In nothing afraid – ‘And in nothing terrified by your adversaries’, Phil. 1. 28.
Here there is a change of tone and a shift in emphasis in this Philippian letter. It is not now Paul’s circumstances and his conduct: it is their circumstances and their conduct. They too are being called to a battle. Notice words like ‘striving’, ‘terrified’, ‘adversary’, ‘suffer’, ‘conflict’. The whole of this short paragraph speaks of a struggle, a battle.
Today, many of us know nothing of the conflict these believers had, even though we have the same enemy. What was this conflict all about? Why this strong, urgent, and passionate call to ‘strive together’? What is at stake? It is all about ‘the faith of the gospel’, v. 27. It is a conflict in which all believers are required to be involved, and to defend and proclaim the ‘truth of God’, the body of doctrine given to the church.
The gospel, which is central to the word of God, is our sacred treasure. There is an enemy who is out to steal this heritage from us. We should remember that it ought to be as precious to the believer today as Naboth’s vineyard was to him and his family, 1 Kgs. 21. Sadly, the enemy is gaining the victory in many a life, and many a church. The word of God is being given second place. The tragic consequence is that the local church is losing its distinctive character, and the individual believer’s testimony is being lost or severely crippled. Belief and behaviour are inseparable – the one affects the other.
Verses 27 to 30 emphasize three ways by which the believer can demonstrate his relationship to the gospel, defeat the enemy, and bring glory to God in the local church.
Paul insists on:
(A) Consistency in daily living, ‘Only let your conversation [your manner of life] be as it becometh [is worthy of] the gospel of Christ’, v. 27a
No man ever lived, laboured, or suffered more for Christ than this apostle. He lived a completely devoted life. He knew the value of consistent godly living, so he can rightly call on these believers to do the same.
The word ‘conversation’ might also be translated ‘citizenship’.1 As such it would have been very meaningful to the Philippians. Philippi was a Roman colony, and all would be required to live public lives worthy of the great Empire. Are we conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel, and living lives that commend our Lord to men?
In contrast to the city, the church at Philippi was a colony of heaven. What a great responsibility to live down here as those who belong up there! Often, the only message the world knows about the Lord Jesus is what it sees in our lives. Have we forgotten this weighty truth? We, as believers, represent the Godhead and the gospel.
(B) Harmony in church gatherings, ‘stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel’, v. 27b
Paul knew that there was not the harmony and unity in the church at Philippi that there ought to have been. There were two ladies who were not getting along with each other, 4. 2, and this resulted in other believers taking sides and dividing the church. How the devil loves to see that happen – internal division is the most powerful weapon the enemy has in destroying the testimony of a local church.
So, Paul makes a plea for:
The idea is: firmness, uprightness, or a resolve to stand firm and hold your ground, be unmoved. There must be no giving way. The words ‘in one spirit’ mean, literally, one purpose, one common objective.2
An illustration from the world of the Greek games, these words picture the intensity and the agony that is required to win. If we transfer that thought into the spiritual realm, we are at once confronted with the fact that no Christian assembly can possibly maintain harmony, nor hold its ground in enemy territory, without effort and sacrifice.
The local church is not just a number of individuals who come together on certain occasions for their meetings. It is a company of believers who share a common life in Christ that is greater, richer, and more lasting than any earthly family. It is a community made up of different sorts of people who, through ‘the faith of the gospel’, know a fellowship that is unique.
The Philippian believers were citizens of Philippi, which was a Roman colony, but, more importantly, they were citizens of heaven. Therefore, they, as we, are exhorted to live lives consistent with the standards of heaven. We need to remember that our heavenly citizenship is to take priority over our earthly citizenship.
Let us be unyielding in our personal lives, undivided in our church lives, and unafraid in the battle against the enemies of the gospel.
See, for example, A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the Greek New Testament, or Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament.
For example, Shammah was a man who stood in the midst of the piece of ground full of lentils that belonged to the king and protected it from the Philistines, 2 Sam. 23. 11-12.
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