Philippians: The Joy and Suffering of the Furtherance of the Gospel – Part 5

Chapter 1: The Gospel’s Progress amidst Opposition and Suffering

Section 3: Chapter 1. 27 to Chapter 2. 5

Exhortation to live worthy of the gospel amidst suffering and to embrace the mind of Christ

In this section of the letter Paul turns from his own circumstances to consider those of the Philippian saints. They are to demonstrate the reality of the gospel by their lifestyles whether or not he returns to them as he expected, vv. 25-26. He describes this manner of life using a familiar term from their city’s privileged political position: ‘conver-sation’ in the KJV is from a verb that originally referred to behaviour as a citizen.1 As one writer explains, ‘As citizens of a heavenly realm … they are called not only to accept the benefit of this gospel but also to model their lives according to the pattern laid down therein … They are to be true to their membership of that new city “which has Christ for its king, the gospel for its law, and the Christian as its citizen”, (Benoit)’.2 Regardless of where one dwells, Christians are ‘strangers and pilgrims’, 1 Pet. 2. 11; this world is not their home. They live for a city and a country that are heavenly, Heb. 11. 13-16. Consequently, they ought to live differently from the lost whose aspirations are tied to this present age alone. Believers’ conduct is to mirror the values of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their words and deeds must adorn the good news that they preach.

United we Stand, Divided we Fall

Regardless of whether he comes to them or not, the apostle wants to hear of their united testimony and labour for the Lord. Verse 27 sets the tone for the passage by beginning with the word ‘only’. Motyer points out its significance, ‘The force of the word “only" is tremendous, as if Paul had said, “This one thing and this only”. Nothing else must distract or excuse them from this great objective; it must be their all-embracing occupation whether Paul was there or not’.3 He exhorts them to stand fast and to strive; both of these activities are essential among Christians.

They are to ‘stand fast in one spirit with one mind’, v. 27. While some reputable commentators see this as a reference to the Holy Spirit, the parallelism of the verse seems to indicate the human spirit, defined thus by W. E. Vine, ‘Whilst the spirit, in this use of the word, denotes the sentient element in man, that by which he perceives, reflects, feels, desires … here it stands for purpose, aim’.4 Of course, the Holy Spirit’s work produces this steadfastness of spirit, so the two interpretations are not mutually exclusive. The second phrase ‘with one mind’ rounds out the portrayal of the inner components of human beings. Motyer clarifies the meaning, saying:

'[It] refers to the sphere of the affections and moral energies. It points to what we feel about things and how we react to them. It raises the question of what things we consider valuable and what constitutes a worth-while objective in life … In other words, Paul is calling them to unanimity, a oneness of emotion, decision and ambition’.5

Their inner thoughts and desires are to be unified as far as the truth is concerned. To be disunited poses a serious impediment to the labour that they are next called to do.

Combat among a Band of Brothers

‘Striving’ was a word that originally referred to an athletic contest. Some translate the phrase ‘striving side by side’ ESV. It speaks of a tremendous effort that is also marked by unity. They were to strive together for ‘the faith of the gospel’ – that body of doctrine that is believed by the saints.

Christianity requires exertion. One cannot sit on the sidelines in defending the gospel, nor is its proclamation an occasional hobby. The first-century church saw growth because they were unified in the Lord and diligently strove to work and witness for Him. The modern Western church often lacks genuine spiritual advancement because of the absence of such unity, as well as some believers’ unwillingness to expend themselves in the Lord’s service.

The difficulty of standing for Christ and striving for His gospel is further evidenced by the mention of ‘adversaries’, v. 28. Where God is working, Satan and his loyalists will oppose. Consistent Christians will not win any popularity contests in the world where Christ was crucified. The beautiful thing is to remember that he writes ‘in nothing terrified’ – ‘in nothing’ translating a double negative in the Greek, meaning ‘by no means’. Unity in Christ gives courage to the combatants. As the saints wage war, they do so shoulder to shoulder, clad in the spiritual armour that the Captain of their salvation provides and strengthened with His power in the inner man.6

The opposition of their enemies only confirmed two spiritual realities: the genuineness of the Philippians’ faith and eventual salvation in the Lord; the lost condition of the adversaries.

The correspondence between faith in Christ and persecution is well documented in scripture. The Lord Jesus describes the sifting between religious lost people and afflicted saints.7 The seemingly pious synagogue leaders would cast out His disciples; others would murder believers in the name of religion (a crime that is a daily occurrence in parts of the modern world). Rather than have them suppose that suffering is indicative of divine displeasure, Paul actually speaks of it as a gracious gift from God, Phil. 1. 29. One commentator summarizes the teaching of verses 29-30 in these words:

‘Thus just as Paul was more concerned about the advancement of the gospel than about his own imprisonment (1. 12-14) … and just as he was more concerned that Christ be magnified than that he live or die, so the Philippian Christians should concern themselves with conduct worthy of the gospel in the midst of their own time of testing’.8

The Lord’s Resources for unified Suffering and Striving

In chapter 2 verse 1 Greek scholars point out that ‘if’ is not conditional, but rather speaks of a definite reality. It carries the force of ‘since’ in modern English.9 Therefore, this word begins the list of resources that God provides for the believer for suffering and striving for His sake. First, there is ‘consolation in Christ’. Vine brings out the nuance of the phrase, ‘Here the context, both preceding and following, points to the meaning encouragement, the kindling of spiritual activity, as in Hebrews chapter 6 verse 18 RV’ 10 ‘Comfort of love’ is similar, but emphasizes tenderness towards them through love.

The ‘fellowship of the Spirit’ provides further assurance, for He unites them together and enables them to withstand the onslaught of their enemies and trials, 2 Cor. 13. 14. Lastly, he brings ‘bowels and mercies’ before them. These phrases were originally anatomical terms, but came to speak metaphorically of the innermost feelings and emotions. The implication of this list is that in the midst of their difficulties, they have tremendous spiritual resources to call upon. They have no excuse for not being unified. Rather, he encourages them to complete his joy by being ‘likeminded’, v. 2. Ironside’s remarks are pertinent on this expression:

‘It is very evident that Christians will never see eye to eye on all points. We are so largely influenced by habits, by environment, by education, by the measure of intellectual and spiritual appre-hension to which we have attained, that it is an impossibility to find any number of people who look at everything from the same standpoint. How then can such be of one mind? The apostle himself explains it elsewhere when he says, “I think also that I have the mind of Christ”. The “mind of Christ” is the lowly mind. And, if we are all of this mind, we shall walk together in love, considering one another, and seeking rather to be helpers of one another’s faith, than challenging each other’s convictions’.11

Christians are to be united in emotions (’the same love’), will (‘being of one accord’), and thinking (‘of one mind’). Surely the first phrase refers to God’s love which teaches the saints to love. The second phrase emphasizes that our desires and opinions are to be conformed to the divine will. The last phrase links the believers back to the common body of truth known as the faith. We are to agree to follow God’s way, loving what He loves, and thinking His thoughts after Him.

Conversely, nothing is to be done through ‘strife or vainglory’, v. 3. Instead, Christians are to ‘esteem others better than themselves’, or, ‘regard one another as more important than yourselves’ NASB. Verse 4 explains that they are to look out for another by considering how each one’s spiritual advantages may be helped along by mutual effort. We are indeed to be our brother’s keeper!


  1. Compare chapter 3 verse 20 for its noun form; NKJV, NAS, ESV and most others render it ‘citizenship’ in that passage.
  2. Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 11. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987. Electronic edition (Logos). Comments in brackets are mine.
  3. J. Alec Motyer, The Message of Philippians. The Bible speaks today. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984. Electronic edition (Logos).
  4. W. E. Vine, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Philippians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson (electronic edition, Logos), 1997.
  5. Bibliographic info. same as note 3. Comments in brackets are mine.
  6. Eph. 6. 10-18; Col. 1. 11; 2 Tim. 4. 17.
  7. ‘These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me’, John 16. 1-3.
  8. Frank Thielman, The NIV Application Commentary: Philippians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan (electronic ed. Pradis), © 1995, p. 95.
  9. For a parallel instance of this grammatical phenomenon see Colossians chapter 3 verse 1.
  10. Same biblio. as note 4.
  11. H. A. Ironside, Notes on the Epistle to the Philippians. Loizeaux Brothers (electronic ed. Logos): Neptune, NJ, 1922. Kent adds: ‘Of course, this was not a command for unity at the expense of truth. It assumes that “the same thing" is also “the right thing"’

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