The world we live in is full of uncertainty. A microscopic virus has upset the status quo of the whole world. Upheaval, discontent and hate suddenly erupts in the streets.i It is too organized to have been purely spontaneous. But people are inflicting pain and violence on other people they don’t even know, just because they perceive some difference between them. Who could have predicted in January the events that would unfold in the first half of 2020?
We don’t know what opportunities or what challenges we will personally face in the days ahead. We are given assurance of God’s watchful care. “The Lord is my Shepherd.”ii I’m going to be okay as long as I look to Him for guidance and follow His lead. The uncertainty of life should not cause us to live in fear or dread tomorrow. The future is bright for those in Christ. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
But as to the events of the future, life can be unpredictable. According to James, that should cause us to continually look to the Lord and depend on Him. James confronts those who think otherwise.
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil” (4:13-16).
The uncertainty of life should produce a humble dependence on the Lord.
Our text today begins with two words: “Whatever happens.”iii God has given Paul some insight on the future. But God never tells us all the details. We have to trust Him with those. In our previous study Paul addressed the two possible outcomes of his pending trial. If the verdict is guilty, he will be executed. If he is acquitted, he plans to visit the Philippians. Paul expects to be acquitted and come see the believers at Philippi. After telling them that, he tells them some things to do “whatever happens.” There are some things we do as Christians regardless of how events unfold.
Follow with me as we read Philippians 1:27-30.
“ Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” In verse 30 Paul is affirming his solidarity with them. He is essentially saying we’re in this together!
I draw from that three things we should do no matter what happens.
(1) We should LIVE GODLY LIVES.
(2) We should MAINTAIN UNITY AMONG BELIEVERS
(3) We should NOT FEAR PERSECUTION from the ungodly.
I. LIVE GODLY LIVES whatever happens.
In verse 27 Paul tells Christians to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
In the next few verses Paul applies that statement more specifically to their situation.iv They are to “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.” They are to guard their unity, resolving their differences so that they can defend the gospel together. And in that unity, they are to remain faithful in the face of opposition from the world.
In general, what does it mean to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”? We get some insight on that in Ephesians 4.v There Paul urged the Christians “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Then he expands on that statement in the rest of the chapter. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” He is saying something similar to what he says to the Philippians. Toward the end of that chapter he gets very specific. He tells them to stop lying, stop stealing, and don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of their mouths. In chapter 5 he continues his exhortation instructing them follow God’s example and walk in love toward others.
Ephesians 5:3-5: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
Peter says essentially the same thing. “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:15-16).
There are no set of circumstances that justify disobedience to the commandments of God.vi And we must guard ourselves from the tendency to do that. The businessman says to himself, “I know it’s wrong to lie to this customer and cheat him, but it’s just business and I need to provide for my family.” But God’s grace is sufficient for us to provide for our families and live in integrity. Faced with the edict from King Darius to not petition God, Daniel might have said in his heart, “Well, I have a position of influence where I can do some good, I will compromise on this so that I won’t jeopardize that.” But Daniel knew that God was big enough to protect his position if it needed protecting (Daniel 6). Anytime you find yourself violating conscience or justifying behavior that the Bible condemns, stop and reconsider. Make a decision to do what’s right and leave the results in God’s hands. Especially in times of persecution we must think that way.
“Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Don’t do anything that would discredit the gospel. Paul is concerned for the people at Philippi, but he is also concerned for the message and its effectiveness. If we do not live consistent with the message, people will tend to dismiss our testimony. We do not have to live it perfectly; we are all work in process. And the world does not expect perfection. But they want to know we believe the message enough ourselves to live by it. They have a right to see sincerity in us. The gospel is communicated in both what we say and what we do. This little poem is a good reminder of that:
“You are writing a Gospel,
A chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do,
And the words that you say.
Men read what you write,
Whether faithful or true:
Just what is the Gospel
According to you?” (source unknown).vii
The word translated “conduct yourselves” is politeuesthe. We get our English word “politics” from its root. It means to live as citizens.viii For reasons we have already stated, the citizens of Philippi were proud of their status as a Roman colony. It was probably common for them to remind one another of their privilege and require each other to live accordingly. But Paul is telling them to live according to a higher citizenship. In 3:20 he specifically reminds them that “our citizenship is in heaven.” They are to carry on their lives in accordance with that status. “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Continue to live godly lives consistent with the gospel message.
II. MAINTAIN UNITY AMONG YOURSELVES.
Paul’s concern for their unity surfaces throughout this letter. Remember how he repeatedly used the word “all” in this chapter when addressing them. In chapter 2 he will instruct them on how to live in unity. In 3:17 he tells them to “join together in following” his example. And in chapter 4 he specifically tells Euodia and Syntyche to resolve their differences. Paul knows the importance of this. A house divided against itself, cannot stand (Matt. 12:28).
It is alarming to watch how Satan is currently dividing our nation. I don’t know how much of it is supported by foreign powers. But one thing is certain: it makes us weaker as a nation. It makes us more vulnerable to our international enemies. And some of those are just waiting for a weak moment to make their move.
In the Philippian church there were outside forces opposing them and their message. If those Christians were going to withstand the intense opposition, they needed to be united. So in verse 27 Paul continues, “Then, [when they are conducting themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel] whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.”
What does the phrase “stand firm in the one Spirit” mean? It means they would all be submitted to the Holy Spirit who is the source of our unity.ix Instead of walking in the flesh and contending with one another, they would walk in Spirit (Rom. 8:4). Paul warned the Galatian church, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”x The KJV is graphic, “take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” If we’re fighting with one another, we’re not even fighting the right battle. Our fight is not with flesh and blood. We are to contend with spiritual wickedness in the spiritual realm. “For [says Eph. 6:12] we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (KJV). Behind all the angst and confusion in America are destructive, evil spirits with a satanic agenda. There is only one force that can counter that: the church of Jesus Christ. If the church is walking and waring in the Spirit, those forces will not have a chance. But if the church is fighting the wrong battles or is preoccupied with other things, chaos and destruction will follow. Good outcomes don’t just happen. Someone has to contend for them.
Much more could be said about “striving together as one for the faith.”xi But I need to get to my major point in this message.
III. DO NOT FEAR PERSECUTION from the ungodly.
One of Satan’s tactics is intimidation. He goes about “like a roaring lion” (1 Pet. 5:8). He is doing a lot of roaring right now. He is demanding the we cower and shut up! He has devised a “politically correct” culture that makes it very difficult to engage the issues. If you say anything that his crowd does not like, they will silence you. They will do that primarily by shaming you. All they have to do is claim what you’re saying is offensive to them, and you’re supposed to shut up. Of course, they can falsely accuse you. They can burn down your store. They can proclaim their message of intolerance and call it tolerance. Mixed in their message are some valid complaints that need to be addressed.xii But the valid complaints are drowned out by absurd demands and violent tactics. We are at a precarious junction in the life of our nation. If the church fails to get full of the Holy Spirit and assert the truth in love, the end result may not be very good.
The church at Philippi was in a hostile environment. Christianity was not popular with the majority of people in that city. The pressure on the Christians there was to conform to the secular agenda. To proclaim Jesus as Savior and Lord was asking for trouble. You could lose your job. You could lose your friends. You might lose your family if they rejected Christ. The Christians at Philippi were experiencing some of those things. We do not know the specifics of what they were going through, but we know they were feeling the pain.
Paul told them to “stand firm . . . without being frightened.”xiii He would not have said that unless those opposing them were intimidating. Are you afraid to “speak the truth in love”? Are you afraid you might say something that someone won’t like or that might be interpreted as offensive? We certainly don’t want to be offensive. When we speak the truth, we always want to speak out of a motive of love. We always want to be loving our neighbor as ourselves. We always want to be treating them the way we would want to be treated. We always want to be seeking their highest good. We always want to speak out of a heart of humility. But we are told in the Great Commission to speak up. We are told to go into all the world and preach the gospel.
The Sanhedrin commanded Peter and John “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” How did Peter and John respond? They stood firm. They were not intimidated by the underlying threat. Acts 4:9: “But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.’”
When the three Hebrew children were commanded to bow the knee to Nebuchadnezzar’s image, their answer was, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” They were saying whether God delivers us or not, we will not violate our conscience; we will not bow to your image. There is courage and conviction in their voice. God did deliver them. But He didn’t deliver Stephen. A couple of years after Paul wrote this letter, he was martyred by Nero. The Hebrew children did not take their stand because they knew God would intervene in their behalf. They took that stand because it was the right thing to do regardless of what would follow. You do it simply because it is the right thing to do!
If we do not get divine intervention in our nation, we are going to experience some hard times. If the election goes one way, it will enrage the secular left. Their violence may increase. If they win, they will oppress conservative Christians. In 2016 the laws of the land were becoming oppressive toward Christians. Organization like Focus on the Family and Hobby Lobby were being confronted with two negative alternatives. Either compromise your convictions on the murder of unborn children or go out of business due to the heavy fines for not compromising. The persecution was primarily economic. As you know, God intervened. The Supreme Court ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor. The party that was imposing those laws lost the presidential election. So, there was a shift in power that provided protection on the issue. Who knows what we would be facing today if those two events had gone the other direction?
Are we equipped for persecution? There have been times in history when the Christians thought they were ready, but the persecution proved otherwise. In the mid ‘70s, I heard a Chinese Christian share his first-hand observation of what happened during the Communist takeover. He looked at the large American audience and said, “You are not ready. We thought we were ready. We were more ready than you are. But when the persecution came, more Christians recanted than stood firm. xiv We hear the inspiring stores of people like Watchman Nee. But most of the Christians folded under the pressure. Paul is praying that these Christians in Philippi would stand firm—that they would not betray one another—that they would not compromise the message of Christ.
Persecution often begins with silencing the other view. That’s why freedom of speech is so important. I’ve talked a little about how the Christian voice is currently being silenced. Behind the scenes forces are working toward that end. Media organizations like Google and Facebook are doing what they can to limit conservative messages. Powerful people with wealth are buying out conservative institutions and shifting the message toward the left. Christianity Today is an example. The Drudge Report is an example in the secular news. The name has not been changed. That’s the brilliance of the tactic. They are using the trust these organizations gained over the years. But the message has been radically changed.
Before heavy persecution is imposed, the ones to be persecuted are characterized as “the problem.” Nero falsely blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome.xv Paul was executed during that time.xvi Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s economic and social problems. His first step was to turn public opinion against them. Then he began passing laws that marginalized their influence. Those laws took away their rights to run their own businesses or to hold public office. Their right to own property, including arms, and even their citizenship were removed.xvii First their ability to defend themselves verbally or otherwise were removed. Through control of the media, public opinion was turned against them.xviii Then the heavy persecution began.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian a similar approach was used. In 303 he signed an edict that removed Christians from positions of authority within the Empire. It also ordered all Christian buildings and books to be destroyed. If you’re not represented in places of authority, its hard to defend yourself. Destroying the buildings made it harder for them to gather in worship. That made it harder for them to take collective action. The public buildings represented the people and their history. Pulling down those memorials was a way to minimize their public influence. Destroying their books was part of silencing their voice. After that, then Christians began to be tortured and condemned to death.xix From history we can learn how these things work.
Standing up to persecution requires the right mindset. We talked some in the last message about Paul’s mindset concerning life: “For me to live is Christ . . . .” That’s one thing the persecutors cannot take from you: Christ. If life is all about your relationship with the Lord and serving Him, then its hard to shake you. But suppose your life is about things. If the persecutor takes your things away, you’re devastated. Suppose your life is about status and reputation. Then when that is removed, it hard to handle. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.”xx One preparation for persecution is getting weaned off the things of this world. We can enjoy them, but they must not dominate our affection.xxi We should have an attitude toward them that says, “I can take it or leave it.”
In that same verse Paul shared his attitude toward death. That too influences our ability to face persecution. We love to read stories in the Bible of people who stood up to persecution. But when we face those things, it may not seem so romantic or glorious. For one thing, most martyrs don’t die as heroes. Their reputation is first assassinated; then they are killed.
Now in today’s text Paul addresses our attitude toward suffering. If the attitude is: avoid it at all costs, we are not well equipped for persecution. I have felt for years that persecution in America would begin with financial oppression: the kind of job you could get, receiving government benefits, obtaining a mortgage. The laws could move more and more toward requiring compromise of our Christian convictions in order to receive those things. I wonder how many Christians would fold even there—sell out and never even get to anything worse. What would you do if the law were changed so that you could only continue receiving your social security check if you compromised your Christianity? That would be hard for many of us. I hope I would suffer the hardship rather than compromise my faith.
The attitude toward suffering that Paul presents in our text is interesting. He writes in verse 29: “ For it has been grantedxxii to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” We can easily embrace the first part of that statement. In fact, we celebrate the fact that God has given to us by His grace the privilege of believing in Christ. I rejoice that my name is written in heaven. I rejoice that God granted to me repentance and the capacity to put my faith in Christ. Most Christians are fully onboard with that. And we may be “in theory” on board with the other privilege: “to suffer for him.” But the depth and sincerity of that mindset will only be seen when we actually have to do it. In Phil. 3:10 Paul states his goal in life is to know Christ more fully: “the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.” There he is expressing that same mindset toward suffering. We will explore that more when we get to chapter 3.
The suffering Paul is talking about here is not the general hardship of life that is the result of the Fall. Even unbelievers suffer illnesses and injuries. Both unbelievers and believers can find themselves suffering the consequences of their own foolish decisions. When we’re suffering in that way, it is right to commit ourselves to the Lord, repent where we need to repent, and ask God to help us with the difficulty. That’s a different sermon.
Paul is talking about suffering for our commitment to Christ. Most us of have experienced mild forms of that. We have perhaps lost friends because of our unwillingness to compromise our commitment to the Lord. Sometimes the job promotion doesn’t come because of our stand for Christ. I remember when I was working for a CPA firm in Dallas as a junior auditor. At times I would be sent to a difficult task of auditing a subsidiary on my own because the auditor in charge wanted to party with the others on the team, and he didn’t want me around when he did it. It was easy to bear that light persecution. But it was all because of my stand for Christ. You have had similar experiences. In 2 Timothy 3 Paul talked about some of his persecutions, then added, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Whether that persecution is mild or severe, I want to stand firm in the Lord. Don’t you?
Peter addresses these matters in his first epistle.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.xxiii 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Pet. 4:12-16).
So there Peter tells us to praise God that we are suffering for our faith. He says we are “blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on [us].” The persecution comes because God is in us and is using us. After being flogged by the Sanhedrin for preaching Christ, Acts 5:41 says “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” So, the mindset toward suffering for Christ that prepares us to endure persecution is that it is a privilege granted to us by God.xxiv
Paul also says it is evidence that you are moving toward salvation and the persecutors are moving toward judgment. Your choice for Christ and their choice against Christ is clearly demonstrated.xxv Verse 28: “This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.”
(1) keep living a godly life
(2) Maintain unity with your brothers and sisters in Christ and
(3) Do not Fear Persecution from the ungodly.
May God enable us to do that as the circumstances require.
i Of course, there have also been peaceful protests. Unfortunately, their message has been significantly undermined by rioters and looters. Regrettably there is insufficient time in one message to deal with all of this. My comments are not directed at peaceful protestors, but at criminals who have used the situation to their own ends.
ii All Scripture quotes, unless indicated otherwise, are from the New International Version.
iii The Greek word translated “whatever happens” is monon (Strong’s #3440). It is often translated “only.” Vincent expounds on the word by writing, “The one thing I urge as the only thing needful.” Barth understands it in these terms: “Lifted like a warning finger.” Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, N. B. Stonehouse, F. Bruce, G. Fee, and J. Green, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) 161. I am taking some liberty in my exegesis, but the NIV seems to capture the sense of what Paul is saying considering the statement made in the next sentence: “Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence . . . .”
iv Gordon Fee tells us that verses 27-30 are one sentence in the Greek and the initial imperative is the key to the whole. He goes on to say, “everything else in the sentence functions as a modifier in some way” (p. 159).
v See also Col. 1:10-12 and 1 Thess. 2:10-12.
vi There are situations where one commandment outweighs another. We are told to subject to authority, even secular authority (Rom. 13). However, when commanded not to preach the gospel, Peter and John followed the command of the Great Commission (Mark 16:15) rather than obey the Sanhedrin. Pharaoh commanded the midwives to murder the male newborn Hebrews. But they choose to obey God’s command against murder rather than submit to Pharaoh in that matter (Ex. 1:15-17; Heb. 11:23).
vii Warren w. Wiersbe, Be Joyful (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1986) 52.
viii Robertson’s New Testament Word Pictures on this verse.
ix Fee, 164-166.
x See also his exhortations in 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:1-4.
xi “The non-compound verb (athleo) means ‘to engage in an athletic contest.’ The compouned form, which occurs only here and in 4:3 in the NT, is strictly metaphorical, carrying the sense of ‘engaging side by side’ or ‘helping one another,’ in this case in the struggle for the gospel in Philippi.” Fee, 166.
xii Law enforcement must be held accountable for any abuse of power. Police brutality must be addressed effectively. Power positions can easily attract people who want the job for the wrong reasons. Those people must be identified as early as possible and removed from the position.
xiiixiii See Matthew 13:21 in regard to standing firm. One key to doing this is a consistent, intimate relationship with God. Leonard Ravenhill said it well: “A man who is intimate with God will never be intimidated by men.”
xiv This meeting was at Trinity Fellowship in Lubbock, Texas but I cannot remember the speaker’s name or the exact date.
xv Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York: HarperOne, 1984) 33-36. Under Marcus Aurelius Christians were blamed for bringing the wrath of the gods on the Empire as it was expressed in invasions, floods, epidemics, and other disasters. Gonazalez, 45-46.
xvi “Ten Major Persecutions of the Early Church,” Time Tracts. Accessed 6/20/20 at http://timetracts.com/wordpress/wordpress/tracts/church/ten-major-persecutions-of-the-early-church/.
xvii “Learning: Voices of the Holocaust,” British Library. Accessed 6/20/20 at https://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/voices/testimonies/life/backgd/before.html.
xviii In Rome rumors were spread that Christians were cannibals. Some people even accused them of worshipping an ass. Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York: HarperOne, 1984) 49-50.
xix Gonzalez, 103-104.
xx 1 John 2:15, KJV.
xxi See 1 Cor. 7:31; Col. 3:2; 1 Pet. 1:4.
xxii “The Greek word translated ‘granted’ [charizomai] is derived from a word meaning ‘grace’ or ‘favor.’ Both believing and suffering were to be associated with God’s grace toward his people.” Bruce Barton, Mark Fackler, Linda Taylor, and Dave Veerman, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1995) 49.
xxiii See John 15:18-23; 16:1-5.
xxiv See Matthew 5:11-12.
xxv The clarity of this distinction should awaken the conscience of the persecutors as an opportunity to repent. However, they are usually so hardened that they don’t repent. The event does serve as evidence that God’s judgment on them is just (Rev. 20:12).