus Christ, and then verse 21, and are transformed into conformity with the body of His glory. In other words, we are pursuing Christ's likeness. We are citizens of heaven. We are waiting for the Savior who will make us like Himself. Since then, we are heavenly citizens.
And since the goal of our life and the prize of our life is Christ's likeness, therefore stand firm. Did Christ stand firm? Did He ever waver? No. No.
Did He ever compromise? No. Did He ever sin?
No. He who knew no sin, says the Bible. He was without sin, the perfect High Priest.
Jesus Christ then is the model. And He stood firm against it all and never violated God. Persecuted? Yes. Did He fall? No. Did He compromise? No.
Tempted? Yes. Did He fall? No. Did He sin? No. Put through all kinds of trials of life? Did He crumble under those trials, collapse, lose His confidence in God and wander around looking for a human fix?
No. He stood firm. And since He is the prize and the goal of our life, and since we are citizens of heaven, and since someday we will be like Him and that is our present desire, we therefore must do as He did, stand firm.
Stand firm. The second thing you notice here is not only the connection with the third chapter, but the second thing you notice in verse 1 is the pastoral spirit of Paul. This is a strong command and what he is going to say is kind of a staccato exhortation because he gives them short, direct commands related to this single command. But in the middle of this rather militaristic kind of terminology and this very direct, confrontive approach, would you please notice the graciousness and the loving spirit that this man has toward these people? Look again at verse 1.
My beloved brethren, whom I long for, my joy and crown, and then he concludes, my beloved. It almost gets gushy, but it isn't. It is real. It is not contrived. It is not manipulative. It is not dishonest.
It is not flattery. It is his heart. Look at it, my beloved brethren, my beloved brethren. And he uses the strong word for love, the rich and deep word for love. He does love them in a very special and unique way and back in chapter 1 we noted that.
He's so thankful for them. There's something about them that elicits deep affection out of his heart. In chapter 1, verse 8, he says that.
In fact, in chapter 1, verse 23 to 25, he says, frankly, I'd rather go to heaven, but you need me so much I'll stay. That is a major concession of love. He deeply loves them. He acknowledges that love even in chapter 2 and how he is concerned about them. In chapter 4, he expresses the tremendous bond that he feels because in verse 15, he says, you're the ones who helped me.
No one else did. He does love them. He loves them deeply and there's a bond there.
Now listen to me. There's a bond of love that does not preclude such a command. There's a bond of love that invites that command, right? Have we not said that to our children on numerous occasions?
I'm telling you this because I love you, because I care about you. And then he adds in verse 1, whom I long for or whom I desire. And the word expresses that he felt the deep pain of separation from those he loved. Paul was a paragon obviously of intellectual capability. He was a master of systems. He was a logician without equal. He was a supreme theologian. But he was also a man of deep passion and had a capacity to love people.
And that package was the best. Here you see the passion of his heart. I long for you. He was a man who cherished relationships. Some people get along without him, not him. He deeply felt the pain of separation. They were his love. They were his love. Then he says, not only are you my love, verse 1, you're my joy.
And I guess that kind of goes together. What do you mean, you're my joy? Well, you give me joy.
The joy of my heart is over you. He didn't get his joy out of his circumstances. That would be hard to do since he was at this particular point chained to a Roman soldier as a Roman prisoner in a private house in Rome writing this epistle. He didn't get his personal joy out of circumstances. That would have been very difficult to do not only because of the physical but even because of the things going on around him, such as people criticizing him mercilessly of which he speaks in chapter 1 who were supposed to add affliction to his bonds. No, he had very difficult circumstances.
He never gave much thought to them. But he found his joy in people. And he found his joy in the people that loved him and that he loved. He found his joy in his flock.
You're my joy. He said the same thing to the Thessalonians when he wrote 1 Thessalonians in 2 19. He says, who is our hope or joy or crown of rejoicing?
Is it not even you? Then in verse 20, for you are our glory and joy. And he relates it to the second coming. You're my joy now and you'll be my supreme joy when I see you in the presence of our Christ. My joy is seeing your salvation. My joy is seeing your growth and that's why I'm saying this to you. I'm not brow beating you. I'm affectionately exhorting you. Then he says, you're my crown.
That is a wonderful statement. Not diadema, diadem, not a kingly crown, stefanas, a laurel wreath. Basically in that culture, two people received a laurel wreath. One was the athlete who won an event and they gave him a laurel wreath to wear. That was the corruptible crown Paul said the runner gets in 1 Corinthians 9. But there was another person who got a laurel wreath and that would be a man who was honored by his peers. A great feast or banquet would be held and this man would be brought as the guest of honor and as the guest of honor he would receive a laurel wreath.
And what does Paul mean when he says to the Philippians and to the Thessalonians, you are my crown? He means you are my reward. The wreath was a trophy. The trophy in a sense said this man has lived a fruitful life.
The trophy in a track meet says this man has run a great race. Paul says, you're my trophy. You're the proof of my effective service. You're my crown. You're the reward that says this has been an effective life.
Or that's rich commendation. What affirmation Paul gives to these dear people. It's just what he said to the Corinthians. You are the seal of my apostleship, 1 Corinthians 9, 2. You're the validation of my life. You're my love. You're my joy.
You're the proof of my ministry. And then he closes by saying, my beloved again. That's rich affirmation. He says, I love you. I love you so much I long to be with you. I long to be with you because you're the source of my joy and you are my reward. So bathed in this deep and emotional love is this tremendous command, rising, stand firm in the Lord, as sensitive, as warm, as soft, as gentle as the terminology is around it.
It is the opposite. It is firm. It is strong. It is resolute. I want your spiritual stability.
The question comes, how? And that draws us to a little word in verse 1, the only word I haven't mentioned, so. This is why I love to exegete the Scripture, taking every word.
You just can't miss any of it. This is hutos in the Greek. It means thus, or in this way.
That unlocks everything. Because you are my beloved, I want you to stand firm in the Lord in this way. That's what so means, like this.
And then he goes on to explain now. And verses 2 through 9 are extremely basic practical principles for spiritual stability. And beloved, Paul has, under the genius of the Holy Spirit, collected here the solution to the entire spiritual struggle. It's all pulled together. You want to be a spiritually strong Christian and stable?
You have to learn the principles that are here. I believe it's all in the Word of God. It is all in the Word of God. For every difficulty and every stress, it's all here. In fact, in sort of a capsule form, it's all here in these nine verses because I am convinced that the resolution to everything in this matter of spiritual stability goes right back to how you think about God.
Do you get that? To how you think about God. And everything Paul says ties in and relates to that. And this must be the objective of our ministry.
You remember early in the book of Acts, in chapter 11 and verse 23, it says in verse 22, And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord. That's what every pastor does. You encourage your people with a resolute heart to remain true to the Lord. That's spiritual stability. That's what Barnabas did. It wasn't just Barnabas.
Peter had that as a goal. In 2 Peter 3.17, he says, You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard, lest being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness. Peter says, Don't fall, stay firm. You come into the 14th chapter of Acts, verse 22, Paul is strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraged them to continue in the faith, and he said to them, Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. So he strengthened them, he encouraged them, told them to expect tribulation.
That's just ministerial function. Paul wrote to the Galatians, he says, Look, for freedom Christ has set us free, chapter 5, verse 1. Don't you fall back, but stand firm.
Don't fall back into Judeistic legalism. In Colossians 4, Epaphras is praying that you would stand firm, complete in the will of God. That's a cry throughout the New Testament. I was thinking, too, of 1 Thessalonians, isn't it, in chapter 3, verse 8? He says, For now we really live if you stand firm in the Lord. Now there's a pastor's heart.
You want to make my life enjoyable? Stand fast in the Lord. Don't waver, don't fall. 2 Thessalonians 2, 15, So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught. Don't waver from the truth.
That's the command. I suppose the most familiar expression comes in these words. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, what's the next word, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15, 58. It was Peter's concern, the concern of Paul, the concern of James, the concern of Jesus, the concern of Jude and John, the concern of the Holy Spirit and of God Himself that we have spiritual stability. The question obviously has to be answered how and we are going to endeavor to go deeply into the things of this chapter that can teach us how. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur. Thanks for being with us. John is launching the new year by pointing you to Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability.
That's the title of his current study. And friend, here at the starting line of 2023, perhaps you've set a goal to study God's Word even more consistently this year. I hope you have. And if so, let me encourage you to pick up the MacArthur Daily Bible. It gives you a portion of the Old Testament and New Testament to read each day, and it's a great way to build discipline in reading Scripture. To place your order, contact us today. You can go to our website, gty.org, or call us at 800-55-GRACE. The MacArthur Daily Bible is available in softcover and leathersoft editions, and it's a great resource for a new believer or simply to help you read God's Word consistently in 2023 and every year. Reasonably priced, shipping is free on U.S. orders, and again, you can purchase the MacArthur Daily Bible when you go to our website, gty.org, or when you call us at 800-55-GRACE. And while you're at the website, spend some time at the Grace To You blog. You'll find practical articles from John and our staff on issues that affect your life and church. You can also download any of John's sermons from 54 years of his pulpit ministry free of charge. That includes every lesson in this current study, Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability. And take advantage of the thousands of free Bible teaching resources you'll find at our website, and be sure you come back often.
That's gty.org. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for starting the new year off with Grace To You. Join us tomorrow when John looks at the keys to lasting spiritual stability in any circumstance. It's another half hour of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time on Grace To You.
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