Summary: As Winston Churchill rallied the British people, so Paul rallies Christians by urging us to review our motivations and to present something solid and not merely entertaining. Such a church will prevail and thrive.
On the fifth of June, 1940, not even a month after he became prime minister, Winston Churchill spoke to the British people to encourage them of their desperate situation.
Bear in mind that in September of the previous year the Nazis had invaded Poland, with no effective resistance. Thereafter, with swift and sudden violence Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, all had fallen prey to Nazi imperialism. And now, just a few days earlier, France had also collapsed, with thousands of British soldiers having to be evacuated from Dunkirk. It must have seemed that nothing stood in the way of the destruction of all of Europe. Truly a desperate
Mr. Churchill’s strong speech, however, helped keep the British people in fighting trim, for he knew that defeat comes not simply because the enemy is stronger. He knew that defeat comes because people think they can be defeated; defeat comes when you believe that you can be defeated. So his speech to the British public:
"Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival ... we shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."
Churchill’s mighty words are so very much like the defiant confidence of Paul in today’s text: "We will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up." "We shall never surrender" "If we do not give up" These two men are saying something to us about the power of persistence. They are speaking about the value of staying with something over the long haul.
But contrast, if you will, the rock-solid confidence of a Churchill, who had every human reason to think that his cause was lost ... contrast his rock-solid confidence with the pessimism and defeatism that characterizes some Christians. With nothing like the threat of annihilation facing us; with nothing nearly as destructive attacking us, still too many of us, modern Christians, have given up the ship and have decided it’s all over for the church.
The layman who said to me about his congregation, "We can’t grow because nobody lives around here any more." By which he meant nobody white, middle-class, and Baptist lives around here any more. Defeated.
The minister who sighed and said to me when he learned I was coming here as pastor, "I’d like to go back into the pastorate myself, but people aren’t falling all over themselves to come to church anymore." As if they ever really did. Defeated, again, before the battle was even joined.
The church which worshipped every Sunday behind locked doors and required that you first be recognized before you could enter, for fear that someone of the wrong kind might get in ... when dealing with the wrong kind is the very province of the church in the first place. Defeated again.
Some Christians have decided that they just can’t win, won’t win. I have to conclude that much of the Christian church is a long way from the courage and spirit of that British prime minister. No longer do we have among us Churchill, but church, ill! Church, sick. Church, self-defeated. Church, ill, instead of Churchill.
How are we going to build up the courage of God’s people? We are, after all, the inheritors of folks of whom it was once said, "These people have turned the world upside down." What are the spiritual decisions, what are the spiritual resources, which will help us become faithful and courageous again?
I think I’ve found a good part of the answer here toward the end of Paul’s Galatian letter:
The spirit of Churchill, indomitable courage; or the spirit of church, ill, defeated? What makes the difference?
One part of the answer is motivation. Motivation. What are we working for anyway? If you and I are working for material success, we are likely going to experience disappointment. But if we can learn to work for spiritual success, we will find our labor far more fulfilling.
Paul says, "You reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit."
The question is motivation. Are we here to compile a record of material gains? Is the measure of success how many are in the pews and how many dollars are given and how many new members join? These things are not unimportant. They do measure what we are doing. But they are not everything. And, in fact, you and I can get so caught up these symbols of success that we forget what the church is really all about.