Side by Side for the Gospel (Philippians 1:27-30)
Paul is writing to the Philippians in chains from prison encouraging them to be joyful and united. For them to live needs to mean Christ. The world is fighting against them, so they cannot be distracted. Sometimes this is seen in physical danger. More often, enemies of the cross do battle in a more seductive manner. That’s one thing we see in Revelation. The beast threatens with fear and violent force; the prostitute spreads her legs. What ought we to do in light of the war being launched against Jesus and his body? Let’s read Philippians 1:27-30.
Behave As Citizens Worthy of the Gospel (1:27)
The marginal reading of the ESV is “Behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The NLT interprets this verse as, “You must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.” Before we explain what it looks like to properly live as a citizen, we need to understand what he means by referring to our how we live as citizens.
Later, Paul will write that we are not like the enemies of the cross who glorify shameful earthly things and treat our gods as their bellies. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (3:20-21) When we read “our citizenship is in heaven,” we may think, “That’s right, my true home is heaven.” But notice that’s not what he says. That’s not what citizenship meant to them.
He’s making a play on the fact that Philippians were citizens of Rome. Philippi was a colony of Rome. Being citizens of Rome did not mean they lived in Rome. They would never go live in Rome. No, being a colony of Rome meant Philippi was backed by Rome. As Roman citizens, the Philippians were supposed to consider themselves an outpost of Roman government and culture. Why? Because Caesar is making all things subject to himself. He’s making the world bow before him. He’s transforming the world and all peoples to look more like Rome. Philippians are citizens of Rome and their allegiance is to the Lord Caesar and to the spread of Roman culture.
Now, read 3:20-21 again. Our citizenship is in heaven. Paul is not making a statement about where our true home is. He’s saying that means we are backed by the power of heaven and the Lord Jesus who reigns in heaven. We are a colony, an outpost of heaven on earth. We are not spreading Roman or American culture. Caesar is not Lord, nor is the president. We don't feel safe because of the military power of Rome or the U.S., but because we are backed by the king who leads heaven’s armies. Our citizenship is in heaven means Lord Jesus the Messiah will come from heaven and transform our lowly bodies to be like his and make all things — all creation — subject to him. Until the day when all things are subject to him, we live together on earth as a colony of heavenly culture that is subject to him. Rome prays, “May Caesar be reverenced, his empire spread, his will be done throughout the earth as it is done in Rome.” Citizens of heaven pray, “Our Father in heaven, may your name be reverenced, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:9-10).
Paul says we are to behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ. Let’s clarify “gospel.” Gospel is not “Accept Jesus as your personal savior and be baptized so you can go to heaven when you die.” The gospel is “good news” about how God became king in Jesus. The world has been wrecked by Satan and his kingdoms, but God’s kingdom has invaded the world in the person of Jesus. Jesus went about everywhere healing people and casting out Satan’s demons to show that the restoring power of God’s kingdom has drawn near. But Satan’s forces in Jerusalem conspired together to falsely accuse and execute Jesus like a criminal. Jesus took all the sin and darkness of the world on himself and bore the penalty for sin in his perfect body. They buried him, but the power of death could not hold him. He rose never to die again. Now, God, as the true human — the son of man — reigns as king in heaven. He is putting everyone and everything in subjection to himself. And we are calling you to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord — not Caesar — and to bow before him with your life. If you confess and are baptized, he will place his Spirit in you so God can mold you into his image. God is becoming king of everyone and everything in Jesus.
This is a look at the good news and how to respond to it. Live, Paul says, as a citizen worthy of that gospel. Well, how do I do that? Notice vs. 27-28a.
How to Live Worthy of the Gospel? (1:27-28)
First, “so that whether I come and see you or am absent…” This means that our whole life must be reordered no matter who is around us. Whether our spiritual leaders are looking or not should not matter. Whether we are alone, with others, in our home, at school, or at work, on social media, or not, this should not matter. Our elders have asked me mention this because they are concerned that somehow there can be this dissonance — this gulf — between who we are when Christian leaders are around us, and who we are with everyone else. There can be this difference between who I am on Sunday, and who I am on Friday night. There can be this difference between what I say and what my persona is on social media, and what I sing and say on Sunday. That dishonors God before the church and the world. But brothers and sisters, being around our spiritual leaders gives us an example to follow when they are absent. Sundays prepare us to live Monday through Saturday like every day is the Lord’s.
Living worthy of the gospel means we aren’t two-faced actors. Consider the gospel! God is becoming king of everything in Jesus — do we want to fake that? Let’s strive to be able to put our social media accounts and what we think is our “private life” on display in this room and not be ashamed because we aren’t different in the absence of one another.
Second, living worthy of the gospel means we are “standing firm in one spirit… striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” One spirit. There has been a lot to divide us of the past year. Meet, or don’t meet? Masks, or no masks? Vaccines, or no vaccines? How to handle racial tensions? How to vote? All that isn’t over. Now we are coming back together, all that stuff we have disagreed about can be a problem. We can’t be disagreeable. We can’t be divided. Some are going to vaccinate, some are going to mask up, some are going to do both, some aren’t going to do any of it. All that is a big deal in the world, but it cannot and will not be here anymore. Let’s leave those disagreements behind because it is not optional for us to strive side by side for the faith of the gospel.
This is a short-hand way of saying we need to contend for the advance of the gospel in the world together. When I say that, I know you may get nervous like that means you need to go talk to strangers by yourself and convince them to get dunked in water. No. Jesus did not send Paul nor us to baptize but to preach the gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 1). I’m realizing what’s harder than trying to proposition strangers is to intentionally ask our neighbors and coworkers to eat at our dinner tables. And then genuinely care about them. And then, because we love them, persuade them to see that Jesus is Lord. And praying together that they will have an open heart and we will have salty words because we love them. Contending for the gospel like that will lead us to great joy and great suffering. We will gain brothers, sisters, children, and we will lose the best of friends. But if we do it together, we can shoulder those joys and hardships together. Jesus laid down his life to bring us back to him; together we lay down our lives so that some may be saved.
Third, living worthy of the gospel means we are “not frightened in anything by [our] opponents.” The world is up to some stuff that could be scary to us. It’s scary to talk anyone about anything except the weather in this world. And we are coming to persuade people that God is judging the world by an executed and risen Jew named Jesus. He is Lord and he is not tolerant — he has eyes like fire and you must bow the knee to him or perish. Saying this kind of stuff in Iran can get your family raped and beheaded. Saying it here to the wrong people can get you cancelled and ostracized.
But remember, our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a Savior — and when Paul says that he doesn’t mean “he’s my personal Savior who forgives me of my sins,” no — Jesus coming from heaven means he has power to transform our killable bodies into glorious bodies. That means he has power to subject all things to himself.
I feel ashamed of something. I realized as I was reading this text that I typically am not afraid of what North Korea or Iran or whoever is doing with their military and nuclear power because I live in the USA. North Korea does some military exercises and I’m thinking, “Like, what are you going to do? Bleed on us?” That is such an idolatrous and misplaced nationalistic hope. Our hope is in Jesus the Lord of heaven’s armies subjecting all things — including the U.S. military — to himself.
So, if we live as citizens worthy of the gospel — whether Paul is absent or present, we strive side by side for the advance of the gospel, not frightened in anything by our opponents — what will be the result? Notice vs. 28-30. When we always fearlessly strive side by side for the gospel, we will…
1. Clearly signal their destruction and our salvation from God. They will realize their way of life ends only in death. They will realize God’s power is actually behind us and he will rescue us. And they will respond to that in one of two ways. (1) They’ll hurt us. (2) They’ll glorify God.
2. Be granted the favor of suffering for the sake of Christ. This word granted is like the word “gifted.” Have you ever thought about what an honor it would be to suffer for Christ’s sake? We all appreciate everything he has done for us. What an honor it would be to win souls to his cause and to weep, lose jobs, friends, and social standing for his cause too.
But when we do even that and are not afraid but actually still love those who oppose us, they’ll see the power of the cross. That’s what happened in the first century and it’s what is happening in Iran right now. As people see the powers that be mistreating and killing Christians and Christians still boldly loving their enemies and speaking the truth, people see there is something distinctive there and they want in on it. This will only happen when we stand firm together and aren’t frightened. We will not signal anyone’s destruction or our salvation and we will not be granted to suffer for Christ if we fight and bicker, go at it on our own, or live in fear.
I am so amped up to put this pandemic behind us — the pandemic, not what we learned. Satan has ramped up his forces in massive ways in the past year. But if we have been pruned by this pandemic, he’s not going to know what hit him. Let us behave as citizens of heaven, striving side by side with one mind for the sake of the gospel, not frightened in anything by our opponents.