“… in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” Philippians 2:15–16 (ESV)
“Hold fast!” It’s a phrase that would echo across a ship while sailors raced to secure themselves as they braced for the impact of a coming storm. “Hold fast!” instructed sailors both to find something secure to grip to for their own safety, and to action to secure the safety of the ship for all. For many sailors, it became a philosophy of life.
In the movie “Master and Commander,” starring Russell Crowe, there is a graphic scene where one of the shipmates is being operated on for a head injury. The camera pans across the man’s hands, fists clenched tight and held together. “Hold Fast” was tattooed across his knuckles. He was facing a different kind of storm, and he was holding on for dear life.
We instinctively hold fast to certain things to get us through the storms of life, which shake our security and stability and may even take things from us. The apostle Paul speaks to new Christians who are being rocked by external persecution and pulled apart by self-centered survivalism. They were threatened with being cast overboard by cultural pressures and selfish instincts. They were tempted to cling to their comfort, their own interests and their egos. Does that sound familiar?
Paul instructs the followers of Jesus that their ability to be lights in the dark world around them depended on them holding fast to the “word of life.” The “word of life” is first and foremost a person — Jesus! It is also the written truth of His revelation of Himself in the Bible. Jesus brings life, as do his words. They don’t just secure us in the storms of this life — they also cause us to act and respond in ways that bless others. What we hold fast to determines how we will survive the storms we face, and how we will affect others in the storm with us.
What do you hold fast to? Do you cling to certain people for security? Do you cling to financial security or your ability to control the world around you? Do you cling to your political party, your news source like Fox News or CNN, or your social media feed to tell you what to think and how to respond? Do you cling to your family’s behavioral patterns or messages about you or life? Do you self-medicate with food, alcohol, drugs, porn, etc. to numb the loss of control?
What you hold fast to powerfully effects everything: how you think about yourself, how you relate to others, how you act, how you interpret the storm itself, and the choices you make in order to weather it.
Will your choices benefit you at the expense of others? Will those choices harm you and your future? Will you love your neighbor and yourself? Does what you hold fast to lead you to be patient and kind? Does what you cling to give you hope and meaning in the storm itself — and help you see beyond the storm? Does it secure you so much so that you want to share that very anchor of hope with others, that they might have hope as well?
Does what you hold fast to compel you to lean into the forces of conflict that seek to tear relationships apart? Does it compel you to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to be come angry? Does it compel you to make peace or retaliate or fake peace? Does it empower you to love your enemies and bless those who harm you? Will what you are clinging to cause you to lose your ground and compromise your character and values under the pressure of cultural forces?
One year ago this past week, a 7-year-old boy lost his life. Two years prior, Kelvyn Leuthold had decided to hold fast to Jesus. Just months before he passed away, Kelvyn wanted his sister to know the security he found in Jesus, so he shared John 3:16 with her and that she could Hold Fast to Jesus and be secure in His love. The only thing that gives Kelvyn’s mom and dad hope in this storm of losing him is holding fast to Jesus and His word like their son. On Kelvyn’s first heavenly anniversary, I know Kelvyn would love for you to know the security of holding fast to Jesus and His word. It gives life … eternal life. Kelvyn knows that better than all of us now.
It doesn’t matter what your age or station in life is right now. What you hold fast to has an immediate and eternal impact on your life.
To what do you hold fast?
Friends, these are turbulent times! Let’s be honest, life in this world is passing from one storm to the next. Let’s hold fast to the Word of life … to Jesus Christ … and not just survive but be a light to this dark world.
Scott Barber is senior pastor at Grace Community Church in Worthington.