The Bottom Line (Philippians 1:27-30)
Mobberly Baptist Church, Small Group, August 17, 2014
What is your favorite weapon? A sword requires hard steel to maintain a sharp edge. However, swords made solely of hard steel are found to be so brittle that they often shatter in battle. In contrast, soft steel does not break, but readily becomes dull, failing to be effective in fierce warfare. The Japanese, therefore, became skilled craftsman in the art of sword making. Their swords are the finest in the world. The Japanese create swords from both hard and soft steel. They combine multiple sheets of both strengths of metal, heating, folding, and pummeling them together over and over until they have up to 33,000 paper thin laminations of metal—each layer no more than 100,000th of an inch thick. The result is a finely crafted weapon of extreme pliability with a blade that will retain a deadly, sharp edge.
Just as Japanese sword makers repeatedly hammer together layers of metal to produce a sword that will be strong enough to withstand breaking, so God allows suffering to forge character into the lives of His children. Just as a sword made of hard metal will easily break in battle, so the independent believer will break in adversity. The hard steel in our lives is God’s Word; the soft steel in our lives is dependence on God and His church. These two components are both necessary to produce vessels that glorify God. Eventually, believers are shaped into beautiful weapons or models of usefulness.
Today, I hope to remind you of your privilege to model the gospel. Perhaps you don’t like the word model because you don’t see yourself as a particularly attractive person. I’m with you! I don’t get particularly excited about looking into the mirror either. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be physically attractive to be a gospel model; instead, you must be spiritually attractive. In Philippians 1:27–30, Paul exhorts you to model the gospel through perseverance, unity, boldness, and suffering. When you excel in these Christian disciplines, the world sits up and takes notice. Unbelievers in your life may not be eager for Jesus or salvation, but if you live a godly life, they may eventually become open to the gospel. Paul provides two challenges that will enable you to model the gospel.
1. Stand strong for Christ (1:27–28). You can stand strong for Christ by exemplifying courage and unity even in the midst of persecution. This section begins with the adverb “only” (monon), pointing to a sense of urgency and priority. I can see Paul holding up his index finger to signify “only” or “just one thing” as he adamantly declares his bottom line:“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). Paul writes “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.” This command begins the body of this letter that runs through 4:9. Moreover, this command serves as the overarching theme of the entire book. So Paul gives the key command and then proceeds to explain and to illustrate what constitutes worthy conduct. The phrase “conduct yourselves” (politeuesthe) literally means “live as citizens.” The verb Paul uses (politeuomai) is related to our English word politics. It is a word built upon the Greek word for “city” (polis) and has overtones of citizenship responsibilities. Paul is making a play on the Philippians’ “dual citizenship.” The Philippians live in a free Roman city, and thus understand from their own experience what it means to live as citizens. Paul is picking up on that motif and elevating it to include their heavenly citizenship as well. This is especially clear by Paul’s use of the noun form ofpoliteuomai in 3:20a where Paul writes, “For our citizenship [politeuma] is in heaven.” Paul is suggesting that you are a citizen of heaven, and while you are on earth you ought to behave like heaven’s citizen.
To live your life as a citizen “worthy of the gospel of Christ” means to represent Christ in all you say and do. The term “worthy” (axios) pictures weighing something on the scales. The idea is that your manner of life should weigh as much as the gospel you claim to be committed to. People are not nearly as interested in discussing absolute, objective truth claims. People are even less interested in discussing theology or philosophy, but most people are interested in the practical questions of how to live.
It is not enough to just learn the Word; we must live the gospel out in every area of life, including our earthly citizenship. What type of citizen are you? Do you speak well of our President, our governor, and various political officials? Or are you critical of anyone who isn’t as conservative as you are? Obviously, this will not open doors to the gospel? Are you a law abiding citizen? Do you seek to have a positive attitude in your community, or are you a pessimistic doomsday soothsayer? Additionally, what type of spouse are you? Do your coworkers and neighbors see something different in your marriage? Do they come to you in the midst of their relational strife? Do those who know you see you loving your kids and spending time with them, while they are pulling out their hair and running away from their own kids? Perhaps they want to know how you can enjoy your kids so much. All that it takes is for you to live a different (notice I didn’t say odd) life before those who don’t have a relationship with Christ. Today, will you model the gospel before your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers? Will you help others learn how to live the gospel? Will you help others become citizens of heaven and learn to live like the King?
Paul expects great things from the Philippians whether he is able to come see them or whether he just hears a good report. What a great comment! Paul expects that the impact of a worthy church would be known far and wide. This should be your desire as well. It is critical to believe in your church and to speak well of your church. So many people are critical of their church and their leadership. This is easy for any believer to do. It doesn’t take any skill or spiritual maturity to notice weaknesses in the church. Anyone can be critical of the church! However, self-control and godliness come into play when you choose to believe the best about your church and her leadership. When you have a high view of what God can accomplish in and through your church, you will come with expectation. You will serve with zeal! You will talk to others with optimism! Who knows? The church may just rise to your highs hopes of her.
Paul yearns to hear about the church “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27b). The word translated “stand firm” (steko) described a Roman military formation in which the soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder and back to back with their shields up and their spears outward. It was the strongest possible defensive position. The word was also used of a soldier who defended his position at all costs, even to the point of sacrificing his own life. To stand firm means to hold your ground regardless of the danger or the opposition. Figuratively, it means to hold fast to a belief, a conviction, or a principle without compromise, regardless of personal cost.
You must have a military mindset and hold down the fort of your church. Impacting the world begins as Christians stand together “in one spirit.” As followers of Jesus, we need each other. Like soldiers, we too, are to join arms and hearts, offering encouragement and hope in our struggles. We are not to divide. Unfortunately, we do, often over very trivial issues. There are already too many barriers in the body of Christ—barriers of race, geography, worship style, mode of baptism, and denominational affiliation. To make matters worse, we spend far too much time squabbling over non-essential issues (e.g., the charismatic gifts, end times, the timing of the universe, divorce and remarriage, etc) and not enough time preaching the gospel of Christ. This is a scandal that hinders God’s work. When will we understand that unity makes the gospel beautiful? Jesus promised that all men would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34–35).
Paul has just used political and military word pictures, now he moves to the world of athletics. All this in one verse! The word translated “striving together” (sunathleo) gives us our English word “athletics.” Paul pictures the church as a team, and he reminds the Philippians that it is teamwork that wins victories. It’s like a coach saying to his players, “We win together and we lose together.” The local church is not made up of superstars. The church is a team in which Christ is the superstar, and we are joined together with Him to compete. In this case, we play as a team to advance the truth of God and promote His kingdom. Our proper motivation and common goal is “for the faith of the gospel.”
One of Aesop’s fables is about a father who had seven sons. To each son he gave a stick. Each was asked to break his stick. No problem there; it was easily done. Then the father took another seven sticks and bound them together. He then asked each of his seven sons to break the sticks. Not one of them could break the sticks which had been bound together as one. Similarly, on our own, you and I will be snapped in two by Satan and our own flesh. We need the accountability, encouragement, and comfort that come from being in community with other believers.
Paul concludes this section in 1:28 with some unusual words that require a bit of explanation: “in no way alarmed by your opponents–which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” Paul says that standing strong for Christ entails refusing to be intimidated by your opponents. The word translated “alarmed” (ptyresthai) is not found elsewhere in the entire Greek Bible (OT and NT). But it is used on occasion in Classical Greek of timid horses that shy upon being startled at some unexpected object. It could denote the uncontrollable stampede which ensues when a herd of horses are spooked or alarmed for some reason. It is obvious from this that these opponents were trying to throw the church into panic in an attempt to dismantle it. Yet, the Philippians were not to become frightened to the point of running from their opposition. As believers we should not go looking for a fight, but neither do we run away from it if it happens.
There has been a lot of ink spilled on exactly who these opponents are, but ultimately no one knows with any degree of certainty. The point that Paul is making is: Make no mistake, if you open up your mouth about Jesus Christ, you will have enemies. When you say “Jesus is the only way,” people will call you arrogant. If you declare, “You must be born again,” someone is sure to call you a fanatic. If you say the Bible is the Word of God, someone else will think you’re an ignorant hick. If you say, “I know I’m going to heaven,” you’ll be accused of thinking you’re better than everyone else. Finally, if you dare to call adultery wrong and homosexuality sinful, someone is bound to call you a narrow-minded, judgmental bigot. And so it goes. If you’re a bold Christian, you will annoy the world precisely because you are a citizen of heaven and live by different principles.
Nevertheless, your bold witness in the face of persecution serves two purposes. First, your bold witness is a sign to your opponents that they will be destroyed. How is it a “sign” (endeixis) to them? Because when they see you stand firm, deep in their heart they know it’s not natural for someone to stand against the ridicule or hostility of a group. Deep in their heart they know that when a group begins to browbeat and threaten or attack, people cave in. They know the normal human response is that when you see you’re going to be rejected for a view, you find some way to back off from it. When they see you continue to stand without being intimidated, it makes a disturbing impression on them, because something inexplicable is happening. They see a quiet strength inside you that they don’t have. They see a certainty and strength that can only be explained as coming from somewhere or someone else. And deep in their heart a convicting voice says to them, “He’s right, she’s right, and unless you change, you’ll be under the judgment of the God who is in them.” When you stand for the truth and are not scared off, a profound impression is made on them that unless they change, they’ll be under the judgment of God. Although most people deny and suppress the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, He still beckons them to consider spiritual realities. Knowing this, you and I must seek to model the gospel.
Your bold witness serves a second purpose—it’s a sign of salvation for you. Salvation from what? Whenever you come across the noun “salvation” (soteria) or the verb “save” (sozo), it is important to ask: What is the context of this rescue or deliverance? In Phil 1:27–28, Paul is likely referring to believers triumphantly glorifying Christ through temporal difficulties, whether they escape them or not. The salvation also points to our future hope of reigning with Christ. Throughout the New Testament, suffering is often connected with reward (e.g., Matt 5:10–12; Rom 8:17; Heb 10:32–35; 11:24–26). Thus, it is critical that you and I endure so that we experience the fullness of Christ’s reign (2 Tim 2:11–13).
One of the important questions in this passage is: What does the word “that” (“but of salvation for you, and that [touto] too, from God,” 1:28b) refer to? It seems clear whatever “that” is it comes “from God.” At first glance, it seems that Paul is referring to “salvation” as “that” which comes from God. This makes biblical and logical sense. Salvation is from God and the closest referent to “that” is “salvation.” However, in the Greek language, terms are given genders—masculine, feminine, neuter—so terms that belong together can be matched up. When the gender of the relevant terms in 1:28 is considered, it becomes clear that the neuter “that” does not refer to the feminine “salvation” but to the whole concept of striving and suffering in the preceding context (1:27–28a). What’s the point? Somehow, suffering comes from God. I’m not saying evil comes from God. But it is God who allows you to suffer. This principle will be fleshed out further in 1:29–30.
[If you want to live a worthy life and model the gospel, you must stand strong for Christ. Paul’s second challenge to live a worthy life is to…]
2. Suffer well for Christ (1:29–30). In order to suffer well for Christ, you must recognize the nature of suffering and observe positive examples of suffering. Paul states, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict [agon] which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (1:29–30). Paul explains that suffering is “a grace disguised.” The word “granted” (echaristhe) is built off the Greek word for “grace” (charis). Paul’s point is: God gives two grace gifts—salvation and suffering. Of course, every believer wants the gift of salvation, but the gift of suffering is the “gift that nobody wants!” We’re tempted to look for the receipt. Like a Christmas gift we don’t want, we’re tempted to try and return this gift! But God says: “There’s no receipt. The gift of suffering is too important and too significant.” Suffering is a gift of God’s grace!
Paul doesn’t just offer up some pious platitudes; the man is a practitioner. In fact, in 1:30 he uses himself as an example and indicates the Philippians have seen him suffer. Nearly ten years earlier they had seen Paul thrown into a Philippian jail and then run out of town for his faith (Acts 16:19–34). And now at the time of this writing he is in prison in Rome. Yet, Paul counts suffering for the gospel a grace gift. The reason: Suffering changed his life and shaped his eternal perspective.
Indeed, nothing will facilitate growth quicker and better than suffering. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it’s true. From a human perspective, suffering stinks; but from a godly perspective, suffering is for your good. God wants to sanctify you. Like Jesus, we must be perfected through sufferings (Heb 2:10). Today, will you begin to see your problems as privileges? When you are rejected at work, at school, or in the neighborhood, will you rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer with Christ? When your spouse, your children, or you relatives call you a fanatic or a freak, will you bless the Lord and continue to exude love and compassion? Through your suffering, God will permit you to model the gospel to those who need a witness.
Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist, lived during the Holocaust and was a prisoner in a Jewish concentration camp during WWII. While seeking to survive the horror of this imprisonment, Frankl began observing his fellow prisoners in the hope of discovering what coping mechanism would help him endure this horrendous existence. What Frankl discovered was this: Those individuals who could not accept what was happening to them and could not make their present suffering fit with their faith, or couldn’t find its meaning in their world view, despaired, lost hope, and eventually gave up and died. Those prisoners who found a meaning from their faith, were then able to find hope for a future beyond their present suffering, and so could accept what they were enduring as a part of their existence. It was these prisoners who survived.
You may not find yourself in a concentration camp right now; nevertheless, you may be suffering for Christ. If so, ask God to enable you to have His perspective. Pray for the supernatural ability to receive suffering as a gift that God will use to grow you in Him and allow you to model the gospel to a hurting and confused world. Remember, the book of Philippians is about changing your mind. Words related to the mind, to thinking, and to remembering occur almost three dozen times! This is the most prevalent idea throughout the letter. Today, God wants you to encounter Him anew and afresh so that you see your need to depend upon Him and His church. He wants you to maintain courage and perseverance in the most difficult circumstances. As you do so, He will use you in ways that you never thought possible. Model the gospel and see what Jesus Himself will do in and through you.