The Church at Work

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. 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. (Philippians 1:27-30)

I have so far really enjoyed going through Philippians 1 with you. It has been very meaningful for me personally as I’ve studied through this, and as we’ve talked through it on Sundays and beyond Sundays with many of you. What we’ve seen so far is that Paul is talking us through, or writing about, some weighty matters. We have considered many themes already, the major theme of living a Christ-centered, Christ-saturated, Christ-loving life. That is Paul’s main theme I believe in this book. And even more specifically than that, living a Christ-centered, Christ-saturated, Christ-loving life while dealing with really hard things. I think that expands the theme a little bit, living that way while dealing with really hard things in life.

When life is hard, when trials come, when people aren’t treating you well, when people aren’t cooperating with your ideas of how you think life should be, when others are sinning against you, when life’s details are going awry, in those times we can live Christ-centered, Christ-saturated, Christ-loving lives, especially in those times we can. And when we do that we can live in this unexpected joy. I say unexpected because who really expects joy in the middle of life’s trials? Who really expects that? Not the world, not unbelievers, but we as believers should expect that. We see that in Paul’s life, and in this first chapter in Philippians. This thing that’s happening in his life, and that he’s trying to convey to us, this understanding that in the middle of life’s trials, as we focus on Christ, then we can have joy. No one except Christians can understand that. I hope you have experienced some of that, and that we understand and continue to experience that as we look at life rightly through the lens of Scripture. So Paul takes us there. Trials? Yes. Christ-centered living? Yes. Joy? Yes.

Paul then takes us to the idea of death being better than life, being with Christ in heaven being better than what we know now. “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” he said. That’s not just true for Paul, it’s true for every believer. And so he debates with himself and he decides it is far better to depart and be with Christ, yet in the same breath he realizes that what seems best for him personally may not be best for others to whom he is ministering. So he’s thinking about other people, not just himself. He’s thinking about how he can minister in this life out of a love for Christ. He’s content to stay in prison and minister, to continue loving other people in helping lead them to live Christ-centered, Christ-saturated, Christ-loving lives with joy. To do that while suffering, and while he waits for his future home in heaven.

This is so important for us, because in life there are troubles, but even in our troubles we can have joy. Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” We need instruction on how to think about troubles in life, tribulations in life, because we are promised that we will have them. You will, and I will, we will have troubles. Jesus is very clear and upfront about that, we shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone who lives will have troubles; troubles in life are not unique to you. You look at the person in front of you and think, “Why don’t they have troubles?” Well they do! You’re not the only one, I’m not the only one having troubles. If we believe that people around us aren’t dealing with hard things like we are, then we’re just believing a lie. Jesus said to expect this!

Why does the Bible talk so much about troubles and trials? Because we all suffer through them. Because they are universal, we live with them. And since we do, we need to know how to think about them, how to rise above them. We need to know that we can have joy while having troubles. Paul has been leading us through that in Philippians. Joy in troubles; not “getting rid of the troubles, and then joy.” So Paul is saying, “Heaven is our home, to die is gain, but while we are here, trials, yes, joy, yes, as we focus our lives and our minds upon Christ.” 

Paul believing in verse 25 that he will remain alive on the earth as a minister of Christ for awhile longer, for the sake of His brothers and sisters in Christ, for their progress of faith, he encourages them further to be faithful to Christ and this is how he says it, beginning in verse 27:

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. (Philippians 1:27-28)

Paul is talking here about faithfulness. He is talking about faithful living. Paul wants, desires, that Christians be faithful to their calling, faithful to their Lord in what they do. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says that we were saved so that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and was raised again. Living for self is living as one who has not been redeemed, it is living as one who is not a Christian, while living for Christ is living as a believer.

So for us he says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ”. Paul says, and this is really important for us, he says, “let your manner of life be”. Or your translation may use the word “conduct,” “only conduct yourself” in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Many of you follow along in the ESV with me, and if you do you may see a footnote that says, “Behave as citizens worthy.” Paul is moving us to understand how we are to live while we are here. To die is gain, but we have not done that yet, we still have life here to live. How do we do that? “Behave as citizens worthy.”

He is reminding them of their citizenship. They were living in Philippi with sort of a dual citizenship. As Christians we are citizens of heaven, and we are citizens of the US. He is reminding us of our heavenly citizenship. “As citizens of heaven live worthy of the gospel.” That would be a more literal translation, keeping the metaphor intact, of citizenship. Remember your citizenship. Remember where you belong.

In Philippi there was a great sense of pride that they were citizens of Rome, Philippi being a Roman colony. There were many benefits of being a Roman citizen. It was a high honor for most, so a responsible citizen of Rome would be very careful to uphold their national pride. Everyone wanted to be a respected citizen of this great world empire, the empire of Rome. Paul uses that to help them see they are a part of an even greater empire, a much greater kingdom, and with their civic pride on their minds Paul helps them and us to see that as we want to be good citizens here, we can be good citizens of heaven while here.

We are citizens of heaven who are to live worthy of the gospel of Christ. That is to live a life consistent with God’s instruction for us. He’s simply saying, “If you’re a citizen of heaven, live like a citizen of heaven.” That is a pretty straight-forward message. It is like, “If you are a child of the King then live like a child of the king. If you are a Christian then live like a Christian. If you are a citizen of heaven the live like a citizen of heaven.” Right?

When we come here to church, we are citizens of heaven. That’s sort of easy, usually. But when we go to work, go shopping, go to school, we’re still citizens of heaven. When we go on vacation, business trips, or at home with the family, we’re citizens of heaven. If we are alone, or in a large group, we are citizens of heaven. When we are with Christians friends or with non-Christian friends, we are citizens of heaven. I think it’s just good for us to rehearse that at times. It doesn’t matter where we go or who we’re with, we’re still citizens of heaven.

Paul does not stop there with a reminder, but he goes on to explain what it should look like to be citizens of heaven. What it looks like if we are really living worthy of the gospel of Christ. He gives insight here as to what that will look like with three things. If you look at my life as one who claims to be a citizen of heaven, then these are some things that you should expect to see. Or if I look at your life as a Christian, a citizen of heaven, these are things that I should expect to see.

Paul hopes he will hear three things about their lives. Three things that are indicative of their worthy walk with Christ and with each other as citizens of heaven. Here are the three things that he hopes to hear about them:

1. That they are standing firm in one spirit.
2. That they are striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
3. That they are not frightened by their opponents.

Look at the passage here, “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.” Then he makes a statement, “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” These are things that Paul believes will be indicative of their worthy walk with Christ, so I want us to look at these and think about our own lives.

First, their worthy walk as citizens of heaven will include standing firm together in one spirit.

Standing firm means holding one’s ground regardless of danger or opposition. It reminds me of Paul’s writing in Ephesians 6 where he repeats often this idea of standing firm.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, (Ephesians 6:10-11, 13-14)

The idea is that of a soldier who has a special assignment to guard a position at all costs, even if it means losing his own life by standing firm. A soldier who is so committed to his task that it becomes first place in his mind, most important, so much so that if it means death to hold his position, then so be it. That is what it means to stand in a literal sense, but for us we can understand it figuratively to mean holding to truth, to our belief of faith, to our spiritual convictions from God’s Word, regardless of cost. The cost doesn’t matter.

When I say holding to these important truths or tenants of the faith, I don’t mean, nor does Paul, that we are to simply hold these truths in our brains. It’s not like a soldier talking about holding his position; it’s actually holding that position, doing something. Standing means to actively hold them in how we live. We may have a tendency to speak well or eloquently about our so-called beliefs. We can even lecture people on our beliefs, we can write a great Facebook post on Christian topics of faith, or blog about our beliefs, we can argue with our neighbors about beliefs. Or as parents we can very smoothly and dramatically voice our beliefs to our children. “The Bible says..!” We’re good at that.

But standing here is like, think militarily, standing here is like putting your life on the line, not just impressing others with verbal competence. There is a huge difference in the speaking and the doing. It means we live our beliefs. This means serving others no matter the cost – orphans, widows, the outcasts in society – not just making arguments that we should do those things, but we do them.

It means standing firm against personal sin, not giving into sinful temptations. Really not giving into it, when we may just want to talk about not giving in. I mean really standing firm instead of just arguing that we should stand firm. It’s doing hard things because God wants us to.

And all of this in the context of the community of the church. Standing firm yes, but standing firm “in one spirit,” Paul says, in the community of the church. We are not alone as we stand firm. We are not meant to be alone. We have each other, the church, right? There is a mutual sharing of convictions and responsibilities. We stand together as a church, as a body of believers.

Unity in the church was one of Jesus’ great passions and it is another way of saying standing firm in one spirit together. At the last supper Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Later, in John 17, Jesus prayed, “21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,”

This unity has a practical component to it. It’s not that we just understand spiritual unity as something unseen that ties us together. I mean we do have that, but it’s not to stop there. There should be a practical manifestation of this kind of spiritual unity. And so what does it look like? It looks like the visible church at work, actively ministering in the name of Christ. The visible workings of the church is how see practical unity.

That is how we get to point number two. Standing firm with one mind…doing what? Striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Paul hopes that he will hear that they are striving side by side for the faith of the gospel

It’s funny, no, it’s really sad that often times we do find striving in churches, but sadly that striving may not be a striving side by side, in unity, right? For the faith of the gospel. I remember growing up in my neighborhood church and the striving I saw there as a kid was always in the Wednesday night church business meetings. That was some striving! I grew up in a home where my parents never really raised their voices in arguments. I wasn’t used to seeing adults getting fired up with each other in arguments. The only place I saw that was at the church, in those Wednesday night business meetings! Some of them got downright ugly. I always wanted to go just to see whose dad was going to get the loudest or most argumentative. 

Well that’s not the kind of striving Paul, nor Christ, is promoting. Paul is talking about a passionate striving, yes, but not like that! Striving means, or striving together means, to compete in a contest, especially in a sport such as wrestling. Did you see some of that in the olympics? It’s the term from which we get the English word “athlete” or “athletics.” 

This striving of which Paul speaks is of Christians in the church striving together, on the same team, not striving against each other. They’re playing, serving, ministering as a team. Working together for the sake of the gospel. It’s brushing aside the temptation to get all bent out of shape with a brother or sister in Christ. Brushing that aside and instead moving in unison, with the same goals, encouraging one another, cheering one another on, holding each other up, not allowing others to fall or fail, stepping in for them if necessary for the benefit of the whole. We see this teaming together, working together, beautifully in Acts 2:

44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)

This team spirit is one that pleases the Lord. Unity in the body, a striving together side by side, is what the Lord desires for His church. Paul hoped to see that in the Philippian church. I hope that you hope to see that right here in our church. Significant ministry accomplished in the name of Christ by all of us striving together as one. It’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? 

We do see this often, and I’m so thankful for that. We see teams of people here on Thursday nights, striving together, helping many in our community by providing biblical counseling. Others in our body working side by side, getting many to their summer missions destinations for the purpose of spreading the gospel locally and around the world, striving together. Getting people to their missions destinations in Texas, Ukraine, Russia, Uganda, and China. In unity working together. These are worthwhile things that in many ways are expressions of our unity in the faith that God desires of His church. God values unity, unity in our work.

Lastly Paul hoped to hear that they are not frightened by their opponents.

This is interesting; it may seem a little out of place at first, but it really isn’t. First we can know that the Christians in Phillipi had opponents. This standing firm in the faith as citizens of heaven, striving together in unity of the faith, none if this was done in a pristine environment of some fairy-tale experience. They were living among hostile people. They were the persecuted because of their faith. 

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. (Philippians 1:28)

Their opponents were varied. They often were government officials who could threaten them, beat them, and imprison them. They most likely were also friends and neighbors, making fun of them because of their living out of the Christian faith.

When this happened, when opponents were threatening them, two things could be known. First, regarding their opponents, Paul says it is a clear sign of their destruction. What does that mean? It means that when persecutors come to tear down those of the faith, verbally or otherwise, when opponents tear down those who are living faithfully in Christ, obeying the Word, serving others, ministering in the body, standing for God’s truths, when someone opposes that, it says something about them. It says that they are headed for destruction. When someone opposes or persecutes those who are living out the faith then they are opposing Christ, and that’s a really bad place to be. To oppose Christ is to head toward destruction. And for those being persecuted, living faithfully in the middle of persecution, loving Christ while enduring hardship, the clear sign is for them of being in the family of God, a clear sign of their salvation.

Opposition allows us to see a clear distinction between two groups of people. It helps us to see those who are in Christ and those who are not. Paul says, “Don’t be frightened by those who are not in Christ. Don’t be frightened by those who persecute you.” The question on my mind is, “If we are not to fear them, then how are we to view them?” They are our mission field. It makes it more clear where the mission field is; who we’re to go after. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”

Aren’t you glad distinctions are made? “Okay, he is a persecutor of believers, okay, good to know who he is, so now I know who I can love in the name of Christ and pray for, he is a part of my mission field.” Not someone to hate, or bash, or ignore, or to speak rudely to, or rudely about, or debate, or humiliate, or to run from; no, it becomes someone to get to know, to get into their life, to serve, to go the extra mile with, to put into practice 1 Corinthians 13, to do good to, to lay my life down for, to be Christ to, to share the gospel with. That is who they are. We are not to be frightened, but to reach out.

We are here, physically still here, citizens of heaven while still on this earth, so that we can represent Jesus Christ to a watching world, a lost and dying world. We do that – as Paul has said, with joy – for a little while longer before we go home and be with the Lord. And we do all this with each other in community, standing firm together, one mind, in the faith, not frightened, but looking forward to heaven. And all of that can be a real challenge for us. But we don’t live this life on our own. Our God supplies all our needs, as Paul says later in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

If Paul came to our church and looked at us corporately, and each one of us individually as a part of the whole, what would he find? Or better yet, if Christ were to describe you and me and us together, what would He say? Are we standing firm together as citizens of heaven with one mind, with joy, engaging our opponents with the gospel? We have His instruction here, so the question is, “How are we doing with that? How are we lining up with His instruction for us?”

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. (Philippians 1:27-28)

Are we individually, corporately, each striving for these goals? 

  1. Standing firm in one spirit.
  2. Striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
  3. Thinking rightly about our opponents, not frightened by them.