Worthy of the Gospel of Christ
Philippians 1:27-30 – Philippians: Life Together
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany – February 4, 2018 (am)
The proof’s in the pudding. That’s the description you use when something is self-evidently good. I think of my mom’s banana pudding when I was a kid. Is it good, a friend would ask? Try it, was the only needed response. The proof’s in the pudding.
Paul has been celebrating relational intimacy with the Philippians that is forged by their shared mission in the gospel. He’s writing from prison and reminding them that this gospel-allegiance that unites them so deeply is being well-served even by his incarceration. So, he’s urging them toward faithful, single-minded, single-hearted proclamation and defense of it in their community, even if it ends up putting them in some fearful situation. The gospel will be equal to it. And the proof’s in the pudding. Try it! What he’s telling them to do is live and proclaim the gospel in their community with one mind and one heart, knowing it will bring suffering, but also knowing that their endurance is part of God’s plan for authenticating the message.
Let’s ask this text three questions.
Given the gospel of Christ, how are we called to live?
Paul answers this straightforwardly in what is identified as the theme-verse of Philippians. This is his central and signature charge in this letter. And it is the only imperative in our passage today. 27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…. And there are several parts to this that give us a sense of how we’re supposed to hear it.The word behind manner of life suggests their public life, not just personal convictions or private habits. V.27 could be translated: live as citizens or lead your community life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. This is a verb-form of the noun that appears in 3:20 … our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there… (niv).
And this call is a collective one, not an individual one. As a church the Philippians were to live their community life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. You can see this not only from the plural verb, but from the several qualifiers Paul included that are clearly instructing the whole body: 27 … standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. This public witness is something they’re pursuing together. It’s something in which they need to be unified—and not just generally speaking, working toward the same end, but single-minded, and single-hearted, co-laboring for the faith of the gospel, for its advance. In one spirit, with one mind means, first, that they have like views (they agree on the content), then that they are united in heart (they’re committed to it together) (Calvin 46). And united in heart can only happen if we have like views. This is what Paul wants to see.
And it’s as though he wants them as unified in his absence as they would be if he were there. That’s why he says here: 27 … so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you…. Most worksites are more unified when the boss is around. I remember the work I did on farms as a middle-schooler. We had a crew that would either de-tassel corn or hoe corn out of bean fields. We were easily fifty percent more productive when our boss was in the field! But somehow we always tended to lose focus when he was away. That happens on every level, I believe. But Paul didn’t want it happening in the church’s gospel witness there in Philippi.
What are the biggest obstacles to living this way?
There is literally any number of potential obstacles to like-minded, like-hearted cooperation in any cause, not to mention gospel-advance. But there are specific obstacles here in Philippi that Paul wants this church to press past. The first insinuation of the greatest challenge comes in v.28 as Paul finishes his central charge. Let’s read into it: 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. … In one phrase we’re reminded that they have opponents, and that these opponents can strike fear in their hearts!
But we’ve known that from early on in the introduction of the gospel to Philippi. Remember the demonized slave girl who followed Paul and Silas around that city for many days saying: These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation. Finally, Paul, having become greatly annoyed, rebuked the spirit and it left the girl, removing her fortune-telling ability. Well this cut off an income stream for her owners, and they were not happy about it at all (Act.16:16-18). So, 19 … they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace…. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocated customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” Then 22 the crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. These are the kinds of opponents the church faced in Philippi!
So, when Paul reminded them that they were still 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have, that’s what he means. They saw all this happen to him there in Philippi. And they know he’s back in prison in Rome. Public opposition and government-backed persecution were among the biggest obstacles in the path of gospel-advance in Gentile world of that day, and Paul didn’t want them shrinking back from these in fear.
How are we enabled to overcome these obstacles?
Simply put, the Philippians were enabled by the power of the very gospel they had received and were proclaiming in their community. This wasn’t just some new idea they were trying to persuade people to believe. This was that good work that God began in them and promised to complete (6). This was the central message of the mission that united their hearts with Paul’s, and enabled their love to abound with know-ledge and all discernment (9) so that they could approve what is excellent and grow toward being pure and blameless (10), filled with the fruit of righteousness (11). If you’ve received this gospel, there’s no need to be frightened in anything by your opponents! (28) Even if they’re so violently opposed to you that they take your life, you still win with this gospel because to die is gain! (21)
Plus, it’s this very lack of fear (28)—this 27 … standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, … not frightened in anything by your opponents—that is undeniably worthy of the gospel of Christ, and is also the self-authenticating mark of the reality and power of the gospel. 28 … This lack of fear is a clear sign to them… of your salvation, … that it’s from God. But that’s not all v.28 says, is it? 28 … This lack of fear is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. The fearless, heart-unified, relentlessly gospel-worthy life of the local church in Philippi was the clearest, most undeniable public proof that their salvation was indeed real, that it was from God, and therefore also that the destruction they preached that was awaiting all who rejected this gospel was also quite real.
So, yes, opposition comes. But the power of the gospel is equal to it. The same gospel we receive, that reconciles us to God, and so transforms our affections that it causes us to want everyone we meet to taste of its transforming power, that gospel stands firm in the face of all opposition, recognizing that it’s simply an extension of the opposition Jesus faced. And 29 … it has been granted to (us), just like it was to the Philippians, that for the sake of Christ (we) should not only believe in him but also that (we) should suffer for his sake, that (we) should share his sufferings (3:10). That’s how the gospel advances! And that’s how it is proven undeniably true—not by its always winning over all opponents, but by its always standing (firmly) undaunted in the face of any opposition or rejection or even retaliation that it draws.
Paul knew that these Philippians would (stand) firm in once spirit, with one mind and (strive) side by side with him for the faith of the gospel, but he wanted them doing it with one another even if he couldn’t come visit them again.
And this is the very calling we should still hear at GCD. But my friends, as we hear it we should do so within the context that this calling appears in right here. And so, we should know that with this gospel that we’re standing firm in one spirit and mind striving side by side to advance—with it comes the power to enable a life worthy of it! Certainly Paul isn’t pointing the Philippians to his imprisonment there in Philippi, and now in Rome (30), as the basis of their confidence to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, or to boost their courage to fight for it side by side. He’s pointing them to the power of the gospel put on display in his response to both of those assignments —to his singing hymns at midnight in Philippi, after a public beating and maximum-security confinement, to the evangelization of the jailer and his family in Philippi, and of the whole imperial guard in Rome (13).
Suffering for the gospel is not just a random possibility, or even an extreme likelihood. It’s something entirely different altogether. It’s a doorway into Narnia, Paul is saying! It’s a passageway to some great adventure! It’s a gift granted by God (29) along with saving faith in Christ. It’s a grace-gift, into a state of being where a whole new set of His precious promises can be tried and tested and proven true! This is what Paul has been saying all along about this gospel, this mission, this mutual engagement that has awakened such captivating life together among him and the Philippians. It has Paul in a place where for (him) to live is Christ and to die is gain! (21) And here he’s calling them, and us, into that same experience. 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.
You’re engaged in the very same kinds of scenarios where I discovered such sufficient and great and glorious power in the truth of the gospel, Paul is saying, that it turned my suffering into the stage where God’s glory is being played out in real-time, and is being magnified by gospel-advance!
Don’t shrink back in fear from your gospel opponents in Philippi—in Warrenville and Wheaton and Naperville—Paul is saying. Do not be frightened in anything by your opponents (28) and so miss the joy of gospel-striving, even of gospel-suffering—of life together in gospel partnership!