Philippians 1:27&28 “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 one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel 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.”
At this point in the epistle there is a change of emphasis. Paul is in transition as he moves to the area of Christian conduct. He begins to address the congregation in Philippi about how they should be living their daily lives. He has been commending to them the Christians in Rome who were speaking the word of God “courageously and fearlessly” (v.14). It is a great grace to teach the gospel of the Lord Jesus, but we must also live for Christ. Surely there must be tangible differences in all our conduct if God has touched our lives? The next long section of the letter, where Paul will refer in a sublime way to the incarnation of the Son of God and plead that our attitude should be the same as Christ’s, reminds us that all Christian behaviour flows out of Christian theology, and conversely, that all Christian theology must lead to Christian living. The doctrine and the practice are, according to the New Testament, inseparable. To be gripped by the love of God in Jesus Christ your Lord must affect your entire life. We tell men, “Jesus once meant nothing to me, but now he is all the world to me.” Our whole lives must adorn that truth.
Let me use a simple illustration to show how a change of beliefs must cause a difference in practice: imagine a person who is the most unpopular man in our town, the recipient of everyone’s scorn, the butt of their jokes, the theme of the chants of fools in pubs. However, one day this pathetic man saw your only child drowning in the sea and he was the one who ran down from the promenade and, risking his own life, plunged into the waves and saved her. Henceforth will there be a change in your attitude towards this man? Will you continue to rubbish him along with everyone else? Impossible! Your judgment of him is bound to have changed because he was the man who was willing to lay down his own life to save your child. You now believe he has been a maligned man, and that he is in fact an honourable man. You are in debt to him. Henceforth you will live in perpetual appreciation of that much demeaned man who had rescued your daughter from the jaws of death. She idolises him, and indeed the attitude of many other people has changed because of what that man did. They have a new understanding of him and a sense of shame over the cruel things they once said about him. His actions have changed people’s behaviour. You will always speak up for him. Once Saul of Tarsus thought Jesus of Nazareth to be a liar and a blasphemer leading many astray. So he persecuted and tortured his followers to stamp out the name of Jesus from the earth. Then he met with the living Saviour when his whole life was changed. Saul realised that this Lord had died the blasphemer’s death not for his own sins but for Paul’s sins, and he preached the name he once hated.
New attitudes and practices are created by new convictions about the worth of Jesus Christ. In our country today there is the widely recognised problem of the anti-social behaviour of young people seen in crime, vandalism, drug-taking and sexual promiscuity. Politicians, policemen and educationalists are particularly concerned. What can be done? To obtain a change in their behaviour a change in beliefs is needed. We say that that can only be achieved by people being captured by the truth of God the Son. That is our major contribution to the moral debate, and we must make sure that nothing mutes that contribution of the body of Christ. We are to spend our energy in the work of the gospel.
Christians have to show the way by lives of credible godliness. God has loved us. Christ had died for us. The Holy Spirit indwells us. With our lips we are telling a dying world – to whom Jesus Christ means nothing at all – that the living God has changed us and can change them too, but is that message being endorsed by our daily behaviour? Are both our actions and words in harmony with one another? In this section Paul is pleading for elevated conduct in every professing Christian in Philippi commensurate with the message of the glorious gospel.
The Authorised Version translation may indeed emphasise this point by its translation, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ,” (v.27) and the latest translation, the English Standard Version, reverts to that, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The word in the Greek language, ‘monon’, is the one from which we get the prefix ‘mono’, for example, a ‘monocle’ – one single eyeglass; ‘monogamy’ – marriage to one husband or to one wife; ‘monologue’ – a composition spoken by one person.
Then how has it come about that the NIV chooses to translate this one word by “whatever happens”? The reason is this, that the translators interpret Paul’s use of the word to be a kind of ‘anyway’. He is saying, “but whatever happens to me personally, whether I come and see you or am absent, in any event be sure you conduct yourself as believers.” In other words, they have translated it by the phrase ‘whatever happens’ to give what they believe is the dynamic equivalent of this Greek word ‘monon’. They may be right, but any Christian must have reservations about translations which are designed simply to make things smoother. When the word is translated literally by ‘only’ we are focusing on a single theme, the importance of godly living. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel” – as if this were the one topic for him at this juncture. Only their new life will make him content: nothing else will. Paul longs for the practical holiness of his beloved converts, and he cannot possibly do otherwise. This one theme is on his heart, that their whole lives count for Jesus Christ. What impact can the gospel hope to make on a pagan society if professing converts are not obsessed with living in a God-honouring way? Handley C.G. Moule raised the question, “What pastor, what evangelist, what worker of any true sort of God in the souls of others does not know something of the meaning of that word ‘only’ of the apostle’s?” (H.C.G.Moule, “Philippian Studies,” London, 1908, p.81). J. Alec Motyer agrees with him: “The force of the word ‘only’ is tremendous, as if Paul had said, ‘This one thing and this only.’ Nothing else was to distract them from this great objective; nothing could excuse them from it; it remained as their primary and all-embracing occupation whether Paul was there or not” (J. Alec Motyer, “The Richness of Christ,” Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1966, London, p.57).
A few days ago I received a letter written by one of my closest friends. He writes to me each week. He has been a missionary in Africa for thirty years and in this week’s letter this same apostolic delight is evident when he sees sustained and costly change of life in those who profess to be Christians. He writes: “As you know, we have a number of former Muslims in the church. They know far more about suffering than most of us will ever experience. Pray for AI who has now been with his family in U.N. protected housing for a year. He has never been able to come to meet with God’s people during that time, although we meet with him three times a week where he lives. His wife is still a Muslim and can’t understand him, although she has to acknowledge he has changed for the better. Recently she was beaten up and robbed within the camp and doesn’t know why her husband did not do the ‘honourable thing’ and take revenge. Again, other Muslims are being resettled abroad, but he and his wife seem to be ignored, and she can’t understand why her husband doesn’t do the normal thing and bribe the authorities. Thank God for his grace in AI’s life. Two others in the camp have professed faith through AI and we long that his wife may be one of the next.” My dear friend is rejoicing at those marks of the grace of God in AI’s life so that this converted Muslim refuses to retaliate violently or to pay bribes. AI is conducting himself in a worthy manner as a professed follower of Christ.
What then are the exhortations of the apostle in these verses?
1. LIVE WORTHILY.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v.27). The phrase ‘conduct yourselves in a certain manner’ is literally ‘behave as citizens’ or ‘exercise your citizenship’. Philippi was a Roman ‘colony’ and that was one of the most coveted civic prizes of the Roman Empire. These Greeks in Philippi were reckoned as citizens of Rome. Their status, legal position and privileges were the same as if they were living in Italy within the shadow of Caesar’s palace itself. “You are proud of your status,” says Paul to them, “but you bear in mind that what matters more is the fact that you are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. So continue to exercise that divine citizenship in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” We see the spectre of asylum seekers risking their lives to get residency in the United Kingdom, and longing to become British citizens. They are prepared for great sufferings in order to gain something which we take for granted. So these Philippian Christians might on days of national rejoicing puff out their chests and say, “We are Roman citizens” and wave their victory wreaths in triumph, but Paul is reminding them here that they are citizens of a greater kingdom of God’s dear Son, living under the laws and liberties of the King of Kings. “The life worthy of the gospel comes to the Philippians as an inescapable obligation. It is the law of their homeland. They cannot claim gospel privileges while evading gospel responsibilities. They cannot claim citizenship of a country whose focal point is ‘a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain’ and at the same time deny the obligation so to live as to adorn the good news of the Lamb” (J. Alec Motyer, op cit, p.58). How do the inhabitants of this kingdom behave? They cry, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
One of the Queen’s chaplains was leaving Buckingham Palace one afternoon during the Second World War. He was walking across the courtyard when a door opened and the late Queen Mother came out with her daughters the two little princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. They were going off excitedly to a party, and a royal car was waiting to take them there. As the chaplain got nearer he saw the Queen Mother putting her two daughters inside the car, and he wondered what her final counsels to these little girls might be. So he lengthened his stride and before the Queen Mother closed the door he heard her saying quietly to them, “Now . . . royal children, royal manners.” Paul is saying to these Christians in Philippi, “Now, citizens of heaven, let’s have the behaviour of heaven! Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
In the Old Testament God gave his law through Moses. He prefaced the ten commandments by reminding them that they were his own redeemed people and should live as such: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Ex. 20:2). His commandments came to those who had a certain status which his grace had created. So the standard for all our actions under the new covenant is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. That is the motivating energy for how we are to live. We Christians are more accountable for our motives than for anything else. I would think that Christian morality consists primarily in the motives. So if Paul appeals to the gospel of Jesus Christ for elevated living then we must make sure we have some grasp of that gospel. Let us rehearse three or four of its basics:
i] The gospel declares that all our sins have been completely forgiven through the death of the Son of God. Now the implications of that are enormous: our sins are as though they had never been. What a magnificent and even incredible concept that is. That our sins do not control or modify our relation with God today. It is as if they weren’t there. There is no guilt and no condemnation at all. It has all been dealt with. God has taken our sins, past, present and future, and he has laid them all upon the Lamb who has borne them away. The consequence is that we are now whiter than snow in the sight of God. That is what the gospel says. The Lord freely pardons all our sins. He doesn’t raise that subject in our presence. He doesn’t throw our past in our faces when we come to him. He has taken responsibility for all our filthy stains and removed them all. He has left us completely de-sinned.
I am not sure that conscience believes it. We have an itch to bring up our past: “Don’t you want to talk about what I’ve done?” We are so worried about it, and can hardly believe that God has overlooked it, but that is the way it is. There is no condemnation at all. I am not sure that there is not some egotism in me that wants to cling to some remnants of my sin in self chastisement. But I must let this truth be the whole truth about the way that things are between me and God. There is no barrier whatsoever. There is no impediment. All my sins have been forgiven. They are blotted out, each one of them. There is absolutely nothing left. Do you know this? The single determinant of your relationship with God this day is what happened on the Cross. Nothing else matters. Nothing else is relevant. There are only two factors in the equation, what Christ did and how God responded. What you yourself feel, how you struggle, your doubts, your achievements and so on – none of that is relevant. The only thing that matters today between you and God is what Jesus Christ did on the cross. I want you to know that Jesus Christ has made a good, decent and proper job of the work God gave him to do. He took responsibility for all our defilement and he has once and for all removed every atom of it, so that in Christ we have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins.
So you conduct yourself worthy of that gospel truth. You in your turn offer forgiveness to sinners. You extend a pardon to them for all their sins. You mortify your grudges and you uproot the bitterness in your own heart. You seek to love your enemy and do good to them that despitefully have used you, because that is how God has been pleased to treat you. You don’t allow men’s behaviour to destroy your relationship with them. The second thing that gospel declares is this:
ii] Again, believing sinners now have access to God and a welcome from him. Being justified by faith we have peace with God, and furthermore we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand. We have the right to go to God and say, “Abba, Father,” to him, and he bids us welcome and tells us to come running boldly into his presence, because that is our right as his children. He promises to answer our requests, “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or even think.” Sometimes we think that we can’t ask for certain blessings from God, because they are far too extravagant. The devil will even say to us that we are too bold and presumptuous even to imagine nations being born in a day, but Paul says to us that if we can put language to our longings then God can grant an answer to us. If you can say what your long for then your expectations should be that God will give more than we are asking. There are things that cause us anxiety, matters that are heavy burdens which we can’t disclose even to those we love the most, we can go to God with them, and ask him for grace to help just here and now, with that particular concern, in this time of need.
“Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring,
For his grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.” (John Newton, 1725-1807).
Yet today I may be guilty of never relishing and using such confidence. I am living my life as a Christian too much in estrangement from the Lord. But God urges me to come to him and he will give me rest.
So you conduct yourself worthy of that particular gospel reality of free access to a loving Father. You accept every Christian as the Lord, for Christ’s sake, has accepted you. Jew or Gentile; slave or free man; master or servant: the pedigree doesn’t matter, nor does the pre-Christian past, nor does the label. We all have a very limited understanding of one another. Our image even of our nearest and dearest is not exact. We know in part, and we often see things differently. But all our differences and antagonisms cannot undo the fact that we are brethren who share a common loving Father. It is not we who decide who goes to God and who will go to heaven. Our calling is to strengthen the family and love as brothers. James is angry when he sees discrimination in the early church, the excitement as the rich person enters the meeting place and the best chair immediately provided, while the poor old widow or a slave has to sit on the floor. No! All such discrimination of race, or wealth, or age, or power, or reputation has been done away by the gospel of Christ.
“There is neither bond nor free,
Great nor servile, Lord, in Thee.
Love like death hath all destroyed,
Rendered all distinctions void:
Names and sects and parties fall,
Thou O Christ, art All in all.” (Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).
Do I have Christ? Is he my all in all? Nothing else matters, says Wesley. The third thing that the gospel declares is that:
iii] Again, the good news promises that God will provide for his people. “From now on I will supply all your needs,” God covenants to do that. He does not promise every desire and imagined request will be granted. He is not the genie who comes out of the bottle and gives us our three wishes, but he will supply our needs, and God himself will be the judge of them. Whatever God commands us to do, then for all such requirements he will give us the grace to obey, and in a manner that glorifies him. By him we can bear any burden, and endure any pain, and face any loss. He will meet with us comprehensively, according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. There are no limits to God’s resources. The answer to our prayers will not reflect our expectations, or deservings, or even the stringency of the situation, but they will reflect the resources of God. The debt God has to his Son who bore our sin and reconciled himself to us by the cursed death of Golgotha is the all-sufficient ground for all our needs being met. As we look today at our own problems and we ask in our heart of hearts how are we going to survive, then we come right back to this, we are loved with the same love with which God loves his only begotten Son. We are being treated with the same kindness and tenderness which Jesus deserves. Often we have stood and asked God for the impossible, and he has answered according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
We are to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of that gospel truth. We are to discourage pessimism and mortify that spirit that is always expecting the worst, bracing itself for resignation and unemployment. We are to never to forget the glory of God’s love, and marvel at his provision. But more than that, the extraordinary generosity of God makes us thoughtful and kindhearted people. We have freely received and so we freely give. Our joy is in this, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.’ My cup is full and running over, and many will have cause to thank God for our generosity to them. The fourth thing that the gospel declares is that:
iv] Again, God blesses his people with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. We are given the Spirit of God. We are justified and adopted in Christ. We have union with the Lord Jesus. We are delivered from the dominion of sin in Christ. We are kept by the power of God, and none shall pluck us out of Jesus’ hands. We have a place reserved for us in heaven. We are seated in the heavenlies in Christ. You cannot have one of those blessings without the others. You cannot be regenerate without first having the Spirit of God. You cannot be forgiven without also having Christ as your Sovereign Shepherd. You can’t be assured of the Father’s love without also having a new heart. God doesn’t wait until you discover that you need a blessing, and then make you agonise for months or even years for it, before reluctantly giving it to you. Even before we ask these blessings are ours, and the rest of our lives are spent in a growing appreciation of this glorious redemption. Here is the status of every single Christian person – “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ.” God has made us complete in him. We have been made ready at any time for immediate entry into paradise.
In other words, every Christian has Christ in a measure that is totally and absolutely adequate for all possible exigencies of the Christian life. There can come no problem, no suffering, no addiction, no caring for the incurable, no personality problem for which there is not full provision in Christ. No matter what the challenge is there is the fulness of blessing in Christ to meet it. Whatever responsibilities God gives to us there is grace in Christ to bear it. So in moments of anguish the Christian cannot say, “My resources were inadequate,” and blame God, for the Lord’s grace is sufficient for you today and every day of your life.
So we are also to conduct ourselves worthy of that particular gospel truth. We are not apostles of cosmic discouragement and failure. We are not apostles of what might have been, or what one day in the future may occur. We are the apostles of hope. Our calling is to assure the people of God of the blessings that are already theirs. We are telling the weakest lamb in the flock what he or she has in Christ. We are boosting the morale of the church. We are really lifting her up, and making her sing, and encouraging her to feel great. So the people of God are to rejoice in the Lord always. They really are a blessed people, and so it seems so worthwhile for them to hunger and thirst for righteousness. The Lord is going to fill them. So live worthily of this gospel.
2. STAND FIRM.
“Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit.” (v.27). We have to stand firm in these gospel truths. When I was a little boy the ash man would call at our street one day a week and tip into his wooden cart all the ashes from the coal fires. Then he would back his horse and cart up our narrow lane – a demanding manoeuvre. “Stand firm!” he would cry to his old mare when she was backing the cart into a wall, and the horse sometimes did and sometimes didn’t, which made him shout other things to her. I would often watch this exercise from the garden wall and listen intently. I had a wooden horse and so I called it “Standfirm,” and would cry to it as a five year old, “Stand firm!” and shake its head.
Paul is talking about the Christian grace of steadfastness. In other words, Christians shouldn’t be flighty and unsteady in their work for the gospel. That was the sad experience of the church at Laodicea, initially full of zeal but then they became lukewarm. They failed to stand firm. It was also like that with the church in Ephesus, at first loving the gospel of Christ more than anything else, but then leaving their first love. It can be like that with us, at one time bubbling over in enthusiasm for the salvation of souls, but later as careless as though there were no souls to save. So our influence grows weak, and we lose the very reason for our existence. Long tough times came and Christians failed to stand firm.
Think of what Professor Charles Hodge said about revivals. He raised the question about how we can tell whether something is a genuine work of God or not? And he replied that they are true awakenings if:
i] their origin is due to the preaching of the truth,
ii] their character is humble, reverential, peaceful, benevolent and holy,
iii] their fruits are permanent.
Those are the only certain tests of the genuineness of a true work of God. Perfection is not to be expected in revivals any more than in the religion of individuals. But, Hodge says, “there is a false view of the importance of revivals, when they are considered the only way in which religion can be promoted. Many say that they are the hope of the church. Many so rely upon them that they expect little or nothing except during such periods. They lie on their oars. They do little, and they sink in person and in zeal” (Charles Hodge, “Princeton Sermons,” 1879, reprint. Banner of Truth, 1958, p.339&340). This is precisely Paul’s plea that we “stand firm!” Serve the Lord not just when the wind of the Spirit is blowing, but when the professing church is in the doldrums. That is the test of Christian maturity, are we standing firm in such days? Let us not sleep as do others.
The light of the Christian should shine steadily whatever is happening all around us. Imagine the beam from a lighthouse which flickers like a candle during every black tempest, but shines powerfully on calm nights under the full moon. What a useless lighthouse that would be! It must shine most brightly when all around is deepest darkness. “So let your light shine!” says the Lord to his servants. Recently I was taken around a new church building, and was shown a dimmer knob on the lighting system whereby at a turn all the lights in the auditorium could be lowered or brightened. Of course there were some in the congregation who preferred it very bright and there were others who liked it darker. What a temptation to turn it up or down as you went past it. I was glad that that choice was not on offer in our church. But I do see entire congregations which have grown dim spiritually when once they were a people who shone brightly for Jesus. Today the sovereign Christ has turned the divine dimmer down and all their strivings and activities cannot make the heavenly light shine there.
I was recently reading the autobiography of a now retired minister of a London church who explains how he tried every gimmick to get light to burst through into his congregation, but acknowledges that he failed completely. He was a man blown about by every wind of doctrine, every novelty that arose, every gust of feeling that passed through London affected him. One of his predecessors had preached the word of God, and presented people with the finished work of Christ, and God had blessed that ministry and revived his work in that congregation. I myself heard that minister say that he had survived so long there because he didn’t try to do any stunts. That church was then known all over the world. But this man who became one of his successors forsook those paths for human devices, and Christ’s hand has been on the dimmer and turned the light off. Yet all over the world today there are revived ministries in churches which were once careless and lifeless, and they are making earnest efforts to spread the gospel and live gospel lives, and the Lord is blessing them. Those people have been taught by God to stand firm.
Moreover, this standing firm is to be done “in one spirit”. This may refer to the Holy Spirit, and the reason for favouring that particular interpretation is Paul’s reference later on in this letter where he urges his readers to “stand firm in the Lord” (4:1). Being in the Lord is identical with being in the Spirit. On the other hand, the reference may be to our spirits, and what favours that interpretation is the next line in a kind of parallelism in his verse where Paul talks of contending with “one soul”. But you wouldn’t know that from this NIV translation which through the principle of a dynamic equivalent has rendered it “as one man.” So whatever the ‘one spirit’ refers to (and it is not important that we know infallibly one way or another because no doctrine hangs on it) we do all agree that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of unity in the church. He brings together our spirits. That was one consequence of Pentecost: “All the believers were together” (Acts 2:44). So when one member began to fall behind then another could help him along; one grew cold but he could warm himself from another’s zeal. “Stand firm!” cries the apostle.
Why should we fall out with one another by the way? Why should the Saviour be wounded in the house of his friends by wrangling and animosity? There are plenty of things to discuss about which we may properly differ, but why should this distract our efforts from prayer, or evangelism? We have an important work to do, and it can happen that a church, instead of engaging in this work, engages itself in quarrels. Instead of strengthening one’s hands to bring the gospel to sinners we are weakening one another’s hands. Sydney Gibbes was a Scottish tutor in St. Petersburg at the beginning of the last century. In fact he eventually became a tutor to the Romanov children and was in that post when the Tsar and his family were all murdered. He had always been a difficult personality, as one of his landladies once said to him, “You live very quiet . . . you live very quiet, but you disturb my guests.” So Christ the head of the congregation can say to some members, “You live very quiet . . . you live very quiet, but you disturb my guests.” One spirit has to be maintained. There has to be a feeling of the solemnity and importance of the gospel. Private and personal opinions shouldn’t be indulged by those who profess a common salvation. Soldiers act together on the field of battle.
Paul’s concern is that the whole church stands firm. The word ‘you’ is plural. The apostle is talking to the whole congregation. “All of you stand firm in one spirit,” he exhorts. It is of the deepest importance that every Christian appreciates the glories of the gospel. They should feel how valuable they are to the whole country and to all of mankind, that there is nothing as important in all the world as united testimony to the message of the gospel, and they are never going to give up such faith. If that had been the church’s constant conviction then these dreary times of lukewarmness in which we live wouldn’t have occurred. So, “Live worthily, and stand firm!” exhorts the apostle. The third exhortation here is this:
3. FIGHT TOGETHER.
Contend “as one man for the faith of the gospel” (v.27). The faith of the gospel is under attack constantly. The Times three days ago (August 1, 2002) published an article by a vicar from West London demeaning historic Christianity, saying that a “credible faith does not have a glib answer to every complexity in life” – that was his line. So he chose to attack the Bible’s teaching of the virgin birth of Jesus, and he pontificated, “we must be aware of over-simplistic answers to what are ultimately peripherals of faith.” Christians don’t need to believe six impossible things before breakfast, like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, he said. It was a dreary and familiar dismissal of those who hold to the confessional faith of the gospel.
But if the virgin birth of Christ is a fairy tale, so must be the truthfulness of the New Testament on something as important as how Jesus of Nazareth was begotten. So another teaching – the truthfulness of the Bible – has also gone. Also the weakness of the Holy Spirit of Truth is evident, because he failed to guide the apostles out of this error. Then who was Jesus’ father? “No me,” said Joseph. “She was with child before we came together.” There is clearly some deep deceit in this matter. Did God adopt an ordinary human being and make him his Son? Has the church been mistaken for nineteen hundred years until this horrible twentieth century came along and then ‘science’ has somehow cleared up the matter of the birth of the Lord? If we take a pick’n’ mix approach to what we judge the Christian religion to teach we have simply constructed a religion in our own image. Soon there is little to distinguish between the faith of many vicars and humanism. There is a story of an army which had suffered in battle and was now in precipitate flight. The victorious army kept shooting down one fleeing soldier after another. However, at long last the defeated army arrived at a place of safe retreat, the only grief by then was this, that not a single soldier was left alive. That story has been applied to Christianity. Once we grant that the entire Bible is not the Word of God, then we are sure to lose one part of it after another after another until finally nothing is left but the covers.
There are two ways to demolish a building. You can put a stick of dynamite in it and blow it up, or you can take it down brick by brick. The end result is the same. No building. People say to us, “We can still have fellowship and not believe the Bible is all true can’t we?” So a brick is removed. “We can still have fellowship and not believe in Adam and Eve, can’t we?” A brick is removed. “We can have fellowship and not believe in the virgin birth can’t we?” So another brick is removed. “We can have fellowship and not believe in the physical resurrection can’t we?” Another brick is removed. “We can have fellowship and not believe in hell can’t we?” It will not be long before there is no building left. This modernist vicar writing in the Times dismisses the concerns of earlier evangelicals, “In the 19th century conservative Christians feared that if one tenet of faith was struck down then the whole edifice would fall with it.” He considered that to be a mischievous exaggeration, but I tell you it is not. It is an understatement. That mentality shows a totally different attitude to the Scriptures. The vicar who would decide by his own wisdom what in the Bible is the Word of God and what is not (e.g. Adam and Eve, the virgin birth, the resurrection), is not going to lose the entire Bible but he has already lost it. By the very act of setting himself up as the judge of the Bible he has denied that it is the Word of the Sovereign God. It is a collection of muddled opinions of men who lived from two thousand to over three thousand years ago. But he who said, “I am the truth,” also said, “Your word is truth” (cp. R.B.Kuiper, “The Bible Tells Us So,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1968, p.23). Let us never cease contending as one man for the faith of the gospel. Fight the good fight!
Dr. Loyd-Jones says, “You cannot read a single New Testament epistle without finding in it an exhortation to courage, to strength and to fortitude; an exhortation to stand and to fight. No one can read the New Testament without getting the impression that the Christian Church is a kind of army, or that it is involved in a great contest, a test of endurance, a striving for a prize from the enemies; this whole idea of a struggle, a fight, a contention is an essential part of all the teaching” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Joy,” Hodder & Stoughton, London 1989, p.124).
What fine sermons have been preached on these verses by such men as Dr. Lloyd-Jones, James Thornwell (Collected Writings, Volume 2, Banner of Truth) and C.H.Spurgeon. Listen in particular to what the latter says on this point:
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is a very fearless gospel. It is the very reverse of that pretty thing called ‘modern charity.’ The last created devil is ‘modern charity. ‘Modern charity’ goes cap in hand round to us all, and it says, ‘You are all right, every one of you. Do not quarrel any longer; Sectarianism is a horrid thing, down with it! down with it!’ and so it tries to induce all sorts of persons to withhold a part of what they believe, to silence the testimony of all Christians upon points wherein they differ.
“I believe that that thing called Sectarianism nowadays is none other than true honesty. Be a Sectarian, my brother, be profoundly a Sectarian. I mean by that, hold everything which you see to be in God’s Word with a tighter grasp, and do not give up even the little pieces of truth. At the same time, let that Sectarianism which makes you hate another man because he does not see with you – let that be far from you! but never consent to that unholy league and covenant which seems to be rife throughout our country, which would put a padlock on the mouth of every man and send us all about as if we were dumb: which says to me, ‘You must not speak against the errors of such a church,’ and to another, ‘You must not reply.’ We cannot but speak! If we did not, the stones in the street might cry out against us. That kind of charity is unknown to the gospel.
“Now hear the Word of God! ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not “-What? “shall get to heaven some other way?” – ‘shall be damned;’ that is the gospel. You perceive how boldly it launches out its censure. It does not pretend, ‘you may reject me and go by another road, and at last get safely to your journey’s end!’ No, no, no; you ‘shall be damned’ it says. Do you not perceive how Christ puts it?
“Some teachers come into the world and say to all others, ‘Yes, gentlemen, by your leave, you are all right. I have a point or two that you have not taught. You just make room for me; I will not turn you out; I can stand in the same temple as yourself.’ But hear what Christ says:- ‘All that ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but, the sheep did not hear them.’ Hear what his servant Paul says, ‘Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, – what then? “Let him be excused for his mistake?” No; but, “Let him be accursed”‘ Now, this is strong language, but mark you, this is just how the Christian ought to live. As the gospel is very fearless in what it has to say, so let the Christian always be. It strikes me that a ‘living’ which becomes the gospel of Christ, is always a bold and fearless kind of living.
“Some people go crawling through the world as if they asked some great man’s permission to live. They do not know their own minds; they take their words out of their mouths and look at them, and ask a friend or two’s opinion. ‘What do you think of these words?’ and when these friends censure them they put them in again, and will not say them. Like jellyfish, they have no backbone. Now God has made men upright, and it is a noble thing for a man to stand erect on his own feet; and it is a nobler thing still for a man to say that in Christ Jesus he has received that freedom which is freedom indeed, and therefore he will not be the slave of any man. I will live as in the sight of God, as I believe I should live, and then let man say his best or say his worst, and it shall be no more than the chirping of the grasshopper, when the sun goes down. ‘Who art thou that thou shouldst be afraid of a man that shall die, or the son of man that is but a worm?’
Quit yourselves like men! Be strong! Fear not! for only so will your conversation be such as becometh the gospel of Christ.” (C.H.Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1865, Vol. 11, pp. 403-404). So, live worthily, stand firm and fight together. The fourth exhortation is this:
4. BE OF GOOD COURAGE.
“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” (v.28). When the Lord Jesus first began his ministry he told the crowds that they had to change. “Repent!” he cried, “Turn from your sin and unbelief.” Very soon there were influential men squirming at Jesus’ message and wanting him dead. Of course, if our Lord had said what a vicar wrote in the Times this week, that he “did not want to throw up insurmountable barriers to people interested in Christianity”, and that he was “aware of over-simplistic answers to what are ultimately peripherals of faith”, and that, “we must be careful not to let biblical literalism undermine the dynamic gracious force of God” (The Times, Rev. Nicholas Henderson, “You Better Believe It (But We Don’t)”, August 1, 2002), then everyone would have nodded their heads and said that Jesus was a wise contemporary promising preacher. Jesus would probably have won the Times-sponsored ‘Preacher of the Year’ competition. In fact the Lord Jesus told a religious leader that unless he was born from above he could not enter the kingdom of heaven. He called religious men who heaped their weighty modern traditions on the poor masses “white-washed sepulchres full of dead men’s bones.” He claimed to be the only-begotten Son of God and that only through him could men be saved from their sin. He alone was the way to the Father, he said. He claimed he was going to be literally crucified, and literally rise from the dead. Ever since his life, death and resurrection all who follow him trust him. To them Jesus can say nothing wrong, and they believe what he believes. All such men must live worthily, stand firm and fight together because while they remain faithful they are going to encounter the same opposition that the Lord Jesus met.
Paul urges us here not to be frightened of those ‘who set themselves in opposition.’ “Don’t be frightened in any way,” says Paul. In fact the words are exactly the cry of the constantly nervous Sergeant Jones of the Home Guard in Dad’s Army, “Don’t panic!” The words are used outside of New Testament literature of a stampede of frightened horses. There is scarcely a more challenging exhortation in the Bible, and certainly not one that illustrates the vast gulf between ourselves and the Christians in Philippi. Have we ever been in circumstances when we have taken our stand for Christ and have been frightened as to what was going to happen next? After speaking and behaving as Christians have we needed ever to be told by another Christian, “Now don’t be intimidated by these people.” Luther did at Worms, and Wesley in London, and Whitefield in Cardiff and many brave Christians in Pakistan and the Middle East and southern Sudan today. “Not in anything” are you to be afraid, says Paul. There are no possible circumstances which warrant a child of God who loves God being scared of the consequences of Christlike living. Paul gives us some unusual reasons for us to dismiss our fears. Their hatred is a twofold sign.
i] It is a mark of destruction on those who oppose us. They are going to be destroyed, Paul says. They hear the gospel of Christ. They see Christ in the lives of those who live worthy of that gospel, but they are not persuaded, in fact they seek to intimidate you with their threats. “We know where you live,” they say. “You have a ten year-old daughter, don’t you?” they might say, smiling horribly. Do not panic! That is a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed. This is one of the most awful words used in Scripture. It is in John 3:16 “should not perish”. It is used many times in the Bible, and often on the lips of Jesus, with reference to those who die without him and so without redemption. They will suffer endless conscious separation from God. This is an irrecoverable state. God’s mercy is gone for ever; hope is gone for ever. Paradise is gone for ever. Joy and peace are gone for ever. Opposition to the gospel and to worthy Christian living is an omen of their eternities. They see people standing for Jesus Christ, enduring the loss of everything they love because of the riches they have found in the Saviour and they hate it. That is a sign of their destruction.
Sinclair Ferguson helps us to understand what Paul is saying by referring us back to the psalmist Asaph. “He saw the prosperity of men and women who opposed God. They seemed to escape trial and suffering and grew rich. Almost in despair of making sense of this, Asaph went into the temple. There, in the presence of the God of infinite glory and majesty, the Righteous Judge of all the earth, he had a glimpse of their final destiny. He saw that the mark of destruction was on their lives: their feet were on a slippery slope. He was no longer sent into a panic by their opposition. In fact, he saw that their condition was pitiful rather than intimidating (Psa. 73:2-20)” (Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Let’s Study Philippians,” Banner of Truth, 1997, p.35). Don’t be frightened in any way. Their opposition is a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed. Stephen saw it in those who furiously faced him and gnashed their teeth at him when he finished his sermon. He saw that they were going to be destroyed: “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51). Sinner, today, if you don’t want this Saviour and oppose godly living then that is a certain sign that you too are being destroyed. The gospel comes to you unbelievers as a sign of destruction. You are on that broad road that the Lord Jesus spoke about, and it is going to destruction. That is where you are heading. Turn, or burn!
But then, Paul says, opposition to you Christians can also have another effect.
ii] It is a sign that you are going to be saved by God himself. It is a clear mark of the work of grace in your life. God really has taken you out of the horrible pit of sin, and out of the miry clay. He has put your feet on the rock. He has joined you to Christ. He has forgiven you all your sins. He is indeed your Father and your God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:11). Great is your reward in heaven! That opposition brings that wonderful assurance of blessing on your life. So we are not daunted by the opposition. Christ is strengthening and blessing us. This only happens to Christians, and the very fact that you are being attacked is proof to you of redemption. What a glorious salvation lies before us.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones says that, “there is a day coming when the Commander in Chief is going to review the troops, and we shall be standing there in the ranks. I see the Son of God walking up and down the ranks looking at us one by one at the grand final review, and if you do not want to feel you are a cad, if you do not want to feel terribly ashamed on the morning of that great review, stand as a man now, hold fast, be form, never let an attack come but that you repel it. Stand for the truth and the faith, even for your own sake” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Joy,” Hodder&Stoughton, London, 1989, p.132). What a blessing to have suffered for the sake of Christ. So let us heed the word and walk worthily, stand firm, fight together, and be of good courage!
4th August 2002 GEOFF THOMAS