By Dr. David Nelson
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul shared how his sufferings resulted in the advance of the gospel. He wrote to exhort the church to solve their internal problems so that they could bond together as one man for the advance of the gospel. Churches today need to work together for the advance of the gospel even in the midst of suffering and hardships.
27Only 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, 28and 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. 29For 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, 30engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
In the previous section, Paul described how he worked through his inner struggle. He preferred to die and be with Christ which was by far much better. But the Philippian church could use his help, therefore, he decided it would be better that he lay aside his preference and desire for the sake of the spiritual growth of the Philippian church. By sharing his inner struggle, he wants them to follow his example. They should lay aside their individual desires for one another. The church needs to stand together, not against one another.
Up until 1:27, Paul has been describing his joy, his prayers for them, his situation, and his inner struggle. Now he transitions to exhortations (commands) for the church to follow. His exhortation to the church is to live worthy of the gospel. In other words, he is not only concerned that they believe in Christ, but they also live in order to glorify God. Salvation is momentary but sanctification is ongoing, day by day. Sanctification is the practical application of one’s relationship with God. Paul’s exhortation gives direction to Christian leaders today. We must not only focus on preaching the gospel clearly and passionately, but we must also focus on helping believers live a life that is worthy of the gospel. Let’s examine what Paul has to say.
“Only” implies focus and intentionality. The Philippian church must intentionally focus on following Christ. Believers today must be focused on following Christ. Following Christ is step by step and day by day. Believers must develop a plan in following Christ. God has given His Holy Spirit, His Word, and other believers to help us grow daily into the image of Christ.
Next, he says to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel.” “Let your manner of life” is from the Greek word politeuomai, only used in the New Testament here and in Acts 23:1. The noun polituema is used in Phil. 3:20. The word is also translated “live as a citizen.” For the citizens of Philippi, this was a special word because they reveled in their Roman citizenship. Philippi was a Roman Colony settled by Roman warriors who defeated Brutus and Cassius who had assassinated Julius Caesar. Most of the citizens of Philippi were Romans. Very few Jews lived here. When Paul and his team arrived, they went to the riverside, where Jews and Godfearers gathered. This implies that there were not enough Jewish families to build a synagogue.
Paul’s usual word is peripateō (to walk; cf. Eph. 4:1; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 1:12). In these passages, Paul exhorted the churches to walk worthy of their calling. Here, Paul used one of the Philippians’ favorite words with a similar meaning to demonstrate that their heavenly citizenship was greater than their Roman citizenship and they followed a greater emperor than Caesar. Paul focused on this in 2:5-11. Jesus is Lord and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess this truth. Because they follow the emperor Jesus, they are to live lives worthy of His accomplished work (the gospel). The gospel about Christ is the good news that He lived a sinless life, offered His life on the cross to pay for our sins, was buried, and rose again physically from the grave and is alive forevermore, seated on the right hand of God the Father in heaven until the time comes for Him to return to set up His earthly reign. Living worthy of the gospel is a lifelong response to all that God has done in our lives through the gospel.
In the remainder of this section, Paul instructed the church how to live worthy of the gospel. The truth this passage communicates is that believers are to live daily for the glory of God. There are two ways that believers can live worthy of the gospel.
First, we can live worthy of the gospel through firmly committed to the advance of the gospel. Paul was confident that whether he was physically present or only heard about them, they would obey his directives. We should live each day recognizing that we are in God’s presence and that one day we will give an account of our lives to Him. Whether the pastor or a godly friend is with us or not, we are to live worthy of the gospel. Paul’s command is to stand fast together. The word “stand fast” (Gr. stēkete) is a present tense verb that means “to be firmly committed in conviction or belief” (BAGD). Paul frequently uses this word (Rom. 14:4; 1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Thess. 3:8; 2 Thess. 2:15; Gal. 5:1; and Phil. 4:1) for firm conviction. Believers are not to waiver in their beliefs and trust in Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13-15) but to be firmly rooted in Christ (Col. 2:6-7). How are we to stand? We are to be firmly committed in one spirit and one mind. The emphasis here is not on individual firmness, but firmly committed as a church. In a church with many people, there can be many opinions and many desires. Paul’s exhortation is that the church in Philippi come together and be firmly committed together.
The implication is that the church was not meeting this expectation. In 4:2-3, we discover that there was disunity due to disagreements. Chapter 3:1-11 implies that there were some doctrinal differences. The church in Philippi then was divided. Many churches today are divided. If churches focus solely on the Sunday service, members become consumers rather than participants. Here, Paul exhorts them to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel.” The word “striving” (Gr. sunathleō) is used only here and in 4:3. The root word athleō was used of gladiators fighting in the arena. Paul pictured the Philippian church in the arena of the world fighting together for the advance of the gospel. They would not survive without standing side by side.
Second, we can live worthy of the gospel by not being intimidated by opponents of the gospel. God has given us a spirit of power and of love (2 Tim. 1:7). Responding with humble confidence in God is a sign of destruction for the persecutors. But for believers, the Holy Spirit gives power for witness (Acts 1:8) and this confidence is also a sign of God’s future deliverance. God delivers His faithful servants. God has not only given salvation as a gift to believers but also suffering as a gift. Paul was no stranger to suffering as the suffering he endured while with them (Acts 16) was the same suffering that he was currently undergoing. He was in prison while in Philippi and now he is in prison again. He faced opposition from pagans in Philippi and now again in Rome.
Thus, Paul exhorts the Philippian church to live worthily of the gospel by standing firm in the Lord in the face of persecution. The same is true for believers today. Believers are to live worthily of the gospel by standing firm in the Lord in the face of persecution.
© 2017 Dr. David Nelson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED