Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
Philippians 1:27-30 presents a word of encouragement to the church at Philippi. Without doubt, the church was in need of that encouragement—and, in fact, every church needs this same Word. With that encouragement comes also instruction concerning a godly walk. The Word is applicable to us especially today.
In verse 27, the apostle speaks of our “conversation.” This word is generally understood to mean not one’s speech, but rather his entire life and walk. Literally, the word speaks of “citizenship.” We have a place, a citizenship, hem on the earth. As such, we are actually good citizens in the nation where God has placed us. In being good citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we will at the same time obey those in authority within our nation (cf. Romans 13). Our “conversation” must be in harmony with the gospel of Christ.
The standard for a godly walk, then, is the gospel that presents Christ. It can not be earthly human standards. The gospel was the great concern of the apostle Paul. He had written to the church of Corinth, “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). The gospel is the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. That gospel was presented already in the protevangel of Genesis 3:15. The gospel was portrayed in the Old Testament through type and shadow—especially seen in the temple with its sacrifices. The reality and wonder of the gospel are presented in the four New Testament accounts. The significance and glory of the gospel are seen in the epistles of the New Testament. That good news of Christ crucified is the norm by which the Christian walks in his pilgrimage on this earth.
Paul expects that this fruit will be present in the church of Philippi whether Paul is present or absent. Those of the church do not obey simply because they are observed by Christ’s officebearers. They rather obey from a willing heart—an obedience before God even when Paul would be absent.
The obedience of the church in Philippi is seen in the oneness of that church. They are to stand fast in “one” spirit, with “one” mind, striving together in the (one) faith of the gospel. This is not an artificial oneness in which all join together despite great differences. On the contrary, it is a oneness of “spirit,” that is, a oneness which comes forth from the Spirit of all truth.
Oneness is often not seen properly within the church. Sin disrupts the oneness which must be seen. That was true in Philippi and is still true today. No wonder we need the reminder again that in oneness we strive together for the faith of the gospel. There must be a common struggle. There must not be evil speaking and devouring of one another in the church. Christ’s church must fight against the enemy: the devil, the world, and one’s own flesh. It is a great struggle which requires the full effort of the members of Christ’s church together.
In striving together, there is certainly going to be opposition. Paul reminds them of that too: they will have adversaries. Adversaries can be frightening! Scripture reminds the church that one need not be terrified of them. Why not? Even suffering for Jesus’ sake is God’s gift to His people. God sends only that which will be of spiritual benefit to His own.
The fearlessness of the saints shows two things. First, it is a clear sign (token) of perdition to the wicked. Their greatest endeavors come to nothing. They discover that the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Whatever is done against the church is in harmony with the counsel of God Who works together all these things for their good. The wicked are as those who hit their heads against a brick wall. It becomes clear that though the wicked would destroy Christ’s church, yet the church endures. The wicked are forced to recognize their own defeat—and final punishment in hell.
At the same time, the steadfastness of the saints is a clear sign to them of their salvation—that it is of God. No man can work such confidence, such fearlessness, in the saints. God has begun His good work and He will finish it. In standing confidently before the adversary, the Christian knows that God is preserving him in the salvation which Christ has obtained for him. So, why be terrified of the adversary?
In fact, so verse 29 points out, suffering is also God’s gift to His people. He does give to them the blessing of faith: these believe on Him. That is obviously His gift. The church has ever recognized it to be so. But, suffering at the hands of the wicked? That too is God’s gift to His people.
Believing is itself the wonderful gift of God (Eph. 2:8). This is worked within God’s elect by the Spirit Who regenerates. That life of Christ planted into the heart is called forth to conscious expression under the preaching of the gospel. The confession, therefore, of the saved ones is the fruit of the free and glorious grace of God.
But suffering for His sake is likewise His gift. The apostles testified of this early in their ministry in Acts 5:41. After their interrogation by the rulers of the Jews, they were beaten and released. We read, “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Likewise the church of Philippi, and the church of today, can rejoice in suffering for Christ’s sake. It is truly a token both to the believer as well as to the unbeliever.
Nor were those of Philippi the only saints who suffer. They can be encouraged in the knowledge that it is the same kind of suffering that Paul himself had to face repeatedly. They had heard of that conflict with which the apostle had to deal. He had been beaten many times. He was stoned and left for dead. He had suffered shipwreck. And now, he was imprisoned in Rome for the Lord’s sake. They had seen even some of Paul’s sufferings while he himself labored in Philippi. It was in this very city that he was sent to prison after healing the demon-possessed girl.
So the suffering that some experienced in Philippi was neither unique nor unexpected. Let the church be encouraged when its members join the myriads who have suffered for the sake of their Lord. May they believe it is God’s gift.
1. What are our responsibilities as citizens in this earth?
2. Can one say that citizens of the kingdom of heaven are at the same time good citizens of the kingdoms of this earth? Give reasons for your answer.
3. Does the “oneness” of verse 27 mean that we are to join with other denominations? Does it mean that we seek to promote a oneness with those of many beliefs?
4. Does “oneness” mean that we all say and believe exactly alike? What passage in the book of I Corinthians shows the proper idea of oneness?
5. What is “gospel”? Where is the gospel found in Scripture?
6. How can we “strive together for the faith of the gospel”?
7. Who are those adversaries of verse 28? Do we have any adversaries today?
8. Why should one’s lack of “terror” be a token of perdition to some?
9. Why should one’s lack of “terror” be a token of salvation to us?
10. Does this lack of terror mean that the Christian is never concerned with nor fearful of his adversaries? How would you react to imprisonment for Jesus’ sake?
11. Why does God even determine the existence and need for adversaries for the church?
12. In what sense is “believing” given to the Christian? Is not believing the activity of man?
13. What is the meaning of the statement: “It is given in behalf of Christ…to suffer for His sake”?
14. Why does Paul call attention to his own conflict in verse 30?