By Christopher VanDusen
Do you know the number one way that believing and identifying with the good news about Christ impacts how you ought to live your life? In Philippians 1:27-30, the apostle Paul explains to the church in the Roman city of Philippi, located in the area of northern Greece, how the gospel ought to affect their everyday behavior, life purpose, and response to persecution.
The Epistle to the Philippians is a letter that Paul wrote to the Philippian believers while he was under house arrest in Rome, awaiting an audience with the Roman Emperor, to defend himself against false legal charges from his Jewish opponents, and seek to have those charges dismissed. The church at Philippi had been established by Paul’s preaching and teaching at least a couple of years before, and gave him money and encouragement for his continued work of preaching the gospel, starting churches, and teaching them.
Before the passage we’re considering, Paul expressed his joy and thankfulness for the Philippians’ support of him, told them about his imprisonment, and assured them that he would eventually be released through the working of God, and meet them again. Having expressed his love for them, and informed them of how the Lord was using him to spread the gospel, he begins to remind them of how they ought to live while being persecuted by non-Christians.
He does this in verses 27-30 of chapter 1:
“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, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” (ESV)
In this passage, Paul gives the Philippians at least four encouragements:
- Be Citizens Worthy of the Gospel (v. 27a)
- Be Striving as One for the Gospel (v. 27b)
- Be Serene as Witnesses of God’s Goodness (v. 28)
- Be Sure that We’ve Been Graced (vss. 29-30)
Be Citizens Worthy of the Gospel
Paul begins his instruction in gospel-based living by commanding the Philippians to act like citizens that are worthy of the gospel. He teaches this when he says, “only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ”.
The reason I say that Paul is calling the Philippians to act like citizens is because the Greek word that’s translated “let your manner of life” is politeuesthe, which literally means “live the life of a citizen”. The Greek word for city is polis, which you can see in politeuesthe. What’s a “citizen”? A member of a city. Paul uses this specific Greek word because the Philippians were conditioned to see themselves as “citizens of Rome”, since Philippi was an official Roman city. As citizens of Rome, they were to be worthy of their Roman citizenship, and all it stood for. However, Paul instead commands them to be citizens worthy of the gospel, or “the good news”.
But before he even commands them to do this, he emphasizes the importance of this command by beginning it with the word “only”. It’s as if he’s saying “just this one thing”. In other words, what he’s commanding them to do is the most important thing to do.
So, he tells them that they are to live as citizens who are worthy of the gospel of Christ. But what does he mean by “the gospel of Christ”? He basically defines this good news in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, where he says,
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (ESV)
First, Paul says that the gospel is a message that is to be “received”. Secondly, it’s the message that “saves” people from God’s wrath, and from their sins. Thirdly, it’s to be “held fast to”, or trusted in.
As for its content, the gospel is first the good news that “Christ died for our sins”. That is, that christos, or “the Anointed” Prophet, Priest, and King from God, died because of our sins. What are sins? They are failures to love, worship, and obey God, and therefore are crimes against Him. Hence, Christ died to take God’s punishment for our sins. Then, He rose from the dead and appeared to many people, before going to heaven as the King of the universe who commands everyone to trust in, and submit to, Him, to be saved from God’s wrath.
This is the good news that Paul commands the Philippians to be worthy of. But what does he mean by “worthy”? The Greek word translated “worthy” is axios, which means “appropriate to”. Thus, Paul is commanding the Philippians to live their everyday lives in a way that makes sense for those in whose place Christ died, and for whose right standing with God Christ has been raised (Rom. 4) — those who believe these things.
But why and how are they to live like this? Paul tells them in the next section.
Be Striving as One for the Gospel
In the rest of verse 27, Paul explains that the Philippians are to be citizens worthy of the gospel by striving as one for that gospel:
“. . . 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 . . .”
First, he gives them a reason to be citizens worthy of the gospel — so he’ll hear that they’re living like that. Just before this verse, he assured them that he would meet them again, so that’s what he’s referring to when he speaks of seeing them, and of being away from them. Either way, he says, he wants to hear that they are living as citizens worthy of the gospel.
And how are they do this? First, by “standing firm in one spirit”. The phrase “standing firm” means to stay in a fixed position no matter what seeks to move the one standing. This is military language, so Paul’s telling them to hold their position on the gospel by living worthy of it, by sharing it, and by defending it. But why does he want them to do this? Because there are forces that are seeking to knock them over. Second, the way in which they are to stand firm is “in one spirit”, or “with one spirit”. In other words, they are to stand firm together, and to do whatever’s necessary to help one another to live worthy of the gospel, and to promote its spread.
The second, and most important, way that the Philippians need to live worthy of the gospel is by “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”. First, Paul again emphasizes that they are to do this together. They are to have “one mind”. Whereas “one spirit” speaks of their essential and spiritual unity that comes from the Holy Spirit who lives inside of each of them, “one mind” speaks of their intellectual unity of purpose. In other words, they are to all have the same goal.
What is that goal? It’s to promote the spread of “the faith of the gospel”. By “faith of the gospel”, Paul’s referring to the teaching of the gospel. A simple way to say “the faith of the gospel” would be “Christianity”, or the religion of Christ.
But how are the Philippians to promote the faith of the gospel? By “striving side by side”. The Greek word from which the ESV gets “striving” is an athletic term that literally means “competing together”. Paul is picturing the Philippians as some sort of Olympic team that is working together to promote the gospel. And what does that take? One mind set on one goal; hard work; discipline; and harmonious cooperation.
Obviously, if they’re competing in a sport as a team, there’s at least one opposing team against them. Paul next tells them how to deal with this opposing team.
Be Serene as Witnesses of God’s Goodness
In verse 28, Paul finishes his instruction on how they are to live worthy of the gospel by telling them to be serene because they’re witnessing God’s goodness:
“. . . and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
Having just said that the Philippians are competitors in a sport, working together to promote gospel-faith, he next tells them how to deal with their opponents in this competition. First, he forbids them from being “frightened” or “alarmed” “in anything” by their opponents.
Who are these opponents? They are those who are trying to prevent them from spreading the gospel, by persecuting them. They are those who are willing to use whatever means they think right to shut the mouths of the Philippians, or to stop them from “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” by working together to live worthy of the gospel. This could include false accusations, spreading lies, and might even include bringing legal charges against the Philippian Christians to take away their rights as Roman citizens. In fact, Paul himself was imprisoned when he went to Philippi as a result of his gospel preaching. Despite these dangers to the Philippians, they were have no fear of their opponents.
Why did they have no reason to fear their opponents, or anything their opponents did to hinder them from promoting the gospel? Because they were witnesses, as those who had no fear of them, of this being “a clear sign to [their opponents] of their destruction, but of [the Philippians’] salvation, and that from God”. In other words, the fact that they weren’t afraid of their persecutors should have shown their persecutors that they were going to eventually be destroyed by God if they continued rebelling against Him. It was also a sign that the Philippians had been saved by God, and would be saved by God in the end. Why was this a sign? Because having no fear of persecution for believing the gospel can only come from God — not from people.
But why would God allow the Philippians to be persecuted for believing the gospel? Paul answers that question in the rest of the passage.
Be Sure that We’ve Been Graced
In verses 29 and 30, Paul tells the Philippians the most appropriate reason why they’re being persecuted for living worthy of the gospel, and shouldn’t be afraid of it:
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
First, he tells them that “it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should . . . believe in him”. The word “granted” is translated from the Greek word charizomai, which literally means “to show favor”. In fact, the word for “grace”, which is charis, is in the beginning of this word. Therefore, Paul is saying that what follows is a beneficial gift that has been freely given. Who has granted this gift? God, of course. And what is the favor that God has given them? “That for the sake of Christ [they] should . . . believe in him”. Here, we see that trust in Christ is a gift from God, and not something that people earn, or that they work up in themselves. And why did God grace the Philippians with this faith? “For the sake of Christ”. In other words, God gave this faith to the Philippians, most importantly, because Christ is their Savior who died for them.
Second, Paul compares this gift of faith to the Philippians’ suffering because of Christ. He says “not only” has God graced them with faith in Christ, but He’s also graced them with the experience of suffering because of Christ, or “for his sake”. Thus, Paul says that the Philippians’ persecution, which they’re suffering for following Christ, is a beneficial gift from God to them, and not something that’s bad for them.
Finally, Paul proves that they’re suffering persecution because of Christ by comparing his suffering with their suffering. He says that they’re “engaged in the same conflict that [they] saw [he] had and now hear that [he] still [has]”. What is this conflict? It’s the conflict of suffering for living worthy of the gospel by standing firm on it, and by striving to promote it. In this context, that suffering is mostly coming in the form of persecution. And why is this proof that they’re suffering for Christ’s sake, and because of God’s grace? Because the apostle Paul, who preached the gospel to them, and won them to Christ, and who gave up his former life for Christ, suffers the same thing they are.
To sum up this last encouragement, Paul is telling the Philippians that they shouldn’t be afraid of anything their opponents are seeking to do to them because God has graciously benefited them with persecution because of Christ, and because they’re experiencing the same thing they saw Paul go through at Philippi, and now hear that he’s suffering in Rome. They should be sure that they’ve been favored by God, just like Paul.
Citizens Striving as One for the Gospel with Serenity and Certainty
So, how does this passage apply to you? If you claim to believe the gospel of Christ, are you being a citizen of this world in a way that’s consistent with the truths of the gospel of Christ? Are you living as if Christ died for your sins against God, and rose from the dead to be our King and coming Judge?
Are you standing firm in one spirit with a church family by striving together with them to promote the faith of the gospel?
Do you and your church have opponents? If not, why not? Could it be that it’s because you and your church aren’t striving together for the faith of the gospel? If we’re in a competition, then we have to have opponents of some kind. If we don’t have opponents, maybe it’s because we’re not competing according to the rules, or not competing at all.
Are you unafraid of any persecution that you are or may suffer for living worthy of the gospel? If you’re persecuted, and have no fear, know that this is a sign that God has saved you.
Do you live as if faith in Christ is a gift from God, and not something that can be produced by human effort or reason?
Do you live as if the suffering you endure for living worthy of the gospel is a gift from God for your good?
If you believe the gospel of Christ, then strive to live as if it’s good news for you by standing firm with your church in one spirit, and striving with them for the faith without fear of opponents, because you know that they’ll eventually be destroyed, you’ll be saved, and God has gifted you with suffering for Christ for your good.
If you aren’t living worthy of the gospel, are you sure that you understand and believe it? The gospel is the good news that God sent His eternally divine Son to earth to become a man, to suffer on a cross to endure God’s wrath against our rebellion against Him, to rise from the dead, and to go into heaven as our King and Judge. He commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Christ as their Substitute on the cross and King to have His peace and forgiveness, because He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus according to everything they’ve done, said, and thought, and punish His rebellious enemies forever in a lake of fire. Please make sure that you’re trusting in the Lord Jesus and His death alone for peace and forgiveness from God. He promises to save all who trust in Him alone from God’s wrath.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.