Today’s post looks at Paul’s command to the Philippian believers to live as citizens of heaven. While this was a moral imperative for the Philippians, it also provides some good insight for leaders to also follow. Previous posts in these series have been:
- An Introduction to the Book of Philippians
- Paul’s Greeting, Gratitude, and Group Focus (Phil 1:1-11)
- A Leader Rejoices When His Cause Advances (Phil 1:12-18)
- Paul’s Life for Christ (Phil 1:19-26)
I. LIVE AS CITIZENS OF HEAVEN (1:27-28)
“27Only, at all costs live the gospel of Christ in a worthy manner, in order that whether I see you all or while being absent I might hear of your circumstances, that you all stand in one spirit, with one mind, while contending for the faith in the Gospel 28and by not being frightened in anything by the opponents, which is a sign to them of destruction, but of your salvation, and this is of God. 29Because it has been graciously given to you, not only faith but also suffer on behalf of Christ. 30As a result you all have the same struggle, a struggle you saw me in (in the past), and you see me in (now).”
A. Live in a Manner Worthy of Christ (v. 27)
“27Only, at all costs live the gospel of Christ in a worthy manner, in order that whether I see you all or while being absent I might hear of your circumstances, that you all stand in one spirit, with one mind, while contending for the faith in the Gospel”
1. μονον – 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). Often when writers wanted to emphasize a specific word or thought in Greek they would move that word forward in the sentence.
A similar construction is seen in Jesus’ discussion with the woman at the well in John 4:17, ἀπεκρίθη ἡ γυνὴ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· οὐκ ἔχω ἄνδρα. λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· καλῶς εἶπας ὅτι ἄνδρα οὐκ ἔχω. “The woman said to Jesus, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus replied to her saying, “You have spoken correctly that a husband you do not have!” Furthermore, μονον connects the entire imperatival sentence (O’Brien, Philippians, 145).
2. ἀξιως – worthy manner
ἀξιως often means suitable, worthy, worthily. It is used as ἀξιως του κυριου in Col 1:10, “Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord” (NLT). It is used as ἀξιως περιπατησαι της κλησεως in Eph 4:1, “I . . . beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling for you have been called by God” (NLT). ἀξιως is often used with the verb, περιπατεω which can mean walk around, live. Examples are 1 Thess 2:12; Col 1:10 (see above); Eph 4:1 (see above). The only other uses of this adverb are 1 Thes 2:12; 3 John 6; Rom 16:2.
3. πολιτευεσθε — live
πολιτευεσθε – to conduct one’s life, live, lead one’s life. πολιτευομαι often means to be a citizen, have one’s citizenship/home; to administrate a corporate body, rule; to conduction one’s life, live, lead one’s life (BDAG, 846). This word is only used in one other place in the New Testament which is Acts 23:1, “I have lived a clear conscience before God” (NLT). This word was a “political word which would mean much to the Philippian believers. Literally it means ‘live as citizens.’ Because Philippi was a Roman colony, the Christian inhabitants of the city would appreciate Paul’s use of that verb” (Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians,” 652).
However, this is not Paul’s usual word to describe Christian conduct and behavior. Usually he uses περιπατεω (I walk around, live), but in Phil 1:27 he used πολιτευομαι. This word draws on the idea to live as an obligation as a citizen. In other words, as a Christian and Philippian resident in the Roman Empire, they were supposed to fulfill their obligations as a citizen of heaven and as a Christian should (O’Brien, Philippians, 146-147; John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Philippians [Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008], 28).
The Philippians were citizens in a Roman colony, therefore they were to live their obligations as citizens. While on earth us Christians are supposed to live as citizens of heaven therefore living their lives by the privileges and responsibilities of the Gospel.
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).
4. στηκετε – stand
στηκετε comes from στηκω – to be in a standing position, stand (Mark 3:31; 11:25; John 1:25; Rev 12:4); to be firmly committed in conviction or belief (“in faith” 1 Cor 16:13; “in the Lord” Phil 4:1; 1 Thes 3:18; “in one spirit” Phil 1:27; others are Rom 14:4; 2 Thes 2:15; Gal 5:1). Lange says this word means “to keep one’s ground in battle” (Lange, Philippians, 29). The conclusion here is that if they are going to live lives worthy of the Gospel they are going to have to stand firm.
5. ἐν ἑνι πνευματι – in one spirit
Two options are provided for translations and interpretation of this verse.
- The first is that this is the “Holy Spirit” as the third member of the Godhead. If this is the correct translation then the Holy Spirit is a sphere or agent through whom the Philippians might stay steadfast (Eph 2:18; 4:4; 1 Cor 2:13; Phil 2:1).
- A second interpretation is that this might be the human spirit “with one common purpose” (O’Brien, Philippians, 149). Comfort observes that this use is the one taken by most commentators and denotes a unified spirit or a spiritual solidarity (Comfort, Philippians, 164.).
6. συναθλουντες – contending
συναθλεω (which like μη πτυρομενοι in 1:28 is dependent on στηεκετε) is only used twice in the New Testament and both uses are in Philippians (1:27; 4:3). This word means contend/struggle along with. In Phil 4:3 Paul used the word to describe Euodia and Syntyche as the ones that fought along his side in spreading the Gospel.
There is a debate about whether συναθλεω has specific gladiator/athletic connotations (Comfort, Philippians, 167) or whether it is simply a way to describe the suffering of the Philippians (Lightner, Philippians, 652). Comfort pushes this imagery far (based on the imagery Paul has already used telling the Philippians to live as “citizens of heaven” just as they were citizens of the Roman Empire). Paul describes συναθλεω as a mix between athletic and military imagery because it carries the idea of athletes or soldiers competing as one man for a common goal. Additionally, because athletic games were often designed to support military’s power and superiority, there might not have been much of a distinction between athletic or military connotations to this word (Comfort, Philippians, 167).
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).
7. Harmony and the Message of Philippians
Harmony among believers seems to be a strong theme in a lot of Paul’s letters. .
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 in the faith (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). 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
B. Don’t Be Frightened by Opponents (v. 28)
“28and by not being frightened in anything by the opponents, which is a sign to them of destruction, but of your salvation, and this is of God.”
1. πτυρομενοι – being frightened
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 (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament [Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1953]).
As an adverbial participle it is modified by στηκετε (Phil 1:27) and has four possible translations:
- Means – “by not being frightened”
- Manner – “not being frightened”
- Cause – “because you are not frightened”
- Time – “while not being frightened”
2. ἀντικειμενων – the opponents
From the verb, ἀντικειμαι which means be opposed to someone, be in opposition to (BDAG, 89). O’Brien categorizes this verb’s various uses in the New Testament as describing the enemies of Jesus in the Gospels (Luke 13:17; 21:15), Paul’s opponents at Ephesus (1 Cor 16:9); the Antichrist and Satan (2 Thess 2:4), and the adversary of God and human beings (1 Tim 5:14).
The common question here is, “Who are these people?”
- 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.
Therefore, based on these two 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).
3. ἐνδειξις – sign
In law this word meant “proof” that was reached based on facts (O’Brien, 155). In other words, “sure sign” based on what these people were trying to do, therefore they were headed to destruction.
4. ἀπωλειας – annihilation
ἀπωλεια can mean the destruction that one causes, destruction, waste (as in the waste of ointment in Mark 14:4; Matt 26:8); the destruction that one experiences, annihilation, ruin. In the Septuagint this word was used synonymously with θανατος (death) and ᾅδης (Hades) as synonyms for destruction (Job 26:6; 28:22; 31:12; Pss 87:12; 15:10; Prov 15:11).
5. σωτηριας – salvation
σωτηρια can mean deliverance, preservation (Luke 1:71; Acts 7:25; 27:34; Heb 11:7); salvation (2 Cor 7:10; Phil 1:38; 1 Thes 5:9; Jude 3; “salvation of souls” in 1 Peter 1:9, etc.) (BDAG, 985-986).
II. THE PHILIPPIANS’ STRUGGLE (1:29-30)
“29Because it has been graciously given to you, not only faith but also suffer on behalf of Christ. 30As a result you all have the same struggle, a struggle you saw me in (in the past), and you see me in (now).”
A. Salvation, Faith, and Suffering Given to the Philippians (v. 29)
“29Because it has been graciously given to you, not only faith but also suffer on behalf of Christ.”
1. ἐχαρισθη – it has been graciously given
χαριζομαι means to give freely as a favor, give graciously (Rom 8:32; Gal 3:18; Phil 1:29; 2:9; etc.); to cancel a sum of money that is owed, cancel (Luke 7:42); to show oneself gracious by forgiving wrongdoing, forgive, pardon (2 Cor 2:7, 10; 12:13; Eph 4:32; Col 2:13; 3:13) (BDAG, 1078).
This word, when connected with πιστευειν (to believe/have faith) πασχειν (to suffer) are both associated with God’s grace (Lightner, Philippians, 652).
2. ὑπερ – 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 (Acts 5:41; 9:16; 21:13; 2 Cor 12:10; 2 Thess 1:5) (O’Brien, Philippians, 159). 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).
3. πασχειν – to suffer
The use of πασχω is slightly puzzling and complex. This word is used only once with the sense of experiencing something pleasant (Gal 3:4); another time it appears to have a neutral meaning (Matt 17:15), but in all other places in the New Testament (as well as the Septuagint) it describes an unfavorable sense of suffer (Matt 17:12; Phil 1:29; 2 Thes 1:5; 1 Peter 2:21; 3:18, etc.), endure (Matt 27:19; 2 Cor 1:6, etc.).
4. The Present Conditions of Suffering
“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 on 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).
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.
B. The Philippians’ Struggle (v. 30)
“30As a result you all have the same struggle, a struggle you saw me in (in the past), and you see me in (now).”
ἀγωνα can have the sense of athletic competition transferring to the moral and spiritual realm as competition, contest, race (Heb 12:1); but generally means a struggle against opposition, struggle, fight (for the Gospel in Phil 1:30; under great strain or in the face of great opposition in 1 Thes 2:2; engage in a context in 1 Tim 6:12 and 2 Tim 4:7; or Col 2:1) (BDAG, 17).
O’Brien believes that this word (and its cognate ἀγωνιζομαι in Luke 13:24; John 18:36; 1 Cor 9:5; Col 1:29; 4:12; 1 Tim 4:10; 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7) “involves untiring toil and labour, an intense wrestling and struggle for the spread, growth, and strengthening of the faith as the goal of his [Paul] mission” (O’Brien, Philippians, 161).
Conclusion and Application
Lange provides four points that he believes need special attention when looking at Paul’s words in Philippians 1:27-30:
- the calling of a Christian is the calling of a warrior that does not retreat
- the Christian must hold together and agree together with the church
- the Christian must always keep in view the object of his contest: his faith
- that contest is his security of future salvation.[ref]Lange, Holy Scriptures: Philippians, p. 30[/ref]
Leland Ryken is brilliant when looking at the Bible as literature. In his book, How Bible Stories Work, he devotes an entire chapter to describing what is a “literary hero.” According to Ryken, a hero:
- is a protagonist or leading character in a story
- is a representative
- represents the experiences of a group/culture
- embodies the values of that group
- shows what constitutes heroic action
- embodies the ideal
- possesses the qualities that capture people’s imaginations [ref]Leland Ryken, How Bible Stories Work: A Guided Study of Biblical Narrative (Wooster, OH: Weever Book Company, 2015), 101-103[/ref]
Based on Ryken’s description of a “hero” I think we can definitely agree that Paul was a hero to those in Philippi and to us now!
Leaders Lead in a Morally and Ethically Correct Way
Paul provided the command for the Philippians to follow in 1:27, “Only, at all costs, live out the Gospel of Christ in a worthy manner.” After that Paul explained that the Philippians should expect suffering because of their faith (Phil 1:28-30). This passage (1:27-30) reminds leaders that they must lead both positively and morally. Leaders must show that they follow the Gospel of Christ.
While Paul told the Philippians that they should live the Gospel of Christ in a worthy manner (Phil 1:27), he also told them not be to intimidated by their enemies (Phil 1:28). Once that that is always true is that opposition will arise. Yet, Paul reminded the Philippians that their privilege of trusting in Christ meant that they would also suffer with Christ (Phil 1:29).
Most importantly, Paul told the Philippians that him and the Philippians were, in the struggle together. Paul was not telling the Philippians to do something that he had not already endured. At the time of this writing Paul was in chains in Rome and with the imprisonment Paul encouraged the Philippians to endure persecution and suffering.