As a church, we’ve been going through a series titled “A Joy Filled Life” from the letter to the Philippians. As we’ve been studying this letter, we realize that this “joy” that is being described in this letter is being experienced not through the best of scenarios and circumstances.
One would imagine someone who speaks about joy to be in a beautiful, calm, pleasant, pain-free environment but Paul actually writes this letter about joy in a prison cell. One of the verses that encouraged all of us last weekend was v21 – “To live is Christ and to die is gain”.
So much is the joy and treasure found in the midst of a prison cell and in suffering. And what we will see this week is not only was Paul undergoing suffering but also was the church at Philippi. Their circumstances were no less difficult and challenging than Paul’s. Read with me in v27-30
27 Only let your manner of life be worthy[h] 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, 28 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. 29 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, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
I want to ask this question to a few of us whose home isn’t in Mumbai. You’ve moved cities and come to Mumbai for either work or studies. Do you remember the last thing your parents told you before you left home?
Probably something on the lines of: make sure you eat well. Make sure you’re staying in a good locality and make sure that you have good friends. And every time they call you, these are the same things that they check on you.
It’s coming from a place of concern and they want to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself in their absence. And in some similar ways I think Paul is trying to make sure that the Philippian church is doing well. Paul after all is their spiritual father in the faith.
He brought the gospel to them, discipled them, nurtured them and you’d have to believe that they were dependent on him as well. But now they find themselves in a position where he’s far from them bound in a prison cell while they are in Philippi without their spiritual father facing persecution for the same faith.
What is the most important thing for them to know, believe and obey right now? When we go through real persecution in our homes and workplaces because of our faith…what is the most important thing we need to know, believe and obey?
V27 says: Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel. The Greek phrase for manner of life is actually “behave or conduct yourself as a citizen who has been changed by the gospel”.
You might be a citizen of Rome or India but your true citizenship is of heaven and you must live a life in line with the gospel. I hope all of us have this question right now – okay, but what is a life worthy of the gospel? It’s a life that recognizes that it’s
Because of God and not because of us
3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
As we think about our past – we don’t look at it as glory or something great but rather as being lost and dead. We were not great but dead. In our rebellion and sin, we were incapable of turning to God and responding to God by ourselves.
That’s what “dead” means. But here’s God’s commitment toward us. He reveals his goodness and loving kindness. Which means that we deserved condemnation and destruction but God chose to show us kindness. And this kindness is not because of good works or great efforts (filthy rags) but because of God’s mercy.
Because we were dead, God had to wash what was unclean and repair the broken wiring through the Holy Spirit. This wonderful gift was made possible only because God’s Son – Jesus Christ fully and sufficiently paid the complete price on the cross. He didn’t pay half. He didn’t pay 75%. He paid it all! And He rose again to declare the work is done and those who commit and surrender their lives to Jesus Christ (not me but because of Him) will have no reason to fear God’s judgment but instead enjoy God’s love and fellowship.
That’s why it’s so essential for us to know “It’s Because of God, not because of us”. That’s the theme of the Christian life. Every single day we wake up, we remind ourselves of the same. Every single Sunday we come to the Gathering, we say the same thing. We sing the same thing.
For God and not for us
Sometimes there is this misconception that because of the gospel and grace, it lowers the standard of holiness for God’s people. And that’s absolutely not true. If anything, it raises the standard and shows that we all have a higher calling.
You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19,20) – You belong to God. You are His. Live for Him.
14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. – Old man – Old person – dead…if you’ve understood and responded to love of God, then your Boss has changed. Your Master has changed. Your reason to live has changed.
Out of Love
And this obedience and pursuit of holiness and living a life worthy of the gospel isn’t done out of reluctance or unwillingness – it is done out of love.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15) – We obey out of love for Christ. Our motivation for obedience also has radically changed through the gospel. We read the Bible each morning not because we expect some blessing from God but out of love.
We share the gospel with the people in our lives not out of compulsion but out of love. We pursue holy living not to earn God’s favour but out of love for God. We repent of our sins not only because we want to be guilt-free but because we love Christ and we want to grow in a relationship with Him.
And that’s the most important thing for all of us to know, believe and obey each and every day! Even if this is the only thing that you remember from today – that’s great because we need to live a manner of life worthy of the gospel. We need to remind each other about this same thing every every day.
Here’s Paul’s application for the Philippian believers. He’s telling them that the gospel of Christ & living a manner worthy of the gospel was going to produce:
1. Internal Unity
27 Only let your manner of life be worthy[h] 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,
Although the Philippian church was fruitful, generous, obedient, like any other church they also had divisions and fights among them. We’ll be reading a little more about that in the coming chapters but their greatest struggle was to find unity among the members.
Think about this guys – imagine an army of one nation trying to battle against another army. What would happen if one of those armies started fighting amongst themselves? Total chaos and a lost war.
You can imagine how divisions and fights within the church affect the witness of the church.
This is what Mahatma Gandhi said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” And so many like him are put-off by what happens in a church & that’s why there are some people who chose not to be a part of a church because they see the mess that’s in it.
When we come together as a church – we do bring alongwith us our sins and differences which is why there is going to be conflict. But instead of quitting and leaving the church because of the conflict that is in it, Christ calls us to commitment.
We are sinful, we are broken, we are different but the beauty is in seeing how Christ unites us and restores us through the gospel.
Imagine right now if there is a conflict within our church – what do we do? How do we deal with this issue? Take sides? No. We remind each other that we were saved not because of us but because of God’s mercy. That humbles us.
We remind each other that we live for God and not for us. No longer do we live for our own selfishness and pride. We remind each other that we will bear with each other and love each out of our love for Christ. No matter what we will fight for unity through forgiveness and repentance out of love for Christ.
2. External Boldness
One thing that was happening at the time is that the Philippian church was being hit with persecution. The problem people had with Christians was not so much that they were following Christ but that they were failing to properly worship the community gods especially the emperor.
Does that sound familiar? The decision to follow Christ brought severe social (families cutting ties), economic (losing their jobs and business) and legal consequences (taken to court, harsh punishments and being labelled as traitors). And it’s in this context that Paul tells them that the gospel was going to produce boldness in front of their opponents.
I know many times in churches we tend to focus on the happy and comfortable things – God’s love and peace and joy that He gives us but if we ignore this topic of “suffering” we end up missing out on a big part of what it means to be a Christian. Yes, you heard it right. Suffering for Christ – not for doing wrong – but for the gospel is a very important part of being a follower of Jesus.
Yes, and this passage offers two very important things that I don’t want us to miss out on:
i) Suffering is proof of your genuineness. (v28)
28 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.
Biblically – there are many tests that can help us understand if we are truly in the faith or not. One of those tests – is suffering – how we respond to suffering and if we are still standing in the midst of suffering reveals if we are genuine pakka believers or not.
If we look like the world, act like the rest of the world, talk like the rest of the world and think like the rest of the world, there would actually be no persecution. The world aggressively hates and opposes believers because they are radically different from all of them.
So this should really makes us question ourselves – have we ever faced opposition from our unbelieving family members or our work colleagues or neighbours because of the gospel? And if we’ve faced them, how are we standing? I’m not saying that we won’t experience pain or fear but is the suffering leading us to reject Christ or depend on Him all the more because our faith is genuine! I would challenge all of us to think on this.
ii) Suffering is a gift of God which indicates your union with Christ (v29)
29 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,
Sometimes it seems contradictory, how can something like suffering be considered a gift from God. “The world will hate you because they hate me” is what Jesus said in John 15. All suffering because of the gospel ultimately happens because people are broken and rebellious toward Christ.
And the fact that that anger is directed toward us shows that we are His. We belong to Him. We are His family. He is united to us. And here’s the promise guys – God is not someone who allows us to suffer while He’s at a distance. His presence is not just with us but more powerfully experienced during times of suffering.
1 Peter 4:4 – If you insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
There are aspects of God’s character and love that we can only understand as we are suffering for Him. And that will deepen our love and faith in Him.