5. How to Live Worthy of the GospelRelated Media
Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that—whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent—I should hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel, and by not being intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of their destruction, but of your salvation—a sign which is from God. For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him, since you are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face and now hear that I am facing. (Philippians 1:27-30, NET)
How can we live a life worthy of the gospel? How can we live a life that demonstrates its immense value?
In this text, Paul reminds the Philippian church of their responsibility to walk in a worthy manner. He says: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27, NET).
He said as recipients of the gospel—the good news of Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection for the sins of the world (1 Cor 15:2-4)—we have a responsibility to it. We are responsible to walk “worthy” of it.
John MacArthur said this about the Greek word for “worthy”:
Axios (worthy) has the root meaning of balancing the scales—what is on one side of the scale should be equal in weight to what is on the other side. By extension, the word came to be applied to anything that was expected to correspond to something else.1
Similarly, the root of the English word “worthy” is “worth”—the value of something, how much something costs, or, in this context, how much something really matters. We should walk in a way that demonstrates the extreme value, the extreme worth of the gospel in our lives. The implication of this exhortation is that some in the Philippian church were not walking worthily. In this context, Christians were being persecuted for the gospel. They were being tempted to compromise their beliefs and their lifestyle, and some had probably even fallen away.
Likewise, we also are always being tempted to walk in an unworthy manner by the world, our flesh, and the devil. However, we must always demonstrate the extreme worth of the gospel—the fact that Christ saved us from this world, sin, Satan, and death.
How do we walk in a manner worthy of the gospel? In this text Paul describes what it means to walk worthy of this gospel so that we can live in a manner that honors Christ and his sacrifice for us.
Big Question: What does it mean for a Christian to walk worthy of the gospel of Christ as seen in Philippians 1:27-30 and how can we practically live out this reality?
Christians Walk Worthy of the Gospel by Living as Citizens of Heaven
Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27, NET)
In order to walk worthy of the gospel, we must remember our citizenship is in heaven. John MacArthur’s comments about the word “conduct” are helpful. He said:
Politeuomai (conduct) is the main verb in verses 27–30, which in the Greek is a single sentence. It comes from the root word polis (city), which in earlier times usually referred to the city-states to which inhabitants gave their primary allegiance. The verb carries the basic meaning of being a citizen. But, by implication, it means being a good citizen, one whose conduct brings honor to the political body to whom one belongs.2
The New Living Translation translates verse 27 this way: “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.”
One of the ways that we walk worthy of the gospel is by making our aim and focus to reflect our citizenship in heaven. This would have resonated with the Philippian church. Philippi had earned the distinction of a Roman colony. It was considered a “little Rome.” When Rome was in power, it established many colonies outside of the city in order to protect Rome from barbarian invasions. In fact, it would grant veteran soldiers citizenship if they went out to settle these colonies. After years of faithful service, these colonies established by Rome eventually became Roman colonies—with all the rights and privileges of Rome.3
These colonies took great pride in their citizenship. They spoke the Latin language, wore Roman clothes, and their magistrates bore Roman titles. It didn’t matter how far the colony was from Rome; they lived as Romans. We see something of how important Roman citizenship was in Acts 22. Paul was in Jerusalem and his presence in the temple caused a great uproar. Therefore, he was taken into custody by the Roman guard. As they were about to flog him, Paul said, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen?” (v. 25). When the soldiers heard this, they were shocked, and no one would flog or question him. Great privileges and esteem came with being a citizen of Rome. Therefore, when Paul used the word “conduct,” it would have challenged the Philippians, as they were reminded of their greatly esteemed Roman citizenship. Paul was reminding them that their heavenly citizenship was even greater than Rome’s, and it came with greater privileges.
Likewise, we should take great honor in our heavenly citizenship. It was purchased at great price through our savior’s blood, and this reality should never leave our minds. As citizens of heaven we must have a new language, different clothing, and different attitudes. Paul essentially says, “Whatever happens in life, whatever you go through, always remember your citizenship. Always live as citizens of heaven.”
How do we daily reflect this citizenship?
Application Question: How do we live as citizens of heaven with new language, clothing, and character?
1. As citizens of heaven, we must change our thinking.
Romans 12:2 says,
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Paul says that one of the ways we stop conforming to the ways of this world is by changing our views. We must change our thinking on what it means to be a success in life. In Luke 22:26 Christ describes greatness as being the “youngest” or the one who serves. In the Jewish culture the youngest served everybody, and therefore age was desired so one would no longer have to serve. However, Christ confronted their understanding of greatness—their understanding of success. He said greatness in the kingdom of heaven is the opposite of the world. Greatness is in being last—it is in serving everybody. Christ said this was true greatness. Let your understanding and pursuit of success reflect your heavenly citizenship, not your earthly citizenship.
We must change our thinking on what it means to be a man or a woman. Often the world perverts things. Men walk around thinking they must conquer as many women as possible. Women walk around thinking that they must be perfect—“perfect skin” and “perfect bodies.” They must be “sexy” drawing the attraction and applause of men. This thinking does not reflect the ethos of heaven. God said, “Man looks at the outside but I look at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). Solomon’s mom said, “Beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov 31:30). Peter said this to Christian women:
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. (1 Peter 3:3-4)
Citizens of heaven are focused on the inward because this is the aspect that pleases God, not the outward.
We must change our thinking by constantly studying and thinking on the Word of God. The Word of God teaches us what a citizen of heaven should live and think like. Are you constantly transforming your thinking according to the Word of God? This is how a citizen of heaven should think.
2. Citizens of heaven must get rid of wrong character traits.
Consider what Paul said to the Colossians:
You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices (Colossians 3:7-9)
Being a citizen of heaven means continually taking off wrong thought patterns, wrong attitudes, and wrong actions in order to conform to our new citizenship. James said this: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
As citizens of heaven we must keep ourselves from the pollution of the world. We must daily get rid of character traits unfitting of our new citizenship.
3. Citizens of heaven must continual put on the right character traits.
Paul exhorted Timothy to not only flee evil desires but to pursue righteousness—to run after it. Listen to what he said in 2 Timothy 2:22: “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
Being a citizen of heaven does not mean that you are perfect, but it should mean that you are in pursuit of perfection. It means that it’s your daily desire to look like Christ. You are pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Can people tell that you are different? Can they tell that you talk differently, think differently, and have different goals in life? We must walk worthy of the gospel. The gospel has made us citizens of heaven, and we must live in a manner that represents that. We should constantly be changing our thinking and getting rid of wrong attitudes and sin in our life. We must pursue godly character as a citizen of heaven.
Christ purchased our heavenly citizenship, and it would be dishonoring to him and his gospel to live with disregard for it.
Application Question: What are some other ways in which citizens of heaven should think and act differently than the world? What characteristics of the world is God calling you to get rid of?
Christians Walk Worthy of the Gospel by Standing Firm
Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that—whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent—I should hear that you are standing firm in one spirit (Philippians 1:27, NET)
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by standing firm?
Paul says that one of the things that Christians should do in order to walk worthy of the gospel is to stand firm. But, what does it mean to stand firm?
Standing firm is war terminology. It is a picture of an army advancing against the gates of a kingdom and the soldiers standing firm fighting at the gates—not giving up any ground. This is the reality of the Christian life. Christians are always under attack both individually and as a community.
In the context of Philippians, the church was receiving persecution, much like Paul was. Paul, at this time, was in prison for preaching the gospel. Some Christians might have been tempted to fall away from the faith—to go back to their former life styles—instead of continuing to follow Christ amidst persecution. However, Paul called for them to “stand firm.”
This is not only true with persecution, but it is also true with the influence of the world system. The world system is always trying to conform Christians into its very image (Rom 12:2). It confronts Christians in the classroom, the work place, the media—through TV and music—in order to make Christians give up their ground.
Today we see the church being confronted with many issues. It is confronted on the issue of marriage. Scripture teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman, but many Christians have given up this belief in order to conform and show compassion for the world and their beliefs. Some have given up their beliefs because they realize this view could cost them opportunities. It could cost them a promotion or a friendship. Therefore, many Christians have chosen to not stand firm. The church is confronted with issues like abortion—the value of life. It is confronted constantly on exclusivity of the gospel. Christians are told that the gospel is too narrow—too bigoted. They are challenged to accept many ways to God—to be pluralistic.
Paul challenges this church and us to stand firm—to stand our ground in following God. Don’t retreat. Don’t turn away from God. Don’t turn away from the truths of Scripture. Don’t turn away from the exclusivity of the gospel.
But we should also realize our attacks are not just from the world, but they are also from Satan specifically. This is what Paul taught in Ephesians 6:11-12:
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Certainly, Satan’s attacks come against the church through the world, but they also come in many other ways. Sometimes his attacks come emotionally through spiritual depression. They come physically through sickness, sleeplessness, and weariness. They come through harassment and sometimes persecution. These attacks come to push a Christian away from the faith. Remember what Christ said to Peter when Satan asked to sift him like wheat. He said, “I have prayed for you that your faith would not fail” (Luke 22:32).
Christ prays for Peter’s faith because that was the very thing Satan was after. He wanted Peter’s faith. He wanted Peter to doubt God. He wanted Peter to ultimately turn away from Christ, and it is the same with us. Satan’s attacks come to make us leave the precious holy ground of our relationship with God. Many Christians have left the church. They no longer believe the Bible. They have accepted the liberalism of the world and turned fully away from God. This is the purpose of the enemy’s attacks, and therefore, Christians must stand their ground.
Interpretation Question: How can Christians stand their ground against the enemy?
1. Christians stand their ground by being unified.
Philippians 1:27, in the NIV, says, “I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.”
When Paul says “one spirit” and “one man,” it is clear he is calling this church to be unified. One of the ways that Satan turns people away from the faith is by division. He brings conflict and discord in a church in order to conquer it. We cannot fight this battle if we are walking in discord with our brother or sister. Like any good military general, Satan’s plan is “to divide and conquer.”
The Philippian church, though in many ways was a model church, it also had problems. In Philippians 4:2 two women were fighting. Since Paul mentions this in the letter, it must have been a serious situation that was probably causing the church to separate into factions. In chapter 3 some false teachers were teaching circumcision in the church. The enemy was very much involved in this church trying to divide it. However, while under attack, they needed to stay unified—walking in one spirit and as one man.
Paul said this in Ephesians 4:26-27: “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Paul realized that anger and unforgiveness in the church simply opened a door for the evil one to bring destruction. “Foothold” is war terminology. Anger and unforgiveness give Satan a strategic piece of property that he can attack from and potentially bring total devastation through. Christians stand their ground by being unified.
2. Christians stand their ground by being empowered by the Spirit of God.
Many commentators believe that when Paul says “one spirit,” he is actually referring to the Holy Spirit as in Ephesians 4:4—“There is one body, one Spirit.” In fact, the NIV 2011 version capitalizes the word “Spirit.” As you may know, in the New Testament the word “spirit” can either refer to the human spirit, spirits such as angels and demons, or the Holy Spirit. We have to look at the context to tell how the word is being used.
One of the reasons many believe this could be referring to the Holy Spirit is because of similar language Paul used elsewhere. Consider what Paul says in Philippians 4:1: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” He calls them to stand firm “in the Lord.” This could be synonymous with Philippians 1:27. Another support could be how Paul calls the Ephesian church to stand firm against spiritual warfare, not in their own power, but by putting on the full armor of God. He says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).
If the Philippians were going to stand their ground against the attacks of the evil one, it had to be in the Spirit’s power. We need supernatural power to not be conformed to this world. We need supernatural power if we are going to stay unified in the church. We need supernatural power to stand against the growing animosity and persecution coming from the world.
We gain this power by being filled with the Spirit of God on a daily basis as we live in worship, prayer, the Word of God, and fellowship with the saints (Ephesians 5:18). We, as branches, must abide in the Vine, Jesus Christ, to have his power flow through us (John 15:5).
If you are a person that is not daily being filled with the Spirit of God by prayer, time in God’s Word, and fellowship with the church, you are a Christian that will not stand. You will find anger, jealousy, lust, and selfish ambition ruling over you. You will find yourself slowly being drawn away from God and living more like the world. You can only fight this battle through the power of the Spirit of God.
If we as a church are going to stand our ground, we must fully depend upon God. This is why the early church was a praying church. When persecuted, they would throw prayer meetings as in Acts 4:23-42. After the apostles were threatened to no longer preach the Word of God, they called up the members of the church to pray, and God empowered them by the Spirit. Acts says this:
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:31-32)
This was the very thing that Paul challenged the Philippian church to do—to contend as “one man.” When the early church prayed, the text says they were filled with the Spirit, and they had “one heart and mind.” They needed the Spirit of God to stand as one against the attacks of the world, the devil, and the flesh, and we need the Spirit as well.
To be honest, as I look at the persecution the church is going through even in Western society, with homosexual marriage and the like, I cannot but feel it is a serious time to pray and fast. It is a time for the church to stand firm in the Spirit of God, because if we don’t, we will not be able to stand. There will be a great exodus and a great falling away. In this hour we must stand firm in the Holy Spirit. We must be a praying church, an abiding church—otherwise we cannot hope to stand. The time where complacent Christianity could survive is no more; we must be full of the Spirit, or we will not stand at all.
Furthermore, as we look at the church today in comparison to the early church, we can easily tell why the church is no longer advancing. While the early church was dependent upon prayer and the Holy Spirit, we are dependent on programs, entertainment, and business principles instead of the power of the Spirit of God. Paul said the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for casting down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). Our weapons are not secular—they do not come from secular wisdom. Our weapons are the weapons of God himself.
If we are going to stand as a church in this increasingly dark age, we must be unified in truth, and we must be filled with the Spirit of God. We need his power to stand.
Application Question: Do you agree that much of the contemporary church relies on secular wisdom and tactics instead of the power of God to stand and therefore is giving up much ground to the enemy? If so, in what ways do we see this happening? How can the church again begin to be filled with the Spirit and the power of God in order to stand?
Christians Walk Worthy of the Gospel by Working as a Team
Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that—whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent—I should hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27, NET)
The word “contending” can also be translated “striving together.” It comes from the Greek word “sunathleo” from which we get the word “athlete.”4 Paul commonly used athletic illustrations in his preaching and teaching (cf. 1 Corinthian 9:24, Ephesians 6:12, 1 Timothy 4:7, 2 Timothy 2:5), and here he calls for them to work together as an athletic team for the faith of the gospel.
Interpretation Question: What does “faith of the gospel” refer to?
“The faith of the gospel” is somewhat ambiguous. It could refer to faith as in trusting the gospel. It could refer to faith as in the doctrines in the gospel—the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Or it could refer to the “faith” as in everything the Bible teaches like in Jude 1:3. Jude says, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” There is sense in which we as a church need to contend for all these aspects of the gospel because they are all under attack.
In the early church there were many attacks on the faith, just as there are today. In the church of Colosse a cult was attacking the deity of Christ. That is why Paul taught that “all things were created by him and for him” (Col 1:16) and that Christ was the very “image of the invisible God” (v. 15). In the Corinthian church some were teaching that there was no resurrection at all (1 Cor 15). In the Galatian church some were teaching salvation by works (Gal 1:6-9). Cults were attacking the foundation of the gospel.
It’s the same today. We have the attacks of salvation by works—some teach salvation comes by faith plus works. We have attacks on the exclusivity of the gospel—some teach that Christ is just one way to salvation or that all will ultimately be saved. Some have attacked the very need for salvation by saying there ultimately is no judgment at all—there is no such thing as hell. Many attack the foundation of the gospel primarily by attacking the reliability of the Word of God. They declare it not true, that it can’t be trusted, and it is full errors. This was the very first attack of Satan on Adam and Eve. He said, “Did God really say that man could not eat of any tree in the garden?” He wanted them to doubt the Word of God. In the same way, liberalism is attacking the foundation of the gospel in churches throughout the world. If the enemy can get us to doubt the Word of God, then soon we will doubt the gospel itself.
The enemy also attacks the gospel by bringing persecution. If you share that you are a Christian or your belief in the teachings of the faith, you will be attacked—left out when it comes time for promotion and mocked by friends. Satan works hard through shame and fear of retaliation to keep believers from sharing their faith. As in the early church, there is still a need to contend for the faith of the gospel. Are you willing to contend for it? Are you willing to work together as a team to do so?
Application Question: How can we contend for the faith of the gospel like an athletic team?
1. Christians contend for the faith like a team by developing chemistry as each person does his part.
No team can excel unless each person fulfills his role. This includes praying, giving, encouraging one another, and using our spiritual gifts. Every person must do his part in order for a team to be successful.
One of the reasons the gospel doesn’t spread is because much of the church is not willing to work together. When Christ sent the disciples out to share the gospel, he sent them out in twos in Mark 6. When the Holy Spirit called Barnabas and Paul to missions, he didn’t call them to go separately. He called them to go as a team in Acts 13. The gospel advances as we work together—each person doing his part.
We see this need for team work clearly in the life of Paul. While Paul was in prison, he constantly asked for prayer for open doors and for the Word of God to be spoken clearly and boldly through him. Look at what he said to the Colossians:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Colossians 4:2-4)
Paul knew that if the gospel was going to advance, it would only happen with a team effort. He could not do it on his own. He needed the support of the church. Jesus said this in his prayer before going to the cross: “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” (John 17:23).
The church must be brought to complete unity in order for the work of the gospel to prosper. This is not just referring to the local church but churches throughout the world working together. Instead of competing, they must pray together, put their resources together, and support one another so that the world will know that God sent the Son.
2. Christians contend for the faith like a team by playing holy defense as they guard the gospel.
One of the ways that Christians contend for the faith of the gospel is by guarding it. Look at what Paul said to Timothy:
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Timothy 1:13-14)
How did Paul guard the faith—the teachings of the gospel? (1) He did it by teaching it to others. He passed down the pattern of sound teaching to Timothy, and he commanded Timothy to do the same (2 Tim 2:2). We are only a generation away from losing the deposit that was handed down to us from our parents and our teachers.
We saw this in the book of Judges right after Israel took over the land of Canaan. A generation arose that did not know God or what he had done for Israel (2:10). There arose a generation that no longer knew God’s Word or obeyed his commands. Israel then went into one of the most corrupt seasons of its history. The deposit had not been guarded. It had not been faithfully passed down.
We not only guard the faith of the gospel by teaching it but also (2) by confronting false doctrine. It’s not something we like to do, but it’s something that must be done if we are going to keep the faith from decay. Listen to what Paul told Titus the job of an elder was: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9).
Many of the New Testament epistles are written for this very purpose. Paul confronted those corrupting the gospel in Galatia, Corinth, and Colosse. John in his epistle confronted the attack on the gospel by the Gnostics. The writer of Hebrews confronted the attacks on the gospel by people who taught the law. In confronting these false doctrines the apostles sometimes were very harsh. Paul said anybody who taught a new gospel should be accursed—eternally condemned (Galatians 1:8-9). The apostles handed false teachers over to Satan by kicking them out of the church (1 Timothy 1:20). They warned the sheep by naming names (1 Tim 1:20, Phil 3:2, 2 John 1:9). All this may be a bit uncomfortable, but at times it is necessary. The gospel must be guarded like a team playing defense.
3. Christians contend for the faith like a team by playing holy offense as they spread the gospel.
Listen to what Paul told Timothy: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).
No team can win games with only defense; there is a need to play offense. Sometimes I think the church is only playing defense, only trying to not give up ground and because of this, we are losing. There is a need to be offensive. As Timothy, we often need reminders to do the work of an evangelist as well. We must share the faith with others. We must be strategic with missions locally, and we must be strategic with missions abroad. As a team we must work together to spread the gospel.
Application Question: What are some attitudes that will hinder the team work of Christians?
- Christians must be careful of selfish ambition.
Anybody that has played in sports knows that one thing that makes a team ineffective is selfish individuals who are seeking all the glory. In basketball we call this person a “ball-hog.” Individualism destroys teamwork. This is also true of individuals who want to be first in the church. They want to be seen. They always want to get their way, and they get mad when others don’t listen to or honor them. John described a person like that in his third epistle. He said,
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church (3 John 1:9-10)
There was a man in the church who loved to be first. He was causing division and gossiping against the apostolic leadership. He was selfish. He wanted his way, and it was hurting the team and therefore the mission of the church. I have seen people leave a church because they weren’t selected to be an elder or a deacon. Successful teams have individuals that don’t care who gets the glory. They don’t need to be seen as long as the team is successful.
Are you comfortable with never being acknowledged for your contributions?
- Christians must be careful of laziness.
One aspect that always destroys a team is when some members are lazy. It destroys the synergy of a team when one person is not doing his part. Paul said this: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11).
Zeal is contagious. One person on fire can get a whole team on fire. In the same way, one person who is lazy, lethargic, and lacking energy can zap the zeal of the team. We must keep ourselves zealous for the work of God in order to faithfully contend for the gospel.
Are you still zealous for God’s work?
- Christians must be careful of complaining.
Words are very powerful. Solomon said the power of life and death is in the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). Words can either build up or destroy. This is especially true on a team. A team that is always giving positive affirmation can work wonders.
I remember being an assistant coach for a women’s college basketball team, and we practiced something called “props.” After every practice and game, we got in a circle and each member of the team said something positive about another and then we would clap. Also, in practice or a game if some of the players were not playing, they were required to clap and give praise to those playing. The encouragement became contagious, and if it wasn’t initially genuine, it became genuine. I loved coaching that team. However, I have also been around teams where bitterness and complaining took over and destroyed the community. Look at what the writer of Hebrews said: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).
With Israel, the complainers stirred up a rebellion against Moses and God. Complaining can destroy a good work. It seems this complaining spirit had entered the Philippian church because in 2:14 Paul said, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”
Are you a complainer or a bitter person? The remedy for complaining is to choose to always give thanks in everything (1 Thess 5:18) and also to let no corrupt communication come out of your mouth but only what edifies others (Eph 4:29). Are you constantly building others up with your words?
Application Questions: How have you seen these types of attitudes negatively affect a church, a workplace, or a family? How is God challenging you to get rid of certain attitudes and to develop others in order to better contend as a team for the gospel?
Christians Walk Worthy of the Gospel by Being Confident in the Face of Opposition
and by not being intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of their destruction, but of your salvation—a sign which is from God. For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him, since you are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face and now hear that I am facing. (Philippians 1:28-30, NET)
One of the ways that we walk worthy of the gospel is by living confidently in the face of opposition without fear. The word Paul used for “frightened” was a word used of horses being startled and beginning a stampede.5 As mentioned previously, it is clear that the Philippians were receiving persecution for their faith, as were other Christians throughout the Roman Empire. Paul calls them to not panic, be shocked, or flee from the opposition.
Paul taught his disciple Timothy that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:15). Jesus similarly said this to all who would follow him: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). We could quote Scripture after Scripture that teaches that persecution will be the lot of believers in this life.
At this period of time Nero was on the throne in Rome setting Christians on fire to light his garden or placing animal flesh on them before sending dogs after them. Today, statistics say around 400 Christians die for the faith every day. However, in some nations, specifically western nations, the persecution is not that overt. This persecution may show up in being considered strange, not being promoted, being hated or ridiculed because of our values. This should not startle Christians at all. Peter said this: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
A Christian that is surprised or frightened at this might be tempted to compromise his values and beliefs to conform to the world. He might be inclined to get mad at God or fall away from him altogether. The gospel message that is often taught in churches today is that following God will make everything better. Following Christ will make you wealthy and healthy. By overtly teaching this or implying it, we leave Christians unprepared for the reality of following Christ. And like the soil on shallow ground, we raise up Christians with shallow commitment to Christ. Therefore, when persecution comes, they fall away. Jesus said:
The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. (Matthew 13:20-21)
I personally believe the “prosperity gospel” is severely weakening the church and as persecution comes we are going to see a stampede of Christians falling away from the faith. Paul said don’t be frightened or shocked at those who oppose you for your faith and commitment to Christ. We walk worthy of the gospel by living confidently in the face of persecution.
Observation Question: What are the reasons that Paul gives for being confident in the face of opposition?
and by not being intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of their destruction, but of your salvation—a sign which is from God. For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him, since you are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face and now hear that I am facing. (Philippians 1:28-30, NET)
1. Christians should be confident in the face of opposition because it is a witness to the world.
Philippians 1:28 says, “This is a sign of their destruction, but of your salvation—a sign which is from God” (NET).
By watching the response of Christians during persecution—their boldness, their willingness to suffer for Christ without fear—many unbelievers will be convinced of their coming destruction and the salvation of believers. One ancient observer said this about Christian martyrs: “They die so well.” When Christians are bold for Christ, it is a challenging witness to the world. Moreover, when Christians compromise their faith in the face of opposition or simply worldliness, it pushes people away from Christ. No doubt the world thinks, “If it’s not worth suffering for, it must not be real.” They think, “If she claims to be a Christian and yet lives just like everybody else, the gospel must not be true.” When Christians are confident in the face of persecution, it is a witness to the world.
2. Christians should be confident in the face of opposition because it is a blessing.
Paul says, “For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him” (v. 29, NET). “The word ‘granted’ can literally be translated ‘graced.’ It means ‘to give freely or graciously as a favor.’”6 Paul taught that persecution was a work of God’s grace.
Interpretation Question: Why should persecution be considered a work of grace?
- Persecution is a work of grace because it confirms our salvation.
Not only does it confirm our salvation to those who persecute us, but it confirms it to us as well. Jesus taught that persecution for righteousness was the stamp—the gold seal—on those who were part of the kingdom of heaven. Consider what he said in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
Christ said that those who are persecuted for righteousness, and those alone, are part of the kingdom of heaven. It’s a proof of salvation. The Beatitudes give the characteristics of those who are part of the kingdom of heaven, and persecution is the gold seal. If we are without any form of persecution, then we may not be part of the kingdom of heaven. God uses persecution for righteousness to confirm our salvation.
- Persecution is a work of grace because it will be richly rewarded by God.
Jesus gave this promise to those who were persecuted for righteousness right after the last Beatitude. He said,
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
God will richly reward all those who are persecuted for righteousness. In the book of James he promises that they will receive the crown of life (James 1:12). In Revelation 2:10 Christ promises the same to those who are about to be imprisoned for their faith. All that is suffered for the name of Christ and for the sake of righteousness will not be forgotten by God—it will be abundantly rewarded.
- Persecution is a work of grace because it leads to the development of godly virtues.
Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
It says perseverance—the bearing up under of difficult things—creates character. Dealing with difficult people helps us develop patience. It stretches our love. It helps us depend on God more. Character leads us to hope. Sufferings in life help us hope more in God and not be so focused on the temporary things in this world. Certainly, we see this with believers who have been laid up in the hospital for months with a terminal disease. All of a sudden they can’t wait to go to heaven. Their hope is fully resting on being with God. Not only persecution for the faith but also trials in general are a grace from God. They lead us to develop godly virtues and to hope in God. Let us consider John Calvin’s wise and challenging words about persecution:
Oh, if this conviction were fixed in our minds, that persecutions are to be reckoned among God’s benefits, what progress would be made in the doctrine of godliness! And yet, what is more certain than that it is the highest honour of the Divine grace, that we suffer for His name either reproach, or imprisonment, or miseries, or tortures, or even death, for in that case He decorates us with His insignia. But more will be found who will order God and His gifts to be gone, rather than embrace the cross readily when it is offered to them. Woe, then, to our stupidity!7
We should not be intimidated by persecution because it is a gift of God’s grace. For what other reasons does Paul say we should not be frightened?
3. Christians should be confident in the face of opposition because other believers are also suffering throughout the world.
Philippians 1:29-30 says this: “For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him, since you are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face and now hear that I am facing” (NET).
While Paul was in Philippi in Acts 16, he was stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison for his ministry. The Philippians had witnessed his struggles for the faith, and they partnered with him while he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul encourages them with the fact that their struggles were also his.
Similarly, Peter encouraged the Christians scattered and suffering in Rome. He said,
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:8-9)
One of the most common attacks of the enemy is to make us feel isolated—to make us feel like nobody else is going through the same sufferings as us. But Scripture says the trials and difficulties we go through are common to man (1 Cor 10:13). And therefore, we should be encouraged and emboldened, especially in the face of opposition. Other godly people are suffering the same things all throughout the world. We don’t have to feel alone or isolated.
It is common for people to think that God made a mistake or is angry when they are going through suffering or persecution for the faith. However, persecution for the faith is actually a gift of God’s favor. We shouldn’t run or retreat from it (cf. James 1:4) but allow it to complete its sanctifying work in our lives. It is a proof of our salvation, and it brings great reward in heaven. Let us rejoice in it if God so graciously allows us to suffer for his name (cf. Matt 5:12).
Application Question: Do you feel that persecution for Christians is increasing? If so, in what ways? In what ways have you received persecution for the faith?
How do we walk worthy of the gospel of Christ?
- Christians Walk Worthy of the Gospel by Living as Citizens of Heaven
- Christians Walk Worthy of the Gospel by Standing Firm
- Christians Walk Worthy of the Gospel by Working as a Team
- Christians Walk Worthy of the Gospel by Being Confident in the Face of Opposition
1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 119). Chicago: Moody Press.
2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 84). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Philippians
4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 91). Chicago: Moody Press.
5 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 68). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
6 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 69). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
7 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 70). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Related Topics: Christian Life