27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents – which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. [NASB ‘77]
Paul urges his readers to live as he does. His mission in life is the defense and progress of the gospel (1:12, 16), and he tells the Philippians their mission should be the same. Living for the gospel is not just something that apostles do. It is the life’s work of everyone who understands what it means to stand in the presence of God only through the love and blood of Christ.
In verses 12-26, Paul explained in detail how he looks at his own life. He’s imprisoned and seemingly on the shelf from a human perspective, yet he rejoices because his imprisonment has furthered the gospel. He has people traveling about deliberately trying to smear his name, yet he rejoices because they’re preaching the gospel. He’s ready to face death because his martyrdom will bring greater focus to the gospel. And if he lives and gains his freedom, it will be meaningful because he will spend his years in fruitful labor for the gospel. Everything, everything, everything is focused on the gospel.
Thus he has some credibility when he urges the Philippians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. What he means is for them to live as he does. Live with the gospel so permeating their lives that it drives everything they do. Inherent in this admonition is the expectation that they will so immerse themselves in the gospel that it will drip from every aspect of their lives. That’s what’s true of Paul’s life and he wants that to be true of the Philippians too. He doesn’t see himself as some saint who has a mission beyond the average believer. The way he lives is the way all believers should.
In so many ways this is an awesome challenge. If we understand the magnitude of the gospel we understand that living in a way that’s worthy of it seems beyond us. But Paul says that’s the goal. So if we assume Paul’s not giving us an impossible task then we know it only happens through the ministry and strength of the Spirit. With the Spirit’s help we can live in a way that honors the gospel and exemplifies it to a lost world. We can live with the gospel as the foundation of everything we do. It’s our mission. And the greater our appreciation for the gospel the closer we’ll get to fulfilling that mission.
We pointed this out in our study of 1:6, but this charge illumines the promise of that verse. God will complete the good work He began in us, but we still share responsibility for sanctification. Paul’s admonition to live for the gospel doesn’t make sense if sanctification involves no effort on our part.
This verse can also be translated, “Only behave as citizens worthy of the gospel.” Remember that Philippi is a Roman colonial city where the residents are citizens of Rome. This is a distinct privilege and a point of pride for the Philippians. With this in mind Paul may be saying, “Even more important than your Roman citizenship is your heavenly citizenship (3:20). Don’t forget that you’re citizens of the kingdom living as strangers in this world.” Thus they are to conduct themselves accordingly. This echoes Peter’s words that we are aliens in this world who are held to a higher standard (I Pet 2:11-12). The citizen of the kingdom has different values and priorities than the citizen of this world. He lives in a manner worthy of the gospel.
We aren’t just to live through the gospel individually; we are to live through the gospel in unity with other believers. Paul already prayed for their love for one another and set an example by telling them how much he depends on their prayers for his sanctification (thus indirectly showing them they must pray for one another). Now he tells them to live as one.
What he actually says is twofold. They’re to stand firm in one spirit and with one mind they’re to strive together for the faith of the gospel. The one spirit he refers to could mean the spirit of unity that should characterize them. It could also refer to the Holy Spirit. Based on the tone of the verse, the second is likely the case. They are to stand firm in the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This applies to believers in any age. If we live in a manner worthy of the gospel we will live in essential opposition to the world. Our mission is hostile to the world and thus the world is hostile to us (Jn 17:14, II Tim 3:12). So we must stand firm. And we must stand in the strength of the Spirit. We can’t acquiesce to the influence of the world and its priorities and rewards. We stand on the gospel, are motivated by the gospel, see things in light of the progress of the gospel. And nothing about this life mission makes sense to the world. Thus there’s no way to live through and for the gospel without standing firm in the Spirit.
We are also to strive with other believers for the faith of the gospel. We are to fight together in the belief and defense of the gospel. We don’t vary its message or water it down in the face of opposition. We don’t make it more palatable to a disdainful world.
And we don’t do any of this alone. We don’t battle alone. We don’t face the world alone. We stand in the Spirit and we stand with others who stand in the Spirit. Christ doesn’t call us to a solitary fight. We join with others who share our mission. We encourage them and gain encouragement from them.
This goes right along with the message of unity Paul’s been building throughout the chapter. They must love one another (vs 9). They must pray for one another (vs 19). And they must stand with one another and strive together in the Spirit. All of this goes along with verse 6 – it’s how God will complete them for the day of Christ Jesus. [It’s also a clear testimony to the world of the power of the gospel – see Jn 17:11-23.]
Notice that these aren’t easy words. We’re to stand firm and strive. Not sit back and relax. Not have as a goal an easy and comfortable life full of the world’s best. We aren’t home. We aren’t citizens of this world. We’re soldiers in a battle. And no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him (II Tim 2:4 – ESV). This is a call to live radically different lives than those around us who are home.
As we stand together we’re not to be alarmed by the fact that we face opposition nor should we be alarmed by our opponents. The Christian should never be surprised by the opposition his gospel mission stirs up in those around him. And we should not fear the opposition. Jesus said that fear of God – the One who can kill body and soul – crowds out fear of man (Lk 12:4-5). So a right perspective on God and this life fights against fear of opposition. This doesn’t mean, by the way, that we never fear for our lives. What it means is that we don’t allow that fear to make us turn from what we know is right. We may literally fear. But we never let that fear overwhelm us to the point that we sacrifice our mission. Understanding God, understanding our true citizenship, understanding the depth of the gospel – all crowd out debilitating or life-altering fear. We stand up to our opponents when we see and understand correctly. And we stand more effectively when we’re united with others who strive with us.
Our standing in the face of opposition – sometimes life-threatening opposition – is a sign of the Spirit’s presence in our lives and thus our salvation. And if it’s a sign of our salvation then it’s a sign of the looming destruction of those who oppose us. When we’re opposed we must never forget this. Those who stand for the gospel prove their redemption. And those who oppose the gospel confirm their ultimate ruin. This goes along with our true citizenship. When we have the right perspective on our ultimate home and its message, and we remember the destiny of those who refuse God, we will more effectively stand firm in the face of rejection and persecution.
Paul ends this section with another amazing statement. He tells the Philippians that suffering is a gift from God. Read that again. The suffering they face – which he hasn’t yet defined but which is probably similar to what he faced when he was there (Acts 16:19-40) – is a sign of God’s grace in their lives. It has been granted – gifted, awarded, presented – to them. God has blessed them with suffering.
Notice that he does qualify the suffering. He specifically says that suffering for Christ’s sake is a gift from God. He doesn’t celebrate suffering for suffering’s sake. He says that suffering for Christ – for the gospel – is a sign of God’s grace. Why? Because it means we suffer as Christ suffered. It means we must be standing firm in the gospel and will have to continue to stand firm. It means we aren’t conformed to the world. It means we’ll be forced to rely on the strength only God can provide. It means we’re being perfected until the day of Christ Jesus. It’s a sign of the Spirit’s presence in our lives and of our ultimate salvation. It’s a path to great reward in heaven (Matt 5:10-12). Suffering for Christ’s sake is God’s gift because of all it means and all it does in our lives. Per I Peter 2:21, it’s what we’re called to.
Paul also says it’s what he’s undergoing right now. He’s united with them in suffering and they can look to him as an example of how to persevere and thank God as they go through it. Anyone who suffers for Christ’s sake follows in the footsteps of a glorious company of believers (Acts 5:41). And more importantly, he follows in the footsteps of Christ.
So Paul combines three dependent ideas in this passage. We must walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. We must be united with others who live for the gospel. We should expect opposition and suffering because we live for the gospel. The suffering we experience will lead us to depend more on God and more on others and assist us in living more effectively for the gospel. Thus it’s a holy circle. We unite with others to live for the gospel, which invites opposition that forces us to unite with others to live for the gospel.
And know that God is in it all. His Spirit enables us to fulfill our redemptive purpose and enjoy a contented and fruitful life.
Walk in and on and through the gospel.
Pray for them.
Unite with them in the face of opposition and persecution.
Stand firm in the strength of the Spirit.
Strive together for the truth.
Rejoice in suffering.
Live for another world.