Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Standing firm - together
As a young man Philip was kidnapped and held as a hostage in Greece. There he remained for several years. During this time he received a military education. Then he returned to his homeland, which had conceded many defeats and had lost much land. Within five years he had become king.
Philip II of Macedon desperately needed his army to stand firm. He is remembered for two major innovations. First is the sarissa, a very long spear. Second is the re-development of a rectangular military formation used by ancient armies (known as a phalanx). A core of highly-trained infantrymen armed with Philip’s longer spears stood shoulder to shoulder in files normally eight men deep.
As long as they stood firm and did not break rank they were virtually invincible and struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. Using this tactic, Philip united the city-states of Greece and took the city of Philippi (which is named after him) in 356 BC.
Sometimes, it seems that the Christian life is like facing a powerful enemy. It feels like an intense struggle in which another team is attempting to push us back and break down our ranks. If we don’t stand firm, we fall on our backs and slide in the mud in the wrong direction..... It is not a matter of us standing firm on our own. We are part of a community. Paul uses this image of the phalanx with which Philip II of Macedonia once conquered the city of Philippi (Philippians 1:27). Shoulder to shoulder, the church can stand firm. This is one of many occasions that Paul exhorts the church to ‘stand firm’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Unity within the church is a hot topic in the Bible and certainly close to the heart of Jesus who in John Chapter 17 makes it the subject of one of his last prayers. But that unity must be based on sound teaching and a shared understanding of the Gospel message and what god has called us to do with it. Unfortunately however there are too many different views on what the church is for that unity is very difficult.
For example if I asked my congregation what the church is for I think that the answers would differ almost person to person. That's not criticism but an observation. The challenge for me therefore - as it is for every Christian leader - is to try and unify everybody behind some clear objective so that people on a tug-of-war team - to switch analogies - we are all pulling in the same direction.
I read this morning the following alarming statistics: "Only six per cent of British adults read or listen to the Bible, while 55 per...