Behave as Citizens Worthy of the Gospel of Christ
Having completed his so-termed “missionary report” in Philippians 1:1-26, Paul now turns to the theme of Christian citizenship that he will maintain through 2:30. I have termed this section (1:27-2:30) of Philippians “the path of joy” because it is in these verses that Paul lays out how Christians should behave in light of their salvation. Having expressed the attitude of joy in 1:21—“to live is Christ, and to die is gain”—Paul now begins to express the application of joy in 1:27.
In preaching through Philippians, I divided this section of Philippians into four sermons, but here in the blog I have divided it into five posts. This first post deals with 1:27-30, where Paul commands the Philippians to “behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ.” As Philippians 1 draws to a close, Paul reveals that we first “behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ” by uniting around and suffering for the gospel.
Unite Around the Gospel
In Philippians 1:27-30, Paul first exhorts the Philippians to be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind.” Paul affirms and upholds Christian unity. A problem particularly within the American Church is its affinity for individualism. Individualism is certainly an American value, but it is not a biblical value. The writer of Hebrews admonishes his addressees not to neglect meeting together (10:25). How far down the slippery slope have we in America come, that many professing Christians settle for a televangelist with faulty doctrine when the Bible commands nothing short of physical fellowship with other believers! Yes, unity among different congregations to the neglect of doctrine is terrible, but individualism among geographically close believers is also terrible. Later in Philippians 2:2-4, Paul writes what Christian unity looks like when put into practice: true Christian unity involves
- a unity of mind
- a unity of love
- a lack of rivalry
- a lack of vain conceit
- looking to others’ interests as well as to one’s own
I mentioned above the tragedy of unity to the neglect of doctrine; I now turn my attention more fully to that problem. Paul specifies here in Philippians 1:27 that while unity is necessary, Christian unity should be around the gospel. He commands the Philippians to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel.” “Unity at all costs” is not a biblical idea; “unity around the gospel” is. So while individualism is one ditch into which Christians may fall, heresy lies on the opposite side of the road. It is for this reason that I am so thankful for Together for the Gospel and the Gospel Coalition; these two organizations cross denominational lines without letting in false gospels. These two organizations unite around the gospel; they unite biblically.
Here, I will note that “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” is military imagery. This phrase conveys that Christian unity is indeed required for the effective advance of the gospel. Like a soldier standing at his post, Christians must “[stand] firm in one spirit” and “[strive] side by side” for the gospel against the kingdom of darkness. We as Christians must not oppose Satan individually, for he is a lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Like a lion, Satan will take advantage of the gazelle (=Christian) who is off on his/her own. However, by “standing firm in one spirit [and by] striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” we Christians advance the gospel against the kingdom of Satan.
Our unity must be around the gospel, and our unity must be fearless. We should not be “frightened in anything by [our] opponents.” We should have no fear before our opponents because “all things work together for the good of those who love God” (Romans 8:28) and because “it is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). Consider also the words of Jesus: “[D]o not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Suffer for the Gospel
The last half of v. 28 transitions into v. 29. Here, Paul assures the Philippians (and us) that fearless unity “is a clear sign to [our opponents] of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” Paul then opens v. 29 with a word “for,” which means “because.” By saying “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,” Paul conveys the idea that Christian suffering is inevitable; that suffering is, in fact, an aspect of our salvation, our sanctification specifically. Our suffering as Christians does not make us right before God, but our suffering as Christians does contribute to our progressive sanctification that Paul writes about in such passages as Romans 8:29 and Philippians 2:12-13. Indeed, the word translated “granted” in v. 29 is from the same root noun that means “grace.” The same God who saves us by grace delivers us through inevitable sufferings. (And recall that the “deliverance” of v. 18 connotes both temporal and eternal deliverance.)
Paul also writes that we should suffer for the gospel because our (perseverance through) suffering legitimates our evangelism. Allow me to quickly say that lifestyle evangelism is an oxymoron. I also affirm that our actions should be consistent with our faith. But our actions do not constitute evangelism; rather, our actions, such as persevering amid suffering, corroborate our evangelism. Mark Dever helpfully writes in The Gospel and Personal Evangelism:
Displaying God’s compassion and kindness by our actions is a good and appropriate thing for Christians to do. … But such actions are not evangelism. They commend the gospel, but they share it with no one. To be evangelism, the gospel must be clearly communicated, whether in written or oral form. (p. 75, emphasis original)
Indeed, the “conflict” about which Paul writes in v. 30 is the conflict of evangelism. Paul was imprisoned “for Christ” (v. 13), because he was spreading the gospel. Paul here reveals that our suffering should be for the sake of the gospel, as we spread it united with other Christians. The Bible is contiguous and affirms itself. Like Paul, Peter writes of Christian suffering:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (1 Peter 4:12-16)
We today are in need of a paradigm shift. Our society is individualistic and indulgent. The world today says, “Be a lone ranger, do everything yourself, and don’t ask for help.” But God says, “Stand firm and strive side by side with other believers to advance the gospel.” The world today says, “Make yourself as comfortable as possible because suffering is bad.” But God says, “Suffer for Me because suffering is good.” Yes, suffering is good. Paul writes: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). We profess to know Christ, but we know him most fully when we taste of His sufferings. We profess to trust God, but we trust Him most deeply when we are facing sufferings of various kinds.
In these verses, Paul commands believers both to unite and persevere. The two are, indeed, interrelated. If we do not unite around the gospel, we are much less likely to persevere in the gospel. If we do not persevere in the gospel, we may unite, but it will not be a biblical unity. “Behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ” Paul writes in Philippians 1:27. Do so by uniting around the gospel and by suffering for the gospel while spreading the gospel.
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