Joy in the Trenches
October 4, 1998
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 one spirit, contending as one man 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 on 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 (Philippians 1:27-30).
This passage begins with an enormous challenge: “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Three key words unlock the meaning of this phrase. The first is the word “only,” which doesn’t even appear in the NIV text. But the Greek text begins with the word monos, which means “only.” One writer translates it as “just one thing,” like Curly in the movie City Slickers holding up his index finger and saying the meaning of life is “just one thing.” Paul means to say that whether he is set free or dies in jail there is “just one thing” he wants the Philippians to know.
The second word is “worthy,” which literally means “to even the beam.” It refers to balancing the scales so that both sides are even. To live “worthy” of the gospel means to live so that your life gives proper weight to all that God has done for you. Eugene Peterson (The Message) translates it this way: “Live in such a way that you are a credit to the message of Christ.” In one of his books Chuck Colson mentions seeing a picture of a college demonstrator holding up a sign that read, “Nothing is worth dying for.” But if nothing is worth dying for, then nothing is worth living for.
The third word is “conduct,” which means to live as a citizen of heaven. To paraphrase an old question, “If you were arrested for being a citizen of heaven, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” True Christians live in such a way that no one can deny their true identity.
No Middle Ground
Here are three brief observations about the first phrase of verse 27:
1) Salvation to be real must change the way we live.
2) Unbelievers draw conclusions about Jesus Christ by the way we live.
3) In an increasingly pagan climate, we can make a huge impact by the way we live.
This is vastly important for Christians at the end of the 20th century because the surrounding culture has become increasingly hostile to biblical truth. A few years ago a friend told me that Oak Park is a thoroughly polarized community. At that time, I doubted those words but since then I’ve seen how true they are. In Oak Park there is almost no middle ground on any issue—moral, spiritual, political, cultural, racial or educational. This means that only those people who know what they believe—and are willing to express it―will get a hearing in the marketplace of ideas. What is true of Oak Park is true of every community in America to a greater or lesser degree.
When Paul wrote these words he had no idea if he would ever get out of jail in Rome. He therefore must assume that he might never visit Philippi again. That’s why this passage deserves our close attention. It’s the “just one thing” Paul wanted to make clear in case he never saw them in person again.
From this text we discover four ways you can impact your world for Jesus Christ.
I. Stand without Division
“Stand firm in one spirit” (v. 27a). The phrase “stand firm” describes a Roman military formation in which the soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder and back to back with their shields up and their spears outward. It was the strongest possible defensive position.
Impacting the world begins as Christians stand together “in one spirit.” It’s like a coach saying to his players, “We win together and we lose together.” We are not to divide—and yet we do, sometimes over very trivial issues. There are already too many barriers in the body of Christ—barriers of race, skin color, geography, worship style, mode of baptism, and denominational affiliation. To make matters worse, we spend far too much time squabbling over secondary issues and not enough time preaching the gospel of Christ. This is a scandal that hinders the work of God. When will we understand that unity makes the gospel beautiful? Jesus promised that all men would know that we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35).
Do we grasp how the world views a divided church? When we say “God loves you,” unbelievers hear it through the static of our intramural mudslinging. The message that comes through is, “God loves you but we hate each other.” No wonder they don’t want what we have to offer.
There is a second way we can impact our world …
II. Strive without Compromise
“Contending as one man for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27b). Note two key words in this phrase. The word “contending” comes from the Greek sunatheleo, from which we get the English words “athlete” and “athletic.” Like a running back straining to get the ball across the goal line, we are to exert maximum effort for the sake of the gospel in the world. This is Paul’s offensive game plan.
Note the phrase “the faith.” When you see the definite article before the word “faith,” it almost always refers to the objective side of faith—not our inner belief, but rather the things in which we believe. The “faith of the gospel” encompasses that great body of Christian truth that includes God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, human nature, sin, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone.
Put these words together and this is what they mean: We are to unitedly join hearts and hands using all our resources to spread the gospel by every means possible to every person possible.
Let me suggest what this implies:
a. There is a faith we must believe.
b. That faith is worth striving for.
c. That faith must not be compromised.
d. That faith is the basis of our unity.
e. That faith should be preached in all the earth.
- We stand together—Unity
- We strive together—Unity + Progress
This is a call for nothing less than aggressive Christianity. We need this because the world is full of Christians in retreat. We have retreated when we ought to advance. Too many believers have been intimidated and have left the battlefield to the enemy. As much as anything, this explains the moral crisis in America today. The “other side” has won because we have surrendered without a fight.
God’s word to the church is always Go Forward! As far as I know, God never told his people to retreat—not ever. Jesus said, “Go and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). He called us to “Go and make disciples” (Mathew 28:19). And what are the first two letters of the word Gospel? G-O!
Here are three areas where we ought to make an impact for the gospel:
1) Education—Where we train the leaders of tomorrow.
2) Business and Industry—Where decisions are made that affect millions of people.
3) Entertainment—Where values are determined for the next generation.
The world is full of Christians in retreat. We have retreated when we ought to advance.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
In one of his books, the famous Methodist evangelist E. Stanley Jones commented that the first Christians didn’t wring their hands in despair and say, “Look what the world has come to.” Instead with great delight they declared, “Look what has come to the world.” It’s never been easy to be a Christian. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now. Blessed are they who are so excited about Jesus that they simply can’t keep quiet about it.
There is a third way we can impact our world for Christ …
III. Speak without Fear
“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” (Philippians 1:28).
I love the sober realism of these words. Paul doesn’t sugar-coat the truth. You’re going to be opposed … Speak up anyway. Some people won’t like your message … Don’t let that stop you. Sooner or later, you’ll run into strong opposition … So what? Just keep preaching Jesus. As our Lord reminded us, if they hated him, they will hate us too (John 15:18). They crucified him. Can we expect anything better?
This verse contains a truth you may never have considered before. Opposition to the gospel reveals spiritual reality. That’s the “sign” of verse 28. When people oppose you for your Christian testimony, you may be sure of two things: 1) That you are going to heaven, and 2) That they are going to hell.
Don’t be put off by the starkness of those words. That’s precisely the meaning of verse 28. Genuine believers are proved genuine by the quality of their opposition. If no one ever criticizes or opposes you, if you never “make waves” because of your faith, if everyone is happy with your Christian faith all the time, well then, something is wrong either with your faith or with the people you hang around with.
Have You Annoyed Anyone Today?
Let me state the principle this way: True believers annoy the world because they stand as a rebuke to everything the world stands for. When we say “Jesus is the only way,” they call us arrogant. If we declare, “You must be born again,” someone is sure to call us fanatics. If you say the Bible is the Word of God, someone else will think you’re an ignorant hick. If you say, “I know I’m going to heaven,” you’ll be accused of thinking you’re better than everyone else. Finally, if you dare to call adultery wrong and homosexuality sinful, someone is bound to call you a narrow-minded, judgmental bigot. And so it goes. We annoy the world precisely because we are citizens of heaven and live by different principles.
Paul’s advice is simple: “Don’t be frightened.” The Greek word for “frightened” refers to a horse spooked by a movement in the bushes. The horse rears up and begins to run away. Don’t be surprised when someone criticizes your Christian faith. It happens to all of us sooner or later. When trouble comes, we need calm courage and an unconquerable spirit.
Don’t be surprised when someone criticizes your Christian faith. It happens to all of us sooner or later.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
Recently a friend told me that his brother has chosen a lifestyle that God calls sinful. Although it is popular today for people to claim they are born this way, the Bible repeatedly condemns this particular way of life. My friend wanted to know how to relate to his brother. Have you told him what the Bible says? No, not really. Why don’t you write him a letter and lay it all out? Would I read it first? Certainly.
A few days later he gave me a draft copy of his letter. It was handwritten and covered three sheets of paper. I read it and was struck by the honesty and the love that came through the words he had written. I gave it back and made two comments. First, I told him it sounded just like him, which is vitally important when you write a letter like that. You have to write from your heart. Second, I told him to get ready because his words were like lighting a fuse. There would certainly be an explosion at the other end sooner or later. I remember his response clearly. “Pastor Ray, it doesn’t matter what happens. I love my brother and I have to tell him the truth.”
God bless that man. He is doing exactly what the Bible says he should do. He is speaking the truth in love.
We are to speak without fear, knowing that some people won’t like what we have to say. Remember that it’s better to be the persecuted than the persecutor. This is one instance when it is better to receive than to give. Jesus pronounced a blessing upon those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:10-12). That kind of persecution is a sign that you are a genuine believer.
IV. Sacrifice without Shame
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on 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 (Philippians 1:29-30).
Did you notice the two gifts in these verses? There is the gift of faith (“not only to believe in him”). This is the gift that enables us to believe in Christ in the first place. Without this gift from the Lord, we would never be saved in the first place. Then there is the gift of suffering (“also to suffer for him”). This is also a gift—but it is the gift no one wants.
Sometimes God gives the gifts in reverse order—suffering first, belief later. A few weeks ago I heard that a young couple in our church had gone out of town for the funeral of the husband’s father. When they returned, the wife told me a wonderful story. It seems that for a long time—for years—she and her husband had tried to witness to her husband’s father, but to no avail. He wasn’t interested in hearing about Christ and got angry whenever the subject was mentioned. Nothing they did or said seemed to make the slightest difference. The wife reminded me that I often say, “Don’t ever give up on your loved ones. Don’t ever stop praying for them.” She said that her husband’s father seemed so hopeless that they felt it wasn’t worth the effort.
A few months ago his father became ill and that seemed to soften his heart. When the son went to visit his father, they spent hours talking about many things. Knowing that his father didn’t have long to live, he earnestly shared the gospel with him. This time the father listened intently and when the time came, he joined his son in prayer. During that prayer, he asked Jesus to save him. When they finished praying together, the son said, “Dad, where would you go if you died right now?” “To heaven,” he replied. “How do you know?” “Because I have just accepted Jesus as my Savior.”
Not long after that the father died. At his funeral, the son stood and shared the gospel with the family and friends who had gathered for the occasion. Afterwards, many people wanted to talk about what he had said. Thus the gospel is spreading from one person to another throughout that family.
Don’t ever give up on your friends and loved ones. Don’t ever stop praying. Don’t stop loving them.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
There are many applications from this story. Let me make the most obvious one. Don’t ever give up on your friends and loved ones. Don’t ever stop praying. Don’t stop loving them. And don’t be afraid to speak up for Jesus when you have the chance.
Would you like to change your world for Jesus? Would you like to be a credit to the gospel? Here’s the “just one thing” on Paul’s heart that we need to remember. You’re a citizen of heaven. Live like it. You can impact your world if you will …
Stand without division.
Strive without compromise.
Speak without fear.
Sacrifice without shame.
May God help us to make a difference for Christ by the way we live this week.