What does it mean to strive for the gospel and live as a believer in the face of a world increasingly intolerant to Christ? Paul exhorts us in Phil. 1:27-30 to push past our fear and remember our joyful privilege of truth-telling.
Part 5 of a whole book study series called “Joy in Christ: A Study Through Philippians.”
Today’s study begins a section of Philippians in which Paul addresses the qualities of our behavior as believers, beginning with the spread of the gospel. I’ve split up the discussion, which extends to Philippians 2:11, in the interest of keeping post length relatively short and will continue this subject in subsequent posts.
A Life That Speaks of Christ
27 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, 28 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.
Although Paul hopes, as we saw in the last study, to be freed from his imprisonment, he exhorts the believers at Philippi to press forward in the gospel. Whether or not he is there with them or away on a subsequent apostolic journey, he says, he expects certain news of them. If you believe in the gospel, he tells them, then live like you do. Walk according to what you have been taught in Christ.
John MacArthur confirms Paul’s message here:
“The life of the believer, the life of the church must demonstrate the gospel which is taking us from sin to righteousness” (MacArthur sermon on Philippians).
A Different Kind of Citizenship
The phrase manner of life is derived from the word politeuomai, giving the sense of living and behaving as a citizen of and with respect to the laws governing the place in which you reside. The Philippian believers are Roman citizens so they would understand this kind of imagery, but what Paul wants to do here is direct their focus to their status as citizens of heaven (cf. Phil. 3:20), as gospel bearers.
You and I are not first and foremost citizens of the country we call home. Rather, as believers, our citizenship is in heaven. As citizens of heaven, we also don’t follow the ways of the world, but our thoughts, words, and actions speak of and give honor to the ways of Christ. When we live as God wants us to live, for the glory of His kingdom — truly when we live not for status, possessions, achievements, or personal desires, but for what cannot be taken from us — then we have true joy.
The idea that we are to walk in a way that is worthy of the gospel is also something we should take into consideration as we read this. The concept of worthiness points to the precious and singular nature of the gospel and its truths. It takes the truths of that gospel and goes beyond them to how they play out in our lives. (related: Col. 1:9-10; 1 Thess. 2:12) The gospel of Christ is precious, of inestimable value, and we need to respect and treat it as such.
Stand Together in the Truth
Before Paul launches into a significant discussion on humility and other characteristics that should be found in a believer’s life, he wants to lay some groundwork about the spring from which that water flows. He begins by establishing the way in which they are to continue striving for the gospel, and that is standing together.
But again, it is not mere unity that Paul is hoping for here. Unity in true, biblical love does not overlook error, but stands for truth and refuses to see it blemished or compromised. The unity we want is one with the fixed purpose of advancing the gospel of Christ.
As a father hopes the best of his children, Paul hopes for a few very specific means by which his beloved Philippians live out the gospel they call their own:
Standing firm in one spirit. By spirit here is meant:
“the rational part of man, the power of perceiving and grasping divine and eternal things, and upon which the Spirit of God exerts its influence; pneuma, says Luther, ‘is the highest and noblest part of man, which qualifies him to lay hold of incomprehensible, invisible, eternal things; in short, it is the house where Faith and God’s word are at home'” (Thayer’s).
The word that Paul uses for one impresses the solidarity and speaks strongly against being divided or allowing separation among themselves because of dissensions (related: Acts 4:32).
With one mind striving side by side. Our minds are “the seat of the feelings, desires, affections” (Thayer’s). The mind is what makes us distinct and gives us our individual personality.
Taken altogether (spirit and mind), this means with all that you are as a person, intellectually and spiritually, you work together with other believers, with your gaze firmly fixed on the gospel of Christ.
“Our common goal is to preserve the Word against hostility and to proclaim the Word to the very hostile people who attack it.”
Which brings up Paul’s next point: hostility and opposition to the gospel.
The Destruction of Opposition
28 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.
These believers were opposed in their walk with Christ, though it is not made clear specifically how or by whom. However, we can guess that there were at the very least Jews and pagans who didn’t like the sound of the truth they were preaching.
When we read this here in the 21st century, we can understand it as an exhortation not to allow the enmity of others to cause us to be afraid to share the gospel. In America at least, we are getting a large dose of this as, in the name of “tolerance,” we are told (for example) that we should not preach a gospel that is exclusive. “You shouldn’t say there is only one way to God. That’s intolerant. God is love and that’s unloving.”
God is love. Unquestionably. It is one of His attributes. But His other attributes such as wrath and justice and holiness aren’t outweighed by His love. He doesn’t simply ignore or compromise His other attributes for the sake of love.
In truth, God has already done the most loving thing He could do in history: send Jesus Christ to atone for our sins so that by trusting in Christ, we can have eternal life. Period. It’s that simple. You either believe that or you don’t. If you don’t, as the opponents Paul refers to here, you will be destroyed (by destruction here is meant that you lose eternal life with God).
Do Not Fear Man
And for you believers, here is more encouragement to you to preach the true gospel in the face of that opposition from another great man of God who encountered a tremendous amount of opposition:
The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
[Ps. 118:6 ESV]
In God, whose word I praise, In the LORD, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? [Ps. 56:10-11 ESV]
Both Paul and David were so committed to God’s ways that the threat of any human consequences ultimately paled in comparison to their trust in God.
Sharing in Christ’s Suffering
29 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, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
This is not suffering because of bad choices you make, other people’s sin affecting you, or the overall fact of living in a fallen world. We were already promised the troubles of the world by our Lord (John 16:33).
Here what suffering means is the active hostility and opposition you encounter when you attempt to tell people about Christ. In fact, for some believers, it extends to personal persecution (spit on, hit, threatened, mocked, the object of anger, etc.). This should not be a surprise to you, Paul effectively says, because it is part and parcel of preaching the gospel and following Christ. You should not be afraid of being opposed or encountering hostility to the truth of Christ because just as you believe in Him you will also suffer for Him.
Refuse to Be Silent
Today our world is telling us to be silent, not to preach the gospel, even as it was back in the time of the first church. On one occasion, the opposition (in this case the Sadducees) arrested and imprisoned Peter and the apostles because they were preaching the gospel. They were brought before the council of religious rulers, questioned, and given a physical and verbal warning:
…when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. [Acts 5:40-42 ESV; boldface mine]
Notice what the opposition did. They told them to stop spreading the gospel. Notice what the believers did. They rejoiced at being worthy to share in suffering for Christ’s sake. And they continued preaching Christ!
Just as the believers at Philippi were exhorted by Paul to endure in the face of the opposition that they (and he also) had, we, too, are to stand firm. From a human standpoint, we may not want to suffer for the sake of Christ’s gospel. When you feel that way, check your perspective. Remember all that you have been given in Christ.