Serving and Struggling Together
May 1, 2005 | Brian Bill
When we bought our house, one of the things that came with it was an obnoxious electronic doorbell. Not only was it big and ugly but when someone came to the door, it would blast out Beethoven’s 5th or blare out all the verses of Auld Lang Syne. It had different songs for each season of the year but we couldn’t get it to just ding-dong like a regular doorbell. Finally, out of exasperation, I ripped it off the wall several weeks ago. On Monday I decided to put a new doorbell up. I knew I was in trouble when the lady at Ace told me that it was a very easy and simple project that anyone could do. When I got home I studied the back of the package for a few minutes, scratched my head a couple times, took a deep breath and went to work. By the way, my wife always clears out of the way when I tackle a home improvement project because she’s seen the shrapnel fly before.
After hooking up the wires in a number of different ways, creating more sparks than chimes, I calmly got off the chair, put the doorbell back in the package and told my wife that I needed my dad to do this job. I felt like a ding-dong. Once again, things did not go as I had planned. This was anything but quick and easy. After pouting for a few minutes, I tried it again. This time I got it right. I stood outside and rang that puppy for a few minutes, surprised that I had completed the project, and happy to not hear a concerto every time someone comes to the door.
My guess is that things have not always gone as you have planned either. Your life is anything but easy and your walk with Jesus has more worries than victories. We’re going to see in our passage for this morning that Paul has moved from his personal situation to the problems of the Philippians. He’s told them that he will win either way, that his circumstances will turn out for the advance of the gospel, and that his joy will continue to increase. Now his concern is for the church. He’ll be OK, but what about them? Will they go in the tank when trials come? Will they pout when they have problems? Will they fold instead of being faithful? Will they turn on each other instead of working with each other? When things are not easy will they get queasy and begin to question their faith?
Let me give you the outline first, then we’ll read the passage, and then we’ll unpack the passage point-by-point. This should help us put it into practice when we’re all done.
The main point of this section of Scripture is that we must walk the talk (1:27a). And we do so by…
- Standing Together (1:27b)
- Striving as a Team (1:27c)
- Surviving to the End (1:28)
- Suffering for Christ (1:29)
- Struggling with Others (1:30)
Let’s read Philippians 1:27-30: “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.”
Walk the Talk
The first part of verse 27 shows Paul’s passion for the Philippians: “…conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” He’s essentially saying, “Walk the talk” or “live up to who you are.” This is a command in the present tense, meaning this is a call for continuous activity. His choice of words is really interesting and is lost on us in our setting. The Greek word translated “conduct” is where we get “political” or “metropolitan.” This is the main verb in these four verses, which in the Greek is just one long sentence. The basic idea is one of citizenship. Later in Philippians 3:20, Paul says that our “citizenship is in heaven.”
The citizens who lived in Philippi would immediately grasp the idea of having one’s citizenship in another place from where they were living. Acts 16:12 provides a clue: “…Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia.” Here’s the point. Located hundreds of miles from Rome, Philippi enjoyed all the benefits and privileges of the Roman Empire. They were not taxed, their city was under Roman law and their culture reflected Rome, not the other cities around them. In short they were loyal to another location and conducted themselves according to another culture. They adopted Roman dress and Roman names and even spoke Latin, the language of Rome. John MacArthur points out that Roman society was highly community-conscious, where the individual was subordinate to the state. People saw this as a privilege and were careful to not doing anything that would bring disrepute to their citizenship.
Likewise, Paul is telling us that while we live here, our habits should reflect heaven, “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” This phrase refers to weighing something on the scales. The idea is that our manner of life should weigh as much as the gospel we claim to be committed to. How we dress, how we speak, and how we act must line up with our ultimate loyalty. We are not just individuals who can do what we want; we are interdependent members of the community of faith, with our heritage firmly rooted in heaven. The story is told that Alexander the Great once met a lazy, good-for-nothing soldier in his army and asked for his name. The soldier replied, “Alexander, sir.” Alexander the Great then said, “Either change your name or change your ways!”
This is a common theme for Paul. It is inconceivable to him that a Christian would somehow turn people away from heaven by the way they were living. Here are a few other passages where he drives this home:
Ephesians 4:1: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
Colossians 1:10: “…in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord…”
1 Thessalonians 2:12: “…urging you to live lives worthy of God…”
Titus 2:10: “…they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”
Paul is saying that we’re to live as if we’re being watched: “…whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence.” Warren Wiersbe reminds us that the world around us knows the Gospel message by what they see in us: “You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day, by the deeds that you do and the words that you say. Men read what you write, whether faithful or true: just what is the gospel according to you?”
Remember that people judge heaven by the conduct of its citizens. We represent the gospel of Christ and therefore must live in a worthy way. We are to do this by…
1. Standing Together (1:27b).
To “stand firm in one spirit” describes a Roman military formation in which the soldiers stood side by side, shoulder to shoulder. As they gathered in as close as possible to each other, they held their shields up and their spears out. They were nearly impenetrable in this posture. This word was used of a soldier who defended his position no matter what. Psalm 122:3 captures this idea: “Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.” This is really an exhortation to spiritual solidarity. We are to stand and we are to do so together, in unity. When we are united, the world takes notice as stated in Psalm 133:1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”
Part of our problem today is that we think the Christian life should make us happy in an individualistic sort of way. But the Bible is clear that Christianity is not a playground, but rather a battlefield. We have not been saved just so we can have an easy and comfortable life; we have been conscripted into God’s army. When the shrapnel starts flying, some of us are quick to desert because we didn’t sign up for this.
Many of us really don’t want to stand together with other Christians. Have you heard of the “Serenity Prayer”? It goes like this: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” This week I came across a different take on this called the “Senility Prayer.” “God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway; the good fortune to run into the ones I do; and the eyesight to tell the difference.”
Instead of standing together, some of us are splitting apart but unity is extremely important to Christ, as reflected in his prayer to the Father in John 17:23: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” The early church certainly experienced this in Acts 2:44 and 4:32: “All the believers were together and had everything in common…All the believers were one in heart and mind…” To choose to be united is not optional; it’s the heartbeat of heaven and the lifeblood of the church. Paul doesn’t mince words in this regard.
1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
Ephesians 4:3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
2. Striving as a Team (1:27c).
We must start by standing together but then we need to do more than that. We must also strive together: “contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” This word for “contending” is also translated as “striving” and is an athletic image. The preposition sun (with) is combined with the noun athleo, from which we get athletics. By the way, Paul uses this preposition 16 different times in this short letter – he is a strong believer in teamwork! The idea is that we are to compete as a team to advance the gospel message. We are not just united for unity’s sake. We are put together as one for the purpose of winning others to Jesus.
One of the best pictures of teamwork is going on right now with the Chicago Bulls. Rallying the squad from an 0-9 start, Coach Scott Skiles has his players striving as a team and winning as they compete in the first round of the playoffs. Chris Duhon, one of the rookies said this about Coach Skiles, “He just likes guys who are going to compete and scrap and try to win…he challenges us each day, and we try to answer” (Chicago Tribune, 4/24/05, Section 3, page 8). Do you remember watching the A-Team with Mr. T? In one episode, some criminals who have been captured by the A-Team before hire some mercenaries to pick off each member one-by-one. Things don’t go as planned and then Hannibal says to Kyle, “Now the next time you want to take somebody out pal, don’t get yourself a squad; get yourself a team.” Paul’s passion for unity is laid out in Romans 15:5-6: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In Philippians 4:3, Paul uses this same word “contending” to describe how Euodia and Syntyche used to serve on the team with him before they started contending against each other and causing problems for the team. Paul pleads with them to make peace so that they can function once again as a team in the cause of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was imprisoned for standing up to Hitler, knew how important it was to work as a team. In his book, “Life Together,” he gives seven principles that help Christians live together (Pages 90-109). Christians, he says, should:
- Hold their tongues, refusing to speak uncharitably about a Christian brother;
- Cultivate the humility that comes from understanding that they, like Paul, are the greatest sinners and can only live in God’s sight by his grace;
- Listen “long and patiently” so that they will understand their fellow Christian’s need;
- Refuse to consider their time and calling so valuable that they cannot be interrupted to help with unexpected needs, no matter how small or menial;
- Bear the burden of their brothers and sisters in the Lord, both by preserving their freedom and by forgiving their sinful abuse of that freedom;
- Declare God’s word to their fellow believers when they need to hear it;
- Understand that Christian authority is characterized by service and does not call attention to the person who performs the service.
3. Surviving to the End (1:28).
if people are not opposing you because of the gospel then there’s something wrong
When we stand and when we strive it’s easy to get afraid when people come after us. Paul addresses this in verse 28: “…without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” The word “frightened” described how a timid horse would get startled by something unexpected or unknown in its path. I try to startle our daughters when I’m sitting in the van and they walk in front of it. I act like I don’t see them and then, when they least expect it, I lay on the horn. I like to see how high I can get them to jump! Paul doesn’t want us to be alarmed or jumpy when we face opposition. We shouldn’t be surprised by opposition. We don’t have to wig out because we’re on the winning team. Actually, if people are not opposing you because of the gospel then there’s something wrong. Here’s a question to ask yourself: “Have I annoyed anyone lately?” Remember what Jesus said in John 15:18: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” Those who don’t know Christ will eventually be “destroyed” and believers will be “saved.”
4. Suffering for Christ (1:29).
In our American Christian subculture, where we often speak of blessings, prosperity and God’s favor, verse 29 provides a good corrective for us: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” The Greek word translated “granted” is derived from a word meaning “grace” or “favor.” The noun form is used for spiritual gifts, and has the idea of “bestowing graciously.” Everything comes from God. I want you to notice that we have been “granted” two things: salvation and suffering.
Salvation and suffering are grace gifts from God that emanate from His election and sovereignty. We are quick to attribute our salvation to God’s grace but slow to realize that suffering is also a gift. Do you see your problems as a privilege? The apostles had this perspective in Acts 5:41: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Some of us think we suffer because of our sins, and maybe we do bear the consequences of our actions, but suffering is also part of God’s plan for each of us. 2 Timothy 3:12: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
When you go through a tough time it doesn’t mean that God let something get through while He was asleep
Friends, salvation comes from the Lord, and so does suffering. When you go through a tough time it doesn’t mean that God let something get through while He was asleep. Everything comes to you through the filter of His faithfulness. And suffering is part of his plan for each of us. Some of us are surprised and then become angry when we go through tough times. It’s almost like we say, “Hey, what happened here? I didn’t ask for this. This isn’t what I signed up for. I have a right to be happy and blessed.” When you’re being tossed around by trials remember the words of 1 Peter 4:12-13: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ…” Here’s the deal: we are blessed up when we’re messed up.
There are a number of purposes behind suffering. We could call this the grace that comes from grief or the promises that come from our problems. David Curtis from Berean Bible Church lists a number of good things that can come from bad things. I’ve adapted his principles for our purposes (www.bereanbiblechurch.org).
- Suffering matures us. James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
- Suffering weans us from self-reliance. 2 Corinthians 1:9: “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
- Suffering is an evangelistic tool. Philippians 1:12: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”
- Suffering increases our eternal reward. Matthew 5:12: “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
- Suffering helps us minister to others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
- Suffering helps keep down pride. 2 Corinthians 12:7: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”
- Suffering shows we belong to Christ. Phil 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
Stanley Jones, who has been called “Missionary Extraordinary,” ministered on multiple continents and knew how to impact cultures. I love his perspective on how we should respond to our increasing non-Christian culture: “The early Christians did not say in dismay: ‘Look what the world has come to,’ but in delight, ‘Look what has come to the world.’ They saw not merely the ruin, but the resources for the reconstruction of that ruin. They saw not merely the sin that did abound, but that grace did much more abound. On that assurance the pivot of history swung from blank despair, loss of moral fervor, and fatalism, to faith and confidence that at last sin had met its match, that something new had come into the world…” (“Abundant Living,” Page 183).
Before missionary Karen Watson went to Iraq, she counted the cost. She left a letter with her pastor that said: “You’re only reading this if I died.” She was martyred a little over a year ago. Her letter included gracious words to family and friends and this simple summary of what it means to follow Christ: “To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, his glory my reward.”
John Wesley was riding on his horse once when it dawned on him that he had not been persecuted for three days. He got off his horse, got down on his knees and said, “Maybe I’ve sinned or been disobedient.” Just then a man on the other side of the road recognized him and heaved a rock at him. It bounced off the road, just missing Wesley’s head. He then leapt to his feet and shouted, “Thanks be to God! Everything’s all right. I still have God’s presence with me.”
Believers in other parts of the world seem to understand the privileges of persecution better than we do. Maybe it’s because they’ve done a better job of living out what we learned last week from Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Here are some current headlines from a ministry called Compass Direct (www.compassdirect.org):
Eritrea – 16 Pastors, Nearly 900 Christians in Jail
India – Hindu “Defense Army” Fights Christian Conversions
China – Arrest of House Church Leaders Confirms Repressive Trend
Vietnam – Harsh Sentences for “Mennonite Six”
Sri Lanka – Debate Continues on Anti-Conversion Law
5. Struggling with Others (1:30).
We are not alone in our agony. Look at verse 30: “Since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” The New Living Translation says, “We are in this fight together…” J.B. Phillips paraphrases it this way: “It is now your turn to take part in the battle…” The word “struggle” is where we get the word “agony.” The Philippians remembered the stuff that Paul went through at Philippi as recorded in Acts 16, and they know a little bit about his current situation. Paul tells them that their struggles are the same. The topic and intensity might be different, but every believer is struggling in some way. Look around. You may think you’re alone in your agony. You’d be surprised to know the amount of suffering right here, right now.
Are you tired of struggling? I have some good news and some bad news and then some more good news. The good news for believers is that your struggles will be over when you’re in heaven. The bad news is that you will struggle until you get there. The good news is that you don’t have to agonize alone.
Jesus is our model and He provides the power for us to persevere through our problems. I received an email this week from someone who described a number of unexpected trials that he and his family are going through right now. I love his summary statement: “It seemed unfair. But it is completely unfair that our Savior bore all of our burdens, as well.” As we come to a time of communion, remember what we have in “common” with Christ, and with other Christians. We have communion with each other because of what Christ did. It wasn’t fair that He…
And He did all this for us. Are you ready to do the same? When problems ring your door bell, will you answer the call?