Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents-- which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
In our time together last week, we came to the very heart of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, looking in detail at just that first phrase of chapter 1 verse 27, which says, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” This, as we have said, is the thesis of the Book of Philippians. After the Apostle Paul celebrates the fellowship that he shares with the Philippians in Christ and in the ministry of the Gospel of Christ, thanking them (and the Lord) for their ministry to him— and, after providing a ministry report of sorts, informing them of his circumstances as he is under house-arrest at Rome and waiting for his trial before Nero— he comes to finally address the Philippians themselves.
And this command to, literally, “carry out their duties as citizens” worthy of the Gospel of Christ—the first command in the epistle—acts as a rubric—an umbrella—under which fall all of his exhortations and instructions throughout the remainder of the letter. It is a sort of introduction to the rest of the letter; all of his admonitions and exhortations are simply the exposition of this command to let their manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
Paul’s chief aim and concern in writing to the Philippians is not only to thank them for their gift to him and inform them of how things are going with him, but also to see to it that they are bringing the Gospel to bear on every aspect of their lives—that their lives are, as we’ve said, Gospel-driven. Paul desires that when they face the issues of daily life—whether that be how to interact with one another in their relationships, how to carry out the ministry of the Gospel in their city, how to minister to one another and alongside one another, how to deal with persecution, false teaching, temptation, suffering, or trials—in all of those issues, Paul’s concern is that they be able to take the truths that they have come to understand and experience as a result of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—as a result of being saved and renewed by His sovereign grace—and to apply those realities to their lives. He means for the reality of being redeemed by the blood of Christ, being reconciled to the Father, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit—to have an effect on how they make decisions and navigate life together.
And so we observed last week the supreme importance of this command, signified by the word “Only” at the beginning verse 27. “Whatever else you do,” Paul tells the Philippians, “whether I come to you or remain absent, don’t miss this. Let this be your concern.” We also observed the command’s distinctive imagery, explaining that it is literally translated, “Conduct yourselves as citizens in a manner worthy of the Gospel,” and that this imagery would have been very vivid for the Philippians, who prized their Roman citizenship. We observed, further, that the rule of Heavenly citizenship is the Gospel itself—that if we desire to order ourselves aright as faithful citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, we do not look to new laws or lists or man-made habits and manufactured patterns of behavior. No, we look to the Gospel itself, because the Gospel is sufficient to fuel and to regulate all of our efforts in the pursuit of holiness.
And then I sought to model for you how a faithful follower of Christ would bring the Gospel to bear on 12 particular Christian virtues—12 specific ways in which the Gospel shapes the pursuit of holiness in our daily lives. And I was intentionally broad, going beyond the scope of what Paul had in mind in this particular passage, and expanding to the breadth of the entire New Testament. Because this command to walk worthy of the Gospel is really a summary statement of the entire Christian life.
But when Paul wrote to the Philippians, he had in mind very particular applications of this command—applications specifically suited to their present situation. And this morning we are going to examine three of those particular applications. You could call them three indications of lives worthy of the Gospel, or three marks of the one conducting himself as a faithful citizen of Heaven.
And though they come in a form that is very situated and tailored to the specific challenges the Philippians were facing, the applications of this command to live worthy of the Gospel have every bit of relevance and application to us, here, on the other side of the world, in our very own day 2000 years later. These are not only what Paul expects of his dear friends in first-century Philippi, but they are what God Himself expects of His children in every age. And studying them will help us to know what a Gospel-driven life looks like, even today.
Preliminary Remark: Consistency
But before Paul starts in on his applications, he inserts a small comment that I want to address briefly. It would have been quite natural for him to say, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ,” and then to move right on: “…standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together,” and so on. But before he begins explaining to the Philippians what it will look like for them to live as citizens in a manner worthy of the Gospel, he says, “…so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm…” He says things like this elsewhere in his letter. Chapter 2 verse 12: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” What’s his point here? What’s he after?
Well, we’ve mentioned before the kind of strong bond and loving affection that existed between Paul and the Philippians. The Philippians loved their dear Apostle—the one who first spoke the Gospel to them and ushered them, as it were, into a relationship with the Lord Jesus Himself. He was their spiritual father (cf. 1 Cor 14:15), and so they loved him and revered him. And besides this, Paul had God-given authority in the Church as an Apostle of Christ. They would look to him to answer particular questions and solve disputes as one who speaks for the Lord Himself. And so it’s easy to imagine that when Paul was around it was very natural for the Philippians to be “on their best behavior,” so to speak. And not just because they were hypocrites who wanted Paul’s approval, but because when he was around he reminded them of their commitment to Christ and what it meant to live worthy of the Gospel.
But now Paul has been absent for nearly two years, and though he’s reasonably certain that he’ll come to them again, he has no infallible word from God and so he’s not sure. But as we learned last week from that word, “Only” at the beginning of verse 27, his chief concern is that whether he comes or whether he remains absent—whatever happens to him—the Philippians need only be concerned with living lives that are worthy of the Gospel. What he’s saying is: “Your Gospel-driven lives cannot depend on my presence! No! A life worthy of the Gospel is not lived in the fear of Paul. A life worthy of the Gospel is lived in the fear of God! And what I want from you, Philippians, is for you to conduct yourselves as citizens worthy of the Gospel whether I come and see it for myself or whether I can only hear of it by report. Your Gospel-driven lives must be marked by consistency.”
And there’s the key word: consistency. Paul wants them to bring the Gospel to bear on every facet of their lives—not only some of the time, not only when he’s around. No! He longs for them to live lives of consistent obedience in the fear of the God who never leaves them, who never forsakes them. And we can benefit from this lesson, dear friends. As you spend leisure time the way you do, as you watch the movies or TV shows that you do, as you discuss the conversation topics that you discuss, as you speak to your spouse the way you do, as you interact with your family the way you interact with them—the question the Holy Spirit is asking us through His Word is: “Would you act the same way if John MacArthur were with you? Would you speak the way you speak if Phil Johnson could hear everything you said? Would you spend time the way you spend time if another of your elders were along with you? If so, your life is one of inconsistency. And Paul’s point is: the Lord Jesus Christ is with you. He does see, and He does hear. We all live our entire lives before the open face of God. And our desire to please Him should be all the accountability we need to live lives that are consistently worthy of the Gospel.
And so as we consider these three applications of a life worthy of the Gospel, we need to say at the outset that Paul, and the Holy the Spirit who superintends his pen, are not after lives driven by the Gospel some of the time, or when a respected Christian brother or sister is around, but consistently, in the fear of God.
I. A Unified Steadfastness (v. 27c)
Let’s come, then, to that first application of a life worthy of the Gospel. Number one: Faithful citizens of the kingdom of Heaven will be marked by a unified steadfastness. Look again with me at 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 will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit…”
Now this word, to stand firm, is the normal Greek word for “to stand,” and that is its most basic sense. But everywhere Paul uses it, he uses it figuratively to mean not just to stand up, but to stand firm, or stand fast, or stand secure. The word means “to be firmly committed in conviction” (Hansen, 95). It was often used in a military context to refer to a faithful soldier who would steadfastly hold his ground regardless of the danger of the opposition. No matter what would happen, the soldier who would stand firm was the one who defended his position at all costs, even if it meant sacrificing his life (cf. MacArthur, 86).
And this is very fitting for the Philippians’ present situation. It is clear from the context of this passage as well as the rest of the letter that the Philippians were experiencing opposition which they needed to endure. In just the next verse, chapter 1 verse 28, Paul speaks of the Philippians’ opponents, an explicit indication of opposition.
You see, the Lord Jesus Christ had called out these dear believers from the world to Himself, and rather than being devoted citizens of the Roman Empire and dutiful slaves of Lord Caesar, they were now devoted citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and were slaves and saints of the Lord Jesus. Aside from this, because the Gospel of Christ was the rule of their conduct as citizens of Heaven, they were called to a manner of life that was entirely distinct from their pagan neighbors. Indeed, Paul calls them in chapter 2 verses 14 and following to live as “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” They were called to such chaste behavior and purity of lifestyle that there would be an evident difference between them and their unbelieving countrymen. And such a life of holiness always proves to be a challenge and a rebuke to those who do not walk in the same way. The Lord Jesus Himself has told us in John chapter 3 verse 20 that “everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
The words of the Apostle Peter are particularly applicable in this situation. It’s clear that the Philippians were undergoing the same struggle as the churches to whom Peter had written. In 1 Peter chapter 4, Peter tells the Christians facing persecution, verse 3: “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.” In other words: “You’ve spent enough time running after those things before you came to Christ. This is the kind of behavior that characterizes the Gentiles.” But look at verse 4: “In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you.” We understand that, don’t we? When we have to take stands against the moral tides of the culture, we get those accusations, don’t we? “Goody two-shoes!” “Oh, she thinks she’s so much better than us!” “Oh he can’t do that because he’s afraid God’s going to smite him.”
I was watching an interview the other day of a woman who used to be a lesbian English professor at a major university but became a Christian and is now the wife of a Reformed pastor. And she was saying that when she repented, and began to put off her sinful patterns of life—when she started presenting herself in a more feminine way, broke up with her partner, and started to put on righteousness—that her friends in the homosexual community began to be very hurt and offended. Why? Because the darkness hates the light. That kind of undeniable holiness in plain sight for sinners to observe is an indictment of their sinful lifestyle.
And so, since the Philippians had been rescued from the dominion of darkness and had been transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son—as their citizenship was transferred from Roman citizenship to heavenly citizenship—they began to face the threat of opposition from their pagan neighbors. And so Paul tells them they are to stand firm—to not let such persecution cause them to move an inch in their commitment to Christ and His Gospel. A paramount way in which they will conduct themselves as citizens worthy of the Gospel is to be good soldiers and stand their ground at all costs. Paul tells them what he told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2 verse 3: “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” He says to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 16 verse 13: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”
And we are in no less need of such an admonition, GraceLife. The Gospel that we believe and the Lord that we serve are no less subversive and antithetical to our world than they were to the world the Philippians lived in. And so as we simply seek to live our quiet lives in the fear of the Lord—as good citizens, in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ—the opposition will come, if it hasn’t already. 2 Timothy 2:13 speaks plain: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And when it comes, the question for you is: Will you be ready? Will you stand firm? Is the Lord Jesus Christ so worthy, so glorious in your eyes that you will be able to gladly count all the things in this life you hold dear as loss for His sake? Or will you fold? Will you yield your ground and be driven—not by the Gospel, but by the ever-changing moral tides of the culture—and so prove yourself to not be a soldier of Christ at all, but as one who goes out from us because he was never really of us (1 John 2:19).
You’re all familiar with the story of Martin Luther. The entire world of Christendom stood against him for teaching the biblical doctrine of salvation—that a man is justified by faith alone. And when he wouldn’t kowtow to the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, they put him on trial before the Holy Roman Emperor himself at the Diet of Worms, and demanded that he recant his teachings or suffer the fate of a heretic. And I trust you remember Luther’s famous words: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen!”
Perhaps a less-known account is that of the martyrdom of Polycarp, one of the church fathers who was a disciple of the Apostle John, and who had served for years as the bishop of Smyrna. It’s recorded that when the Roman soldiers had stormed his house to seize him, he fed them dinner and asked if could spend an hour in prayer, which they allowed. And they took him to the arena, where he stood in the face of wild beasts that threatened to tear him to pieces. The Roman proconsul reminded Polycarp of his advanced age (he was now in his mid 80s) and promised to release him if he would swear loyalty to Caesar and revile the name of Jesus Christ. And with the lions to his left and the stake at which he would be burned to his right, he looked at the crowd who longed for his death and said, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who has saved me?”
And I ask you this morning: Are you ready to stand? Are you committed to suffering hardship in this long line of godly men, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ? Who, when the temptation comes to soften on a particular doctrine of Scripture, will look that tempter in the face and say, “Here I stand!” Who, when the cultural and societal and even political powers of the day demand that you renounce and revile Christ and keep up with the spirit of the times, will stand your ground and say with Polycarp, “In all the years I’ve served Him He’s never done me wrong. How could I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
You may think I’m being dramatic, but in the coming years our 21st-century American culture is going to give us plenty opportunities to show the world that to live is Christ and to die is gain (1:21)—that we count all things as loss for the sake of the surpassing value of knowing Him (3:8)—because it’s going to force us to choose between faithfulness to the Lord and the worldly comforts we’ve grown so accustomed to. I’m sure many of you have heard of the controversy surrounding Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby is a chain of arts and crafts stores whose owners are Christians. And contrary to the mandate of Obamacare, they have refused to provide health insurance that would provide abortion-inducing drugs, insisting that that would be a violation of their religious liberty. As a result, the owners face crippling fines of up to $1.3 million per day until they comply with Obamacare. That was last month. This month, a Christian pastor was invited by the White House to pray at President Obama’s second inauguration because of his tireless work to end human trafficking. But when someone listened to a sermon that this man preached almost 20 years ago in which he identified homosexuality as a sin from 1 Corinthians 6, there was so much of an uproar that the pastor was forced to withdraw from the engagement. Al Mohler, a good friend of our pastor’s who will be here in March for the Shepherds’ Conference, wrote an article about this in which he identified this as “the clearest evidence of the new Moral McCarthyism of our sexually ‘tolerant’ age. During the infamous McCarthy hearings [of the 1950s], witnesses would be asked, ‘Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?’ In the version now to be employed by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, the question will be: ‘Are you now or have you ever been one who believes that homosexuality (or bisexuality, or transsexualism, etc.) is anything less than morally acceptable and worthy of celebration?’”
And my friends, you are going to have a choice. As those kinds of headlines continue to increase, many professing Christians—maybe even some of you—are going to be tempted to soften your positions a little bit. “Well, maybe life doesn’t begin at conception. After all how can we really tell when a fetus becomes a human being?” “Well, maybe it’s not our place to deny ‘civil rights’ to homosexuals who want to be married. Sure, I don’t agree with it, but we can’t legislate morality.” And against these fine-sounding arguments, and all the various ways in which the world will press us to soften our stance on the Word of God, we need to heed the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to stand firm! To hold our ground as good soldiers of Jesus Christ! To resolve that if persecution comes—if ridicule and accusations of bigotry and homophobia come, if hardship and million-dollar fines come, if even death itself should come—we will stand firm as good soldiers of the Lord Jesus, as citizens of Heaven ruled by the Gospel of Christ!
And so in the face of opposition and persecution, Paul calls his dear friends, the Philippians, to stand firm, to hold their ground against attacks from the unbelieving world.
II. A Unified Aggressiveness (v. 27d)
But there’s a second application of a life worthy of the Gospel. Faithful citizens of the kingdom of Heaven will be marked not only by a unified steadfastness, but also by a unified aggressiveness. Look with me at the end of verse 27: “…standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
Here again Paul uses another military term: striving together. But whereas the emphasis on standing firm was more reactive—or, we could say, defensive—the imagery of this word is proactive, or offensive. Good soldiers of Christ Jesus are to stand firm against attacks, but they are also to proactively, offensively, strive together for the faith of the Gospel. The word in Greek is sunathleo, which is made up of the prefix sun-, meaning “together with,” and the verb athleo, which of course is where we derive our English word athlete or athletics. This is a picture of the laboring, the exertion of energy, and the discipline that goes along with athletic competition. It is an image of soldiers fighting with all the athletic prowess they can summon, and striving side by side against a common enemy.
Now of course this striving, this aggressiveness, this military imagery—is not referring to physical, hand-to-hand combat. What does Paul say in Ephesians chapter 6 verse 12? “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Therefore, 2 Corinthians 10 verse 4, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but [are] divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying—not people, but—speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
This is a spiritual battle. Even though the Philippians were facing strong opposition from their unbelieving neighbors, they were not only to stand firm against attack, but they were to fight back, in a spiritual sense, against those opposing and hostile worldviews by aggressively proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. Paul is calling them to evangelism. The Philippians were not simply to endure the assault of the truth from their surrounding culture; they were to confront the leading cultural ideologies of their day with the Truth of Jesus Christ. They were to not only use their shield to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy; they were to draw their sword, and like an athlete who leaves everything he’s got on the field, they were to spend themselves proclaiming the message of the Gospel—that message that was the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes—whether Jew, or Greek, or Roman, or American.
And so you see, friends, it’s not enough for us to simply cross the finish line. It’s not enough for us to simply endure attacks against the truth. Yes, it is extremely important that we stand firm—that we don’t give in to the prevailing ideologies of our day and make shipwreck of faith. But we must also strive together for the faith of the Gospel by preaching that Gospel to a world that needs it and yet hates it at the same time. The good soldier of Christ Jesus—the faithful citizen of Heaven, living worthily of the Gospel of Christ—loves to proclaim that Gospel to others. Because we want them to know and love and enjoy the God who has satisfied the depths of our souls, and because God is worthy of praise and honor and glory from all of His creatures, and it is the preaching of the Gospel that turns people into worshipers. Dear friends, as you think strategically about how you’re going to live your lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel in 2013, give some time to thinking about how you’ll be intentional in sharing the Gospel with people. Whether that means attending a local outreach ministry, setting up a time to meet with a neighbor for coffee, or even spending some time getting equipped in how to evangelize biblically and effectively, set your hand to living out a Gospel-driven aggressiveness in 2013.
You say, “Hey, that’s going to take a lot of preparation.” Yes, it will! But think again about that Greek word for striving: sunathleo, “athletics.” Think about an athlete who is going to run the 100 meter sprint in the Olympics. That race lasts no more than fifteen seconds once every four years. But the athlete who is dedicated to winning the prize sets aside months and even years of his life, so that everything in his life—from his diet, to his leisure activities, to his exercise regimen—everything is governed and regulated by those ten to fifteen seconds. And Paul is telling the Philippians that everything in their lives is to be governed and regulated by the Gospel! And so that will result in the kind of athletic, disciplined effort to see the Gospel advance, even in a world hostile to Christ and the truth He proclaims.
But notice: it is not only a steadfastness to which the Apostle Paul calls the Philippians—it is a unified steadfastness. It is not only a holy aggressiveness for the faith of the Gospel that marks a faithful citizen of Heaven, but a unified aggressiveness. In the span of what doesn’t even amount to a single complete sentence, Paul emphasizes the importance of unity three times: “…standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
And this makes all the sense in the world for a church in the midst of opposition! The strength of an army is the unity of its soldiers. In order to successfully withstand opposition and strive against it, the company of soldiers must strive together, with one spirit and with one mind. If the various soldiers are all trying to do their own thing, defeat is certain. But a well-trained army presents a united front and fights as a single unit, as if they were one man (cf. Hansen, 97).
And Paul knew about the building tensions between certain members of the church at Philippi—not the least of which, of course, were the two ladies who are mentioned by name in the beginning of chapter 4. And Paul knew that if the Philippians were going to be successful in ministering the Gospel to a hostile culture, it was absolutely essential that they be entirely unified at home. The phrase “with one mind,” is literally translated, “with one soul.” What a vivid illustration of the profound importance of unity among believers—as if we shared the same mind, the same soul. Our hearts beat together. This kind of language is reminiscent of what was spoken about the Church at Pentecost in Acts 4:32. Luke tells us: “The congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.”
And that’s the standard that we need to pursue. We need to be of such a singular passion—we need to be so much of one mind and one soul with one another—that it would be natural for us to sell anything and everything we had to provide for a brother’s need, if that’s what it would take. As we said last week, the Gospel unites those who believe to the Lord Jesus such that we are one with Him. But that means we are also, objectively, one with all other believers who are one with Him. Pastor John has said, “You don’t just have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You have a corporate relationship with Jesus Christ.” And so because of the objective unity that the Gospel has accomplished among all true believers in Christ, living in a manner worthy of the Gospel means walking in unity with those believers. It means a commitment to being of one mind with those who love and worship the same Lord that you do. And that is especially true of relationships here in the same church. It should be among our top priorities to ensure that we are all walking in unity together, presenting a united front to a community that is lost, and that we seek to win by the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ.
But aside from relational unity, the implication of a unified steadfastness and a unified aggressiveness is that nobody in the body is excepted from doing all they can in order to keep the faith and to advance the Gospel. If Paul is calling the Philippians to strive together with one mind, that means the responsibility for defending the faith and preaching the Gospel does not belong to an elite class of super-spiritual super-Christians. No army is made up of generals alone, but every soldier matters and has a strategic part to play. And so every one of you has the responsibility and the privilege of taking this Gospel to the world, because we are all striving together.
III. A Resolute Fearlessness (v. 28a)
Well then, we have seen that faithful citizens of the kingdom of Heaven will be marked by a unified steadfastness. We have seen that they will be marked by a unified aggressiveness. Finally, we come to Paul’s third application of a life worthy of the Gospel. Faithful citizens of the kingdom of Heaven will be marked by a resolute fearlessness. Look with me at verse 28: “…in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them and of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” The citizen conducting himself in a manner worthy of the Gospel will not be alarmed in any way by his opponents in the midst of struggle and opposition, but will remain confident in the strength and the protection of His King.
And Paul continues to employ the military imagery. This word “alarmed” means to be “frightened, terrified, or intimidated” (BAGD, 727), and was used in extrabiblical Greek literature to describe horses that were startled or frightened on the battlefield (Hansen, 98). You can imagine a soldier charging the enemy on horseback on the battlefield, only to have the horse spooked by a snake and stop short, kick up its front legs and throw his rider to the ground. In fact, Plutarch, the famous Greek historian and writer used this word in his story of a Roman soldier’s death as a result of just such a frightened horse (Hansen, 98).
Now, given the opposition the Philippians were facing, it’s not difficult to understand that they would need to be exhorted to a resolute fearlessness. Acts 16 records for us that the Philippians themselves had witnessed Paul being beaten and thrown into prison when he was in Philippi (Acts 16:22–24, 37). They knew of the sufferings that Paul faced in his missionary journeys. And of course they knew about his present imprisonment in Rome and his potential execution. They knew what the Romans could do to them. But Paul is telling them that a good soldier of Christ—a worthy citizen of the kingdom of Heaven—is in no way frightened by his adversaries.
That phrase “in no way” is very emphatic in the Greek text. Paul is saying that the Philippians have no reason to be frightened at any point in anything. One Bible paraphrase puts it like this: “Meeting your opponents without so much as a tremor” (NEB). No matter how powerful the opposition is, nothing should shake the resolve of the citizen of Heaven. Why? Because the King of Heaven remains on His throne, and He is infinitely more powerful than any opposing force could ever dream to be.
This the very thing that Jesus said as He commissioned His disciples to preach the Gospel to all creation and make disciples of all the nations. In Matthew 28, as Jesus gives the nascent church its marching orders, the first thing He said, Matthew 28:18, was: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” And the very last thing He said was, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” “There is nothing in this entire universe that I do not carefully and meticulously control. And I Myself will be with you every step of the way. So go. Don’t be afraid. Preach this Gospel. Fulfill your mission.”
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, that great 19th century Scottish preacher, wrote, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.” All authority has been given to Him. He is with us even to the end of the age. And so we need not fear a million enemies, no matter where following Him may take us.
And that’s the application of this principle for us today. I think the main way we apply this admonition to be resolutely fearless is to be willing to lay down our lives in the service of the Gospel no matter what the cost. Wherever Christ leads us—no matter how risky, no matter how difficult, no matter how uncomfortable—we follow Him down that path obediently and happily and with all the courage of one who serves the sovereign God of the universe. The one who conducts himself as a citizen worthy of the Gospel goes where it’s hard to go. Lives where it’s hard to live. Performs the services and the ministries that it’s hard to perform. That might mean that you become a missionary to a closed country in the 10/40 window. It might mean doing evangelism Downtown on Skid Row. It might mean gently and reverently answering your co-worker who consistently mocks Christ and Christianity. It might mean inviting your neighbors over for dinner and getting to know them and looking for an opportunity to speak the Gospel to them. It might mean finally sharing the Gospel with that friend or that family member whose response you’re dreading. Whatever it is, we can be free to speak the Gospel with confidence and joy, in no way alarmed by our opponents.
Let’s turn to a couple of other Scripture passages, just to add fuel to the fire of this fearlessness. Turn to Joshua chapter 1. Yahweh has just taken Moses to Heaven, and He’s now charging Joshua as he leads the Israelites into the Promised Land. And in verse 5, Yahweh tells Joshua that he should in no way be alarmed by his opponents. Verse 5: “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.” Skip to verse 9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for Yahweh your God is with you wherever you go.”
Turn now to Isaiah chapter 41. The prophet Isaiah has spent 39 chapters announcing judgment and condemnation on Israel for their wickedness. But in chapter 40 he turns to prophesy restoration and blessing that will come after Israel faces Yahweh’s chastisement. And in verses 5 to 16, Yahweh Himself encourages the soldiers of Israel, reminding them that when they are unified, steadfast, and aggressive, they ought also to be fearless. Start in verse 5: “The coastlands have seen and are afraid; The ends of the earth tremble; They have drawn near and have come. Each one helps his neighbor And says to his brother, ‘Be strong!’ So the craftsman encourages the smelter, And he who smooths metal with the hammer encourages him who beats the anvil, Saying of the soldering, ‘It is good’; And he fastens it with nails, So that it will not totter. But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend, You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, And called from its remotest parts And said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored; Those who contend with you will be as nothing and will perish. You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them, Those who war with you will be as nothing and non-existent. For I am Yahweh your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ ‘Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,’ declares Yahweh, ‘and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.’ Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in Yahweh, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.”
And it’s that blessed text from which one of my favorite hymns is derived, How Firm a Foundation. God says to His people:
Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
And finally, turn to Luke chapter 21. Jesus tells His disciples in verse 16: “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair on your head will perish.” They’ll put some of you to death, and not a hair on your head will perish! You see? The very worst they can do to you is kill you. But for you, the one for whom to die is gain, the one for whom to depart and be with Christ is very much better, Philippians 1:23, that is no concern at all! Do you see how free and how useful you become when Christ is more precious to you than all that death can take? The very worst your enemies can do to you is chase you up to Heaven! Oh what a fearless people we should be!
And that kind of resolute fearlessness in the face of persecution and opposition is so evidently supernatural—so evidently a work of the Spirit of God in those who are His—that it can be said to be a plain indication of who is saved and who is lost. Look again at verse 28: “…in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them and of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” That kind of unshakable confidence in the sovereignty and the goodness of God that causes one to gladly and willingly endure suffering for the cause of Christ is so beyond anything that is native to our own natural character that Paul says, “You can tell who the friends of God are and who the enemies of God are.” People who suffer persecution and opposition as a result of their commitment to Christ, but who bear up under it joyfully and without complaint because the bottom of their joy is the magnification of Christ—they’re not native to this fallen world. They’ve been born from above. They’ve been given a new nature. For them, to live is Christ and to die is gain. For them, Christ is more satisfying than pleasant circumstances, problem-free lives, or unlimited leisure time. And they make Christ look great!
And so because those who suffer so righteously for the sake of Christ are evidently saved, their persecutors are evidently marked out as the enemies of God Himself, because they are enemies of His people. And so our resolute fearlessness as the people of God amidst suffering and opposition serves as an evident token of our sure salvation, and is at the same time an evident token of the sure destruction of our persecutors.
And verse 29 tells us that not only can we be fearless because the Lord God is with us in our trials, but we can be fearless because the Lord God has ordained our trials, and has graciously granted them to us as a gift. But that’s for next time.
Until then, commit to praying for your brothers and sisters in GraceLife, and for yourselves, that we would all conduct our lives as citizens worthy of the Gospel of Christ—that we would be consistently marked by a unified steadfastness, by a unified aggressiveness, and by a resolute fearlessness.