Be Strong!

Be Strong!

One of the shortest, simplest and most striking biblical encouragements is to “BE STRONG!” Recall how Joshua is repeatedly urged to “be strong and courageous” as he leads God’s people into the promised land (Joshua 1:6-9); and how Solomon was to “be strong and courageous” as he succeeded his father David (1 Kings 2:2) and built the Temple (1 Chronicles 28:10). Or think of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:1), or John’s reminder to the young men (1 John 2:14)… And think how much time the apostles spent “strengthening the churches”. It seems the Lord really wants us to be strong, and He urges, encourages, and at times commands us to be so! Why? Because it’s all too easy to become fearful and discouraged! And because when we’re strong we can strengthen others. And right now, that’s what so many people need…

When we dig a bit deeper into these simple words – “BE STRONG” – we find a wonderfully rich sense of what it means to be strong and strengthened.  Let’s take a brief look at five words used in the New Testament and see how God wants us to be strong:

First, there’s a strength that EMPOWERS us.  The word is endunamoó meaning ‘to fill with power, make strong, enable, impart ability.’  It’s the word used by Paul when he says he’s “able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and when he tells Timothy that “Christ Jesus…has strengthened me” (1 Timothy 1:12) and “stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:17).  This is strength God imparts when we stand close to Him.  And it far eclipses our own strength!  Paul uses this word when he urges the Ephesians in their battle against spiritual powers to “be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength” (Ephesians 6:10, also Colossians 1:11).  God wants to impart strength to us, so let’s draw close to Him!…

Second, there’s a strength that PREVAILS and enables us to come out on top – whatever’s pressing us down.  The word is krataioó meaning ‘to grow or become strong; to prevail by God’s dominating strength; to attain mastery, the upper-hand’.  This is the word used to describe how John and Jesus “grew strong” as young men (Luke 1:80, 2:40).  It’s the word Paul uses when he prays for the church to “be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16).  God wants us to know an ‘inner strength’ that enables us to prevail and gain the upper-hand whatever we face.  This kind of strength develops over time as we prevail in the many little (and often private) challenges that come our way…

Then, thirdly, there’s a type of strength that OVERCOMES because we know God’s promises.  This word is ischuros meaning ‘mighty, valiant, powerful, sure; strong in body or in mind’.  It’s the word used in Hebrews 11:34 to describe those Old Testament heroes who – by holding on to God’s promises – “gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight.”  The same word is used by the apostle John when he urges the young men: “you are strong, God’s word remains in you, and you have had victory over the evil one” (1 John 2:14).  Great strength comes from letting God’s Word “dwell in us richly” (Colossians 3:16).  Like all of us, I’ve found that if there’s no Word inside me then there’s no edge to my sword.  It’s up to me: if I want to be strong I must get God’s Word inside me!…

Then there’s a strength that SOLIDIFIES – making us more solid, robust and secure.  The word is stereoó, meaning ‘to make firm, solid, strong; to confirm, settle’ and it’s the word from which we get ‘stereo’ (combining to enhance output).  It’s the word we find in Acts where Peter stands alongside the lame man and lifts him up so that “at once his feet and ankles became strong” (Acts 3:7).  Also in Acts we read that “the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily.” (Acts 16:5).  What does this tell us?  That when we’re alongside others – individually or as churches – there’s a powerful, solidifying impact that brings growth!  If we want to be strong we must get joined-up with others who are strong!…

Lastly, there’s a strength that PREPARES us to carry more This word is epistérizó and it means ‘to make stronger, prop-up, uphold, support; to establish’.  It’s a compound of stérizó (‘fix firmly, buttress, strengthen’) and epi (‘apt or fitting’) and has the sense of strengthening what’s already there to most suitably support what will follow…   It’s the word used many times in Acts when the apostles and prophets devoted themselves to “strengthening the churches” or “strengthening the disciples” (eg Acts 14:21-22, 15:32, 15:40-41,18:22-23). And from its uses elsewhere we see that this type of strength comes from giving and receiving spiritual gifts (Romans 1:11-12) and encouragement (1 Thessalonians  3:2). God wants us to be strengthened – firmly buttressed – because He has so much more planned for us!

It seems that BEING STRONG – for ourselves and others – is a vital, timely activity in these times; something we should prioritise.  We can invest now, to get strong, stay strong, and get stronger – so that we’re  ready for all that will yet be. How do we do it?  By drawing close to God, prevailing in our private battles, getting His Word inside us, joining-up with others, and by embracing anything that will give added strength and help us take more weight in the future. Like Joshua, Solomon, Timothy and countless others, you and I are urged to BE STRONG! 

Total Salvation

Total Salvation

Matthew 16 describes a pivotal conversation between Jesus and His disciples, during which Simon-Peter confesses the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus responds by declaring that Peter is ‘a rock’ and that on ‘the bedrock’ of this revelation and truth He will build His church! (Matthew 16:13-18, catch up here). 

A year or so later, after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus poured out His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, just as He’d promised (see Acts 1:1-8) and a huge crowd gathered to hear and see what was happening amongst the believers (Acts 2:1-6).  Now Peter begins to fulfil the prophetic declaration Jesus has made about him; sure and steady as a rock, he explains the outpouring and draws his sermon to a climax by once again declaring this same great revelatory truth – that “this Jesus is both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).  The crowd are “cut to the heart” – confronted by the truth and convicted by their sin – and ask “what must we do?” (Acts 2:37).  Without hesitation, Peter sets forth three ‘first steps’ they must take: “repent, be baptised and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  These three things are as vital and relevant now as they were then!  So, how are they to be understood?  There’s so much to explore here, but to get us started:

First, repentance is a ‘change of mind’ (metanoeó) leading to a change of direction.  It involves a recognition of our sin, a genuine remorse and a redirection of our lives, in which we turn away from sin and turn towards God, by putting our faith in Christ alone and producing “the fruit of repentance” (Matthew 3:8).  Repentance is from “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1) and is therefore always life-giving; it acknowledges that Jesus is King and Lord over our lives, and is the way we are born again and enter His Kingdom (John 3:3-5).

Then, baptism is a means of grace with real power to enable new believers to make a clean-break from their past (Acts 22:16), burying the old life and beginning to live in resurrection power (Romans 6:1-14).  It’s always by full immersion (since the word baptizo means ‘plunge’, ‘immerse’ or ‘submerge’) and the New Testament never suggests any other type or practice.  The book of Acts also makes clear that repentance and faith are preconditions of baptism (it’s a ‘believers baptism’), but otherwise there is no biblical warrant for delaying it.  Rather, it is the expected, commanded and immediate next step of all who’ve repented; in other words, repentance and baptism always go together (see, for example, Acts 8:36-39: 10:47-48, 16:33, 22:16). 

Receiving the Spirit is the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” that John anticipated (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33) and Jesus affirmed (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-8), for the context of Acts 2 makes it impossible Peter could have been referring to anything else!  The biblical evidence is that this “baptism” or “empowering” (these and other phrases are used synonymously) is a distinct experience (not the ‘equivalent’ of repentance or water baptism).  By His own baptism in water and the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22) Jesus set the example for us to follow.  It is God’s wonderful promise and provision for all believers (Acts 2:17-18, 39), enabling us to live the Christian life the way He always intended.

It’s notable that as part of their ‘foundation-laying’ role (1 Corinthians 3:10, Ephesians 2:20), the New Testament apostles consistently ensured all three of these essential events had occurred in the lives of believers.  Thus: Peter and John laid hands on believers in Samaria who’d only been baptised in water, so they’d also receive the Spirit (Acts 8:14ff); Peter commanded Cornelius’s household to be baptised in water as soon as they’d received the baptism in the Spirit (Acts 10:47-48); having made enquiries of the disciples in Ephesus, Paul baptised them in water and laid hands on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5-6)…  The apostles knew that to leave any ‘gaps’ in the foundations was to leave believers diminished and unsteady.

Those who accepted Peter’s message were “that day…added to them” (Acts 2:41), a final step which effectively completed their ‘total salvation’.  Now, like them, we can be totally saved – saved from eternal death by repentance and faith; saved from the power of the past through the waters of baptism; saved from powerlessness in the future by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit; and saved from going it alone by being added to His Church.  What a wonderful salvation!…