Key Verse 1:27a
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Paul wrote to the Philippian church members who worried about his imprisonment such words as “I am in chains for Christ” (1:13). He said: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (1:21) Whether he was a free man or in prison, whether in life or in death, he let Jesus and only Jesus define and characterize his life. In other words, Christ Jesus was the meaning and purpose of his life. Christ Jesus was the reason he lived and died. Christ Jesus was the end he aspired to. Christ Jesus was the fountain of joy and peace from which he deeply drank. Nothing else in this world mattered more to him than Jesus and the message of life he carried from Jesus to the world. Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the gospel of Jesus is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. So in deep love and gratitude for God’s grace in his own life, Paul had a passion for serving Jesus and for preaching Jesus’ gospel to everyone he met. And these Philippians were among those who had received the gospel through his preaching. Paul had a special place in his heart for them. They had been an exemplary church. They had partnered with him in sharing the gospel with others, and had brought many into the fellowship of the saints. Their church grew from a mere handful of believers into a large community of faith. They were his sons and daughters in the faith whom he loved and served by pouring out his life for them as Jesus had poured out his life for him. They had grown to share in his troubles and had witnessed his sufferings for the gospel without weakening in their faith. Rather they had matured as overseers and deacons for the church of God (1:1). Paul had once been with them to counsel them in the faith and to encourage them in their trials. Now he was away locked up in prison, bound in chains. He can only write them a letter. How will he address their growing struggles?
This then, is the subject of the passage for the day. Paul says in verse 30: “Since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” They were going through the same struggle they had seen Paul have when he had been with them, a struggle they knew he was still having. And it was fierce struggle indeed! Among all the struggles that may have clouded Paul’s life, and of which he may have been speaking of, this particular struggle was the incessant struggle of “defending and confirming the gospel.” (1:7). These Philippian Christians were going through the same unending struggle Paul himself was engaged in of defending and confirming the gospel. On many occasions found himself having to defend and confirm the true tenets of the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Paul calls it a struggle because of all the struggles known to man, of all the battles and wars fought, whether outwardly or inwardly, whatever they may be, no struggle has been more critical to humanity than the struggle to defend and to confirm the gospel. All other struggles pale in the face of this one. Humanity has one hope to escape the corruption of sin and the entrapment of the devil, and that is the gospel. If the gospel is not properly defended and confirmed, humanity would be lost. But if the gospel is defended and confirmed by the faithful of the Lord, the hope of salvation for humanity remains burning to the end of time. To struggle for the sake of defending and confirming the gospel is the noblest of all struggles in life and history. The Philippian Christians, like Paul, were engaged in a battle for the defense of the gospel. And they were suffering for it. How will Paul address their struggle? How will he address their suffering? He will address them in many ways.
Look at verses 27-30. First, he addresses by telling them whatever happens conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. Second he will address them by telling them not be frightened in any way by those who would oppose them. Finally he will encourage them by telling them that their sufferings are a gift of God’s grace to them as much as their faith and calling had been.
Paul begins addressing their struggle with these words: “Whatever happens.” Read verse 27. “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” The struggle to defend and confirm the gospel had not been easy. Rather it had been difficult and at time even painful. The gospel was not readily accepted neither by Jew nor by Gentile. The gospel is the most beautiful message of good news anyone could ever hear. It is a message of love and mercy, of grace and forgiveness. Who could resist such a message? Yet at the same time the message of the gospel calls people to renounce their sins and to turn their hearts to God. It is a message that penetrates people’s hearts and calls for radical changes. Surely then as many as were receiving the gospel message in Philippi, there were many oppositions to the gospel message as well. Some accepted their message. Others persecuted them for the message. Still others accused them of the message they were preaching. The Philippian Christians found themselves having to defend and confirm the gospel. Paul fully understood their situation, since he had been in that situation many times. But his advice to them was very clear. He said, “Whatever happens” meaning that in any and every situation, as you find yourselves serving the Lord, here is what your conduct ought to be.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” In the ESV version of the Bible, it says: “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ”. When Paul said conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel, he meant live a life that reflects the Lord’s teachings, the Lord’s love, the Lord’s humility, the Lord’s sacrifice, and the Lord’s obedience to the will of God. Even in the most severe of circumstances, even if they were being persecuted, even if they were being opposed, Paul encouraged them to have a conduct befitting the gospel of Jesus. It is not hard to understand what he means by that. We ought to think about the way that Paul lived his life, and all the apostles, and their teachings and we can get an understanding of what kind of conduct or life we are to live if we are to live a life worthy of the gospel. We only need to look at the teachings of our Lord Jesus who taught us how we, as his people, ought to live in the world as citizens of heavens. How must we live? We do not retaliate. We not avenge the wrong. We offer the other cheek. We bless when cursed. We pray for those who do us wrong. We love when hated. We forgive those who offend us. We hold no grudges. Our conduct must be worthy of the gospel. And the gospel portrays a humble King who sacrificed himself to save us from our sins. When we think about Jesus, we cannot but fully understand what it means for us to live lives worthy of the gospel, conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel, even when we are being opposed and persecuted, even when we are in the midst of severe trials.
Read verse 27 again. “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” Paul knew they were struggling. But whatever happens, he encouraged them, rather commanded them to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. That was their charge. And there is fruit in that. And the fruit is really glorious. The fruit of their living a life worthy of the gospel is their firm unity in the Spirit. He says: “I will know that you stand firm in one spirit.” This firm unity in the Spirit is essential to the life of a church community. Without it, the church is truly a shambles. This firm unity is what Paul was hoping for when he wrote them this letter. When he encouraged them to live lives that are worthy of the gospel, he wanted them to measure up to the gospel. He wanted them to live on a higher plane than the common and ordinary. He wanted them to live on a heavenly plane which the Lord Jesus had set before them, not only because they were indeed the children of God and citizens of heaven, but also because when we do so as Christians it promotes unity— which is one of the most powerful characteristics of a godly or God-centered church. Standing firm in one Spirit was the goal to which Paul aimed for that church in Philippi. He wanted them to stand firm in one Spirit. Why might that be? Apparently, there had been some division among them, subtle division, enough to disrupt an otherwise powerful unity in the spirit, but not enough to cripple a church. Surely they needed to be more united than divided. However Paul eagerly wanted to firmly unite them in one spirit. The unity of the spirit among us as a church community is crucial to the health and standing of this church.
We may disagree on many issues. Disagreement is not a sin. In fact church is not built on the agreement of mindless drones who agree on everything mindlessly, but the church is built on dialogue and cooperation, on understanding and fellowship, when all these are engaged in love. Yet there are things we cannot and should not disagree on at all. Here’s what Paul tells us we must agree on without compromise. When we are called to stand firm in one spirit, we are called to stand United in one spirit for what? Look at verse 27 again. “Stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” We may disagree on this or that. But we may not disagree on matters of the faith of the gospel. when it comes to the matters of the faith of the gospel, we must contend together as one man. we must stand United in the faith of the gospel as one. What is the faith of the a gospel? It is the gospel truth as passed down to us from the Lord and his apostles in the Scriptures. We have it in the Bible as the truth. It has been defended and confirmed. We must study it diligently and meditate on it daily, and keep it in our hearts so that together we may stand firm in it.
Today, as in Paul’s day there are many false gospels and many false truths that want to raise their head above the gospel we know and cherish in the holy Scripture. Today, the gospel we know is being systematically attacked and belittled in an effort to make it seem outdated and ineffective for today’s world. Today there are churches and Christians who want to change the gospel of our Lord Jesus for a gospel of their own, a milder gospel that is kinder to the modern man and closer to his needs. What attitude must we as a Christian and as a church take for the gospel? I think we must fight for it— together. Paul says: “Stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” The word contend here is a very strong word. It means to struggle, to agonize together, to strive as one, together, for the gospel. In other words, we cannot struggle each one alone in this war. One may be a great Christian, but alone one is nothing in a war. Alone we will lose. But Paul tells us that we must do so together, contending as one, fighting as one, so that we might win this battle. May God help us understand this wisdom and embrace it.
Read verse 28. “Without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved— and that by God.” There will really never be a period of time in history where the gospel will not be resisted and Christians opposed for the message of the gospel which they bring to a dying world. But the problem is how we react to those who oppose us. Opposition in the first century to the early Christians was fearsome. It entailed such severe persecution, the confiscation of property, estrangement from home and society. Some were beaten, some killed. We cannot imagine the horrors our ancestors endured in the name of Christ, as they carried the gospel with them wherever they went. But when Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, the opposition had not been so severe yet. However it was severe enough for him to tell them these words: “Without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” As many enemies as Christians may have had in history, we all know that fear has been and remains to be a formidable enemy to most believers. Because of fear, so many believers will not share the gospel with other people. Some fear rejection. Some fear their peers, others fear their employers, others fear their spouses, still others fear their friends, and so on. Fear is terrible. Unless fear is removed from the heart, a Christian remains a victim of the evil one, and a useless instrument in the Lord’s hand all their lives. But Paul knowing that opposition may affect the body but not the soul, encouraged them not to be afraid in any way of those who oppose them. He tells them why. He tells them that their suffering from opposition is a sign from God of their oppressors’ destruction and of their own salvation. If we too could learn to see our hardship and troubles because of the gospel as a sign from God, we too might learn not to fear anything, but to rejoice even when we are being opposed in preaching the gospel.
Read verse 29. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” What a glorious comfort it is that Paul assures the Philippian Christians in their struggles for the gospel. He explains to them one of the mysteries of the Christian life. Why do Christians suffer, especially when they are living for Christ and serving Christ’s purpose with their whole hearts? And Paul tells us why. He tells us that suffering is a gift of God’s grace. As much as faith in Christ has been granted to us or gifted to us, so also it has been granted us to suffer on his behalf. On his behalf, means it is for his honor, for his sake, we have been privileged and gifted to suffer as well. Suffering is indeed a gift to those whom God has chosen and favored to serve the gospel and the kingdom. Paul really wanted the Philippian Church to understand that their suffering was not a sign of God’s abandonment or a sign of his displeasure of them, but a sign of his great love and grace and of his salvation to them. Furthermore, it was a sign of his sure judgment on all those who oppose them, for in opposing them they oppose the Son of God who sacrificed his life as God’s act of love to save mankind. Those who reject the gospel, reject the love of God. Those who accept the gospel accept the love of God.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ… Stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way.” In other words, whatever happens live as a citizen of heaven by the gospel teachings. Unite together in contending, agonizing, struggling together for the faith of the gospel. We know that unity in itself (let alone unity for the sake of the faith of the gospel) is by far one of the hardest things in the Christian church to do. Christianity more than anything else, has suffered so much from disunity. Jesus in his last words changed us to love each other, because love unites us like nothing else does. We find in the gospel a common ground for our unity. We find that we have all been loved by the Savior. The Cross not only forgives our sins, the cross reminds us of the unimaginable love of God for unlovely people like you and me. And then the cross compels us to put aside everything, and love each other regardless of differences. And that love unites us. And as we stand united in one spirit struggling with one spirit, we can— as one man— defend and confirm the gospel in our church, in our generation and fulfill our purpose by passing on the torch to the next generation.