"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have."
The Life to Live
When was the last time you stopped for a moment and took stock? I don’t mean checking your finances either or even your food cupboard though that might not be a bad thing to do. No, what I have in mind is the much more important matter of just how you are living your life. Cultural tradition encourages us perhaps to do this at the beginning of January when it is time for those New Year resolutions but most of us I guess don’t take those very seriously any more. And yet it is good to think about what we’re doing, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. If we don’t we’re likely to drift along and we won’t see the changes that we ought to make let alone implement them.
Paul had been sharing with the Philippian Christians his thoughts concerning his own immediate future. He expected to be set free and enabled to continue his ministry but he wasn’t sure of this. Would he ever be able to visit them again? He couldn’t say certain. After all, life was full of uncertainties. But Paul was sure of this – whatever happened to him the Philippians would have important choices to make and he wanted to point them in the right direction.
What Manner of Life?
Being a Christian is not simply something that can be summed up by what you might believe it also involves how you live out those beliefs and Paul here gave the Christians in Philippi the goal they ought to pursue. They were to live their lives in a manner that was worthy of the gospel of Christ – and so are you if you claim to be a follower, a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The fact that Paul considered it necessary to give this instruction is itself informative. It suggests the following:
Lifestyle choices are important
Not all lifestyle choices are equally valid for the Christian
Temptations will come to do the wrong thing
The language Paul used to press home this teaching was citizen language and this would have been something readily understandable to the Philippians. Let me remind you why. Philippi was a roman colony and it was geographically located a long way from Rome (almost 800 miles by land and sea but more like 1,200 miles by road alone). Yet the citizen of Philippi was considered to be a citizen of the imperial capital Rome and it was an honour to be a citizen of that important and influential city; a good citizen of Philippi would want to live a life worthy of a roman citizen.
This is the background against which to understand Paul’s instruction to the Christians in Philippi. He wanted them to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ because they now belonged to the kingdom of Christ and indeed he would later refer to the Christian’s citizenship as being in heaven. He wanted their behaviour to reflect well upon that kingdom and that king to whom they belonged; he wanted their lives to function well making them good ambassadors for Christ.
I wonder, is that how you view your life? Do you organise your lifestyle accordingly?
Paul wasn’t telling the Philippians that they could make themselves members of Christ’s kingdom by adopting a certain lifestyle but he was telling them that because they had already been made members of that kingdom a particular lifestyle ought to be adopted and there was the only which was honourable and appropriate for them to have.
Two Major Questions
Following on from this we are led to ask two questions:
What does "living worthily of the gospel" mean?
Why is the matter so important?
We’ll tackle these questions in order.
"Living worthily of the gospel of Christ"
As Paul continued his letter he highlighted some at least of what he meant. As he continued to write he began to fill in the detail of what just such a life might look like. He specifically referred to:
standing firm in one spirit
with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel
not frightened in anything by your opponents
and we’ll consider these in just a moment.
The first thing for us to note is however that Paul was not thinking about a series of isolated one-off actions or decisions but he was focusing upon an ongoing pattern of behaviour, a behaviour that was deep rooted and genuine.
Such regular, consistent behaviour was to characterise their Christian commitment and was not to be adopted merely for show in order to impress the apostle should he visit.
v.27 "whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you"
You know how easily that can happen – we’re familiar enough with it. In some countries the coming of an important visitor is announced and road repairs are suddenly carried out along his projected route; houses are repainted and generally things are tidied up so that everything looks nice. But the locals know it’s a facade – problems a street back from the procession route have been left untouched.
The Christian is not to be like that. Our behaviour ought always to be worthy of the gospel of Christ whether or not important people are present to see what we’re doing. Why so? Because we don’t want to be hypocrites, playing part, for we know that our God always sees what we’re doing.
Before we go any further we need to pause and ask ourselves some questions:
Am I trying to live a consistent Christian life every day or am I only really bothered when I’m in the company of someone whose approval I value? Am I more interested in keeping up appearances than I am about genuine spirituality?
And if your answers are not what they ought to be, what are you going to do about it?
For it may well surprise us just how much others actually notice about the way we live and organise our priorities. Paul quite expected to hear news about how the Philippians were getting along even if he wasn’t able to get to see them for himself.
Let’s look now at what Paul had to say about the type of Christian life he wanted to encourage as being worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Paul is careful to keep Jesus right at the very heart of the matter. He didn’t simply write about living a life worthy of the gospel but he deliberately added "of Christ". Had he left those words out his meaning would have been fundamentally the same but I’m glad he added them and this is why.
The gospel is all about Christ and we must be careful that we don’t reduce it to an impersonal list of doctrines and practices. You see we Christians can all too easily slip into doing things, even good things, while allowing Jesus to somehow disappear into the background. When we do that we end up with a religious formalism that may outwardly resemble the real thing but inwardly has become dry and barren. How we need to keep our focus on Jesus! Jesus is the One who saves not a set of doctrines and we’ll never save ourselves by any number of good religious rites and practices.
Have you understood your need of Jesus and his salvation?
It’s great if you have and you’ve gone to him in repentance and faith but now as you continue your new Christian life you must make sure you keep on with Jesus, getting to know and trust him more and more, and becoming more like him too.
If you haven’t yet put your faith and trust in Jesus what do have that is better than him? What do you have that deals effectively with your sin problem, that guarantees you a relationship with your Heavenly Father and gives you a place in his heaven? Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can have a safe eternal future if you by-pass Jesus – his is the only name you can successfully call on for salvation. If you haven’t already done so, call out to him to have mercy on you today.
"standing firm in one spirit"
The picture Paul presented to the Philippians was that of soldiers on a battlefield who doggedly refused to leave their posts irrespective of how hot the battle became.
Elsewhere Paul would develop this notion of "standing firm" as he wrote about:
Standing firm in the faith (1Cor.16:13)
Standing firm in the Lord (Phil.4:1)
Standing firm in the freedom Christ secured (Gal.5:1)
Standing firm in the truth (2Thess.2:15)
Here in Phil.1:27 has in view the unity of purpose amongst God’s people as he urges them to stand firm in one spirit. This is primarily a spiritual unity and it is derived from the Spirit who regenerates the sinner and then fills him so that the Christian may now function with his new life in Christ.
You’ll appreciate, I trust, that this unity is not something that can be attained by an isolated individual – unity implies plurality and what Paul had in view was the fellowship/community of God’s people in the church. Gospel-worthy lives will be lived out in a congregational setting along with other believers.
"with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel"
Paul continued in similar vein when he called upon the Philippians to be single-minded. For Paul such unity of mind had no place for passive inactivity but revealed itself in a thorough going commitment to promoting the faith of the gospel of Christ. To describe this commitment Paul took language from the athletic arena: "striving" or "competing together" for the gospel and the picture this time is that of faithful and energetic teamwork. And the Christian is to take this active stand alongside other believers.
If this is what living a life worthy of the gospel of Christ looks like then let me ask you some questions:
"Are you this sort of teamplayer?"
"Are you prepared to be?"
"Do you want to be?"
"Can others count on you to do your part?"
Now I know when I ask myself such questions I’m tempted to look for exceptions that will excuse my failings and let me off the hook. I look at what I can’t do or what I’m no longer able to do - and you may be tempted to do just the same. But the question we ought to be asking ourselves is not about what we can’t do but really are we doing what we can?
"not frightened in anything by your opponents"
The final aspect of what living a life worthy of the gospel of Christ is like to which Paul draws our attention in these verses is the ability to handle opposition in a calm and controlled manner.
Once more Paul’s emphasis was upon the team element and it is doubtless easier to keep fear under control when you’re not isolated and on your own. Again Paul’s choice of language is informative: the word "frightened" was a word that was used to describe how horses might panic on the battlefield and quickly run about carelessly with no settled sense of direction. The Christian community that shared a single purpose and which cooperated with a single-minded commitment to the cause of the Christian gospel would not however be easily panicked even when confronted by considerable and varied opposition.
Well it’s time for more of those questions of personal reflection and application:
Am I standing alongside my brothers and sisters in such a way that gives them encouragement and helps steel their resolve to stand up for Jesus? Is my ear ready to listen to their concerns? Do I want to help them with good counsel and advice? Am I concerned enough to pray for them? And what about you?
This is the kind of behaviour that Paul urged the Philippians to adopt as they ordered their lives as faithful Christians – it’s just the kind of conduct that might provoke the observer looking on to comment favourably about.
In the second century Tertullian wrote a letter to the Roman authorities pleading for justice for the church which was at the time facing cruel opposition. The church he described had evidently taken to heart the type of teaching that Paul gave the Philippians. This is what Tertullian wrote:
"We are a body knit together by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline and by the bond of a common hope.
We pray, too, for emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of the final consummation."
We read Scripture, preach and encourage voluntary giving so that the needs of the poor and destitute might be alleviated.
Despite such behaviour, Tertullian continued, others, who did not know the same reality in their own lives, mocked them with the words "See how these Christians love one another."
May the same mockery come our way too and be worn as a badge of honour!
Why is all this important?
Well we have just seen with Tertullian’s example that good Christian behaviour is sometimes met, not with approval, but with persecution and with the suffering that goes with it. Here in writing to the Philippians Paul has just referred to how they were handle opposition: having opponents was a reality for the Philippian Christians it was not something that surprised them nor should it surprise us either.
Meeting fierce and unreasonable opposition and its accompanying suffering with calm and committed steadfastness would however serve God’s purposes of being a twofold sign. This gospel-worthy behaviour would be a sign pointing to two truths both of which were dependent upon the exercise of divine sovereignty for their execution.
Firstly, it was a sign that pointed to the destruction of those who opposed the Christians. This does not mean that these opponents necessarily recognised and understood that the suffering they inflicted upon Christians testified against them in this way. These enemies often prefer to interpret the struggles and sufferings experienced by Christians as evidence of their weakness and the failure of their cause. But that is not how God views it.
The Scriptures teach that God, far from being indifferent or unaware of his people’s suffering, actually takes very careful note of it all – even going so far as to collect the tears shed by his people and to keep them safe in a bottle as we read earlier in Ps.56:8. We know too that God hears the cries of his people and does not rebuke them for calling out to him in the words recorded in Rev.6:10
"O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
In fact as Paul reflects on the suffering of God’s people he remarkably sees it, not as some oversight on God’s part, a mistake that shouldn’t have been, but he actually sees it as one of the gifts that God bestows on his people. In v.29 Paul refers to two great gifts that God bestows on his children:
the gift of believing in Christ
the gift of suffering for his sake
And this second gift goes hand in glove with the second truth of God’s twofold sign.
If the infliction of this suffering points to the destruction of the perpetrators the suffering of those who do indeed suffer for the sale of Christ points to the reality of their faith and hence adds to their assurance of salvation.
So why is it important to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ? Because will use such lives to further his purposes.
Do you want to see others converted? Well some persecutors may indeed understand their own exposure to destruction as they witness the calm, controlled way in which Christians go about their lives and become themselves Christian believers.
Do you wish to know greater assurance? You have no reason to fear that suffering for Christ’s sake will destroy your faith because God witnesses to his own children in their suffering that they truly belong to him!
The Philippians were not to scratch their heads wondering what had gone amiss should troubles come their way as though somehow they had taken a wrong turning. What they needed to do was simply to remind themselves that they were involved in the same spiritual battle that had already brought so many troubles the way of the apostle Paul, troubles that were not yet over for him. But where was the comfort in that? You might ask. Well, Paul would later spell it out when writing to Timothy:
2Tim.3:12 "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,"
And in this Paul was simply following Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount:
Mt.5:10-12 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Fear can be paralysing but the Christian has no need to fear his opponents and the very fact they oppose him strengthens the believer’s assurance concerning the truth of the gospel and his own personal interest in it.
May the Lord enable us by his indwelling Spirit to live lives that are truly worthy of the gospel of Christ. And may he be glorified by our individual and corporate lives as we do so.