Circumstances are a powerful force in uniting people. There is an immediate connection when we realize that someone is experiencing the same thing we are. There is a sense of community. When someone in that community needs help, the rest of the group will rally around them.
It was more than a decade ago when Brian Wood was killed in a car accident. He was hit in an almost head-on collision with another car. There were four people in the other car. The two in the backseat also died in the accident. The driver of this other car, Jordyn Weichert (21), was driving under the influence of drugs and allowed her passenger to hold the wheel while she took off her sweater.
Brian was driving along the road with his pregnant wife. He saw the other car swerving in and out of his lane and then eventually begin tumbling towards him. His immediate reaction was to slam on the breaks and swerve the car to the right so that the oncoming car would slam into his side protecting his wife on the other side. Because of his actions, his wife survived and the baby was okay.
The reason I tell you this story is not because of Brian’s sacrifice, but to tell you about what happened afterward. Brian worked for a video game company. He was a programmer who helped make some of the most popular games out at the time. I’m not a gamer. And if I’m honest, I would have to say that I have always thought of gamers as the kind of people who don’t have much of a community. They sit in front of their screen and play online against opponents whom they have never met in person.
I was surprised to learn that this gaming community started a memorial fund in his honor. Complete strangers donated money, wrote letters of prayers and encouragement, and rallied around this widow to care for her.
The first chapter of Philippians, Paul speaks about how the work that God began will be completed. He prays that their love would abound in discernment and that they might be filled with the fruit of righteousness. But all of this is leading us to his exhortation for unity. Paul longs to see them with one mind and one spirit striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Trials will come. Suffering is sure to increase. Will they be united in order to endure?
Unfortunately, we are all too often content to take the path of least resistance. Stress remains low, energy remains full, and nothing significant ever happens. Quietly going about their lives, believers often cower before a hostile culture, because standing firm for the gospel is inconvenient.
Although Christians might suffer alongside one another, that isn’t what unites them. Their circumstances are always secondary. What truly unites them is their gospel faith. The community we enjoy because of our union with Christ is essential to our perseverance in suffering.
Read Philippians 1:27-30.
United for the Gospel (27)
Paul’s focus on unity begins here and continues until Phil 2:18. “Let your manner of life” literally means “to live as a citizen”. Philippi was a Roman colony. Thus, it’s inhabitants were Roman citizens. This came with certain privileges. Paul wants them to think the same about their heavenly citizenship (Phil 3:20) and to live according to the privileges and responsibilities of belonging to it.
To live in a manner worthy of the gospel is to possess a lifestyle that compliments the faith you proclaim and the community to which you belong.
Paul desires to know that the Philippians are standing firm in one Spirit and one mind whether or not he is able to see them again. I think “Spirit” should be capitalized. Some commentaries note it would be difficult to distinguish “the human spirit” from “the human psyche [inner desires/thoughts—soul].” Others suggest that it is a reference to the human spirit because it is a parallel thought to the human psyche. Either way, the emphasis is upon the church’s pursuit of unity for the gospel.
The description of the saints “striving side by side” is military language reminiscent of the phalanx, “consisting of a body of trained spearmen who fought in closed ranks” (Martin). This is a picture of the Church militant, fighting against a wicked culture for the faith of the gospel.
Soldiers train for several grueling months in order to be able to stand firm. Their success depends upon the strength of their unity. If unity is required for other communities to succeed, how much more are Christian’s dependent upon unity? And here’s Paul’s point: No greater unity exists among a community than the unity achieved for the sake of the gospel.
Many of us just want to relax (pointing at self). Standing firm takes too much effort. Paul’s clear exhortation is that we “stand firm” and “strive side by side” in unity, for the faith of the gospel. We are called to be active defenders of the faith as well as the community of faith. We should expect resistance and stand firm in the face of it together!
Now is not the time to step back men! God has created you for this! “Stand firm” probably sends your mind to your favorite military combat scenes.
In Braveheart, William Wallace gives a stirring speech about freedom. He sees the men are on the verge of deserting the battlefield. And after one of them says they will run and live, Wallace says,
“Run and you’ll live—at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”
The other scene I always think about is when William Wallace is telling his men to “hold”. I watched the clip last night and all the comments, from three weeks ago, were Gamestop shareholders encouraging one another to “Hold…hold…HOLD!”.
Both scenes provide an excellent example of the relationship between steadfastness and unity. When one suffers, both suffer. But holding fast strengthen unity.
When Christ told his disciples to “make disciples of all nations” he also left them with the promise that he would be with them “always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20). It is the Spirit of Christ at work in you to empower your witness and embolden you for the fight.
› In addition to the unity we experience for the gospel, we are also…
Assured in the Gospel (28)
The believers’ assurance is strengthened when they courageously face their opponents.
Courage in the face of opposition provides two assurances (“clear sign”):
1. The destruction of their opponents.
2. The salvation of the Philippian faithful.
We need to begin by addressing who these opponents are. We can eliminate the opponents he referenced in Phil 1:15-17 who sought to afflict Paul by preaching Christ from selfish motives. Those opponents were “brothers” (Phil 1:14), but these opponents are clearly headed for perdition.
What is not so clear is if these opponents come from inside or outside the church. Are they professing Christians opposed to Paul or outsiders persecuting the church? We get a hint from Paul’s reference to his own experience in Phil 1:30. They were dealing with the same conflict that Paul had. Therefore, they seems to be adversaries outside the church. The attack upon the church is from the world.
These opponents would be individuals from “a crooked and twisted generation” among whom the Philippians were to shine as light (Phil 2:15). O’Brien suggests that the word translated “opponent” may even indicate “mob violence.” Is that not a relevant threat to the modern day believer? Are you prepared to “stand firm” in the face of mob violence that greets you just outside the church?
Paul’s point here is truly remarkable! Have you ever associated “Christian unity” with the conviction it brings to a hostile world? Remain steadfast in unity because it will point sinners to their destruction.
The Message of Philippians a. The World Sees Its True Spiritual State
Here indeed is conviction of sin: a person gripped by the awfulness of eternal loss. It arises from seeing a church standing for Christ, standing for eternal things, enduring worldly loss and disrepute for the greater riches found in the Spirit and, throughout all, standing united.
The modern evangelical church has become so tepid and timid. Called to stand firm for the faith they cower. The package the truth in “winsome” language. We would rather blend in with the world than attract its negative attention. We have a hard time facing opposition, because—frankly—we’ve made friends with the world.
Benoit, “It is God who sends the persecutions they must undergo, the solid resistance with which they must confront them, and the assurance of salvation which follows.”
Standing firm in unity will also strengthen the believer’s assurance. Facing opposition, and witnessing one another hold the line, is a great source of encouragement.
Unfortunately, it would seem that the Church is generally more willing to accommodate our opponents rather than confront them. Paul says to stand firm in the assurance of the gospel. Plant your feet and prepare for opposition.
We plan on going to Planned Parenthood again this Saturday. Pray that we would stand firm in the face of the wickedness that takes place in that building every week.
This past Wednesday, we saw this worldly hostility and depravity in action. We arrived just as one man was leaving the building. After sitting in his car for awhile, he came over in counter protest. I have never heard anything more disgusting and blasphemous. His wanted to offend us until we left. But it seems we were more committed to protecting life than he was of promoting death.
I’ve thought a lot about how we responded to that situation. On the one hand, I’m thankful that we outlasted him. That experience provides another testimony of the assurance of our salvation. It is a sign that God is at work emboldening and uniting his Church.
On the other hand, I doubt we will soon forget the disgusting things that were said that morning. Ultimately, I pray that our lack of fear in the face of that man’s taunting was a clear sign of the destruction that awaits him if he refuses to repent.
Our goal is not to find comfort from peace and quiet, but to be comforted by the promise of the gospel. We must know that Jesus faced our greatest enemy—the sin that once enslaved us all. God’s justice demands that sinners face the punishment of his wrath. If we want to be saved, we must be perfectly holy! And that is a standard that none of us could reach.
But instead of leaving us in our sin and misery, God sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. He lived a life of perfect obedience, and hung upon the cross as the perfect sacrifice. He didn’t shrink back from the task, but he drank the cup of God’s wrath in full. And he did that while we were enemies, hostile toward his truth and love. Apart from the grace of Christ we deserve no better than the most vile of sinners.
Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
It is that same grace that sustains us in the midst of trials and tribulation. The grace that saved us also preserves us.
› We united for the gospel, assured in the gospel, and…
Privileged by the Gospel (29-30)
It is the believer’s privilege to believe in Christ and to suffer for Christ.
Opening Up Philippians Standing and Striving without Fear (vv. 28–30)
The fact that our adversaries cause us to experience the second gift indicates that we have truly received the first. While suffering is never pleasant, it is a privilege and honour to suffer for the Christ who suffered so very much to save his people.
I think the time has expired for comfortable Christianity to succeed in America. Political and social opposition is on our threshold. Recognize that suffering for the sake of Christ is pretty much inevitable in this life. In fact, Paul says that we ought to count it as a privilege.
This isn’t suggesting that we should seek out suffering. Paul isn’t challenging the Philippians to always be on the lookout for opponents to confront. But his assumption is that they will come around, especially wherever the Spirit is uniting saints in Christ. We should not seek it out, but neither should we shrink back from it.
How will you respond when your ability to train up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is under attack? What will we do when a hostile crowd from the Tower District gathers on the sidewalk in front of our church and attempts to disrupt the worship service? Our church leadership is pondering scenarios like these, because we see the writing on the wall. But we also think God has placed us here for such a time as this!
It was the promise of future joy that motivated Christ to endure the cross, despising the shame (Heb 12:2).
James 1:2–4 ESV
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
All of the suffering that a believer has the privilege of enduring for the sake of Christ, is part of his preparation for glory.