“Let your lifestyle, your manner of life, your Christian citizenship, be worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Whether I can come to see you or not, you must stand firm in one spirit, one mind, one soul – joined in combat, fighting shoulder to shoulder, striving together, united in one single purpose: the Gospel. Never for a moment be intimidated by your enemies, for your fearlessness is a true token of their impending destruction and ruin. But to you, this is a sure sign of your own salvation. Unto you it is granted the privilege, not only to believe and have faith in Jesus, but also to suffer for His sake. We are in this battle together. You have seen me fight the same conflict before. You have witnessed my sufferings and see that I am still standing my ground.” (paraphrased)
Paul’s letter to his beloved Philippians now shifts to the practical application of Gospel truth. Sound doctrine must appeal to the conscience, but should also result in definitive action. We are saved through the Gospel message and commanded to live a life worthy of our high calling in Christ Jesus (Titus 2:10). The lifestyle of every Christian either hinders or promotes the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The term “conversation” in the KJV here is best translated “citizenship.” As a Roman citizen, Paul knows the benefits and obligations of Roman citizenry (Acts 22:25). Because the city of Philippi is a Roman colony, the Christians there enjoy unique advantages. However, Paul urges them to put more faith in their heavenly status than in their civic status.
Paul’s primary concern is that Jesus is glorified by the lifestyle of the Philippian Christians. The apostle’s presence or absence among them is not important: they must continue to bind together in the fight of faith. As their shepherd, Paul knows there is a danger his flock may depend more upon him than God. An effective pastor empowers his church to stand on their own. Leaders come and go but the Gospel must move forward. Throughout this chapter, he encourages them to confirm the Gospel, further the Gospel, have faith in the Gospel and defend the Gospel (vv. 7, 12, 17, 27).
Because a spiritual war is raging, we must maintain unity. We must “strive together” (sunathlountes), a term referring to contentious, gladiatorial combat. However, it is used here with the idea of focused cooperation. As believers, we fight on two fronts. The negative aspect is “against our adversaries” and the positive aspect is “for the Gospel.” Unflinching courage is essential in order to face the world’s strong opposition to Jesus. We are to hold on to our faith in Christ, allowing no assault to cause us to break ranks. We must fight collectively, united by a single objective: ”the faith of the Gospel.” The word “keep” here means “to guard” for Satan seeks to divide and conquer Christian communities. Unity is essential within the body of Christ.
The mob violence against the Philippian Christians is fresh in their minds (I Thess. 2:2). Regardless of such persecution, Paul exhorts them to “stand firm” and not be intimidated by God’s enemies. They must be steadfast and undaunted in the face of adversity. As a persecutor of Christians in his former life, Paul has first-hand knowledge of the hatred unbelief can breed (I Cor. 15:9). Paul looks back and sees the evidence of the power of Christ in the lives of those he once persecuted (Acts 22:4). After his conversion, he realizes he has been fighting a losing battle. By opposing Christians, he opposed God Himself (Acts 9:4-5).
Paul encourages the church to not be “terrified” (pturomenoi). This strong Greek term means, “to flinch” and is often used in reference to startled animals, like stampeding buffalo. We are not told specifically who these adversaries are, but they are probably numerous. The adamant refusal to be intimidated by one’s persecutors serves as a proof—both of their eminent punishment and of our salvation. By his use of the phrase “a token of perdition” Paul means our persecutors will get a foretaste of the hell that awaits them (II Thess. 1:5-10).
Serving God tends to provoke opposition. Jesus makes it clear that persecution for His sake is undeserved (Matt. 5:10-11). Although it seems paradoxical to be faulted for obedience to God, Paul’s phrase “on behalf of Christ” explains why we suffer. The phrase “it is given” means suffering is actually granted to us as a divine favor. The term “given” (echaristhe) has its roots in the word grace (charis). Steadfast resolve is necessary to gain the victory over the forces of evil.
Scripture is full of examples of those who are persecuted for serving the Lord. Samuel is rejected. Saul hunts David. Nehemiah is defamed. Daniel faces lions. Noah is mocked. Jezebel hounds Elijah. John the Baptist is decapitated. The Son of God is crucified. While we anticipate our reward in heaven, we cannot expect the praise of unbelievers while on earth.
That the righteous suffer because they are righteous seems extremely unfair. But we are instructed to “not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try us, as though it is unexpected, but we are to rejoice, inasmuch as we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings” (I Peter 4:12) The Son of God Himself is despised, rejected and persecuted to death (John 15:20).
Paul makes reference to the struggles the Philippians Christians have seen him endure. He suffers a severe beating at the hands of a Philippian mob several months before (Acts 16:22-24). He alludes to this shameful treatment at Philippi in I Thessalonians 2:2 as well, but only to show how God helps him. Paul never pleads for sympathy.
By referring to “this same conflict,” Paul links his own sufferings with those of the church. The young congregations in Asia and those incarcerated for Christ continue to fight the same spiritual battle side by side. The term “conflict” (agon) literally means “to fight” and is another term regarding gladiatorial combat (II Tim.4:7). We have a fight on our hands, for “all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12).
Jesus teaches us how to respond to spiritual conflicts in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:10-12). We are to “rejoice (chairo) and be very, very happy” (5:12). The term “rejoice” means to leap for joy with unrestrained, ecstatic gladness. The same word is used concerning the joy of the saints at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7). After being beaten, the disciples are greatly delighted (chairo) that they are counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:40-41). We are commanded to be exuberant and “exceedingly glad” about persecution (Matt. 5:12). The term “exceeding” refers to extreme, excessive and superabundant gladness. “Glad” (agalliao) means to be overjoyed with great delight and describes one who jumps in happy excitement. Together, the pro-active terms in Jesus’ final Beatitude depict a person filled with superabundant happiness. Although such an attitude may seem absurd, Jesus commands us to respond to persecution with unbridled joy.
CONTINUATION – STUDY QUESTIONS
1. According to 1:27, Paul’s desire is that the Philippians:
A. ordain elders within the church
B. stand together in one accord
C. escape from their enemies
D. promote the Gospel
E. both B and D
2. According to Romans 14:17 and I Thessalonians 1:6, what is the key to true joy?
A. a positive, optimistic attitude
B. debt-free living
C. having no worries
D. good fellowship
E. the Holy Spirit
3. According to 1:29, we have the privilege to believe in Jesus – and also the privilege to:
A. live a peaceful life
B. suffer for His sake
C. travel and teach
D. both A and C
E. none of the above
4. According to John 15:20, what does Jesus experience that Christians must also expect?
A. eternal joy and happiness
B. a heavenly home
C. good friends
E. none of the above
CONTINUATION – REFLECTION
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR COUPLES
1. The word “conversation” (KJV) in v. 27 can be translated “lifestyle.” List some positive attributes of your marital lifestyle that can attract others to Christ.
2. Read I Timothy 4:7. Discuss things that as a couple, you would like to complete as you grow older together.
3. How does Paul’s attitude toward dying affect his outlook? In what ways is your lifestyle as a Christian couple affected by the way you view death?
ESSAY QUESTIONS FOR INDIVIDUALS:
1. The word “conversation” (KJV) in v. 27 can be translated “lifestyle.” List some positive attributes of your lifestyle that might attract others to Christ.
2. Read I Timothy 4:7. List projects that you would like to complete in the next five years.
3. How does Paul’s attitude toward dying affect his outlook? In what ways is your lifestyle as a Christian affected by the way you view death?