What “be strong in the Lord” really means

“Now consider how great this man was…. Now, beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.”(Hebrews 7:4,7)

I’m going to make a series of statements here about “who is greater” or stronger or whatever.  The subject is still a work in progress in my mind, but I hope to get it started in yours.

First:  The one who blesses is greater than the one blessed.

According to the anonymous writer of Hebrews, Melchizedek was greater than Abraham since it was he who blessed the patriarch and not vice versa.  The blessor is greater than the blessee, to paraphrase 7:7.

Thomas Beckett was the archbishop of Canterbury martyred in the 12th century. One issue that kept resurfacing in those days was whether the king of a country had the right to “invest” the new archbishop with the symbols of his position, implying that the king himself was granting powers to the spiritual leader.  The symbolism meant a great deal. The pope, to no one’s surprise, wanted to end this practice, insisting that the church is autonomous and beholden to no earthly power. Kings fought to keep all evidence in place that the church existed under their authority and its leaders should obey them above the pope.

The dispute illustrates Hebrews 7:7 perfectly. If the one giving the blessing is greater than the one receiving it, he is then the top dog. Such symbolism meant everything in medieval times.

Scripture informs us of numerous other such truisms worth our consideration. Let’s try these on for size.

Second: The one who contributes is greater than the receiver.

Our Lord said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Many people who give large amounts to the Lord’s work and to charities over long periods find it difficult to be on the receiving end when they become needy.

Simply stated, the giver occupies the power position. He gets his picture in the paper and has a wing of the hospital or the college dormitory named for him.

He gets the blessing.

The receiver, however, stands in a dependent, reactive position. If the giver is the Alpha animal, the receiver ranks far lower down the order. Receiving requires humility.

Given a choice, we would all rather have sufficient wealth to contribute to the needy than be the one with his hand out.

Third: The one who submits is the stronger of the two.

Two cars meet on a one lane bridge. The first driver leans out and yells, “I never back up for fools!” The second driver calls out, “I always do,” and throws his car into reverse.

The one who submitted is the stronger. (It’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem this way, but it is.) It takes real strength to control our emotions and do the right thing when everything inside us wants to insist on our rights.

Only the genuinely strong in the Lord can stoop to serve. That’s why our Lord washing the disciples’ feet (John 13) is so significant. A lesser individual, one with an inflated sense of his identity and a dread of seeming to be lower than others in the room, could not stoop to serve.

“Submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21).

John MacArthur, commenting on Ephesians 5:21, writes, “No believer is inherently superior to any other believer. In their standing before God, they are equal in every way (Gal.3:28). “In the fear of God.” The believer’s continual reverence for God is the basis for his submission to other believers. Cf. Proverbs 9:10.”

I strongly suspect that if we believed this, we would be rushing out looking for someone to serve and competing to see who could do it best!

They asked Jesus, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He set a child in their midst and said, “Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1ff.)

Four: The one who takes the initiative in reconciling is the stronger.

“Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15).

That takes a lot of strength. When offended, the easiest thing to do is to get angry and retaliate, or call the law. Many choose to nurse their grudge as a precious possession. But to go next door and gently inform your neighbor that the barking dog is keeping you awake at night (“and I have to get up early tomorrow to preach”–yep, I’ve done this!) is hard to do!

To knock on their door at midnight about their back yard party which was disturbing the neighborhood–this takes nerve. And it requires love. (And I’ve done this.)

This is the loving thing to do. The average person would simply pick up the phone and report them to the cops. But to get out of bed, don your robe and slippers, and go next door–risking their animosity and who knows what else!–is something only the strong will venture to do.

Then, next morning to take over a plate of Christmas cookies saying “I’d like to be friends”–yep, I’ve done this too!–is mighty difficult but the right thing to do. (My wife said, “If you’re not back in 15 minutes, I’m calling the police.”  We did not know what we would find in our new neighbors.)

Paul said, “If a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…” (Galatians 6:1). He said, “We then who are strong ought to bear with weaknesses of the weak” (Romans 15:1).

The weak will never venture into a scary place to rescue the fallen. Only the strong will reach out to the sinner.

Five: The one who loves is stronger than the one loved.

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luke 6:27ff.).

In a sermon titled “Love is Something You Do,” I enjoy reminding God’s people that in this passage where the Lord commands us to love those who are trying to destroy us, He calls for four actions, the most basic acts of anyone’s love: do good, bless, pray, and give.

When someone harms us, threatens us, curses and tries to take what is ours, the tendency is to retaliate with the same kind of behavior. That’s precisely what the other side expects. But when we react in love–giving them cookies we baked that morning, mowing their yard, speaking to them kindly and praying for them, this sort of thing–it stuns them into silence. This is the last thing they expected.

What love does

When we respond to hate with loving actions (not with emotions, please notice, but with solid deeds!), a dozen powerful things begin to happen immediately–

The Father is honored, Jesus is pleased, and the Holy Spirit is empowered (so to speak) to do whatever He wishes in this situation. (That’s three.)

The enemy (who did these dastardly deeds) is puzzled; the devil is infuriated (you are not playing by the rules!), and the critics of the church are silenced (they know what to say about hypocrites, but not about you!).  (That’s six.)

The church itself is blessed, believers going through hard times are encouraged by your example, and outsiders are impressed and want what they see in you.  (Nine.)

You yourself are strengthened, your anger dissipates, and according to Luke 6:35, your reward in Heaven is great and your reputation goes through the roof. (An even dozen.)

“Have I not commanded you–be strong and of good courage? Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

To be strong in the Lord, then, must mean that…

I am to go forth and bless other people regardless of their attitude,

I am to be a giver no matter how much or little I have,

I am expected to submit to others in the fear of the Lord, not because they deserve it but because we are commanded to do so,

To take the initiative in reconciling and not wait for the others to do so,

And to love the one who wishes me ill.

In doing so, I begin to look more and more like Jesus.

I do so want to look and act like and to please the Lord Jesus.

That’s the plan, believer, and it helps to explain why the Lord lets you and me get in painful situations. He’s trying very hard to find someone–some believer somewhere!–who will demonstrate Jesus Christ before a watching, critical, needy world.

Is that you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.