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STANDING IN THE GAP
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
23 SEPTEMBER 1990
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Preparation Verse: (Philippians 1:21)
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
In the year 61 AD, when the apostle Paul was in prison, most likely in Rome, he wrote a letter to the church in Philippi.
And in a portion of that letter, 1:15-30, Paul demonstrates a profound love for the people and for God, and shows that no matter what our circumstances are, no matter how evil some people are, no matter what the world conditions are, we who believe can still stand in the gap between good and evil, and be God's witness.
As we read and listen to this portion of his letter, feel in your heart what Paul must have been feeling, sitting there in prison, and see if we can behave as he does, or learn to respond in a similar manner.
Let's begin at verse 15:
15. Some to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will;
16. the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel;
17. the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.
Isn't this typical of our present life situations?
Don't some people try to take advantage of others when they are not there to defend themselves?
So what can Paul do?
What would you do?
Well, Paul sat down and wrote this letter, and it is important for all of us to hear the love and holiness of this writing, for each of us should learn to react in a similar manner, so that it becomes natural to us. For, if we don’t love, we cannot truly be holy.
Listen, as we continue at verse 18:
18. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.
19. For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
20. according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
21. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Wow! What I wonderful attitude to have.
Paul isn't going to let any person's evil intent cause him to lose his own holiness in the eyes of God or his fellow human beings.
Paul is saying that if what they are doing is meant as evil against him, and they are not hurting anyone else, and they are still preaching the truth, then let them preach it, for Christ is still being glorified. Love is the only thing missing in the soul of the preacher.
Paul may even be saying, between the lines, that if they preach the truth of Jesus Christ enough, they may even become true believers and do their preaching for the correct reasons.
And because Christ is proclaimed, Paul will still rejoice, and continue to rejoice.
Paul wants the unity and love of the Church to come first.
He is not saying to compromise the truth in order to have peace and love; but if the truth is there, then we are to work from within the Church to improve upon what is there.
He won't do anything to turn this dispute over intent into a situation that
would destroy his own witness.
Take this church for example. We are not all Bible scholars, nor are we all really strong Christians; but if we believe in the deity of Jesus Christ and accept Him as our Lord and Savior, then we have the basis upon which to build up the church.
We can work together and encourage each other to become more Bible literate and stronger Christians in all aspects of our lives.
Why destroy our own witness by fighting over our strengths and weaknesses?
We should build our weaknesses into strengths.
And even if we are unsuccessful, we will have set the proper example.
It doesn't matter even if we die in the process of holding on to what we know to be the truth, for as Paul says, "To live is Christ, but to die is gain." This is a statement of love.
Our death in Jesus Christ is much better than what we have here; but even while here, we still have Christ.
So we are called upon to stand in the gap between evil intent and good intent, and to bring peace and love into the situation, so that those with evil intent might turn from their evil ways.
And don't forget that Paul is in prison, not knowing whether he is going to live or die.
As we continue with our reading at verse 22, listen carefully to Paul's reasoning and hear the holiness coming forth from his heart, as it should from ours, also.
22. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.
23. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;
24. yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
25. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith,
26. so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.
If Paul was indeed in prison in Rome, he never did get a chance to return to Philippi; but his death in Christ was still a gain, not only for him, but for the world as well, for the church would have to learn to stand upon its own feet, if it was going to continue to exist.
It doesn't matter what physical shape we are in, or in what physical conditions we may find ourselves; in Christ Jesus, all of us are capable of ceasing our complaining and, instead, helping to build up the church in the truth of the Gospel.
I personally have seen people dying in the hospital who were still standing in the gap proclaiming the truth in love, and truly desiring that the world would be a better place for us all in Christ Jesus.
Beginning at verse 27, listen to how Paul expresses this:
27. Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
28. in no way alarmed by your opponents – which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.
29. For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
30. experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
Maybe we don't like to hear that we might have to suffer for the truth of upholding the gospel of Jesus Christ; but if we do hold fast and stand in the gap, as Paul did, then we will destroy the enemies of Christ and bring salvation to ourselves.
Don't worry about what the enemies of Christ do, or may do. Just hold fast to what you know to be the truth.
And, as most of you know, Mary and I have been standing in the gap between the evil inflicted upon other animals, and God intent to have the animals as our loving companions.
We also have looked at many aspects of the life of Moses, as an example of how he learned to stand in the gap.
In your Bibles, please turn with me to Exodus, chapter 32, beginning at verse 1, and let's look at another of these times.
1. Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron, and said to him, "Come make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."
2. And Aaron said to them, "Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me."
3. Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron.
4. And he took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it into a molten calf; and they said, "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt."
5. Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord."
6. So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
The leader, who is standing in the gap, has gone up upon the mountain for the sake of the people; and just because he does not return when they think he should, they deny all that the Lord has done, and they go astray.
And even Aaron, Moses' brother, who is obviously very weak, goes along with them.
Aaron knew the truth, yet he refused to stand in the gap.
He even stopped proclaiming the truth about God, as even the men about whom Paul was speaking, did.
The congregation was on the verge of destruction.
And with no one there to tell the truth, even for the wrong reasons, there was no hope, and strong action had to be taken.
If Aaron had at least stood firm, there would have been hope, but he didn't; so God and Moses had to intervene.
Listen, as we continue with our reading from verse 7:
7. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, "Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.
8. "They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!' "
9. And the Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people.
10. "Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation."
Have you ever been one of the obstinate people?
But there came that day when I accepted the truth, and I have not turned back since.
Sure, there are times when I may still be obstinate, and most of us are, from time to time, when we think we are right.
But the kind of obstinacy we are seeing here in this passage of Scripture is the kind which is exhibited even when we know we are wrong, but do it just to satisfy ourselves, for one reason or another.
God is angry, and so is Moses.
The people really aren't worth saving, are they? And that is what God is saying to Moses, and He is saying something else, also.
God is saying to Moses: Let Me have these people destroyed, and there will no longer be the children of Jacob, but I will start a new nation who will be the children of Moses.
What would you do?
Years ago, on a Sunday morning, when I was in church, the Lord gave me a vision.
In that vision I saw many church goers being pushed into an iron box sitting on the ground like a basement entry door, and a great iron barred door was being closed in front of them and locked.
I knew it was the gate to hell.
And I said to the Lord, "O Lord, not all these people!"
The Lord didn't answer me, and the vision vanished.
I have pondered over that vision many times since, and I believe I was being given a similar choice as was Moses.
I get tired, as Moses must have been, and keep wondering if it is all worth
it; and I guess I came to the same decision as did Moses.
Listen to how Moses answered the Lord, as we continue with our reading at verse 11:
11. Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why doth Thine anger burn against Thy people whom Thou hast brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
12. "Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Thy burning anger and change Thy mind about doing harm to Thy people.
13. "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants to whom Thou didst swear by Thyself, and didst say to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.' "
Moses is standing in the gap between heaven and hell; and I believe that sometimes in the lives of most true believers, we are placed in similar situations.
We are given the choice of allowing someone to go to hell right now, or of
reasoning with the Lord for a little more time for us, personally, to lead them
to the truth, in the hope that they may come to truly believe and repent and
live a life truly worthy of God's calling.
So ... how did the Lord respond to Moses? Note verse 14:
14. So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
Yes, the Lord actually changed His mind because of the request of a human being.
Now ask yourself, "Am I living the kind of life in Christ that the Lord would grant such a request to me?
And if your answer is, "No," then why is it?
Each of us is capable of living such a life, if we truly desire to do so.
Or, are we so lazy and content and hard of heart that we don't care whether or not someone goes to hell?
And if we are, then we also may be so hard that the Lord will let us go along with them.
Christians, the Church is being shaken and sifted today, just as the Israelites were being shaken and sifted in the wilderness.
Look around us!
Look at all the people in our own homes and community who are going to hell.
Are you willing to let them go?
Or are you willing, today, to begin to stand in the gap and try to do something about the situation before our eyes?
Are you wiling to truly love?
The choice is yours.