Our text for today comes from Philippians 1:27-30. If you are using one of the Bibles in the pew rack the text can be found on page 980. These are the words of God:
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.
We thank you that the Scriptures are your holy and perfect Word. We pray now that your Spirit would teach us, reprove us, correct us, and train us in righteousness. And we ask this in the name of Jesus, Amen.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
The passage is filled with athletic, military, and political terminology, and all of it is a charge to the church to stand together at citizens, strive together for the gospel, and to suffer together for the sake of Christ.
Philippi was a Roman colony, and its citizens were Roman citizens. Yet, Paul reminds them of a higher citizenship and calls them to exemplify Christ, not Caesar. “Walk in a manner worthy,” is a single political term that literally means, “discharge your duties as a citizen.” This is the “headline” of the passage, and all else is an outworking of this headline. They do this through interconnected relationships: standing firm & striving together (v. 27)
Their attempts to live out their Christian citizenship will inevitably create opposition because they answer to a higher king than Caesar. Nonetheless, they aren’t to bolt like startled horses at the first sign of opposition.
Christian unity and courage in the face of persecution, Paul says, are clear signs that you have been saved and are being saved by God. Christian unity brings together natural enemies. It is other-worldly unity. And Christian courage abandons all the world holds dear for the sake of that which the world despises. (v. 28)
Finally, Paul warns the Philippian believers not to incorrectly interpret difficulty and suffering as a bad omen, when in fact it is a gift from a gracious God. (v. 29) If Paul, who brought them the gospel suffered and faced opposition in order to do it (Acts 16), they should expect the same. (v. 30)
STAND TOGETHER AS CITIZENS
When you come into the kingdom of Christ you gain an identity that runs deeper than every other identity you previously held. Those twin realities, that we are born condemned sinners and that we may be cleansed and redeemed in Christ, cut beneath all other identity roots. And, for this reason, Christians as diverse as black and white, rich and poor, white collar and blue collar—can stand together as one unified church.
Friends, there were no greater natural enemies than Jews & Gentiles in the first century. So naturally divided were they, that even the Apostle Peter had hang-ups over associating with non-Jews. (Gal. 2:11-15) When Paul confronted him he didn’t use woke coercion and pressure to tamp down his prejudice against Gentiles. What undermined Peter’s prejudiced tendencies? Paul told Peter he was out of step with the gospel.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14)
A Side-Note On Unity
Throughout the history of the church, there is a debate over what kind of unity the church should have. In Ephesians 4 Paul says:
4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (Eph. 4:4, 5)
In this sense, there is an objective, invisible, spiritual unity that all believers across time and space share. At the same time, this invisible unity can be more or less reflected in the visible church.
One of the major errors of the RC & EO systems is that they equate institutional unity with real spiritual unity. They equate submission to their form of church government with the real spiritual communion all true Christians share in Christ.
So, while we lament visible divisions in the church, those visible denominations aren’t in and of themselves a contradiction of Christian unity. In fact, this side of heaven, and denominations can be healthy ways to preserve the faith and our own consciences. (Credit for ideas in this section to Aaron Ventura)
STRIVE TOGETHER FOR THE GOSPEL
Paul is emphatic: the Philippians are not to be frightened by anything. They are to strive alongside one another for the gospel in the face of opposition. Paul was in prison, feeling first-hand the awful opposition of a state opposing Christ. In the years that would follow, Nero would set off nearly 200 years of persecution of the church that would eventually culminate in the persecution of Diocletian. Christians lost their legal rights, and many were executed in places like the Coliseum. Christians in our own nation have already begun to feel the same opposition. I don’t desire to dwell here on the opposition, but instead on our call to “strive together.”
Christians, over the next years and decades, you will need one another. We just came through 2.5 years of egregious government overreach on all citizens, but especially on churches. Never forget those churches were threatened with legal action simply for meeting on the Lord’s Day. Never forget those Christians who were threatened with job loss because they refused to submit to a tyrannical edict from DC.
You will need other Christians who agree with Christ. You will need to share your resources with one another. Many of you will need to help a brother or sister in Christ find employment. You will be called upon to pray for a church member whose job is being threatened because of their religious convictions. This is one of the reasons you ought to get into a community group now. We do need one another. We will need one another.
SUFFER TOGETHER FOR CHRIST
Suffering for Christ is a constant theme for Paul:
through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)
4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, (1 Thess. 3:2-4)
12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Tim. 3:12)
This is because suffering was a constant theme for Christ himself:
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)
One of the primary ways we suffer as Christians is by receiving many good and perfect gifts from God and then being asked to give them back to him whenever he says so. In fact, this is the entire Christian life: receiving with thankfulness all that God gives and returning all of it to him with thankfulness when he takes it away.
So, what has God given to you? Place it next to the gift of Christ, and trust that if he is good enough to give his own Son, we can trust him with all else.