Continuing my series going through the book of Philippians, let’s look at Philippians 1:27-30 today.
“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.” (Phil1:27–30, NLT)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are from the New Living Translation[/ref]
Paul was a mentor to the Philippian believers and he hoped that they would not disappoint him. Phil 1:27 sets the stage for several other things Paul wanted the Philippians to do. However, Phil 1:27 is the most basic and comprehensive of all the things he was going to tell the Philippians to do:
- suffer together (Phil 1:28-30);
- focus on others (Phil 2:1-4);
- have the same attitude as Christ (Phil 2:5-11);
- shine brightly for Christ (Phil 2:12-18).
In these four verses (Phil 1:27-30) Paul is talking about suffering for Christ, and the way that you endure that suffering is by sticking together. The outcome of that sticking to together is that the good news is spread. Therefore, the one thing Paul hoped that they would do (whether he ever got to see them again) was to conduct their manner worthy of Christ
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I. TOGETHER UNITED (Phil 1:27-28)
A. Together United as Christians (v. 27)
“Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ, in order that whether I come and see you or hear about you, stand firm in one spirit, one soul, fighting for the faith in the Gospel” (Phil 1:27)
1. Only, at all costs
The Greek adverb, μονον (only, alone,) is placed here as the first word in the verse probably for emphasis. “Above all” (NLT). In his commentary on Philippians Ralph Martin says this “only” stands “lifted like a warning finger” (Martin, Philippians, 82).
As Roman citizens the people in Philippi had status, protection, and an obligation to follow the law of Rome. These were privileges that also carried with them responsibilities. Comfort’s comments on this word and its connotations to the Philippian context is insightful, “The Philippians had civic pride because they were a Roman colony, enjoying numerous privileges. Indeed, many of them considered themselves Romans. But Paul called them to enjoy a higher citizenship” (Comfort, Philippians, 164). Paul was in effect saying that in light of the great status they had because they were citizens of Rome, they should not forget that they had a status of heavenly worship.
The “standing” here has a military metaphor that Paul is using from his culture and time. The picture created here is that the Philippians are resolute soldiers standing their ground. In Paul’s time troops fought as a densely packed group with eight men deep and they moved together. They would move together, maintain cohesion, overlap shields, spears. In this manner, soldiers needed to stay in formation, whether attacking or retreating, and defeat would follow if one solider broke rank and allowed the enemy to pour through. For more information on this war tactic see Garland, “Philippians” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 209.
According to John Calvin, “we have to fight together under the same banner, for this has often been the occasion of reconciling even the greatest of enemies” (Calvin, Epistles of Paul, 46).
The conclusion here is that if they are going to live as citizens of heaven worthy of the Gospel they are going to have to stand firm. This is a good example of why it is good to actively be involved in a local church. We can’t do the Christian life on our own. One soldier fighting alone would struggle, but 8×8 (64) would be able to fight. We need to get around other people that love Jesus and want to follow him.
4. In One Spirit
Comfort observes that this use is the one taken by most commentators and denotes a unified spirit or a spiritual solidarity (Comfort, Philippians, 164.). The Philippians “are to present a united and unwavering front against the attacks of the enemy in their conflict for the Gospel” (O’Brien, Philippians, 151).
B. Together United Against Non-Christians (v. 28)
“Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself.” (Phil 1:28, NLT)
1. Being Frightened
Word Usage. This verb only occurs one time in the New Testament and has the literal meaning of to let oneself to intimidated, be frightened, terrified (BDAG, 895). The word picture here is of a timid or scared horse
Unifying Question. An example of this is a lady named Carol that once visited my small group. At the small group during the “Unifying Question” on the sermon titled, “Bible Bashers” she shared that she likes to try to talk about her faith with a particular family member, but when she does that family member gets angry and extremely defensive. In these times it is easy to get scared and frightened. In some cases we might have more solid reasons for our faith that the person that flat out rejects God, yet the way that they do it can cause us to be frightened.
2. The Opponents
The common question here is, “Who are these people?” They are Gentile non-Jewish non-Christians. I believe this for three reasons. First, the context says that they are non-Christians because they are on the road to destruction (also see 1 Cor 1:18). Secondly, Paul tells the Philippians to stand fast just as he was (Phil 1:30), and his opposition was from people outside of the community of faith that were not Christians. Third, the book of Philippians has no quotations of the Old Testament. Therefore, based on these three important and contextual considerations, it is likely that the opposers were people from the outside (O’Brien, Philippians, 153). Comfort supports O’Brien’s conclusion based on the knowledge that there were few Jews in Philippi at the time the church was founded. Comfort therefore believes the opposers were Greco-Roman Gentiles similar to the ones Paul encountered in Philippi in Acts 16 (Comfort, Philippians, 167).
II. A Struggle to Share (Phil 1:29-30)
A. Trusting in Christ and Suffering for Him (v. 29)
“For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.” (Phil 1:29, NLT)
1. On Behalf of
ὑπερ is a common Greek preposition that usually means in the genitive, in behalf of, and in the accusative, above. When used with verbs of suffering this preposition gives the reason for the suffering
It should be no surprise that this preposition is often used to describe Christ’s death “on behalf of us” in the New Testament as seen in John 11:50-51; Rom 5:6-8; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13; Tit 2:14; and 1 Peter 3:18 (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1999], 331-333).
- “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Rom 5:6–8, NLT, emphasis added)
- “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Cor 5:21, NLT, emphasis added)
- “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our For it is written in the Scriptures, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” (Gal 3:13, NLT, emphasis added)
- “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18, NLT, emphasis added)
In a way, we shouldn’t be surprised that this is also something that we are supposed to do.
2. The Present Conditions of Suffering
An astute Bible student should note that these verbs are in the “present tense.” This suffering is something that goes on right now and is a state that believers have to endure right now.
Sadly, “in the biblical world, to be chosen by God does not protect one from suffering for God. It is a call to suffer” (Garland, “Philippians” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 211).
Furthermore, “adversity is a part of the Christian life and should come as no surprise. Those that follow Christ should expect opposition. Believers have two privileges: to believe in him and to suffer for him. Both are integral part of Christian living” (Max Anders, Galatians-Colossians, vol. 8, Holman New Testament Commentary [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1999], 211).
This idea that to “follow God means to suffer” was foreign to the Philippians because they were converted out of a pagan background that did not include suffering. The deities they were aware of promised happiness and blessings, not suffering.
This is contrary to some of the ideas that Americans have about the Bible and the Christian faith. Some people think the Bible is just something you read to help you live a happy and healthy and successful life. When I was working as a caddie in Texas I was trying to witness and share my faith with the guys there. One guy I asked about how familiar he was with the God or the Bible and what they thought about those things. He said he “agreed” that the Bible taught good lessons about how to live a successful life. He said, “Yeah, Gospels shares lots of stories of Jesus about how to be successful in life.”
Another example of this is the first law of the four spiritual laws that used to be a very popular evangelism tool. The first law states, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Now, anything that gets people saved I am a fan of. However, that last part of the law is a little misleading. Yes, God has a wonderful plan for your life, but part of the Christian life includes suffering and difficult times.
“For some reason, many new believers have the idea that trusting Christ means the end of their battles. In reality, it means the beginning of new battles.” (Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 72)
3. Suffering and Missing Out
What is it that we as Christians might miss out on when we suffer? It is not always an extreme suffering. For example, here are some of the ways that the manner in which we live our lives might mean we suffer:
- I might not respond when someone angrily attacks me.
- I might let another person think he or she is right when I know she’s wrong, for the sake of avoiding conflict.
- I will miss out on enjoyable things like movies, games, sports. An example of this was sports at Preston Trail. Guys, you can’t watch every Marvel and DC Comics movie.
- I won’t feel like I fit in as much because I am out of the loop.
B. Struggle as Paul Struggled (v. 30)
“We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.” (Phil 1:30, NLT)
1. What Type of Suffering
Now, what type of suffering are we talking about? I’m talking about specific suffering someone receives as a result of living a godly life as a Christian. There are things we do that cause us suffering that have nothing to do with our faith or that we experience suffering simply because we have made poor choices or have specific sins in our lives.
- A young man gets his paycheck, spends all his money on video games and Monster energy drinks, then a week later he’s out of money. That’s not suffering.
- A person has a habit of always saying what’s on his or her mind and not filtering her thoughts or being considerate of the feelings of others. As a result, family members want nothing to do with that person. That’s not suffering because you are a Christian, it’s suffering because you can’t control your mouth.
- A person puts the 100th picture of himself on Facebook as a selfie and someone says, “hey man, how about you do something for someone else and stop focusing on yourself” and the selfie gets defensive, “You just hate me cause I’m a Christian.” Well no, all you ever do is talk about yourself and take pictures of yourself. Get a life!
2. Paul’s Struggles
There are three struggles that Paul has experienced as it relates to this verse.
His Time in Philippi. Paul’s visit to Philippi—whom this letter is written to—was marked by a struggle. When Paul and his coworker Silas were sharing the Gospel in Philippi they met a demon-possed slave girl who was wearning a lot of money for her masters. At one point Paul calls the demon out of the girl and the demon left her. And that’s where we pick up the story, “Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.” A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.” (Acts 16:19–24, NLT)
His Ministry Experience. Perhaps the most powerful passage of Scripture is when Paul shares a little insight to his work ethic, what he does in ministry, and the suffering he experienced as a result of the work for the Gospel. “Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” (2 Cor 11:23–27, NLT)
His Imprisonment in Rome. And, let us not forget that Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter to the Philippians. The dude was literally chained to a wall as he dictated this letter to someone else who wrote the words on papyrus for the Philippians.
3. Why We Need Friends
This struggle is one of the reasons that we need a couple of really close Christian friends. Please notice that I share we need a “couple” of close Christian friends. We do not need “all” of our friends to be Christians. As Christians that believe in a literal hell that people go to if they do not know and follow Jesus, we must always be cultivating relationships with non-Christians and trying to share our faith with them. With that said, there are certain things you are going to experience in life where you need to have a close Christian friend or two to get through it.
III. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. The Christian life is a blessing, but also a struggle
Christmas is coming it reminds me of the gift of salvation which we received. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23, NLT). Ephesians 4:1 says something similar, “Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.” (Ephesians 4:1, NLT) This is because of the gift of Jesus Christ. And, that is part of the letter that we are reading from Paul. Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and through Paul and Peter and the New Testament church began.
The Christian life is a struggle because of the fallen and corrupt world that we live in. There are times when we are faced with tough decisions where we can do things that the world does or we can do them the way that the true Christian should do them. An example of this was when I was a caddie in Texas. It was hard to live as a Christian in the fallen world that we were in. I was not one of the guys that cussed a lot, got angry, or spent money that I didn’t have on nice things. Instead I was the godly man that did not cuss, kept my temper under control, and drove an old hooptie because that’s what I could afford. I remember a lot of times I was nervous to tell people that I had moved to Texas to attend Seminary because people would be like, “Oh, I guess I better not cuss in front of you.”
B. We live together as one family.
The body of Christ is one family and we need to get along with each other. There will be times that we don’t get along, that we fight, and that we disagree on things. Yet, we are one family were we need to get along with each other. This is the something that the Holy Spirit will help us with and walk with thus through.
When I was attending Seminary I heard Chuck Swindoll say something that I never forget. He said that every day someone says something that he has to just “let go.” Meaning, someone says something offensive, hurtful, or inappropriate. And instead of making a fight or arguing, he just lets it go. Now, this does not mean you become a doormat and allow people to run over you. If you regularly have an issue with one person over time then you step in.
C. You might be persecuted, but we deal with that by coming together.
As humans we desire community and fellowship with each other. We come together as a community of faith based on our faith in Jesus Christ as our savior. And, we do that not just to hear a sermon, participate in worship, or have a meal, but we do it because we can love on each other. And that’s important when we experience difficult times and suffering. We need each other and we need others to remind us what we believe in and the validity of it.
D. Suffering stinks but it’s what deepens our faith.
First, suffering makes sure we really believe what we say we believe. Making a commitment to follow Jesus is not just a decision we make in our head or a feeling in our heart, it is a firm declaration that Jesus Christ is “Lord” of our life and that we are going to follow him no matter what. When we believe in Jesus and we begin to experience suffering, suffering makes sure we really believe what we believe.
Second, God uses suffering to expand the church. The first century church experienced amazing suffering yet it continued to actively spread. The two most active places that the church is growing is in China and the middle east because of the suffering and persecution that Christians face there.