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Living for Christ When Life Gets Hard
Philippians 1:27 to 30–part one (verses 27-28a)
For some reason, lots of things in life seem to be hard–even our recreation is hard. Someone highlighted this fact when they sent me the top ten ways to prepare for skiing.
1 Fasten a small, wide rubber band around the top half of your head before you go to bed each night
2 If you wear glasses, begin wearing them with glue smeared on the lenses
3 Throw away a $100 bill now
4 Find the nearest ice rink and walk across the ice twenty times in your ski boots carrying two pairs of skis, accessory bag and poles–pretend you are looking for your car and sporadically drop things
5 Buy a new pair of gloves–then immediately throw one of them away
6 Secure one of your ankles to a bedpost and ask a friend to run into you at high speed
7 Go to McDonalds and insist on paying $12.50 for a hamburger—and be sure you are in the longest line
8 Drive slowly for five hours anywhere–as long as it’s in a snowstorm and you’re following an 18-wheeler
9 Fill a blender with ice, hit the pulse button, then let the spray blast your face—and leave the ice on your face until it melts, letting it drip onto your clothes
10 Dress up in as many clothes as you can, then proceed to take them off because you have to go to the bathroom
So true—I used to love skiing, but I gave it up because I don’t want all that. But I won’t give up following Christ–and sometimes it is also difficult. Being a child of God does not exempt you and I from experiencing difficulty. Life gets hard when our bodies don’t work, illness attacks us, finances disappear, relationships are strained, and injustices are frequent.
Each one of us has some hard issue we’re dealing with right now–what is it? Fix that in your mind–for as you open your Bibles to the end of Philippians chapter 1 and take your outline, Paul’s going to remind us how we can live for Christ when life gets hard.
This letter is easy to understand. In verses 1 to 11, Paul introduces himself, reminding the Philippians just how much he loves them and prays for them. Then in verse 12, he shares how his present circumstances are allowing him to share Christ and strengthen Christians. And his future, whether he lives or dies, is enabling him to enjoy more of Christ now or all of Christ later. Yet regardless of how much better Heaven is, Paul has chosen to give up his wants of Heaven in order to remain here and minister to the Philippians.
With that backdrop, Paul now transitions in verse 27 from talking about his situation to their circumstances. Instead of talking about the privileges of being a Christian, Paul talks about obligations–from narrative to imperative. The Christians in Philippi were being sorely tested, and they did not have their act together.
There was friction within the church–all kinds of posturing, bickering and pride was taking place. Added to the friction within the church, they were also experiencing some persecution from opponents outside the church. So here they are facing difficulty internally inside and difficulty externally outside the church. What do you do when life gets hard for you inside and outside the church? What happens when cooperation turns to conflict internally and peace turns to persecution externally?
The non-Christian usually drops out, leaves for safer ground or rejects the Lord outright. Many Christians blame others, lose their joy, become a spectator or leave the church. But what are you supposed to do when life gets hard? Paul gives us God’s answer in his own unique way. Paul summarizes the entire letter of Philippians in verses 27 to 30 in one long, run-on, un-outlinable sentence which will take us two weeks to exposit.
He shares one main focus, tells us how to live our focus, then gives us three reasons why living our focus will be difficult. It doesn’t fit a typical outline, but I’ve given you some points in order to help you track with me. What do you do when living for Christ becomes hard? Paul now tells the Philippians the formula for victory when there’s pressure within and persecution without.
#1 The Main FOCUS: Live as CITIZENS of Heaven in the colony called the CHURCH
Verse 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.”
Notice the first word of verse 27. The word “only” is emphatic, meaning it’s emphasized in the original, stating this–above all else, whatever may happen or at all costs, do this. What’s so important, Paul? This is all of what Paul wants to say to the Philippians in summary form. Only do what? “Conduct yourselves.”
This is the Greek word politeuomai–its root is politeuo. It is where we get our English word for politic or political. And here, “conduct yourselves” means to live as a citizen. Now why would Paul use this term? Several reasons:
In the Greek city-states, which preceded Rome, to live as a worthy citizen was a matter of great pride.
People didn’t live for themselves or take pride in their own achievements, but they took pride in serving their city.
All their talents, abilities and efforts were used for the good of the community.
This pride carried on to Roman times, when being a Roman citizen carried great privileges. Even the apostle Paul was a Roman citizen and used that privilege in Philippi. Don’t forget Philippi was a Roman province–they were citizens of Rome and were proud of that fact.
Collegians and students–under different administrations, there was actually this kind of pride in being a US citizen. I know a pride in my country when I’m overseas. Along with appreciating the strengths of every culture and every country, I too have a sense of pride I am a citizen of the USA. I am thankful for my country regardless of its many faults and serious decline. The longer and further away I am, it seems the more thankful I am.
Even though the city of Philippi was 800 miles away from the city of Rome, the Philippians lived as if they were in Rome itself, taking great pride in their Roman citizenship. They sought to live worthy of Rome. This helps us understand what Paul is saying in verse 27, when he commands the Philippians to live as citizens, to conduct themselves worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
Just like the city of Philippi seeks to be a little colony of Rome while separated from Rome, Paul says you, the church in Philippi, seek to be a good colony of Heaven while separated from Heaven. Later Paul will be even more pointed in Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul knew how proud the Philippians were of their earthly citizenship. He knew they allowed that earthly citizenship to affect the laws of their city, their social customs and the daily conduct of their lives. How much more should they be proud of their citizenship in Heaven. This was the greater citizenship. They were to live by its laws and cherish its customs. Moreover, they were to extend the influence of Heaven into a pagan and sometimes hostile environment.
I visited the World’s Fair when it was in Spokane, Washington. They asked the people in attendance to acknowledge which state they were from, and they saved California for last, for good reason, because we went berserk. Even though all the other states were somewhat hostile, we dominated. It was awesome.
In a similar way, Christian, you should be thrilled to be from Heaven. You’re a citizen of Heaven, having a heavenly origin and a heavenly destiny. And with that comes the responsibilities of living a heavenly life on this earth in the midst of ungodly people and pagan surroundings, telling sinners of a Savior in Heaven who can save them from their sins, if they surrender to Him. Paul says, “Start cheering the loudest, Christians. As a church, let everyone know where you’re from.”
The verb “conduct yourself”—to live as citizens is so strong Paul uses an imperative. He commands them—“live uniquely as citizens of Heaven.” And it’s in the middle voice, where the subjects act upon themselves to live in this manner, telling us this. More than merely obeying the command as a matter of obligation to God, we’re to obey this command because of the privileged position we occupy. And we’re to literally “charge ourselves” to obey it.
The middle voice means we are to put the pressure on ourselves to live uniquely like a citizen of Heaven, like a foreign colony from Heaven in the midst of a pagan world. Paul expands on that thought this way in verse 27–see it? “In a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Not for yourself, not for your family, not for your church–but for Christ and His message, the Gospel.
The Philippians were used to standing up for their Roman citizenship. Now Paul says stand up and stand out for your heavenly citizenship—“in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The Greek word “worthy” comes from a root word, “weight”. Literally, our behavior is to have the same weight as the Gospel we profess to believe.
If our lives don’t live according to the message we say we believe, then it will have no weight. Paul says, “If we say we follow Christ and proclaim His message as the only way to be delivered from sin, yet the world sees us cheat at work, ignore our spouses, berate our children, yell at the coach or tell lies, then we are lightweights, our witness has no weight–our proclamation has no punch.
Even as the Philippians were suffering, Paul says, “Make certain you live, not with selfish ambition, grumbling or disputing, but worthy of the Gospel–the good news of salvation, telling friends they can be delivered from sin and made like Christ. Share the Gospel, the powerful God-made message of a sovereign action of grace where through repentance from sin and faith in the fact Christ died for our sin, was buried and raised on the third day, will deliver people from sin and transform them to live like Christ.
But if we don’t live like Christ, then we don’t live worthy of the Gospel–we’re not in keeping with our heavenly citizenship. The gospel is about Christ, and if we are to live worthy of His message, then we must live Christ. He must be our delight and treasure. Christ is to be center of all we say and do, for the more He does live through us, the more we live as a citizen of Heaven and live worthy of His Gospel.
“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And how do we delight in Christ? Seek to be satisfied in Him alone. Start each day with “Jesus loves me,” enjoy Him in worship, seek Him for wisdom, trust Him when alone. Let Him be your secret treasure in every event of your day. For when Christ is your delight, you’ll walk worthy of Him.
And don’t miss this–if we’re to live worthy of the Gospel, then we must share it. The Gospel is good news. It’s a message meant to be shared, not hidden or hogged. Parenting is not an end in itself–it’s for Christ, to proclaim the Gospel, to win your children with God’s Word lived out in your life. Employment is not merely to make an income, it’s for Christ and for His message to be weighty enough to make a difference in what you say and do.
Education is not merely for a degree, it’s for Christ and for His message to be heard in your words and backed up, not lightweight, but heavily by your life. So act upon yourself to live as a citizen of Heaven, making sure your life backs up the message of Christ in all you do.
And Paul adds, nothing should keep us from this. Look what Paul says in the middle of verse 27, “So that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm.” Like a parent telling his children he is going away, Paul instructed the Philippians to behave themselves regardless of whether he was here or there, dead or alive.
My goal as a parent was to train my sons to live for Christ, whether I am with them or not. Paul says the same thing to the Philippians. But how? How do we live worthy of the Gospel, as citizens of Heaven, no matter what?
#2 How to live Worthy? CLING together as a CHURCH
Look at the end of verse 27 and beginning of verse 28. “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.”
In this section, Paul commands the Philippians with one main verb, “standing firm”–then explains what standing firm means with three participles, 1) striving together, 2) not being frightened, and 3) by the opposition.
Standing firm in Greek is used to describe a soldier who does not budge one inch from his critical post while under attack. The picture here is of a line of soldiers on Little Round Top during the Civil War battle at Gettysburg, who refused to allow their line to break or to surrender their position even after being attacked again and again.
Paul’s point is, we stick together when under the gun. The Philippian church and FBC, all genuinely biblical churches, are to be uncompromising in our position–proclaiming the Gospel, living the Gospel and displaying the person of Christ even when attacked. We’re to be tenacious, firm, resolute and steadfast. And we are to be that way together.
As Paul says in Ephesians 4:3, “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Or later in Philippians 4:1, “Therefore, my beloved brethren … stand firm in the Lord.” Unite together–hold your ground. Bond with your brothers–stick with your sisters. What do you mean Paul?
Look at the two qualifiers to our standing fast in verse 27. We’re to be in one spirit, with one mind–literally one-souled.
Because of how both these terms are used in the following verses, the context would dictate by using “spirit”, Paul is calling the Church to walk in the Holy Spirit. And by using mind/soul, Paul is calling the Church together to become one person, one body under the truth of the Word of God– to have one mind.
Sticking together requires each of us to be completely reliant upon the Spirit of God–not living by our own strength, but by God’s strength in everything. And seeking to live under the Word of God, trying to come to one mind as to what God says in everything. If we’re going to live as citizens of Heaven, we can’t do it alone. We’re to cling together, rely upon the Spirit together, come to one mind by the Word together, functioning as one body with one mind–the one mind being Christ’s mind, expressed in His Word.
We won’t live like a heavenly colony unless we stick together by the Spirit and by the Word. Any charcoal barbecuers left–purists? True men barbecue because all men love to play with fire. It’s amazing just how hot coals can get when burning together. But all barbecuers know the fate of the lone coal. The separated coal is the one that grows cold–its flame will go out.
It’s the same with any Christian here. To be hot, we need to stick together in fellowship and ministry. But we will grow cold as we remain separate. Just attending FBC is not sticking together. Then what is it? Paul gives us three requirements for sticking together.
First We must work together as a TEAM
The end of verse 27, “striving together for the faith of the gospel.” This is a team effort–it’s what you’ll see while you watch the Super Bowl. In fact, the Word Paul uses for “strive” is sunathleo. You can hear the Greek word athleo in there, from which we get our English word athlete. Sun is “together with”, so it’s athletes working together–it’s Christians struggling together side-by-side, or gladiators fighting together against a common foe.
But did you notice in verse 27, this battle is not merely against something evil but for something good–the Gospel? Some people are always struggling against, but never for. Paul is mainly interested in spreading God’s glorious Gospel. The focus is not to look at our city in dismay and say, “Look what has come of the world,” but to say, “Look what has come to the world, Christ!”
We need to stop thinking about the sins that are ruining our neighborhood, and start thinking about how, at last, sin has met its match in Jesus Christ. We need to move from fatalism to faith, from the deadness of corruption to the delight of Christ. In order to stand together as citizens of Heaven we must manifest an aggressive faith.
We stand together under a common goal. We can’t all do our own thing and stand together in unity. We can’t do what we want and be a colony of heavenly citizens together. For the church to work, you have to give up some of your personal rights, your privileges, your time, your energy, your money and your heart focus. What does Paul say? We must work together as a team, striving together for the faith of the Gospel. And Paul clarifies this struggle as he adds, “For the faith of the Gospel.”
We’ve all seen quarrelsome athletes function like a well-oiled machine when the championship is on the line. All is forgotten when the team focuses on the common objective to win the championship. The Church’s common objective is the spread of the Gospel–to be such a Spirit-filled community, obedient to the Word of God with so much love and so much truth holding us together in humility, people can’t help but be attracted to Christ because of how all of us are working to put Christ on display with our speech, actions and attitudes.
Again, we each can show off Christ individually, but as all of us are filled with the Spirit and seeking to follow God’s Word–as each of us manifest Christ through our giftedness in ministry, then the world will see more of Christ through us corporately than they ever could individually. We must coordinate as a team to proclaim the Gospel.
Striving for the faith of the Gospel is not talking about strengthening our own faith, but putting forth all sorts of effort to spread the faith of the Gospel. The reason is this–in verse 28, Paul speaks of the need to be fearless before our opponents. In other words, the situation he has in mind is something public–an effort for the Gospel that meets with opposition.
In 2:15 he refers to the Philippians shining as lights in the world, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. So Paul is saying, in order to live lives worthy of the Gospel there must be a unified fearless striving for the faith of the Gospel–an effort in some way to see the Gospel spread in the world of unbelief. Verse 27, “with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
The word “striving”, translated labor and compete elsewhere in the New Testament, has in it the idea of effort, discipline and endurance of athletic endeavor. I take this to mean, one essential way to walk worthy of the Gospel is fix your eyes on the goal of spreading the faith of the Gospel, then apply the effort, discipline and endurance of an athlete to reach that goal.
We’re to share Christ together with the same zeal, discipline and effort as a Super Bowl team striving to win. When Paul says this kind of life is worthy of the Gospel, he means any other kind of life would slight the Gospel. Not striving to spread the faith of the Gospel is to treat the Gospel as cheap. If the Gospel is the message that exalts Christ, that must be embraced in order to be saved, it is the most precious thing anyone can know.
To live worthily of the Gospel we simply must become, as it were, athletes–men athletes and women athletes, eighty-year-old athletes and eight year old athletes. None of us will be measured in our athletic prowess against the decathlon powers of an apostle Paul. We will be measured against what we could have done, not by what someone else could have done. And all of us can do something, if we love the author of the Gospel.
So the question remains–are we delighting in Christ so much we want others to know Him? Are we more interested on who wins the Super Bowl? Does this minor sporting event have more of our heart and banner waving than the Gospel of Christ? The more we treasure who Christ is, the more all of us together and each of us individually will strive to share Him–like an athlete wanting to win the Super Bowl.
There is real power when we all work together to delight in and display Christ. When each of us function as a member of Christ’s body, others will see Him more clearly. The more we spiritually hold hands, striving together–the tighter, more effective net we will form to catch the lost fish of this world. But what about when the lost fish have big teeth? I mean there’re some great white shark lost people out there.
Second We must not PANIC
Look at verse 28, “in no way alarmed by your opponents.” Put on your “NO FEAR” T-shirts. The word “alarmed” is used to describe the terror of a frightened horse. Alarmed is to be startled or shocked. Paul says to the Philippians, “Don’t panic when the government starts putting you in jail because you share Jesus is Lord and not Caesar. Don’t panic when they threaten to kill you because you won’t worship the emperor anymore. Don’t panic when there’s friction inside and pressure outside the church.”
As you share Christ, don’t panic–God is in charge. (In the next verse, He’s sovereign over salvation and your suffering.) Don’t panic! “But I do panic, Lord!” Honestly, the bigger and badder the attack is, the more courage and calmness I have. It’s the small ones that get me all the time. I can take on a lion and wimp out over the rat.
The Philippians are tempted to say to Paul, “You don’t understand the opposition we’re facing here.” But Paul says, “I know all about it.” He says . . .
Third We must Expect OPPOSITION
Notice the phrase in verse 28, “by your opponents”—this is the third participle explaining standing firm. Standing firm striving together–meaning work as a team. Standing firm not being frightened–meaning don’t panic. And now standing firm against opponents—meaning always expect opposition . . . always. Paul says, “Work together as a team and don’t panic over the opposition continually coming at you.”
Paul is painting an awesome picture. You get it? The idea is of another team made up of adversaries who are entrenched in their opposition against you–The Church members versus The Satan seculars. The Savior lovers versus the Jewish legalists.
The zealous Roman pagans of Philippi who worshipped Caesar as Lord would oppose anyone who worshipped Jesus as Lord. And if there were more Jews in Philippi ten years after Paul’s visit, they’d not like a salvation by grace alone through faith alone, without the law or Jewish traditions. But regardless of who exactly the opposition is, one thing is certain–the heat is on, and it’s not letting up.
But what a comforting joy it must have been for the Philippians to hear from Paul–not only because Paul is their father in the faith, an apostle and a great Bible teacher. But Paul is also a man who has experienced opposition in the past and is currently experiencing opposition now. He actually writes this letter while under house arrest in Rome, chained to a soldier 24-hours-a-day, awaiting trial for his faith, which may result in his death.
So Paul tells them, if you’re going to live as citizens of Heaven in the colony called the Church, then you’re going to have to cling together as a church by working together as a team to share the Gospel while not panicking, but actually expecting opposition. But why? Why must we experience opposition and suffering? For the answer to that, look at verse 28 to 30, which we will exposit next week. But as you reflect on this passage, consider these statements . . .
1 If your life is too easy, it could be you’re not in the right BATTLE
Always expect opposition. Anything which brings God glory, is in the power of the Spirit, and by the Word of God will be opposed by the enemy team. Anyone serving in ministry, all who seek to share Christ, anything you seek to do to honor Christ will be opposed. This planet is hostile to Christ and all who honor Him will be resisted.
So if life is too easy, it could be you’re not in the battle. Do not panic when you’re opposed as you seek to serve Christ. Always expect opposition.
2 If you’re worn out in your labors for Christ, it could be you’re trying to do your service alone, or you’re trying to serve in your own strength
There are no Lone Ranger Christians. There are no Lara Crofts nor Rambos. True Christianity is a team–our team battles a team. Striving together is a team effort. Standing firm one spirit and one mind is a team effort. You’re to be interconnected to a church, and within that church be interconnected to a ministry or group.
They should know what you struggle with so they can pray. They should know when you’re not here on Sunday so they can support, help, confront, love, and encourage you. Biblically, even the missionary is sent out, but never alone. There is no such thing as the solo saint.
You’re the organ of a body, which can’t survive without the body. You’re the sheep which is a part of a flock, or you’ll be eaten by a wolf. You’re the brick that’s part of the building or it’s useless on its own. You’re the participant on the team, not the spectator watching it all from the stands. If you’re worn out, it is because you’re trying to serve Christ alone.
It’s time to start serving together as a part of the family. And maybe you have forgotten how dependent you are upon the Spirit of God. Remember you can’t live for Christ–only the Spirit through you can live the Christian life. Are you filled with the Spirit—moment-by-moment knowing you can’t please Christ unless He lives through you? Are you dependent upon the Spirit and obedient to the Word?
Trying to live for Christ in your own strength is not only impossible but exhausting. With each event, each person, depend on the Spirit as you obey the Word of God.
3 If you want to live worthy of Christ, you’ll need to fix your heart on Heaven
To conduct yourself in a manner worthy of Christ is to live on Earth as a citizen of Heaven. Part of our problem in suburbia USA is we have it so good, we don’t long for a better place. Our treasure is here, so our hearts are here. But Paul tells us how to change in Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”
The Greek is funny–Paul gives the Colossians a command to “think up”, not on Earth. I have not ever met the person who is so heavenly-minded they are no earthly good. Want to live worthy of Christ? Start thinking up. Imagine what Heaven will be like. Imagine what living with Christ face-to-face will be like. Fill your thoughts with what it will be like to be around me in Heaven when I am perfect—awesome. Work at thinking up in order to live worthy of Christ.
4 If you desire to live as a citizen of Heaven, you need to submit to Christ
You have to want Christ more than your own house and car. You have to want Christ more than your own spouse and kids. You have to want Christ more than your own life. To be a citizen of Heaven it is a free gift, but the heart-cost is your own life in exchange for Christ. You submit to Christ as the one who died for your sins, and you submit to Him as the Lord you now follow.
There is only one King in Heaven and it’s not you. To be Christ’s subject, you submit to Christ alone. Do you truly belong to His Kingdom? Let’s pray.