2. The Privilege Of The Cross: Walking Worthy Of The Gospel (Phil. 1:27-30)Related Media
My wife and I have been to Ukraine about 10 times. Over those years I have had the privilege of teaching pastors who have had little or no formal theological or pastoral training. Some of those pastors told us of how they had been imprisoned for their faith during the communist years. We’ve heard their testimonies of being held in a 9’ x 12’ cell with 27 men - standing room only - and of eating grass and tree bark to stay alive.
I was reminded of their stories, and of the power of the gospel when Christians live for Christ under such circumstances, in an article written by a former Russian criminal called Kozlov. Describing his memory of life in a Soviet prison, he writes…
“Among the general despair, while prisoners like myself were cursing ourselves, the camp, the authorities; while we opened up our veins or our stomachs or hanged ourselves…the Christians (often with sentences of 20 to 25 years) did not despair. One could see Christ reflected in their faces. Their pure, upright life, deep faith and devotion to God, their gentleness and their wonderful manliness became a shining example of real life for thousands” (“Witnessing in a Soviet Prison,” cited in Christianity Today, June 21, 1974).
In other words, they conducted themselves in a manner that was “worthy of the gospel.” Christians who live in such a way speak powerfully to the world around them, don’t they?
Based on several verses in Philippians, the mission of my home church (and I would argue, every Christian and every church) is “to walk worthy of the gospel in order to make disciples.” Let’s take time now to consider what that means and what its implications are for our lives.
The subject of this message is: “How we should now live according to the gospel.” The overall teaching of this passage is that gospel-driven people are Christians who consistently enhance the gospel in their conduct and courage.
I. We Walk Worthy Of The Gospel When Our Conduct Reflects Our Faith (1:27)
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27a). The gospel should radically change our conduct. Paul says: “No matter what may happen to me (whether I am released from prison and can come to see you or whether I remain imprisoned and unable to see you), just be sure to conduct yourselves in a way that is appropriate to and consistent with the gospel.” Francis Schaeffer wrote a book titled, “How should we then live?” Chuck Colson wrote a book titled, “How shall we now live?” The answer to both those questions is: “We should live according to the gospel.” When we believe the gospel and turn to Christ in faith, a radical ethical transformation takes place in our lives. We aren’t the same people anymore - we are “a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
In fact, everything changes when we believe the gospel. It changes how we think and how we act. It changes our relationships, our attitudes, behavior, speech, goals, hopes, character, values, and our entire worldview. The gospel isn’t merely a doctrine that we believe but a life that we live; it has profound ethical implications.
Gospel-driven people consistently enhance the gospel by a manner of life that is worthy of the gospel. They are people who are focused on living in accordance with the gospel, such that the gospel identifies us, unites us, defines us.
So, what does it mean, “only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ”? It means that our conduct must reflect our faith. And…
1. Our conduct reflects our faith when we live on earth as citizens of heaven (1:27a). That’s the thought in the word “conduct” – it’s your manner of life. The root word here is the word for “city” or “community.” It has the idea of fulfilling one’s duties as a good citizen. To live worthy of the gospel means that Christians are to conduct themselves on earth in a way that is fitting and consistent with our heavenly citizenship. It has to do with consistency with who we are and with where we are going. We are to exercise our earthly citizenship as those whose spiritual citizenship and ultimate destiny is heavenly (3:20). Only when we live on earth as citizens of heaven can we live in a way that is consistent with and appropriate to the gospel. Our conduct reflects our faith when we live on earth as citizens of heaven. That’s how we live a life that is “worthy” of the gospel.
What does Paul mean by “worthy”? John Piper defines worthy as “acting in a way that fits the great value and glorious nature of God and the gospel and your calling.” A manner of life that is worthy of the gospel has the idea of living in a way that reflects the worth and cost of our salvation; a manner of life that reflects the truth and behavior of a follower of “the gospel of Christ.” It has to do with how much value we place on the gospel - how much does it really matter to us?
There are some things on which we do not place much value. Jesus used the example of a sparrow. How much value do you place on a sparrow? I don’t suppose that you would pay me anything for a sparrow because they are so common; they have no usefulness to us. So, how much worth do you place on your salvation? It cost Christ everything! He gave his life for us. No one else could ever have redeemed us. Our salvation then is of inestimable worth.
How much does the gospel matter to you? Is the cross central to your life? Does it regulate how you live? If so, then we will strive to live in a manner that is “worthy of the gospel,” a life that is consistent with the standards of the gospel. If we believe that Christ died for our sins, that should change how we live, shouldn’t it? It should change how we live because we are forgiven people, people who are reconciled to God and have peace with God. If we believe that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again on the third day, that should change how we live, shouldn’t it? It should change how we live because his resurrection is the precursor and guarantee of our resurrection, and that gives us a whole new hope for living, a new outlook on life and eternity. If we believe that Christ is coming back again, that should change how we live, shouldn’t it? It should change how we live because we know where we’re going; our future is secure. And when our lives change so that we live on earth as citizens of heaven, then we will walk worthy of the gospel.
By contrast, what then is an “unworthy” manner of life? An unworthy manner of life is one that contradicts the claims of Christ and the gospel. An unworthy life is when a person says they are a Christian but they act as though they are not. It is a life that is marked by the world, the flesh, and the devil (Eph. 2:2-3; James 3:15). It is a life that is characterized by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:15-17).
But a manner of life that is “worthy” of the gospel is one that is driven by our faith in Christ. It is a lifestyle that reflects the nature and character of the God whom we know, love, and follow. It is conduct that lives out, embodies, and incarnates the gospel of Christ. It is behavior that is suited to our heavenly citizenship and destiny, a way of life that causes others to say: “I know who those people are - they’re heavenly people. I know where those people are going - they’re destiny is in heaven.”
In other parts of the world people tell us that they can recognize someone from North America a mile away because we look, walk, talk, dress and act differently. That’s how we should reflect our heavenly citizenship. We should look like it, walk like it, talk like it, think like it, act like it. So that when others see how we live, they conclude that we are Christians, that we are “gospel” people, that the gospel is what propels us and under-girds our whole way of life.
Let us make sure our behavior and entire lifestyle is consistent with what we claim to believe. Let us make sure that our conduct reflects our faith. Let us be people who enhance the gospel by our practice. Let us be people who are living examples of the gospel we believe and preach, examples of the compassion of Christ, his mercy, grace, his nature and character. Let us be people about whom others say: “If that’s what a Christian is, then I want to be one too!”
So, our conduct reflects our faith when we live on earth as citizens of heaven. And...
2. Our conduct reflects our faith when we live in unity together (1:27b). “…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.” Our unity is vital to maintaining a testimony to what we believe.
When we live in unity we “stand firm” together: “…standing firm in one spirit.” We stand firm in solidarity for what we believe. We are resolute in our steadfast commitment to the gospel. We will not move from the foundation of the gospel; we will not compromise; we will not give in to pressure. When we stand together, the church is an impenetrable defense, standing arm-in-arm for the truth we believe, not moving for anything or anyone. We are united in our defense and proclamation of the gospel; nothing distracts us from this task.
A church that is united does not bicker and fight about who does what, but each one takes his or her fair share of the load. They do not get bogged down in committee meetings or about how things should be done. They are not caught up in power struggles. Instead there is an attitude of harmony, unity, togetherness.
A gospel-driven church stands firm together “in one spirit.” They are so together in this gospel venture, it’s as though they have “one spirit” - there is no discernible difference between them; they are all gripped with one spirit; they are one spiritual community; they have one motivating force - one life, one goal, one desire, one purpose.
Do you know that many churches today are stripped of their effectiveness because of a divided spirit? When one person wants this and another person wants that, there is no cohesion, no energy, no forward movement. When there is a contentious spirit, some people go in one direction, some in another; there is no unity, no agreement and the church becomes gridlocked, stuck in first gear, impotent, ineffective.
But, a united church is a bulwark, a stonewall, of faith. They are an impenetrable community, impervious to the attacks of the enemy. They form a human shield of defense against any attack that the adversaries of the gospel may bring. They are united in thought, purpose, and action.
When we live in unity, we “stand firm in one spirit.” And...
When we live in unity, we “strive together” for our convictions: “...with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” The imagery here moves from standing to striving, from defense to offence, from standing firm to moving forward. This is not a passive kind of Christian commitment but an active striving as we seek to advance the gospel.
Striving together for the faith of the gospel implies action, like solders in a battle advancing should-to-shoulder, a community with one goal – preserving “the faith of the gospel.” Gospel-driven people unite in holding our convictions tightly and contending for them strenuously. We are like a team of athletes side-by-side, so tightly interwoven that we look like a single person. We are united in our determination to win the prize, resolute in achieving our goal, fixated on returning home victorious, inextricably fused together “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Our unity is firmly rooted in our convictions, and our convictions are based on the “faith of the gospel.”
“The faith” here refers to an objective body of truth - “the faith of the gospel.” It’s not a social cause, not an ideology, not a political platform, but “the faith of the gospel.” That’s what spurs us on courageously despite opposition, ridicule, or persecution. That’s what gives us unity despite adversaries, sceptics, atheists, secular humanists, postmodernists, new-agers, spiritists, evolutionists and the like.
It’s our conviction about the gospel that unites us. It’s not our kids clubs or programs (as good as they may be and as helpful as they may be). It’s not church activities or music. It’s a united conviction of the truth of the gospel. That’s what motivates us. That’s our unifying principle. That’s the basis of our solidarity. That’s what we live for. That’s our common goal, our common life, our common desire. Our unity does not stem from our popularity or from our charismatic personalities or prowess, but from our commitment to “the faith of the gospel.”
So, a gospel-driven church consistently enhances the gospel in conduct and courage. We enhance the gospel when our conduct reflects our faith, and...
II. We Enhance The Gospel When Our Courage Overcomes Our Fear (1:28-30)
Solidarity is essential for courage isn’t it? Our united commitment to the gospel generates courage in us and courage overcomes fear.
1. When courage overcomes fear, we consider opposition to the gospel proof of our salvation (1:28): “...not frightened in anything by your opponents.” (1:28a).
Our testimony for the gospel takes place on two fronts: (1) “Standing firm for the faith of the gospel” - that’s the positive aspect of what it means to “walk worthy of the gospel.” (2) “Not being frightened by your opponents” - that’s the negative aspect of what it means to “walk worthy of the gospel.”
Standing firm for the gospel incurs opposition. Contending for our convictions brooks antagonism from those who despise what we believe and stand for. Gospel-driven people courageously combat their adversaries. They are fearless in their defense and advancement of the gospel. They contend for the gospel on the courage of their convictions. They stand firm and strive together in solidarity with one another, like soldiers marching face-to-face toward the enemy. They aren’t like startled horses that suddenly shy away, or buck, they aren’t terrified or intimidated by their adversaries. Their convictions aren’t just words on a page - not a creed that they recite, not a statement of faith in their constitution. Their convictions are a living reality which renders them fearless in their battle with those who oppose the gospel.
Unity and conviction produce courage and bravery. We are far more bold in groups than as individuals, aren’t we? I remember when I used to participate in street preaching, sometimes on Saturday nights with other young people in a small town in northern Ontario and sometimes on a Sunday afternoon with my dad outside the provincial parliament buildings in Toronto. We couldn’t have done it alone; we needed each other to shore up our weaknesses and spur us on. When people heckled us, we derived strength from unity.
Unity produces bravery, and unity plus bravery produce activity. When fear is eliminated we can advance despite the obstacles or the enemies. Fear paralyzes us, but boldness invigorates us. Courage against opposition to the gospel is a clear sign that God is at work: “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God” (1:28b).
Courage against our opponents is a clear sign that God is at work in their ultimate destruction. Christian courage to withstand those who oppose the gospel without fear is clear evidence that God is at work. When we wonder where God is - why he doesn’t intervene on our behalf, and why he allows others to ridicule us and the gospel - be assured that he is still in control. He is at work in the ultimate destruction of our opponents. When sceptics and scorners attack us and the gospel and we are able to withstand their attack, that is “a clear sign to them of their ultimate destruction.” The God who gives us the courage to stand against them is the same God who will enforce their ultimate demise, for they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction (3:18-19), who are seeking to crucify again for themselves the Son of God and put him to an open shame (Heb. 6:6).
One day, the enemies of the gospel will be deposed. They will suddenly be cut off and Christ will make them his footstool. So, our courage to fearlessly withstand the opponents of the gospel is a clear sign that God is at work in the ultimate destruction of our opponents.
And, courage against our opponents is a clear sign that God is at work in our ultimate salvation. Those who laugh in derision at the gospel we preach will one day be held in contempt by Christ himself. Their opposition to the gospel is proof of God’s sovereignty. God is working out his purposes even when we may think he is silent and inactive. For just as their opposition to the gospel is proof of their ultimate destruction so it is proof of our ultimate salvation. God is preserving us from our enemies here and now and will ultimately save us eternally in a day to come.
“And that from God,” Paul says. It’s all from God - our unity in the face of opposition, our courage when we face attack, our steadfastness when our convictions are challenged, our boldness in withstanding opponents of the gospel, our defense and advancement of the gospel come what may. It’s all from God - the destruction of the enemies of the gospel as well as our eternal salvation. It’s all from God - we couldn’t do it ourselves. God is working out his sovereign purposes; he is in control. The enemies of the gospel will suffer eternal punishment and we will experience eternal salvation. This give us confidence, doesn’t it? This gives us motivation to go on. This gives us courage that overcomes fear. This motivates us to walk “worthy of the gospel.”
When courage overcomes fear, we consider opposition to the gospel proof of our salvation. And...
2. When courage overcomes fear, we consider affliction for the gospel a privilege for our Savior (1:29-30): “29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him, but also suffer for His sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
When we are called to salvation we are given the privilege not only to believe in Christ, Paul says, but also “to suffer for His sake.” Salvation and suffering go together because we are united to Christ in a world that is hostile to him, because we stand with Christ against those who oppose the gospel, and because we are those who defend and advance the gospel.
Suffering for Christ is a privilege that is “granted” to us. We don’t usually think of suffering that way, do we? But according to Paul, we are not to consider suffering a burden but a privilege which has been granted to us by God because that’s what the Christian life entails - suffering opposition for the gospel of Christ, being willing to lay down our all for the truth, to affirm with Paul that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21).
When we live worthy of the gospel, we will suffer “for the sake of Christ.” We will suffer on behalf of Christ in the sense of taking his place as his representatives in the world. When we live as he lived - as a humble servant who was willing to give his life for those who opposed him - we will suffer just as he suffered. That’s how we enter into the fellowship of his sufferings (cf. 3:10). As he suffered, so we suffer with him and for him. His cause is our cause, his sufferings our sufferings (cf. Col. 1:24-25). As he was willing to sacrifice his own life for the benefit of others so we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others - to endure hardships so that others can hear the gospel, to experience ill health so that we can comfort others who similarly suffer, to mourn so that we can share in the grief of others, to sacrifice financially so that we can support others in their need.
This is a distinctly Christian privilege – the privilege of the cross - which is “granted” to us as a gift, Paul says. There is nothing we can do to earn it or merit it. It’s not something we would wish for ourselves but it is something that God has granted to us. So, we should not regard suffering as something to be avoided nor as necessarily the judgement of God on us, but as a privilege to be embraced for the cause of Christ.
We don’t usually think of suffering like that, do we? But that’s how the Christians in the persecuted countries of the world view it. How else could they endure it? They consider their suffering a privilege. It motivates them, unites them. Indeed, suffering is a cord that binds together all believers. Like the Philippians, it places us in the line of faith with the apostles and all Christians. Like them, we engage in the same struggle as Paul, “engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (1:30). Like him, the Christians in Philippi were striving against the adversaries of the gospel and like him they were suffering (cf. 1:7, 13). They had seen his suffering for the gospel when he was imprisoned in their city (Acts 16) and they had heard of his present imprisonment in Rome (Phil. 1:12-18).
Affliction is the natural result of walking worthy of the gospel, of defending and advancing the gospel of Christ, of standing firm and striving together for the faith of the gospel. Just as unity gives us courage against opposition to Christ, so unity gives us courage to sustain affliction for Christ. We’re not in this alone. Suffering has always been part and parcel of the Christian experience. Though each person’s struggle and suffering may be different, we all have to struggle in the Christian life. If we do not face struggles and suffering, perhaps that’s an indication that we are not “standing firm in one spirit with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
This, then, is what it means to walk worthy of the gospel. Remember our thesis: Gospel-driven people are Christians who consistently enhance the gospel in conduct and courage. We enhance the gospel when our conduct reflects our faith and when our courage overcomes our fear.
Is this an accurate portrait of us and our church? Do we enhance the gospel by the way we live? When people around us see our manner of life - how we use our money, spend our time, treat others; how we react when we’re ill treated, when things go wrong - when tragedies occur, when ill-health strikes, when life’s circumstances are hard, when they listen to what you say, how you speak about others, the kind of language you use.
Do they see the gospel enhanced and reflected in us? Do they know intuitively that we belong to Christ, that we serve the living and true God? Are they attracted to Christ through us? Is our conduct consistent with our faith? Do others see the very essence of the gospel so attractively and consistently portrayed in us that they say: “That’s what I need. That’s what I want!”
Do you steadfastly defend the gospel? Is your church united as one spirit as one soul standing shoulder-to-shoulder for the cause of Christ, striving together for the faith of the gospel? Is that the paramount concern of your church - to be epistles known and read by all people? Does your city know that your church is a gospel-driven church, a community of people on their way to heaven, united in your defense and proclamation of the gospel?
Do you display courage for Christ that overcomes your fear? Courage in the face of opposition for your faith. Courage in spite of adversity, ridicule, even persecution. Courage that stems from the conviction that God is sovereign in all circumstances. Courage that enables you to bear afflictions for Christ as a privilege and not a burden. That’s what a gospel-driven church is like. That’s what it is to walk worthy of the gospel
May our resolve be that we live together as a community of people whose conduct and courage points others to Christ.
Related Topics: Christian Life