Philippians 1:27 – Part 4

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.

1:27 (cont.) – Paul continues to describe how the Philippians ought to act like citizens of the gospel. The apostle seemingly answers the anticipated question: Yes, but what does this conduct look like? The next few phrases will specifically address that question.

  1. It is imitating Christ (27a)
  2. It is permanently perserverant (27b)
  3. It is a communal struggle (27c)
  4. It is courageous (28)
  5. It is gifted with suffering (29-30)

The first thing that is not explicitly noted here, but will be further developed: we must imitate Christ. Being that Christ is the essence of the gospel, we must live like Christ. Just to emphasize this point, looking forward, we will see that Paul continues to mark specific things that are characteristic of a gospel citizen, and the emphasized theme is unity. Unity under one’s country is necessary for citizen conduct. Moreover, the apostle continues by stating that this unity is only attained by humility. So the means of acting like a citizen, being united, comes through humility, and who does Paul describe as the ultimate example of humility? – Jesus. In order to act in a manner worthy of the gospel, we must act like Christ. That is the deepest gauge of our worthy citizen conduct, because the gospel is ‘of Christ.’

The second half of 1:27 further emphasizes the permanency of the Philippians’ obligation. Their ‘standing firm’ is not susceptible to circumstance, and specifically here, it is not determined by Paul’s physical presence. There is no respite from Christian obligation, because the reckoning of righteousness has been declared, and it is cemented in the accomplished work of Jesus Christ. The worthiness of what Jesus has done for His sheep is never lessened, and thus the obligation to live in a manner worthy of that work never lessens. So then, what is the danger of having our obligation determined by circumstances? Truly, if we allow our conduct to be determined by other people or things, it is a tell-tale sign that the worth of what Jesus has done for us is not determined by Jesus Himself, who is ever-present and living in us. It alerts us to the fact that our Christian ethic may be rooted in something other than Christ. Christ and His work is eternal, unchangeable, finished, and completed. Our conduct is cemented with an eternal standard, which is in the unchangeable worth of Jesus Christ and His gospel. If our conduct fluctuates, it is an indication that the worth of the gospel in our lives is determined by things other than Jesus. This may even be Christian leaders, as Paul is warning against here. We may have good conduct when our pastor is around, or when we are in church, small-group; but what about when the pastor is gone, when we are outside the church doors, or sitting alone in our room? Jesus never leaves, and His worth never changes. It is as Jesus conveys in Matthew 6, where our ethics are before God, and not for men. If the depth of our ethic is determined by where we are or who is around us, it indicates a practical atheism or an apathetic theology, which is barely a theology at all.

Now, this is not to nullify discipline in regards to Christian liberty. For example, we do change our ethical perspective when we are around weaker brethren (cf. 1 Cor. 8; 10; Rom. 14). Nevertheless, this ethical discipline is still rooted in the deep principle of conformity to the worth of Christ. Paul’s caution here is emphasizing the foundation of our ethic. Christian liberty is disciplined according to this foundation; and this foundation does not completely forsake the contingencies of our circumstances. As long as you are only (monon) living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the sum of all you do will be good. When a Christian disciplines his liberty for the sake of his weaker brother, this exults in the worth of Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate determination of our ethic. We could really seek to unravel this, but we can simply leave it at this: the root of Christian obligation is solely determined in one’s desire to proclaim the worth of Jesus Christ, and this desire is manifested differently according to one’s circumstances, but never in opposition to or in negation of that foundational desire.

Continuing through the verse, the apostle uses two very strong verbs to emphasize the need for the Philippians’ tenacity: στήκετε (stekete, you are standing firm) and συναθλοῦντες (synathlountes, contending together). The first, stekete, is used in many of the apostle’s other epistles, and strongly signifies ‘standing,’ which is why it is often followed by ‘firm’ in English translations. The second, synathlountes, has an English hint to its meaning. The word ‘athlete’ can be found in the Greek word, and it actually carries a valid correlation. The apostle wants to make sure that the Philippians know that this is a struggle. They need to stand firm. They need to bulk up. They need to train, compete, agonize the agony, and be bold citizens of the gospel. Out of the words of Paul, there is no lack of genuine encouragement. This man knows the brutality of his Christian walk, and he sees no reason for this to make him waver, cave in, or huddle up in a little ball. Stand firm! Contend! The apostle does not ask, however, for single soldiers; he calls for unanimity, a united front.

We are not alone. This is not a fight without the brethren. God has redeemed a body, not isolated worshipers, and it is for our benefit that He has done so. ‘Christian sanctification cannot be reduced to an individualistic exercise. The struggles of the Christian citizen must be faced within the fellowship of the believing community.’[1] More so, it is easier to stand firm when we strive together, when we have brothers to push us, encourage us, challenge us, and love us. I am not on an isolated mission; I am an isolated individual on a Kingdom mission with the Church. This theme of Christian unity will be further developed (2:1-4). Community will be that one item of citizen conduct that Paul seeks to essentially communicate to the Philippians.

[1] Silva, 82.


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