As you probably know, in my Bible study, I am always searching for imperatives or commands for living the life of faith in partnership and obedience with the Father which produces the living righteousness which Jesus ordered all of His disciples to constantly seek.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added as well.” Matthew 6:33 NASB
Well, I found an imperative recently and I want to share it with you. It was written by the Apostle Paul, who had discovered the joyful security of God in obeying God’s directions. He was writing a letter to the mission-strategic church in Corinth which was having real problems making progress in the Christian faith for lack of paying attention to God’s call to righteousness which means abiding by God’s instructions and commands. So, Paul was writing to share the basic foundational principles of the Christian faith and in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, he spends the entire chapter focusing on the heart and cornerstone of Christianity.
New Testament scholars point to this chapter as the essential building block, the kerygma, Greek for ‘the message,’ of the entire faith and the main message to be proclaimed throughout Christendom—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the very next chapter, he continues to build on the resurrection. He offers a direction as to the kind of life which should accompany the understanding of the meaning of the resurrection.
“Be on your guard,” [Paul reminds his readers that even though the victory of the resurrection has already occurred, people of faith still must be aware that evil is still present in the world and that they live on a battlefield where there is constant chaos.]
Paul follows this imperative with another one…
“Stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.”[The word for love which Paul uses is agape, which is the strongest weapon that can be used against the evil one and his forces. The verb used in the imperative mood is stekete. So, I went to work doing a research word study. My conclusion is that stekete is the command for how to handle times when we run into opposition and tribulation of any form. I believe it calls people of faith, regardless of the obstacles placed in their path by the evil one, to: stick to your mission until ‘mission impossible’ becomes ‘mission accomplished.’
My grandmother, whom I nicknamed at the age of two, Moo-Moo, taught her grandsons many things, always emphasizing the essential virtues of the Christian life. She did not know Greek and Hebrew, but she had profound insight to the meaning of biblical revelation. She would often make up her own words. One of the instructional virtue words I recall from Moo-Moo was “stick-to-i-tive-ness.” I think I know what she was talking about because she lived it—she demonstrated it constantly. She was knocked down in many ways, but she never gave up. She always got up and kept moving forward which I believe is at the heart of what it means to stand firm.
As I thought about where else I saw this virtue demonstrated, I remembered a true story about Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain. Mr. Churchill was invited to speak at a commencement service for a very elite prep school from which he had graduated. He took his seat on the stage and presented his familiar oversized bulldog-like visage as he sat and awaited his time to address the graduating students. When his time came, with great effort he put both arms on the armrest and with the grimacw of a weightlifter, pushed his bulky frame to a standing position and pivoted toward center stage where the podium was prepared with a microphone. Then dramatically, but ever so slowly, he moved to the podium. He lowered his head to maximize the assistance of the microphone and whispered with his sonorous, but clear tone the shortest commencement speech ever given. Just five words—“Never, never, never give up!” With that, he had completed and demonstrated his mission.
It’s Christmastime and I was studying and meditating on the nativity story. It begins as a story of two teenagers—a boy named Joseph and a girl named Mary. Their backstory was quite similar. They lived in Israel and were both raised by religious Jewish parents. They attended Sabbath services every week where they were taught the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy—the Law) by rabbis. They were at the age of considering getting married and they fell in love. They knew and believed that according to Genesis 2:24 that marriage was God’s idea and that it was intended to be a three-party covenant between a man and a woman under God’s authority. They knew and believed that God had designed that covenant to be made and expressed in the context of coming together (the two becoming one) and that that sacred covenant commitment was to be saved for the beginning of marriage. In their religious and cultural context, there was to be a betrothal (engagement) period which carried with it the same commitment to sexual abstinence. They had both been faithful to this premarital teaching in looking forward to the beginning of their actual marriage experience. Jewish teaching was that during the betrothal period, their future marriage would be valued and supported by remaining abstinent.
Mary had a visitation by the angel Gabriel who shared God’s mission proposal which would involve her becoming the mother of God’s Messiah. As a Jewish girl, she had been taught about the Messiah’s coming one day, but she never imagined her own participation in that mission and she was still a virgin at that point. While the idea of such a mission was humbling and amazing, it was also problematic and disturbing. It would be less complicated if she simply declined the possibility and settled down into the ordinary path leading to their nuptials. But, Mary meditated and pondered and eventually chose to believe the possibility of a miracle conception through God’s Holy Spirit. Thus, she continued on with their betrothal. One can only imagine the shock for Joseph when he learned that Mary was pregnant.
In Matthew1:19, we are told that,
“And Joseph, her husband [during the betrothal period, the bride and groom were to abide by their covenant commitments even in advance of the wedding] being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” [out of compassion and love, Joseph, like Mary, stood firm and stuck to the mission in front of them even though it surely seemed impossible, yet because of their faithful obedience and sticking to it, it would one day become ‘mission accomplished,’ so, they pressed on.]
The gospel of Luke adds a brief picture of their standing firm together.
“Now in those days a decree when out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.”
Just imagine the hassle they were feeling, let alone the fact that neither of them had ever been through or had any training in birthing a child. It would have been easier to simply opt out of the whole administrative necessity they were enduring at such a sensitive time, but they stuck to their ‘mission impossible.’
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped Him in cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:1-7 NASB
‘Mission impossible’ is becoming ‘mission accomplished.’
When Moses was carrying out his God-given mission to liberate the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, he constantly came to the point of deciding whether to stand firm and press on or give up his ‘mission impossible.’ In every case, he chose to stand firm and count on God for the results. When the Pharaoh finally acquiesced, and let the slaves go, for a moment it looked like ‘mission accomplished’ was near, but then the Pharaoh changed his mind and tried to catch up with the departing mass of Israelites who were standing at the edge of the Red Sea. Behind them were the Pharaoh’s chariots and soldiers and in front of them was the threat of a watery grave. What now?! The people were panicking, frustrated, and even angry.
“As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so, the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt you have taken us away to die in Egypt? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word we spoke to you in Egypt saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians.?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:11-12 NASB
“Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…”Exodus 14:13 NIV
Because Moses chose to obey God’s imperative to stand firm, moving forward with bulldog stability and persistence, their ‘mission impossible’ became the miracle of ‘mission accomplished.’ So, in the nativity of Jesus and in the exodus of Israel, we see the faith journey which requires sticking to the mission.
Jesus Himself demonstrated this faithful choice time and time again. It was why He chose to continue on and not be dissuaded from God’s plan for the redemption of humanity and insisted on going to Jerusalem knowing that the cross lay before Him. And even on the cross I believe Jesus recalled this stand firm faith principle and embraced it. Jesus was nurtured in the Psalms and on the cross quoted Psalm 22 building on the heritage of faith He had as a son of David Himself.
King David had also found this faith principle and his success as the gold standard king of Israel is linked to this standing firm principle. David wrote from this experience in Psalm 40 about how God sustains His servants who choose to be obedient in standing firm.
“I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry, He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay. And He set my feet upon a Rock, making my footsteps firm.” Psalm 40:1-2 NASB
Just imagine what marriage and parenting could be if people would choose to stand firm and stick to it until their ‘mission impossible’ becomes ‘mission accomplished.’ I leave you with the last words of Jesus as He died while seeing the miracle coming, but not quite there yet, “It is complete!” John 19:30 (My translation from the Greek text.)
So, this Christmas, let’s remember that we are the children of so many people of faith, children of God who chose to stand firm rather than to back off or give up. Back to a favorite imperative, stekete!
A word from Jesus, “With God all things are possible.” Stekete,