Fearless and United

Philippians 1:27-30

Are you brand loyal? My father’s father, Grandpa Overmiller, was a brand-loyal kid of guy. He always purchases Mercury cars, ate dried rice cakes from Quaker Oats, and wore white MacGregor tennis shoes.

Brand loyalty is the tendency of some people to keep on buying the same brands of goods and services of certain suppliers, refusing to consider the goods and services of other providers. Brand loyalty assumes that the quality a product or service by their preferred source is superior to all competitors, so they are willing to pay an even higher price to purchase from the brands they prefer, even though it costs them more to do so.

As followers of Christ, we are called to be loyal to Christ (first of all) and then one another as a result. We are called to follow Christ throughout life, no matter how much doing so may cost or how much suffering we will experience as a result. As followers of Christ, our “brand” is the gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ. And we are called to choose a lifestyle that is consistent with the truth of the gospel. Living this way is a key to living joyfully.

Choose a lifestyle that matches the message of the gospel.
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…

With these instructions, Paul told the members of the church at Philippi how to live. “Only let your conduct” focuses on their daily lifestyle, priorities, and schedules: what they did and didn’t do, how they did things, how they conversed with people, and who they did and didn’t spend time with, make friends with, etc.

When Paul taught about a believer’s lifestyle in the New Testament (NT), he commonly, normally used a different word (peripateo), one that means “to walk,” describing the Christian life as a sequence of steps, a series of choices, one after another. But in this case, he chose a different word (politeuomai) which means “to behave like a good citizen.”

This word appears only one other time in the NT, Acts 23:1, when Paul defended himself to the Jewish political and religious leaders. He claimed that he had conducted himself as an exemplary Jewish citizen, someone who had conscientiously followed the law of Moses, with God as his witness. However he lived, whatever he did, he made and adjusted his choices to be consistent with the Law of Moses.

Here in Phil 1:27, however, Paul is not speaking of being a law-abiding Jewish citizen. He is speaking about living as a citizen of God’s heavenly kingdom as a follower of Christ. He wanted them to make and adjust their choices in daily life to be consistent with “the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

What does it mean to live in a way that is “consistent with the gospel”? Paul answers this question in a twofold way, first from a positive standpoint (stand and strive) and then from a negative standpoint (not terrified). Let’s take a look at the positive standpoint first.

Stand (steko) was a military concept that envisions Roman soldiers standing firm in the heat of battle, not running away or leaving one another to die. It envisioned more than just standing firm in place but also persevering and pressing forward in battle together.

Strive together (sunathleo) was an athletic concept that envisions Roman athletes competing and struggling together vigorously in a team event. To be a successful team requires each person to exert and focus himself equally and vigorously, neither asserting himself over others (“ball hog”) nor deferring everything to others (“benchwarmer.”)

With these two concepts in mind, Paul emphasizes behaving and living this way with oneness, saying “in one spirit” and “with one mind.” One here describes unity, which is the opposite of being divided or worse, of being opposed to one another.

As followers of Christ and members of a church family, it is our responsibility to represent the “gospel of Christ” and “the faith of the gospel” well, to give a compelling and positive impression to the nonbelieving world around us. To accomplish this well, we must work together harmoniously, humbly, and energetically as a team, as a brothers and sisters in the family of God.

When brothers and sisters fight with each other, they give their family a bad reputation and give an unattractive view of their family to others. But when they cooperate and work together harmoniously, they give their family a good reputation and give an attractive, compelling view of their family to others.

Isaac Watts (who wrote the hymns “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Joy to the World,” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”) wrote this short poem about sibling relationships more than two centuries ago:

Whatever brawls disturb the street,
There should be peace at home;
Where sisters dwell and brothers meet,
Quarrels should never come.
Birds in their little nests agree;
And 'tis a shameful sight,
When children of one family
Fall out and chide and fight.

This is what Paul envisions – the members of the Philippian church living, serving, and working together harmoniously for the cause of Christ. As we will discover more later, there were two women in the church who were engaged in a divisive, public disagreement (Phil 4:2):

I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.

A key to avoiding such divisions and to fostering the sweet unity of Christ is to foster a humble, Christlike attitude towards one another in our hearts. Paul’s emphasis here on spirit and mind encourages us not to be content with outward conformity, being content to merely “go through the motions” on the outside. Instead, he envisions the members of a church family submitting to Christ and to one another from the inside, cultivating a genuine partnership for advancing and spreading the gospel to our community and world.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story about Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done, and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

The point of this silly story is that when everybody in a church family assumes someone else should or will do what needs to be done for Christ, then nobody ends up doing things and there is division rather than harmony, ineffectiveness rather than unity.

Paul is encouraging the members of the church at Philippi, and any gospel-preaching church, to get involved. Everyone should step into ministry roles, contribute financially, participate in worship gatherings, participate in fellowship events, and participate in helping other people take their next steps in following Christ. This kind of teamwork makes the gospel attractive and compelling to the world.

Don’t let adversity scare you away from this focus.
and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.

So, Paul answers the question of what it means to live a life that is consistent with the gospel in a positive way, by teaching us as the members of a church family to stand and strive together harmoniously – to work together humbly and energetically – to help people take their next steps in following Christ.

Paul also answers this question in a negative way, as well. He answers not just by saying what we should do but what we shouldn’t do. He says that as we work together for Christ, we should not be terrified by our adversaries. What does this mean?

Well, in Paul’s first instructions, he has taught us not to be adversaries to one another. Now he is teaching us not to let our actual, real adversaries frighten us from following Christ.

To be frightened means to be scared or intimidated. Adversaries refers to people who disagree with the gospel and esp. those who seek to oppose, resist, or be hostile to us. How may we be frightened or intimidated from living lives consistent with the gospel?

In a general sense, we may be afraid or reticent to ever speak to our unbelieving neighbors and friends about the gospel. You may be afraid to acknowledge that you are a believer, to share the testimony of how you learned about and believed on Christ, or to pray publicly before eating a meal, etc. You may be afraid that doing these things will cause others to look down on you, reject you, and possibly prevent you from getting a promotion on the job or a passing grade on a project at school

In a specific sense, we may be afraid or reticent to speak up about issues pertaining to God’s truth. We may be afraid, for instance, when speaking to a transgender person who prefers pronouns that differ from his or her God-given gender from birth.

Consider House Bill 4474, for instance, passed by the Michigan House of Representatives two weeks ago. This bill must still be considered by the Senate, so it’s not official, but if passed by the Senate and then signed by the Governor, it would make it a state felony for people intimidate or threaten others by disrespecting their gender identity, by deliberately using pronouns they do not accept for instance. Doing so may then be punishable for up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Then, of course, we have the growing trend of criminalizing what is now popularly being called “conversion therapy.” This term refers to attempts at helping LGBTQ people break away from that lifestyle and accept their God-given gender as evidenced from birth. There is a 2-year law in Canada, for instance, that criminalizes any behavior which “provides, promotes, or advertises” such activity or counseling.

The State of Minnesota has a similar law in place. The Canadian law reads ambiguously, making it unclear whether preaching, teaching, or counseling provided by a church is also illegal. Thankfully, the MN law specifically only forbids such counseling by state-licensed counselors but does not forbid religious, church-based, non-State-licensed counseling from helping people accept their God-given identities. This distinction is due, in large part, to the separation of church and state principle upheld in the U.S., which I spoke about last Sunday, though this will likely continue to be challenged from many angles.

As we move forward into the twenty-first century, are we prepared to stand firm and strive together for the faith of the gospel of Christ? Will we stand firm together for the truth of God, even when government laws and social pressure intimidates us from doing so?

In 1869, John Wesley Powell – a one-armed military vet turned American naturalist – embarked on the legendary Powel Geographic Expedition. Accompanied by 11 men in four wooden boats, he ventured through the Grand Canyon from beginning to end in the course of three grueling months. Together, they traversed punishing rapids, lost many supplies, and endured much suffering.

At one point, three men became convinced that the trip was no longer worth the risk, esp. since they could hear a new set of rapids ahead which sounded more dangerous and punishing than any before. So, they left the team, setting out to scale the cliffs to the desert plateau above, believe it was safer and wise to do so.

About this moment, Powell wrote in his diary: “The billows are huge and I fear our boats could not ride them…There is discontent in the camp tonight and I fear some of the party will take to the mountains but hope not.”

After these three men departed, the rest of the men loaded into their boats and entered the dangerous rapids ahead. To their surprise, the rapids were not as dangerous as they had supposed, and when they emerged on the other side, they were greeted by the Virgin River and the end of their journey. If those other three men had stood firm and persisted, they would have completed the expedition! Sadly, however, they were never heard from again. According to some accounts, they killed by Shivwit Indians as they climbed up from the Canyon.

In light of these political and social pressures and trends, are we prepared to insist on godly morals and beliefs, providing sound, biblical – and loving – teaching and counseling whether or not it is popular or even legal to do so? Or will we bail out and back away?

According to Paul, if we remain steadfast in our stand for the truth of God, then (1) the world will become more aware that of their future judgment before God but (2) we will become more assured of our future salvation from God.

Accept adversity as evidence of God’s favor.
For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.

In the end, rather than run from adversity, we should not only accept it but should recognize that it is a necessary part of following Christ.

Paul said, “It has been granted.” This is not the usual word for “giving” but features an additional element of being favored or blessed in a special way.

“On behalf of Christ” means that the adversity we experience for living lives consistent with the gospel are vicarious. The word vicarious means “in the place of.” This is the word that is normally used to describe Christ’s death for our sins, describing how he died “in our place.” Here, that experience is reversed. When we suffer for the truth of the gospel, we suffer for the benefit of Christ himself. He receives the honor and glory for our suffering and he even gains new and more followers as a result in many cases.

When Paul says, “having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me,” he is referring first to the social, political, and religious conditions in the city of Philippi. When Paul had started the church there, he had freed a young girl from demon possession and enslavement (Acts 16:16-34). As a result, the unbelieving community was upset because this act of Christlike compassion had caused economic challenges from people who profited from her financially. They responded by casting Paul into prison and beating him violently.

Did he back away, though? Not at all. He prayed and sang praises to God in his difficult position and other people – including his prison guard – believed on Christ, too!

In these final words of Phil 1:30, he also refers to the suffering the Philippian church had heard he was experiencing in prison in Rome, which we have considered in a previous sermon.

The point is that such social opposition and hostility to the truth of God and message of the gospel is not unusual. It should be expected and is a sign of God’s blessing upon us. For this reason, we should stand firm and persevere together even if and when doing so will be dangerous and difficult to do. If we cannot stand and serve together when it’s easy, what will we do when it’s hard?

Is God calling you to believe on Christ? Is he calling you to acknowledge your sin, receive his forgiveness, and receive his promise of salvation and everlasting life in relationship with him?

If you have believed on Christ, is he reminding you to stand firm and persevere in standing and serving along with the rest of your church family? And to stand firm and persevere together in representing and speaking out for the truth of God? Christ is honored and glorified when we remain fearless and united together for Christ.

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