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!Phil 4:1
Paul begins this fourth chapter with what looks like a very mixed metaphor. The
therefore refers back to what he has written about in chapter 3. There he is talking about running a race, seeing life as an obstacle course. He writes how he runs this race by pressing on to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. He is urging others to run with him. But in the opening verse of chapter four he now says,
stand firm. It sounds confusing as to which he means for us, whether to run the race or to stand firm. One is a picture of extreme effort, the other of immobility, inaction. How can we then follow this call to standing and yet running?
If we take him literally at his word it is confusing. Nevertheless, thinking this through you have here a marvelous setting forth of the paradox of the Christian faith. For life is indeed a very swiftly moving obstacle course. We've all discovered that. You know how at every turn there are new challenges and new demands made upon you, and time itself brings these things into your life, so that it is indeed a race we are running.
But the secret of running the race successfully, the apostle tells us, is learning how to stand still. That is, to take an unchanging grip on the unchanging life of Jesus Christ within us. This has been the theme of this marvelous letter. He tells us that there is a secret to the Christian life. It is the fact that Jesus Christ lives within us, and in order to lay hold of that life it is necessary that we quite willingly forego the exercise of our own life. Thus he says,
I have learned to count all things loss in order that I might gain Christ. The secret of running an obstacle race and overcoming all the problems is learning to get a solid grip on the life of Jesus Christ within. So you can see that his metaphors are not mixed after all. It really is very true to life.
We have an excellent illustration of this in those delightful little cable cars that run up and down the hills of San Francisco. If you have stood there and listened, you have heard the cables running along beneath the streets. Now actually the cable car itself is incapable of moving. It has no motor, it is impossible to be self-propelled. The only possibility of movement is to take a firm grip on the cable. You may have watched the gripman pulling back the levers to grab hold of that cable and run up the hill. In its relationship to the cable, the cable car never moves. It always remains steadfast, grasping firmly to that one point on the cable. But the cable moves continually, and as it moves the cable car gripping firmly is able to overcome all the obstacles, even the steepest hills of San Francisco.
This is a beautiful picture of what Paul is saying, for though we are running the race of life we are continually confronted with the obstacles, demands and pressures that come upon us. The answer is not to try to do something, but to get a firmer grip on the life of Jesus Christ, who is intent on doing it in us. As we do that, we discover we have an adequacy that handles all the obstacles. He is quite able to overcome all.
Teach me to stand, Lord, in all that you are and all that you have done on my behalf. Then and only then will I learn to run that race successfully.
Has our life's race deteriorated into a self-propelled 'rat race'? What is the sure and essential power by which we may surmount the obstacle course of life following God's 'upward call'?