“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”
This is a packed paragraph! Four sentences, but so much content.
First, Paul is encouraging the Philippians to live in such a way that is worthy of the Good News of Jesus. Live your life in light of this amazing and true story: that your life is more than just the sum total of your days on this planet. You are an alien, an ambassador from the Kingdom of God. You are in this world, but not of it. SO live your life in light of this truth. Your life should be a reflection of your Father! People should be able to easily see a resemblance.
Second, he reminds the Philippians that they are not in this alone; they are not all little individual units living their individual lives. They are ONE, standing together as ONE ENTITY, living out together as ONE the faith of the gospel. Now, the Philippian church saw persecution. There was strong, life-threatening opposition to the faith they proclaimed. Paul is encouraging them to remember in the face of this persecution that they are not alone. They must remind themselves of WHOSE they are and that HE who called them has given them each other. They have Christ and they have the Body!
“. . . striving together as ONE SOUL for the faith of the gospel . . .”
Third, he encourages them not to be afraid. There is opposition. There is a battle. Paul tells them to not be deterred. Continue to stand firm in the midst of this battle together as one.
Lastly, Paul tells them that they have been “granted” to believe in Christ AND to suffer for him.
To be honest, none of this seems very attractive.
1) Live a holy life that reflects God.
2) Live this life in complete unity with a bunch of other believers.
3) You’ll face opposition.
4) You will suffer.
Does that sound like something for which you would voluntarily sign up?
And while we know that was Paul writing to the church in Philippi, how does it apply to us today?
Well, the first two points can easily be applied to us today. We understand that we are to be holy because our God is holy. We also know that we are not holy and that the GOOD NEWS (gospel) is that Jesus makes his holiness ours. So we must, as Paul writes, live lives that are WORTHY of this incredible unconditional love. AND we know that we are united in the family of God. BOTH of these points are by the grace and work of God in and through us. WE cannot attain perfection or holiness. It is a gift of God that we must embrace each day. And likewise WE cannot attain unity. It also is a gift of God that we must embrace each day. These are things that God works IN and THROUGH us to his glory!
Points three and four are more difficult for us to understand because we are not (most of us) facing any kind of opposition or suffering. Why not? Should we? Well, if we are living our lives in light of the truth of the gospel, if we are walking through this world as Jesus did, our lives WILL cause friction. His life produced a lot of tension and controversy. Maybe we do not face opposition because we are a little too comfortable, a little too much “wearing the mask of our neighbours?”
In light of our contemporary world, I feel like we are engaged in major battles. More and more it seems that there are forces at work that wish to divide, powers which foster fear and hate. This is our present-day battle as those who are Christ-followers. Will we be sucked in to the suspicion, fear and hate? Will we seek to isolate ourselves? Or will we strive together as ONE for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by the opposition? This means, I believe, looking to Jesus, following him as ONE into the world. LOVING those whom we are told to hate. EMBRACING those we are told to shun. WELCOMING those we are told to shut out. TOGETHER with one heartbeat, reaching out to the lonely, the misunderstood, the poor, the orphan, the side-lined. LISTENING to those who have no voice. STANDING for those who cannot stand for themselves.
This is our act of worship: to follow our Lord into his world, the messy world which he loves, and to love as he loves.