Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Philippians 1:27-28
May 3, 2020
It is a joy to be back in the Book of Philippians once again, even though the circumstances are not as great of a joy. But it is a joy, nonetheless. This passage that we’re going to be looking at today—and next week and the next couple of weeks also—I think is especially helpful, and it speaks a special word, a timely word for this age, this time we are currently living in. So if you can remember that far back, the last time we were in Philippians when we could all be together—if you recall, we were being amazed and encouraged by the example we see in Paul—the way he can say with all sincerity, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” In fact, the whole first chapter up until this point—up to today during which we will be in verses 27 and 28—the whole first chapter up until that point, it’s not really been about the Philippians and giving them instruction at all. It’s been about Paul talking about how he is thinking and feeling toward the Philippians and what he is going through. We’ve been hearing about his joy and his thankfulness.
However, up until this point in the letter, there has yet to be any type of imperative, any type of demand or corrective for the Philippians. That isn’t to say we haven’t’ been able to learn a lot or haven’t been encouraged and challenged as to how we are to live our lives. We have been thoroughly challenged up to this point by the example of Paul and his ability to keep perspective and to live joyfully, even though he is a Roman prisoner. Part of all his joy—all the joy we see in him—has to do with his confidence in the sanctification of these Philippian believers that he is ministering to, that he is speaking to. It is his excitement that he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is going to continue to work in their lives, continue to bring them to completion—that is what we saw in verse 6 of Chapter 1. It is that famous verse where he says, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
He has also used this section from verses 12 through 18 to demonstrate to them how God uses what appears to be bad circumstances and people’s sinful intentions—God uses those to further his perfect plans to advance his kingdom. After seeing such an encouraging example as the Philippians are reading through this—being reminded about the certainty of their sanctification and being told by the Apostle Paul that he views them as partners in his ministry, that he is praying for them and he is certain they will be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—they are finally—here in this section we are looking at today—they are finally given an imperative from Paul.
So if you would put yourselves in their position, you would be now after these first incredibly encouraging 26 verses, you would be anticipating, you would be ready for some sort of command, some direction. “What do we do?” The promise of sanctification that they have and witnessing the godly example of Paul would have any real Christian ready now—they’re waiting for their battle orders, wanting to know what’s next. “What do we do next?” So I’m sure many of you probably have experienced similar things as a Christian when you’re reading the Scriptures and you’re being instructed through the Scriptures from the Spirit-inspired Word of God as it is explained to you. As it is explained to you, it causes the Spirit-indwelt believer then to respond with faith and with obedience. In a similar way, you watch more mature Christians, seeing the example of more mature Christians demonstrating what it looks like to die to yourself. “This is what it looks like to die to myself, to live for Christ.” When you see that example, it has the tendency to rebuke all the self-absorbed, sinful areas of your life, and it just destroys any excuses you may have been making for not responding with the obedience you should be.
So the example of other believers is one of the primary ways—just as an aside—that God sanctifies us. It’s just another of the many reasons being an active part of a church is necessary for all believers. It’s why those who are the least involved in the church and don’t prioritize the gathering together—when it’s possible—are generally the least mature in the church. They may have spent a long time reading, and they may have spent many hours studying their Bibles. But apart from closely observing and learning how others in the body of Christ apply truth and how they obey it, their actual maturity is just going to remain stagnant. There is no doubt, if you are a faithful member of the church, that you, too, have been inspired by observing the life of another faithful member, just by knowing and being known, spurred on by love and good works by watching how they make decisions with godly priority, by joyfully enduring trials or boldly proclaiming Christ.
As we see those people and we have those experiences and we see these godly examples and our hearts are burning inside of us as the truth of Scripture is opened to us, the next thing that comes to our hearts is this desire to do. “Okay, now, so what do I have to do? What do I do to change? How do I be like that?”—to conform ourselves more and more to the likeness of Christ. That should be our desire—to see that in these first 26 verses and say, “Okay, what do I do? I want that now for me!’
So I hope that as we’ve been moving through Philippians together, we’ve seen these things through Paul’s words and his example that something like that is going to be going on inside of you. That’s what we want after hearing about and seeing what it means to be the type of person who can proclaim, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” After seeing that, you have the desire to now become that also. The same thing is going on inside of you that is no doubt going on inside of many of these Philippians. We should be reading all of these things, and something in us should be saying, “Yes! That’s it! How is it? How do I become like that? How do I live like that? What must I do? How do I become the type of Christian that so longs for Christ and for his glory that I can truly say these same things and really mean it from the depths of my soul?”
It is to that end and to that understanding that we now turn our eyes to this next section of Philippians in verse 27. It is now that, hopefully, with their passion for their own sanctification now inflamed in them, Paul, for the first time in the letter, turns his attention to now instructing the Philippian believers through a clear imperative—using a clear imperative through direction. Let’s look at those two verses—27 and 28. Next week, we’ll look at 29 and 30, but today, starting in verse 27, Paul says:
*Only 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, and 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. *
So in verse 27, right out of the gate, he says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” He gives this initial simple statement that is to be a summary of exactly what they need to do to live the type of life they no doubt have become convicted they must be living. And this next long section that goes all the way to verse 18 of Chapter2 is actually an explanation of that statement, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” and what it means to live in a way that is worthy of this gospel. This is the key. This is what is central. This is what Paul wants to be at the forefront of their minds when it comes to how they are supposed to be living. This is what he wants them thinking of, what they are to be focusing on. We can see this just by that first word that in our ESV translation is translated as “only.” The word in the Greek text is placed there at the beginning of this sentence to emphasize it. It is showing this is what everything boils down to. “This command I’m about to give is what it all boils down to. If you’re going to be focused on one thing as a Christian, one thing in the Christian life, one instruction, let it be this one.” Paul is essentially reducing all Christian responsibility into this one phrase.
And as you understand it better, it will become evident why this makes so much sense and how this is something you can easily see. Indeed, the whole of your responsibility in this life as a believer in Christ in all things is to, “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” So this is what we are going to think about together today, even though there is a sense in which everything up through verse 18 of Chapter 2 is a more detailed explanation of what someone who understands this statement and tries to live it out looks like. Today, we are just going to look at verses 27 and 28 in an effort to learn four principles we need to have a biblical understanding of in order to “Let [our] manner of life be worthy of the gospel.”
What does it look like to “let our manner of life be worthy of the gospel”? We’re going to explore that through four points, and you can use these four words to hang your thoughts on as outline points. Number one, Nationality. Number two, Consistency. Number three, Unity. Number four, Certainty.
The first principle we need to understand is that of nationality, or more specifically, to what kingdom is our allegiance? Where is our primary allegiance? Of the four points I just laid out for you, admittedly, this is the hardest one to see in the English. You have to understand the Greek, or you could look at a study Bible or a commentary and it will point this out to you. Once you study it—once you see it, it is extremely obvious what Paul is trying to do here.
The whole phrase translated as, “Let your manner of life,” is a translation of the Greek verb “politeuomai.” And we have no good English equivalent of that word—none. What it literally means is something along the lines of “to live as a citizen of,” or “to discharge your obligations as a citizen.” This is an extremely important word because this is the only main verb in the entire passage from verses 27 through 30, which in the Greek is just one long sentence. Everything he is about to say fits under the umbrella of this verb. You can see that it is this word that is to govern the rest of what we’re going to be looking at this week and next week. That is the verb—the important word. This is not a common word in the Greek language at all. In fact, this is the only place we see it used. There is one other place where we see it used in the New Testament, but this is the only place where we see it used in the letters of Paul. In fact, there is another word that could be translated as “to live,” or “to walk.” Paul used that word throughout his letters 32 times, but it is only here that he uses this word. The fact Paul would use this word only here leads us to understand that Paul is trying to make a unique point with it.
If you remember way back when we began this series, or if you know much about the people of Philippi at the time when Paul is writing this, then you can probably start to figure out what is going on here, what he is trying to do here. Remember, there are some major events from Roman History that took place in the city of Philippi. And we know the Philippians are very proud of their status as a prominent Roman city. The Battle of Philippi where Mark Antony and Octavian took revenge on Brutus and Cassius, the guys who assassinated Julius Caesar, took place in 42 BC. The city of Philippi was given special privileges and recognition in Rome, and it was something the Philippians themselves took great pride in—their status as Roman citizens. This type of thinking could become a great snare for them when it came to their loyalty and remembering where their true allegiance lay because they were so prone to be very proud of the fact that they were from Philippi, a prominent Roman city. You could see and understand that when the Philippians visited another city, they enjoyed letting people know where they were from. For example, when you are introducing yourself to someone and they’re saying, “Hey, I’m so and so from here,” the Philippians are just waiting to be able to tell them, “I’m from Philippi.” That’s the type of pride they had when they visited any city, and everyone knew where they were from. There would probably be a certain pride in the way they acted. They took pride in their status as Philippians, and they didn’t want to do anything to cause dishonor to the proud city of Philippi. They wanted to live in such a way that everyone would continue thinking highly of the city as they thought they should—and maybe even be more impressed because of the conduct they witnessed. They wanted people to leave their presence saying, “Wow! That’s what it means to be a Philippian. That’s impressive.”
I do believe this lesson is a good one. It’s an incredibly important one for our situation as Americans, even Coloradans. There can be a tendency for many of us to place that citizenship and what it means to be a good American over our real citizenship, over our real priority. This is what Paul is trying to do with this word. That is why he chooses this word specifically. He is prodding them a bit, kind of poking at them a little bit to rethink what it means to be a good citizen. Are they trying to walk in a manner worthy of their Roman citizenship? Is that their priority? Or are they trying to walk in a manner worthy of their citizenship in the kingdom of Christ? This is clearly a concern for Paul when it comes to them. If you flip your page over and look at Chapter 3, verse 20, he uses the noun form of this same word. In verse 20 he says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Again, he reminds them of their citizenship.
Paul likes pointing this out to them. As proud as you might be to call yourself a Philippian or a Roman or an America, you have a far greater calling than that. Far greater! You are to “live in a manner worthy of the Gospel.” That’s it. That is what it all comes down to. You need to understand your primary nationality, what kingdom you truly belong to. This is inherent in the main verb that governs this whole long passage. This is what he wants them to see. The only way you are going to be able to truly live out this command—to begin to live the way Paul says needs to be the governing principle over all our lives, the instruction that defines what obedience in the Christian life looks like—the only way to live “in a manner worthy of the Gospel” is to have it settled at the foundation of your heart and soul that because of who you are in Christ, you are an alien on foreign soil while you are in this life. Your citizenship is in heaven. When it comes to where your true citizenship lies, really what you should do is consider yourself just as much of an American in this life as you consider yourself a Californian when you visit Disneyland. That is the way we think about our primary citizenship. In the ultimate sense, the word “Philippian,” the word “Roman,” the word “American,” or Coloradan”—those are all primarily terms that describe an aspect of what it means for you to be an ambassador of Christ. That is their primary function for you.
We are of the kingdom of God, and right now, in our service to our Lord, the sovereign King of the universe has placed us right where we are to increase and to magnify his kingdom. That is why you are where you are. And since it is ultimately our sovereign God, our sovereign King’s decision that placed you where you are, that caused you to be in the country, in the state you are is not ultimately your own. It’s probably not something you should be consumed with pride over anyway. Not only are we not to live our lives taking an undue amount of pride in a temporal kingdom, but God has placed us here to further his eternal kingdom. Pride really should have nothing to do with the discussion at all.
The application here isn’t to transfer your pride in being American to pride in being in the kingdom of Christ. That’s not the right attitude either. We are in the country God has ultimately placed us in, and in the end, God is the one who is in ultimate control over that. There is the sense in which you can make the choice to move to another state or another country. But there is no sense at all in which you had or have anything to do with your eternal heavenly citizenship. Nothing. Just think of this statement, “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” That is not something you can take pride in. There is no part of how you became a part of God’s people that you can be proud of. “Living a life worthy of the Gospel” means living in such a way that you recognize the amazing grace of God through Christ in saving you. This is a privilege we are completely unworthy of. Not only did God bring you into existence, but if you are in Christ, it is because he alone has saved you.
Every aspect of your salvation is attributable only to him. You and I are sinners. We’re sinners. We have rebelled against the good and holy God that created us. We have spurned his law and we live for ourselves. We are totally depraved. We are hopelessly lost. Not only do we not follow him, but in our sinful nature, it is impossible for us to sincerely desire him at all. This is our state. We are helpless in it. God looked upon us in our helpless state and he had mercy. He did not have to save us, but he did. He sent Jesus Christ, his son, truly God and truly man, and Christ lived his entire life in perfect obedience in every way to the law of God, never stumbling, not at one point. And then he went to the cross and he bore the wrath of God that we deserve to have poured out on us in an eternity in hell. He did that. That punishment is what we earned. That is the only thing we’ve ever worked to deserve—eternal hell. There is nothing to be proud of in that.
Even though God, through Christ, has accomplished the most supremely loving act possible, because of our wicked heart and our blindness to the truth, our natural interpretation of this amazing event—the incarnation, the perfect life of Christ, his substitutionary death, his being raised for our justification, the whole propitiating work of Jesus Christ—that amazing event, we are unable to do anything but look at in our natural state mockingly or foolishly, or be repulsed by it or just completely misunderstand it. That is what we do in our state with that gift. Not only did God do that work, but he is the one who then opens our eyes and softens our hearts and enables us to receive something that we never would have on our own. God is the one who created you. He set his saving love upon you before the creation of the world. He is the one who made the way for salvation. Christ is the one who lived perfectly in your place. It is his perfect righteousness that God has imputed to you. That is the righteousness that God accepts. He is the one who is punished in your place. His sacrifice was accepted by God. This is the reason the wrath of God is no longer on you. Not because of something special about you. It is God alone who changes your heart so that you can repent and believe that Gospel. None of that is of you.
There is literally nothing to be proud of, nothing to pat ourselves on the back about, no reason for us to ever look down on someone who isn’t part of the true eternal kingdom like you and I are because they haven’t accomplished something they should have tried harder at. That was all of God. Letting “your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel” has nothing to do with you being proud to be a Christian. It has everything to do with understanding all that God has done for you in Christ and living out every day of your life knowing how unworthy you are of anything, much less the greatest gift ever given. You have no reason to ever feel pride because it is the decree of God that has put you in his kingdom. You have no reason to ever feel sorry for yourself because you have never been denied a single good thing you deserve, ever. You have only known, even in the most difficult times of your life, the steadfast love and mercy of a kind and gracious God.
Letting your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel means you recognize your identity of the kingdom of God, and therefore, no earthly allegiance means anything. You recognize all that God has done to make this true of you and nothing that you have done. Mercy upon mercy, grace upon grace—that is what we have received. Living this life with this mindset infused into every conversation we have, every decision we make, every thought we think, every action we do—that is what it means to live in a manner of the Gospel of Christ.
With that in mind, it is easy to see why this could be such an accurate summation of what our lives are to look like. Now, these next three points and really the rest of the imperatives in the book are the logical outflow of how someone will behave and think and act in the various situations and circumstances described if they are “living in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” If this is your understanding of your citizenship and of the Gospel, then these next three principles and the rest of them you see in the Book and the Bible make perfect sense. Of course, this is how you are going to live. Of course this how you will want to live.
So point two—the second principle we need to look at today is Consistency. We see this as the passage continues. Let’s look back down at these verses beginning in verse 27. “Only 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.” It is important to understand, then, this verb translated, “let your manner of life be worthy,” is in the present tense. That means it is ongoing. It is something the Philippians are always supposed to be doing. It’s not a thing you do once and then check it off your box. “Okay, I’m done ‘living my life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.’ Got that done. What do I do next?” That is not what it is. This is to be a mark of your life. It will always be a part of who you are.
As a believer, as one who is living as an ambassador from an eternal kingdom in a temporal kingdom, you will never have a day where you can say you have completed that. There is never a day where you are done with that and you go on to your next duty of sanctification. That is all of who you are. This is your life. This is what you are striving for every day for the rest of your life. It is a description of you, not a task that needs completed. This is a command for every believer to always be living out in every moment of their existence. No matter what you are doing at any moment in your life, you can ask yourself the question, diagnose your spiritual health by saying, “Am I right now living in a worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” Every moment of your life. If this is something that truly describes your life, then it won’t matter if anyone is around to evaluate all your decisions and examine you in every moment. You are going to live consistently.
This is what Paul expects. Look at his words: “Whether I come and see you or am absent,” we hear the same thing. Paul expects his presence will have no effect on whether the mature believers are living the way he is asking them and telling them to live. This is really important. If the presence of another person is the determining factor in whether or not you are living in a way that demonstrates you truly understand the unbelievable worth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then you are not “living in a manner worthy of this Gospel.” At least in that moment, it doesn’t appear you understand the Gospel at all. What is actually of supreme value to you in that moment is not the Gospel of Christ, but rather, what is really important is that someone else believes you are “living in a manner worthy of the Gospel.” But what you truly value is man’s approval.
Transparency and consistency. This seems like such an obvious point of growth, and everyone talks about this all the time in and out of the church. No Christian is really going to argue with it, but I do want to take some time on it because I don’t think many of us are really battling against this sin as we should. We are constantly trying to look the part in front of others. The Bible calls that fear of man. Not really living like we believe God is omnipresent is a sin that far too many of us regularly make peace with. Jerry Bridges would call it one of those respectable sins. We just come to understand that is just going to be something we always struggle with. “I’m just always going to struggle with that.” We have given up our duty to make war against it and strive for holiness. It’s not adultery; it’s not gossip; it’s not murder. It’s this other thing no one else can really see. “It’s not really affecting others, just me.” When we do this and have this attitude, we are not living worthy of the Gospel. We are acting like we don’t understand it, or maybe it’s something we are just taking for granted. Remember —we stood condemned before a Holy God. He cancelled the debt of sin. He grants us eternal life.
How we act when no one is around—what it takes for us to joyfully pursue righteousness—is what demonstrates how much you are really prizing the Gospel at that moment. One who prizes the Gospel of God above all else does not need to be around someone else to show it. They’re the same person no matter who is around, or if anyone is around. They are living every moment knowing they have died to their old life and have been raised to live a new life in Christ. How they strive to live that new life has nothing to do with who is watching. It is expected of us that even if the Apostle Paul himself were in our presence, there would be no change in our actions, in our attitude, in our demeanor, in what we prioritize. It would all look the same whether we are with him or not. Because if Paul were the determining factor in the way the Philippians live, then they are not trying to “live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ”; they are trying to live a life worthy of the opinion of Paul.
I think there are many in the church who, maybe not always, but frequently—because no one is able to call us out on it and because we can at least look at it like, “It is at least motivating me to do good things”—are content to live a life worthy not of the Gospel, but of the opinion of godly men. Do we endeavor to live lives that are consistent with this all-encompassing command Paul has given us here? Many of us are attempting to do it through a motivation based primarily upon the opinions of others, rather than out of a heart overflowing with gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ. It is incumbent on each of us to check ourselves. If this is an issue for you and you know it, take this afternoon, or find some time during this week, and this is what you do: review the richness of every aspect of the Gospel. You dive deep into the theology behind every point of it that explains it. Because the way forward isn’t trying harder not to fear man. That is not what is going to bring you out of it. It is a deeper understanding of the Gospel and therefore, a greater love not only for the Gospel, but for the God who is the goal of it. The one who is “living worthy of the Gospel of Christ” is one whose life is marked by a consistent pursuit of righteousness.
That brings us to our third point—the third principle we need to understand when it comes to a manner of life worthy of the Gospel. The word we want to think about here is Unity. Look back at your text and notice what it is that Paul longs to hear about these believers. What is it that will demonstrate that they understand and are “living their lives worthy of the Gospel of Christ” whether he is present or absent? What does he want to see to show that? Look at what he says: “That you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” What is more than anything else? What is more than anything else that will demonstrate to him these Christians get it, that they truly understand the Gospel? What is the defining characteristic that shows they long to be found worthy, that they are in a continuous state of being overwhelmed by the fact that they have been saved?
It is not their consistent Bible reading, though that is extremely important. It’s not their personal devotions. It’s not the amount of time they spend in prayer. It’s not their ability to defend morality. It’s not their ability to stand up under persecution. It’s not even the generous hearts that have led them to such commendable praising that Paul praised them for. It’s not even their evangelism or discipleship programs. The one thing Paul needs to hear about them—what demonstrates to him how deep their understanding of God and his Gospel are, how much they are trying to “live in a way that is worthy of the Gospel”—what he needs to see and hear about is what their relationship to the church looks like. That is what he needs to see. It’s not that all those other things are unimportant. It’s just that he knows a united church that is standing firm in one spirit with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel is going to be faithful in all those other things as well. That is how the body of Christ works—it comes together to fulfill the mission of Christ and to sanctify the people of Christ. That’s God’s purpose. That’s God’s plan for those things. It is not individuals, but the church.
There is confidence, then, that if they can be described as ones who are a part of a church that is unified, standing firm, striving side by side for the sake of the Gospel, then Paul has every confidence that they are living obediently the one thing that he has said they need to be living for, that their lives need to be marked by. What we see in these verses is a fantastic picture of what unity in the church looks like. And it’s so important for us because it keeps us from latching on to our own definition of unity that can be informed by anything. So many people define the unity they see in their own churches with some false, unbiblical understanding of unity. Unity within the church is not going to the same place once or twice a week, being friendly with everyone there, maybe even volunteering to help out in a few places and then going back to living your own personal Christian life however you want. Unity in the church is not being a part of a church where you know and are friendly with everyone, but there are still a lot of people who bug you and you avoid, people whom you have big issues with, but you keep it to yourself, or you air your grievances to your close friends or your family.
Unity doesn’t even exclusively mean that you have reached a place where you love everyone, love the feeling you get when you’re with them and always hang out with people from the church and you just can’t wait to see everyone again. Don’t get me wrong—that is great. Boy, does that really resonate with us right now, doesn’t it? But if that is the extent of the unity you have, then it is still not what Paul is talking about. Think about those phrases, “Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side.” Do those phrases describe how most Christians talk about their experience at church? Honestly, is that how you see it? There is action there. There is resolve. There is a higher purpose implied in those phrases. It goes way beyond the reasons you see most people give for going to church: wanting to become a better person, wanting to not feel alone, wanting to feel comforted, wanting to feel better about themselves, wanting to provide their kids with a moral foundation, or just because they feel like they need to go to church. “That’s the thing I have to do; it’s expected of me.”
The language of unity is language that recognizes the spiritual battle the church is always engaged in. The word translated as “standing firm” is used elsewhere to describe the attitude of a soldier who is determined to stand his ground and not be moved, which works well for their understanding of soldiers next to each other. There is no soldier standing firm and not being moved individually isolated by himself. Each one of us, having that understanding—that is how the church is described—the unified group in one spirit, determined to stand together and not give up any ground because we know we are not in the battle by ourselves. We are watching out for one another and we are determined to stand because we know we are responsible for one another.
It seems to me—praise God!—most of the members at Grace Church seem to have a clear determination to go against the predominant view in the culture of what Christianity is: that Christianity is all about a personal relationship and personal decisions. No matter what the bookstores tell us, no matter what Christian radio tells us, we know here at Grace that the Bible does not allow for some category of Christian who is saved not to be a vital part of the church. There is no description of a Christian where he is not a part of a church—that is what you are saved into. Even though we all know the truth, many times we can still fall into the related lie, however, that our spiritual warfare is a personal spiritual warfare. Right now, we are a unified church, but we’re just kind of scattered throughout Greeley and we are each fighting our own spiritual battles. That is not the case. That is not how we should see it. We are all a part of the same battle. Our church is standing together. We’re fighting the same battle together. Yes, sure we all may encounter different issues and different individuals in our different physical locations, but we are to be standing firm together even when we are apart.
Right now there might be someone in our church who is struggling with some sort of sin that he has been dealing with for years. He has made it personal. That battle is our whole church’s battle. It’s not just his. It’s not a point of embarrassment for him. It should not necessarily be a point of shame. It’s something we are called to all deal with together. It is our battle. If you see that going on, then you are to take the same concern that a soldier on a battlefield would if they saw someone with an open wound that isn’t being taken care of. His wound is our wound. It’s not loving to leave him there. The whole church feels it when that is left untreated.
If you happen to be the one with that sin, and you just have not been able to put it to death, the worst thing you as a fellow soldier could do for your church is to try to hide it and pretend nothing is wrong, that you’ve got it all taken care of. That is a terrible thing to do to your fellow soldiers. We are all trusting that what you are presenting yourself as is who you are. There is a different way we in the church need to talk with and instruct wounded soldiers than with healthy ones. It affects the type of actions we are to take, the type of missions you will be sent on. That sin is all our problem. It’s all our battle. It’s all our issue.
The same goes for areas of discipleship and evangelism. You never do these things truly on your own. There is no vacuum for that. I’m a fellow soldier standing firm alongside—if Doug is sharing Christ with another teacher at work and he is engaged in that and involved in that, it’s not just Doug’s personal evangelism encounter. I’m a part of that. That’s my battle also. Maybe he’s the arm. But I’m there for backup. I’m there for support. I’m there for prayer—whatever. No one in the church should ever feel awkward or lonely in their evangelistic conversations. You are simply an arm of the unified church when it comes to reaching that person. You’re not just a detached Christian floating out there, doing his own thing. Even now, during this time when we are kept from assembling, the type of unity we see in this passage—it must still describe us, Grace. It must.
Next, that word for “striving” right at the end of verse 27 means “to contend” or “to struggle.” It has the sense of putting all your effort into something. That phrase can also be rendered as “contending as one man.” The idea is that we are all struggling together with such unity that it is like the movement of one man going in one direction. That’s the type of unity we have. When I was trying to think of the sense of this phrase and understand what these words meant, the first thing I thought of were those Olympic rowboats. I don’t know if you’ve seen that; you should go sometime. Don’t split screen me and watch a video of those guys. But what you have is these eight men—there is a 12-man team, too. But these eight men are all sitting in a row, straight down, and they all have one paddle, and they alternate as you go back. One has a paddle to the left, the next one has a paddle to the right, and the next one to the left. If you’ve ever seen it, it’s just amazing. They start rowing together, and they begin flying down the water in one perfect line. It looks like an arrow cutting across the water.
So technically, they are doing slightly different things. There are some on the right and some on the left, and there is one guy who actually sits in the back of the boat who keeps pace by calling out or whistling so everyone is moving at the exact right pace in unison with one another so the boat moves just like a straight arrow. It’s amazing to see how fast they’re doing it. They are rowing straight ahead toward the one goal that each man shares—and that is the prize, the finish line. They are striving together with one mind as though they were a single individual. Their movement is all together in the same direction. They’re each doing different movements, but they are moving the boat in the same direction. They have the same understanding. They all have the same goal. They all have the same understanding of how to get to the goal, and they are all committed to that goal.
If any of the members lack in one of those areas, they’re not committed to the same goal, or if they’re not committed to the work and if they don’t understand how to get to the goal, then the whole team will suffer. If any one of the members lacks in those areas, it’s a detriment to the whole team. If just one member, for example, doesn’t care about winning the prize, then his lack of effort will cause the whole team to struggle. If one member decides that the best way to accomplish the goal is to move at a different pace than everyone else, then the boat is going to turn off course. If one person is not sure where the finish line is, then, again, the whole team will suffer. It’s not as if any of those things would automatically disqualify the boat, but everyone else in the boat is going to have to make up for the weak member. It would be extra hard to keep it from turning off course and to try to make up that time.
I think that is a great picture of what the church should look like—one mind striving together. The church must be unified in mind—have a single purpose. They should not only know the purpose but know the goal—that everyone as one knows how they are going to move toward that goal. Once you have that, you need to have a church full of people who are willing to really struggle, really work with all their hearts to get there, to get the job done. The one mind, one purpose part is absolutely essential. If you are merely in agreement about what the Bible clearly lays out as the mission of the church, that is good. You should be. But then, if you think it should be doing things differently, there is no way you are living in a way that is an agreement with how this text has called you to be. If you are just sitting there playing armchair elder and you have in the back of your mind, “This isn’t how it should be done. I can see a better way to do this and this,” and you are secretly saying, “That’s why it didn’t work”—if you don’t agree with what the church is doing or how the church is doing something, and you are just sitting back not saying anything, there is no way you are obeying this text. How could you possibly say you are of one mind? The church isn’t to have some sort of superficial surface unity. That is not a thing. That is not unity. Don’t be satisfied with that.
The word translated as “mind” in the ESV is the Greek word “psyche,” which is most commonly translated as “soul.” It is talking about an agreement, an understanding that goes down to our deepest level. Again, if there are people in the church that you have all kinds of issues with, and you just believe those issues are there, and you don’t care about them, and your answer is, “I’m just not going to be around those people as much because that is better for the church’s unity”—that is not unity. How could you really say you are living up to this definition—that you are really of one mind, one soul striving side-by-side with that person? You are not preserving unity by shutting up and not saying anything and not dealing with those things.
Unity also isn’t merely when you can truly say you are not holding anything against anyone. Again, that’s good and that’s how you should be, and I hope you are. But if that is how you are, but you’re still not a part of the effort to move in the direction we’re going, that’s not true unity either. If you are content to notice those areas that need help, ministry that needs to be done, and you see those, or they are pointed out to you, or maybe you observe them and complain about them—but you’re just not doing it or being involved, how can you say you are striving side by side with us? Does that really define you? Can you really say that truly? It seems more like riding, not striving. That is what it appears to be, and that is not obedience to this text of what unity looks like.
If the faithful Christian life can truly be summarized by the command, “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel,” as Paul indicates it can be, the first things he wants to know about and hear about—that which will indicate whether or not they are doing this correctly—is whether they are standing firm with one spirit with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel. If that is the thing he wants to know about that will demonstrate whether or not they are being obedient to this command, then do you really think it is possible for any of us to live the lives we are called to live, lives that are worthy of the Gospel, if we can’t describe our relationship to our church like that?
This should be, then, one of the most important things you do during this quarantine time while we’re kept away from meeting. Maybe your understanding of church is being exposed. Ask yourself, “Does this phrase ‘standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,’ describe my relationship to the church?” If you’re concerned enough about that—and you should be—ask someone whom you trust to speak truth to you. Does that describe me? Do you see that in me? Is that where you are, standing firm with your brothers and sisters in Christ with one mind, striving, toiling with them for the faith of the Gospel? Does that really describe how you see yourself in the church?
If you find you are able to describe yourself and your relationship to the church like that, then this next point just makes obvious sense because it just flows out of that. It is the one who sees himself as an active part of the church, the one who sees himself as standing firm and striving with other brothers and sisters. And it is only that one who is able to demonstrate the type of certainty that acts as a sign that we see in verse 28. So a fourth point—last point—Certainty. Look at verse 27: “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, and 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.” The certainty of the believer—that he is on the side of truth and, therefore, what causes him to stand unafraid before any who oppose Christ or his Gospel or his Church—that certainty that causes him to stand there is a sign of his certain salvation and a sign of destruction for the wicked.
There is a connection, and you can see it in the word “and” between the last point and this point. The word “and” is indicating the confidence that causes us to not be frightened by any of the opponents of the Gospel—a confidence that comes out of true unity, of striving together as one man, as one church. It is so much easier for us to be intimidated or frightened or to recoil before opposition when we feel like we are all by ourselves. There is disagreement among commentators about the exact identity of the opponents Paul is referring to here. But for our purposes and for the sake of time, it is only necessary to consider them and to understand that some are opposing him because of their faith in Christ. The Greek word Paul uses—translated as “frightened” or “intimidated”—is another extremely rare word. This is the only place it appears in the New Testament, but in other Greek literature, the word is used to describe timid horses that get startled and run away when they see something they are not expecting.
Apparently, this is the type of response that Paul could associate with some he had seen as they faced opposition. Maybe you have noticed that in yourself. Maybe you’re not as bold as you’d like to be when your faith is challenged—and you kind of shy away. Or maybe you feel relieved when the subject changes. When we succumb to that, it is usually because we have forgotten we are standing firm with the church, striving side by side with other brothers and sisters in Christ. We have forgotten that, and we have begun thinking, at least in that situation, that we are alone. Notice that our reaction to opposition is said to be a sign from God about eternal realities. Our reaction to the opposition we receive about the Gospel is said to be a sign from God about the eternal state of ourselves and those who oppose us.
Have you thought about that in your evangelistic conversations, or when the Gospel is challenged or despised by neighbors or coworkers or friends or classmates? In that moment, God’s intention is for it to be a single sign—your response to that opposition is to be a sign that points to both your salvation and the ultimate destruction of those who would stand against that Gospel. That is the level of confidence that is expected to be displayed in you. Confidence in knowing the truth and confidence that comes from the complete detachment from this world that allows you to see every trial and take all suffering as a gift from a good God who is always working all things for your good and for his glory. It is a confidence we get as we come together as a church joined with one mind and purpose even when we can’t physically come together and assemble—the confidence that we still are together, standing firm, striving side by side, building one another up.
We are instilled with confidence so that even if we feel berated at work or at school or in our neighborhood as if we’re the only representatives of God’s people in that place, we will not back down from opposition because we know we are of the kingdom of God, and his plan and his purposes will not fail. And you can be filled with confidence of this because you have seen this kingdom moving forward already. You’ve experienced it. You’ve seen his promises coming to pass as you look at the amazing work that you have witnessed in his church. If you are struggling with confidence, if you are struggling with boldness, the best thing you can do right now is to lean into the church and become so involved that you know what it is to stand firm together and strive and struggle alongside one another.
As a Christian, this is how you will know confidence as you boldly face opposition to the Gospel, certain that you are on the side of truth because of the evidence of the supernatural work of God that you have seen in his saving and sanctifying people for himself that you have witnessed as you have been a part of the church. It is something that is no longer a factual truth for you, merely, like the truth we read when Jesus says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” We read that in Scripture and so we know it is true, but now we have experienced that truth in his church. It’s a foretaste, it’s a first fruits of the certain culmination in the ultimate dominion of that promised kingdom that we are already a part of.
Let me close with this thought. For many of you, this whole quarantine period might be one of the best things that has ever happened because it is exposing in you that no matter what you think you might have known or understood factually about the church, what it is and does, you are now discovering what you really believe about the church. It has become obvious that the church to you is much more of a place that you go, not a people you are of. The assembly is absolutely necessary. That is why we can’t call what we are doing right now a church service—we are not assembled. If there is no connection to the church, no standing firm together, no feeling of that at all right now in you—because when the building has been taken away from you, it turns out that that is what you are associating with it. If you are not seeing that, if you’re not still sensing that, if that’s not even rising in you now as we’re kept apart from each other, because we long to be back with each other—those whom we are striving with and standing firm with—and we want to see each other again and be together again—if you’re just missing a Sunday morning activity that made you feel better…
A redeemed community of those who have been supernaturally changed by God—that is what we are. We are those who have died to this life and now live only for his will and for his kingdom, a people that lives consistently, whether in isolation or not, because they fear God and not man, and they know they are part of his Church, that is controlled by this same Spirit, which is seen in us as we stand firm together and struggle and strive alongside one another. If that is not your experience of the church, you are missing out. It is one that is so real. It’s so powerful. It’s so clearly a work of God that it instills you with confidence. Those who oppose the Gospel, those who oppose you because of your union with Christ—don’t fear them. All you have is confidence that points to your certain salvation and their final destruction if they continue in opposition to the Gospel of Christ. That is the sign they see when you can stand firmly.
Let’s use this time, this strategic time while we’re apart, and correct every area of wrong thinking about what it means to “live in a manner worthy of the Gospel” that might be exposed right now in us—so that when we are finally able to assemble again, it is with one mind, striving together.
Father, thank you for your work. We thank you for these clear commands, this clear instruction, and for the truth of what we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to live, so we are not left to ourselves to think of the best way to be a follower. You have shown us. And it’s clear. God, I do pray for our church during this time. I pray that this understanding of who we are will not be lost and in fact, it will only grow and make us even stronger when we come back together and are able to assemble. Father, I would also like to pray for anyone who is watching this who is not a part of a church where this type of unity is possible—first of all, if it’s laziness on their part, we pray that they would pursue that at their own church, that they would be convicted of that and move in that direction. But if this type of unity is not possible for their church, I pray that you would move them to another one where they can see this and experience this, that they can see what it actually and truly is to live as a Christian, to live as a part of the body of Christ. Father, please, I pray you would use this time for us to become more excited and more joyful over that truth. In all things, we thank you that no matter what we experience here, we know that it is still just America. Your kingdom rules. Your kingdom stands. It’s your kingdom we love and serve above all. In Jesus’ name, amen.