Gospel Citizenship | Philippians 1:27-30
Brian Hedges | May 24, 2020
We are continuing our study through Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and I want to invite you to turn in your Bibles to Philippians 1. We’re going to be in the final paragraph of chapter 1, verses 27-30.
A number of years ago, I read through a collection of writings from the early church, the apostolic fathers; so these were the writings of people such as Ignatius and Clement and Polycarp. One of the striking things in this collection of letters that were written sometime within that second century of the church was the joy that these believers expressed in the face of intense suffering, and even martyrdom.
For example, Ignatius said that his chains were “a collar of spiritual pearls” to him, in his letter to the Ephesians. In his letter to the Romans he very memorably said, “I am his wheat, ground fine by the lion’s teeth to be made purest bread for Christ.” It seemed as if he looked towards his impending death, that he gloried in the possibility of being a martyr for Christ and sealing his witness for Christ with his own blood.
It strikes us as almost strange to read words like that today, because we’re not accustomed to suffering for Christ. But we have to remember when we read a letter like the letter to the Philippians that Paul was writing in chains, he was writing as a prisoner of Jesus Christ. He was bound in chains, and he was writing to a group of believers who were facing threats to their faith. They were facing opposition. He wants them to stand firm in their faith and to continue steadfast in the gospel.
That’s what the paragraph we’re looking at this morning is all about. Philippians 1:27-30. Let me read this text, and then we’ll just see the main idea, the main command that Paul gives, and then dig into how we live out this command. Philippians 1, beginning in verse 27.
Paul says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 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, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
This is God’s word.
The first thing I want you to see, before I give you an outline for the sermon, is the main command, and it really is the central command for this paragraph but also for this letter. In fact, this is the first command that Paul gives in the entire letter to the Philippians. It’s the first imperative verb, and you see it in verse 27 when he says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” He wants us to live worthy lives.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that “in a sense, the whole of the New Testament appeal for conduct and behavior is in that phrase.” In other words, all Christian living can be summarized in this one command, “Live lives that are worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Notice that Paul begins it with an emphatic word “only.” He says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel.” Alec Motyer says, “The force of the word ‘only’ is tremendous, as if Paul had said, ‘This one thing and this only.’ Nothing else must distract or excuse them from this great objective. It must be their all-embracing occupation.” This one thing is necessary, Paul says: Live lives that are worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Now, we have to understand what Paul doesn’t mean and what he does mean when he says to live worthy lives. He doesn’t mean that we are to try to merit grace from God, that we should try to earn anything. It’s not living lives that are worthy in that sense. It’s not that we could be worthy of God’s grace by living good enough lives that we would deserve it. That’s not at all Paul’s meaning.
He means, rather, live in a way that is fitting. That word “worthy” carries the idea of that which fits, that which is appropriate. It’s to live lives that fit with the gospel, that are consistent with the gospel.
You might just think about clothing and how there are certain kinds of clothing that are appropriate and fitting in certain kinds of contexts that would be utterly unfitting in another context. For example, you wouldn’t go to the beach wearing military uniform or dressed in army fatigues and wearing army boots, combat boots. It would be inappropriate attire for a day at the beach. On the other hand, you wouldn’t want to march into battle wearing your swimsuit! You’d be completely unprepared, unarmed, and not clad appropriately for the context in which you’re going to be. There’s appropriate attire for different situations.
Paul is thinking in that kind of way, that we are live our lives in a way that is appropriate, that is fitting to the gospel. I love the way Isaac Watts put it in one of his old hymns. He says,
“So let our lips and lives express
The holy gospel we profess;
So let our walk and virtues shine
To prove the doctrine all divine.”
That’s the idea. Let your walk match your talk. Live a life that fits the gospel that you say you believe. Live lives that are worthy of the gospel.
Now, there’s one other shade of meaning in this phrase, “Only let your manner of life be worthy…” This is actually a Greek word, “let your manner of life be worthy.” It’s one Greek word, and it’s a word that carries the idea of living as a citizen.
In fact, the Greek word, right at the very root of this word is the Greek word polis, or city. So this is a verb that means to live as a citizen of a city, and we have to remember that in the ancient world, cities were generally self-governing entities. People would live as citizens of this city-state, and each city would have its customs, it would have its worship, it would have its appropriate conduct, it would have its civic duties. It was a great source of honor for someone to live as a citizen of their city.
This was especially true for Philippi, because Philippi, though it was a Grecian city in Macedonia, it was also a Roman colony. So the Philippians, as citizens of Rome, were frequently thinking about what it meant to live under Roman rule and to live under the patronage of Rome, to live as citizens of Rome, as a colony of Rome. No doubt they were familiar with that kind of language, and Paul uses that language to remind them that they are citizens of a different kingdom, and he tells them that they are to live as citizens of Christ’s kingdom. In fact, he uses the noun form of this word in chapter 3:20 when he says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In other words, what Paul is saying here is, “Brothers and sisters, you are a colony of Christ’s kingdom; now live as citizens of his kingdom, and live in a manner that is worthy of the gospel,” which we might think of as the charter for this kingdom, for this new city that Christ is bringing.
That’s the basic command: Live a life that is worthy of the gospel, that fits the gospel, and live as a citizen of the kingdom of Christ. The question is, how do we do that? The passage shows us three very crucial ways in which we do this, three things that are essential to living as gospel citizens and citizens of the kingdom of Christ.
Let me give these to you in just three words, and then as I expound it I’ll give it to you in a phrase to go along with that word. The three words are: conviction, unity, and courage. Those are the three things that are absolutely essential if we are to live as citizens of this kingdom: conviction, unity, and courage. We’ll see these three things in Paul’s language as we work through the passage.
1. Conviction: Standing Firm in One Spirit
Here’s the first thing, conviction, and you see it in verse 27, the second half, when he says, “...so that whether I come and see you or am absent I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit.” Underline that phrase, “standing firm in one spirit.” That’s where I’m drawing the idea of conviction.
This phrase “stand firm” comes from a military word that means to hold one’s ground; it means to hold fast. This is a word that Paul loves, and he uses it often. In 1 Corinthians 16:13 he says, “Be watchful. Stand firm in the faith. Act like men. Be strong.” It’s a rousing call to hold fast to the gospel, to stand firm in the gospel.
He uses this word again in the letter to the Philippians, in chapter 4:1, when he says, “Therefore my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, [therefore] stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” So it’s a call to hold onto the gospel, it’s a call to express our conviction that the gospel is true by holding fast our ground, by standing firm in it.
You might think as an illustration of the famous battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. You’ve probably either read about this or seen a movie about this. This was when King Leonidas and the Spartans fought off Xerxes and the Persian army, 300 men that stood off this entire army for three days. All but one of the men died. They were holding fast their ground.
Or, to use a more contemporary illustration (at least an illustration familiar in our history), you might think of the Alamo. “Remember the Alamo,” when you had just a small band of men in this little mission down in San Antonio, Texas, and they were holding off the armies of Santa Ana, the Mexican army, as they were fighting for the independence of Texas. For 13 days they battled, even though they were sure to die in the end.
That’s the idea here. It’s to stand firm, it’s to hold fast, to hold one’s ground. Notice that Paul says, “Stand firm in one spirit.” In fact, I think most versions have a lowercase s, but I think that should be a capital S, and that what Paul is saying is, “Stand firm in the Holy Spirit. Stand firm in God’s Spirit.”
Just a few verses before, in chapter 1:19, Paul talks about how he is helped by the prayers of the Philippians and through the Spirit of Christ. And in the next verse, chapter 2:1, he says, “If there is any participating in the Spirit,” he wants them to be united, to be one.
I think he’s talking here about the Holy Spirit, and it shows us that the way in which we stand firm in the gospel is through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the one, in other words, who empowers our witness, who fortifies us to stand firm in the gospel, who enables us to hold fast to the truth. We guard the gospel through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. It’s when we walk in the Spirit, when we live in the power of the Spirit, when we share Christ in the power of the Spirit, when we are filled with the Spirit; that’s how we stand firm in the gospel, that’s where this conviction comes from. The Holy Spirit’s the one who produces this conviction in our hearts, and he is the one who maintains it in our lives.
I’ll tell you, brothers and sisters, one of my great concerns for the church in our day is the rate of defection and attrition, where you have people who once professed the name of Christ, and then they backslide, they fall away. They leave the church, they leave the faith, they have these “deconversions,” as they are called now.
Well, it’s always been the case. Even Paul talked about Demas, who once had walked with him, but in love with this present world he forsook him. Even Jesus had Judas. It’s always been the case that there have been some who profess the name of Christ, and then they fall away.
But Paul doesn’t want that, I don’t want that. We don’t want that in our lives. We want to stand firm, we want to hold fast to the gospel hold fast to our profession of the gospel, and the only way we can do that is through day-by-day dependence on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the one who empowers us to stand firm. We stand firm in the Spirit; that’s conviction. That’s the first way in which we live lives that are worthy of the gospel. That’s how we live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, standing firm in the Spirit, through conviction holding onto the gospel.
2. Unity: Striving Together for the Faith
Here’s the second thing: unity. You see this in verse 27, the very end of the verse. Paul says, “...with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. You see the idea of unity in the phrase “one mind” as well as in the phrase “side by side.” He wants them to strive side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel. We demonstrate lives that are fitting with the gospel and we live as citizens of Christ’s kingdom when we stand firm in the Spirit and when we strive together for the faith. Both conviction and unity.
The language here shifts to more athletic imagery. If the idea of standing firm is military imagery, the idea of striving side by side is athletic imagery. In fact, the word is synathleo (συναυθλεω), and you can hear the root of our word “athletics” in that word. It has the prefix syn-, which essentially means “with.” That’s the idea of striving with or striving side by side; it means to struggle together, to contend together, or to compete together.
You might think of an athletic team, a sports team, where you have the various members of the team, and they have to compete not only to the best of their ability, but they also have to learn to work together as a unity, so that together they are playing their very best possible game.
Notice that Paul says here, “...striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” That phrase probably either means the response of faith that the gospel produces, or better yet, probably the objective body of faith, the body of truth, the faith, which is another name for the gospel; the faith of the gospel. You remember how Jude in his letter talks about contending for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. That’s what Paul wants the Philippians to do. That’s what we are called to do. We are called to strive together, side by side, with one mind, with unity of mind and heart, and we do it for the gospel.
One of the things this means for us is that we have to learn to be ruthless, absolutely ruthless, in setting aside differences that would keep us from unifying together around the gospel. The gospel is where we find our unity. We don’t find our unity in other things, in secondary things or in third-level, fourth-level things. We don’t find it in having the same demographic, being from the same subset of culture. In other words, our unity is to be primary and a priority over everything else. We don’t let race, we don’t let politics, we don’t let age or gender or preferences for worship or our personalities or differing hobbies and interests, we don’t let those things divide us; instead, we unite, and we unite in the gospel. With one mind we strive side by side for the faith of the gospel.
One of my favorite movies (many of you have seen this) is the film Remember the Titans. It’s a story about a football team; it’s based on a true story, and it’s about the racially integrated T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia in 1971. It was one of the first schools where blacks and whites were integrated into one school.
There’s an African-American football coach, brilliantly played by Denzel Washington; the coach’s name was Herman Boone, and he leads this integrated school to a AAA state football championship in 1971. But they don’t begin unified; there’s great division on the team, and it’s a racial division. It’s only when he takes them to training and he walks these students, these players, out on the fields of Gettysburg that they begin to set aside their differences, their prejudices, they begin to forge real friendships, and then they begin to work together as a team.
Something like that has to happen in every church. Every church that’s made up of these different backgrounds, people from different backgrounds and with ideas, and sometimes with different politics or with different perspectives on the world, coming from different socio-economic levels in society, different races, often, I think, coming even from different branches of the Christian church; and yet we come together in one church, we come together in a local church, and we have to put all those other things aside, and we find our unity in the gospel, so that we are working together as a team, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
That’s one of the ways in which we live as gospel citizens. We remember that we all serve under the same banner, the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is our charter. This is what sets the rhythm and the pace for us in our Christian lives. We unite in the gospel, the message of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and raised from the dead. Finding our unity there, we demonstrate our citizenship.
3. Courage: Suffering for the Sake of Christ
We’ve looked at two things so far: our conviction (that’s standing firm in the Spirit), unity (that’s striving together for the faith), and here’s the third thing: courage, or suffering with courage for the sake of Christ. You see this in verse 28—really, verses 28-30. I’ll just begin in verse 28. Paul says, “...and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
He’s saying, “I want you to let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ as you stand firm in one spirit and as you strive side by side with one mind, you strive side by side for the faith of the gospel; and as you are not frightened, as you’re not scared.” The word “frightened” is a word that was used in ancient Greek writings to describe a horse that was startled in battle. Paul is saying, “I don’t want you to be startled, I don’t want you to be frightened, I don’t want you to be surprised in anything by your opponents.”
It shows us right here, right off the bat, that there is opposition. There’s opposition to the gospel. There’s opposition to the church, there’s opposition to Christ. In fact, Paul describes this opposition in more detail in chapter 3:18-19 when he says, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
I think it would be true to say that throughout the history of the church, no matter what time you look into, no matter what time we now find ourselves in, there always have been and there always will be enemies to the cross of Christ, opponents to the gospel, adversaries to the church. Paul is saying, “Don’t be frightened. Don’t be scared. Recognize that suffering’s going to come, but suffer with courage.”
This, again, is how we live as citizens: not only with conviction, not only with unity, but with courage. Courage, because we remember that we belong to another kingdom, that we’re citizens of another kingdom.
I love the great illustrations of courage in the Christian church. One of the most stellar examples is Jan Huss, who was a forerunner, really, to the Protestant Reformation. He was about 100 years before Luther, born in 1369, and he was burned at the stake in 1415 because he was promoting evangelical doctrine and the Roman Catholic church was stamping it out. About two weeks before he died, he wrote these words on his prison wall: “Oh most holy Christ, give me a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, a perfect love, that for thy sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy. Amen.” He did it. He did not shrink from the flames when death came.
Very few of us are likely to be burned at the stake for our faith; nevertheless, if we live faithfully in the world, if we are steadfast in our confession of Christ and holding out the gospel and holding onto the truth, opposition’s going to come. Criticism’s going to come. At times, suffering will come. We need courage in order to face it.
At the end of verse 28 we see that when we suffer this way, with courage, it’s a sign. Notice how Paul says this. He says, “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” In other words, it’s a double sign. He’s saying that “when you suffer courageously, when you are not frightened by your opponents, it’s a sign of something. It’s a sign of their destruction, and it’s a sign of your salvation.”
We’ve already seen in Philippians 3:19 that Paul says that the end of the enemies of the cross of Christ, “their end is destruction.” The word “destruction” there means to be wasted, it means to be ruined, it means to perish.
Have you ever had an object that you used in a way that it was never intended for and you absolutely ruined the object? You might think of putting diesel into a gas-burning engine, or something like that. Absolutely ruined the engine. Well, what Paul says here is that those people who are enemies of the cross, those who have made themselves enemies of God, those who refuse the mercy of God given in the gospel, their end is destruction; they’re ruined. They’re wasted. Their lives are ruined. They perish.
John Blanchard has said of hell that “hell is God’s cosmic rubbish dump, and all who go there become the garbage of the universe, wasted and worthless.” It’s the tragedy of a life that rejects God. What Paul is saying here is that when you suffer courageously, it is a sign to the opponents of the gospel that their end is destruction. But he says it’s a double sign; it’s a sign of their destruction, but it’s a sign of your salvation, salvation that is from God.
Alec Motyer says, “Salvation sums up all the blessings that are ours in the plan of God, through the cross of Christ, and by the agency of his Spirit.” I think Paul here is looking forward to that day of future and final salvation when Jesus comes again and when our salvation is consummated, it’s completed, and we are fully and finally redeemed.
It’s the comfort of that, it’s the knowledge of that, it’s the assurance of that that sustains us when we’re in the midst of suffering. In fact, Paul is saying here that your courage in suffering is a sign of your future salvation.
Do you remember those wonderful words that we sometimes sing?
“Soul, then know thy full salvation;
Rise o’er sin, and fear, and care;
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
Think what Father’s smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to win thee;
Child of heaven, canst thou repine?”
We find our strength to suffer in knowing that when we suffer courageously it’s a sign of salvation, it’s a sign that future deliverance is coming.
Then there’s one more thing to say about this courage in suffering, in verses 29-30, and it’s simply this, that this kind of courage and the suffering itself is a gift. This is what you might call the grace of courage, the grace of suffering.
Notice verse 29. Paul says, “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.” What an amazing thing to say. He says, “It has been granted to you…” The word “granted” there is the Greek word charizomai (χαρίζομαι). You might recognize at the root the word charis (χαρις), which is the Greek word for “grace.” It means that “it has been graciously given to you not only to believe…”
Now, we sometimes take that for granted. That’s assumed in Scripture over and over again. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” It’s been given to you to believe. God gives everything in salvation: the grace by which you are saved, the salvation itself, and the faith by which you receive salvation. All of those are the gift of God. The reason we are Christians is because of God’s gift of salvation and his gift of faith. But Paul is saying here, “It has been given to you not only to believe, it’s also been given to you to suffer. It’s been granted to you to suffer for his sake.”
Do you remember in Acts 5 when those first apostles were beaten after bearing witness to Christ? They’re beaten in Jerusalem (Acts 5:41), and it says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” That’s part of what it means to live as a citizen of this kingdom. It means a willingness to embrace suffering for the sake of Christ, to face it with courage, to rejoice, even. We suffer dishonor for his name.
This is part of Paul’s ambition. I’ve quoted it many times in this series already, Philippians 3:10, where Paul says, “...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.”
Then in verse 30 Paul says another thing about this suffering. He says, “It has been granted to you...to suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” He’s reminding them that they saw him suffer. He himself had been beaten and imprisoned when he first went to Philippi, recorded for us in Acts 16. Now they hear that he is still suffering as he’s writing from prison in Rome.
He’s saying when you suffer for Christ you are engaged in the same conflict. Once again, the word “conflict” here is an important word. It’s a word that means the arena. It means the competition. It’s the place where a competition would be engaged in.
For example, in Hebrews 12:1 (we know these words well), “Let us run with endurance the race set before us…” That word “race” is this word, the word agon (αγων). Or in 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul tells Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith.” The word “fight” is this word. Or 2 Timothy 4:7; Paul’s at the end of his life, and he says, “I have fought the good fight.” The word “fight” is this word.
So here he is saying that when you suffer for Christ, you are engaged in the same fight, in the same competition, you are running in the same race, you are facing the same conflict “that you saw that I had and now hear that I still have.”
Let’s summarize what we’ve seen. We’ve seen that there are three ways in which we express our citizenship as citizens of the kingdom of Christ, three ways in which we live lives that are worthy of the gospel, that is, lives that fit the gospel. We do it through conviction as we stand firm in one Spirit, we do it through unity as we with one mind strive side by side for the faith of the gospel, and we do it with courage as we are not frightened by the possibility of persecution or even death. We’re not frightened by our opponents, but instead, we see that it’s a grace, it’s a gift, that God gives grace for those who suffer, and he gives suffering itself as a way to glorify him, and he sustains us in that suffering. That suffering is a sign of our coming salvation. This is how we live lives that are worthy of the gospel.
Brothers and sisters, it all begins with the conviction. It begins with a conviction that the gospel is true; the conviction that Christ is precious, that he is valuable; with Paul’s conviction that we looked at last week that to live is Christ and to die is gain. You know, when you read the stories of the martyrs and the persecuted Christians in the history of the church, this is what sustained them. They loved Christ! They valued Christ! They wanted to honor Christ.
Listen one more time to Ignatius. He said, “So far as I am concerned, to die in Jesus Christ is better than to be monarch of the earth’s widest bounds. He who died for us is all that I seek; he who rose again for us is my whole desire.”
It’s not that you and I are to court martyrdom, and maybe the apostolic fathers erred a little bit in that way. Maybe they were too eager for it. But certainly you and I should imitate their love of Christ, their willingness to suffer with courage and with grace for the sake of the name of Christ.
Are you a gospel citizen, a citizen of the kingdom of heaven? If so, express that citizenship with conviction, express it with unity, and express it with courage. Let’s pray.
Our gracious and merciful God, we thank you that you have taken us out of the kingdom of this world and you have made us citizens of a new kingdom. In reality, we’re kind of living in two worlds at once. We’re still here, but we are here as people who belong to the colony of heaven, people who belong to this new kingdom. What we so desperately need is the grace and the power to live worthy lives, worthy of the gospel by which we have been called.
Lord, we can’t do that on our own. This conviction must be borne of your Spirit, this unity must be forged by your Spirit, and this courage must be sustained by your grace. So we ask you for that. Lord, we pray that you would help us. We pray that you would help us as Redeemer Church, that we would be light in the world in which we live, and that we with one mind, with unity of heart, would strive side by side for the faith of the gospel. Would you give us the grace to do that? We pray that you would do it so that Jesus would be glorified in us and through us. We pray this in his name and for his sake, Amen.