Paul encourages his sisters and brothers “to stand firm in the Lord in this way.” What way does he mean?
First Paul advises them to imitate him. But wait; Paul’s conversion experience literally knocks him to the ground, strikes him blind, forces him to leave behind his old beliefs and practices, makes him extremely unpopular, and lands him in prison, the place from which he writes this letter. Further, he instructs these Christians to observe those who “live according to the example you have in us.” That is to say, not according to those who are enemies of the cross because “their end is destruction.”
How can this be the description of the best way to stand firm? Paul’s instructions seem questionable at best. If we read carefully Paul’s words, we cannot help but ask, Was not the cross the way to suffering and death? How does choosing the way of the cross provide firm ground upon which to stand? How can these seeming opposites (vulnerability and standing firm) be held together?
If you are asking such questions, you have likely begun to grasp the paradox that expresses the truth Paul wants to convey and that lies at the heart of the gospel message. The way of vulnerability, the way of the cross, is the way of Jesus. It is folly to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews. The way of the cross still confounds us to this day.
How has loving made you vulnerable? Have you ever experienced failure or falling? When have you been vulnerable to pain and suffering? Did those experiences enlarge your heart? Did they open a way forward? Did they cause you to see and love yourself and others in a new way? The changes within us that result from pain and suffering for love can give us firm ground upon which to stand.
God, help us to stand firm by following your way of vulnerable love. Amen.
This week’s readings give witness to the ways of God and provide confidence and hope in our faith. In Genesis we read of God’s promise to Abram, a promise that seems very unlikely to a man with no children. But God seals the covenant, and the story later shows that God never breaks God’s promises. The psalmist even while mired in conflict praises God for being his light, his salvation, his stronghold. The psalmist longs to be in God’s presence forever, a desire that can inspire all of us as believers. Paul says that in the future reality, we will no longer experience resistance from those who oppose God. One day Christ will fully transform us to our citizenship in heaven. Jesus himself experienced resistance even in Jerusalem, yet he ultimately triumphs, as will all those who trust in God.
Read Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. How can you take a step forward in the dark toward God’s seemingly impossible promises for the future?
Read Psalm 27. Recall a time when you waited in the shadows of your life. What did you learn about God’s provision during this time?
Read Philippians 3:17–4:1. How do you live in the paradox of standing firm in faith by being vulnerable?
Read Luke 13:31-35. When have you been unwilling to accept love? How can you comprehend the depth and yearning of God’s love for you?
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