Parts 1 and 2
A Study of Philippians 1:27-30
So whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
Introduction: What do you do when persecution is so great you can no longer effectively live in your own nation? My book, 100 Bible Verses that Made America, describes a local church in England during the days of King James I. He was an evil man who brought tremendous persecution on the Puritans and Separatists. One small church faced persecution so great that the entire church voted to leave England and immigrate to Holland, where there was more liberty. And later, some of the members went a step further and immigrated to America, seeking religious liberty. We call them the Pilgrims.
On February 1, 2018, Chinese leader Xi Jinping began cracking down on Christians and churches.
The Communist government uses facial recognition cameras and personal cell phone records to monitor every aspect of their lives—where they go, what they say, what they read, who they listen to, and how they teach their children.
The Voice of the Martyrs ran the story of one church of 70 believers. Pastor Pan Yougguang (pronounced Yon-guan’) was called in for interrogation twice a week. The police showed up to monitor every church service. Fellow pastors in the network of churches were arrested and imprisoned.
After months of prayer and thought, 60 people relocated to a South Korean island. But none of the members speak the Korean language, forcing them to trade their professional Chinese jobs for backbreaking work. And South Korea has stalled on extending asylum to the believers. These Christians simply do not know what to do. Pastor Yougguang said their situation has been so difficult that if he could do it over, they would have stayed in China.
What do we do in circumstances like this? What would you do? Well, the best advice is in Philippians 1:27-30, which begins the actual body of this letter to the Philippians.
Background: The first 26 verses of Philippians serve as an extended introduction in which Paul greets the Philippians, thanks God for them, prays for them, and tells them about his circumstances and his attitude. Now, there is a major division before verse 27. The backbone of Philippians goes from Philippians 1:27 to Philippians 4:1, with the previous verses preparing us for the core of the book.
Scripture: Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the Gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.
This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and not hear that I will have.
1. Our Two Problems
This is not an easy paragraph to dissect. Dr. Gordon Fee said in his commentary on Philippians, “The [whole] paragraph is a single, nearly impossible, sentence in Greek, which probably assumes this form because Paul tries to include all the urgencies of the letter… in this opening word.”
In other words, the entire rest of the book of Philippians unpacks what Paul says in this paragraph. In fact, verse 27 is the key verse to the entire book:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the Gospel….
If you read this carefully, you’ll see that the Philippians had two problems; and even after 2000 years, the problems have not disappeared. They are still frustrating us today.
A. We Are Facing Opposition
First, they were facing opposition. Look at the passage again:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the Gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed….
We’re facing opposition in this world by people who will be destroyed in the future. But for the moment, these people are causing tremendous pressure for millions and millions of Christians, just as the Roman rulers did in the days of Paul.
B. We Are Facing Uncertainty
Second, we are facing uncertainty. Look again at verse 27:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
That phrase, “Whatever happens,” is an admission that we don’t know exactly what is going to happen to us from day to day. The apostle Paul did not know what was going to happen to him or to the Philippians on this earth. His only concern was to live for Christ as long as he lived.
2. Our One Responsibility
And that brings us to our great responsibility and to this phrase: conduct yourselves in a manner….
That is one word in the Greek, and it literally means to live as a citizen. It’s the Greek word from which we get our English words politics and political. It has to do with citizenship.
The Christian Standard Bible translates this verse like:
As citizens of heaven live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Philippi was a very unusual city in the Roman world. Shortly before the birth of Christ, Julius Caesar was assassinated and the Roman Republic was torn apart by civil war. About 200,000 men gathered just to the west of Philippi, with the final result being full Roman citizenship for the Philippians. Citizenship was very coveted because it came with many benefits. The Philippians were very proud and blessed to be citizens of the Empire.
But for the Christians it was a mixed blessing. The city had a strong obligation to cheer Emperor Nero as Lord at all times. To Christians, only Christ was Kurios—Lord!
But on two occasions in this letter—here and in Philippians 3:20—Paul reminded them their primary citizenship was in Heaven. Our primary citizenship is in Heaven. Whatever citizenship we hold today, it’s not our primary citizenship. I’m not an American citizen on the way to Heaven. We are citizens of Heaven who are traveling through earth and happen to hold an American passport.
In other words, we are expatriates—citizens of one nation living in another which is not our own.
3. Our Three Obligations
As citizens of Heaven living on earth, we have certain obligations that enable us to live lives worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Paul gives us three of them.
A. Stand Firm in One Spirit
First, we’re to stand firm in one Spirit.
I want to tell you about a rose bush I’ve just planted. There was a woman in New Orleans named Peggy Martin who had a beautiful garden full of 450 rose bushes. One of them was an old garden rose that she could not identify. It was a vigorous climbing rose.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, and Peggy’s beautiful rose garden was covered by twenty feet of contaminated water for two weeks. Only one rose survived. It came back stronger than ever—and the rose experts named it after Peggy Martin. But it’s better known by its nickname—the Katrina rose.
My wife was named Katrina. Well, you can see why I ordered a Katrina rose and have set it out in my garden.
I want to be like that rose. That’s what it means to stand firm. Even if there is an ocean of opposition against us; even if the winds blow and the tides rise; even if the contaminated world opposes us, we want to remain rooted and grounded and resilient.
That happens by the Holy Spirit who is within us. We’re to stand firm in one Spirit. The secret of the Katrina rose is the vintage sap, the circulating fluid, that gives an almost supernatural vitality to that rose. But it’s nothing compared to the Spirit-filled power of the Spirit-filled follower of Christ.
Stand firm in one Spirit!
B. Strive Together for One Faith
Second, we conduct ourselves as citizens of Heaven when we strive together for one faith.
The phrase striving together comes from the Greek term athlos, from which we get our English word athletics. The apostle Paul often used sports and athletic metaphors. He would talk about running the race or wrestling in prayer.
I’m not overly comfortable with sharing this personal story, but it illustrates the point. A year or so ago, I had a speaking engagement about 7 hours away. I was recovering from Long Covid, especially the fatigue. Saturday morning I was so tired that I thought, “I cannot possibly make this trip. I don’t feel like driving 7 minutes, let alone 7 hours.”
I tried to cancel, but we’d worked hard in advance, and I knew they were counting on me. So I got in my truck, pulled onto the interstate, and drove to the first rest stop I came to. I pulled over and took a nap. Then I drove to the next rest stop and did the same. By stopping and napping at every rest stop, I was able to get to my hotel by the end of the day and to my engagement the next morning.
Later I told David Jeremiah about the experience, and Dr. Jeremiah looked over at his wife, Donna, and said, “Who does something like that?”
Then he answered his own question. He said, “We all do. We all do. That’s called ministry.”
The Christian life takes endurance. We are to strive together for the faith without in any way being intimidated by our opponents.
I’m terribly worried that many Christians in America are being caught in the triangle of trepidation. We’re reluctant to lovingly admonish a Christian worldview because of three things:
- We’re afraid we’ll come across as a harsh, intolerant fundamentalist.
- We’re afraid we’ll hurt or offend someone.
- We’re afraid we’ll be criticized or rejected—hunted out and attacked.
This fear keeps many of us trapped in silence. It’s incredibly difficult to speak about the sanctity of topics such as gender, sexuality, and marriage.
None of us want to be harsh, but our silence isn’t doing the world any good.
The Lord tells us here to always be “striving together as one for the faith of the Gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.“
C. Suffer for One Cause
Now, that may lead to suffering, but that’s all right. The passage anticipates that. Conducting ourselves as citizens of Heaven while in this hostile environment means standing firm in one spirit; striving together for one faith; and suffering for one cause.
For the Philippians and for Paul, some of that suffering was caused directly by their allegiance to Christ, which brought on persecution. But in addition to all that, there are the inevitable sufferings of life. None of us like that word suffering, and when we see it in the Bible it makes us shrink back a little bit.
But recently I’ve been reading in two Old Testament books—Deuteronomy and Isaiah. And I found the same truth in both books.
- Deuteronomy 1:31: There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.
- Isaiah 46:3 says: Listen to me…you whom I have upheld since your birth and have carried since you were born.
Earlier this week, I had lunch with a couple of friends and I told them how much this verse had been true for me as I looked back over my life. The Lord carried me, especially across the rough spaces.
One of my friends said, “Yes, and when God carries us like a youngster, we have only one obligation.”
“What is it?”
“To hold on!”
I’d never thought of that. God carries us through times of suffering, and we hold on to Him around His neck as it were, by faith.
Only a few days later, I was reminded of this line. It’s Fanny Crosby’s Gospel song, “Praise Him! Praise Him! Jesus our blessed Redeemer.”
Like a shepherd, Jesus will guard His children.
In His arms He carries them all day long.
Conclusion: Recently, I read Andrew Brunson’s account of his 735-day ordeal in Turkish prisons because of his work for Christ. Brunson writes about the fear, psychological torture, gripping anxiety, panic, and how he thought he was losing his mind. He clung to the neck of Jesus, but sometimes he feared the Lord would drop him. At times, Brunson wasn’t sure he would survive or stand as he should for Christ. When his case finally came up for trial, he was terrified. But God gave him grace, and when he rose to speak this is what he said:
Jesus told His disciples to go to all the world and proclaim the Good News of salvation to everyone and make disciples. This is why I came to Turkey—to proclaim this.
There is only one way to God: Jesus.
There is only one way to have our sins forgiven: Jesus.
There is only one to gain eternal life: Jesus.
There is only one Savior: Jesus.
I want this to echo in all of Turkey.
We live in dangerous days. There is opposition and there is uncertainty. But there is also grace for the moment—grace for the standing, grace for the struggling, and grace for the suffering. We are being carried through it all, and we simply need to hold onto our Savior in faith and confidence.
So whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the Gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.