“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel;
And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.”
That the apostle would visit the church at Philippi again, or be denied this privilege, was only a matter of relative importance to him.
What was of great concern to him was that he might hear of their affairs, and particularly that the church stood fast, striving together for the faith of the gospel.
Striving for the faith of the gospel!
This has always been, and still is, the sole calling of the church of Christ in the world!
O, we are aware of it that this statement is denied by many today, in toto, or in part. The winning of souls for Christ, is considered by many the chief duty of the church. Others believe and loudly proclaim that her main task is to become socially involved. Still others are prating about making this world to become the kingdom of Christ as the sole endeavor of the church. However, as popular as these claims may seem, they find absolutely no basis in the Scriptures.
Only one directive does the church have of Christ, and therefore of the apostle—strive earnestly for the faith of the gospel!
By the gospel, the apostle means the gospel of Christ. Of this he speaks in the first part of the text: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.” The gospel is the good news concerning the Christ. Of Christ, you understand, Who is the revelation of God as the God of our salvation. Of Christ, Who is the anointed of Jehovah, ordained from before the foundation of the world to become Lord over all. Of Christ, Who is the first-born of every creature, and as such, unto Whom, for Whom, and by Whom all things consist. Of Christ, Who is the first begotten of the dead.
The gospel speaks of Christ, first of all, as being Christfor us, that is, His people. That He is when He assumes our nature, and as such appears as the servant of Jehovah. He is Christ for us when He sheds His life’s blood on the accursed tree for our sin and guilt. When He makes complete atonement for our sin, and removes the wrath of God we deserved, and in its place merits righteousness and life for us. He is Christ for us when He is raised from the dead and ascends into the highest heavens, where He continues to serve as our advocate at the right hand of God, and to prepare a place for us in the house of many mansions, the house of God’s covenant.
Moreover, He is also Christ in us. For at God’s right hand He receives the Spirit without measure, by which He returns unto us to take up His abode in us. As Christ in us, He makes us to be partakers of all His blessings.
Even so, all is not said concerning Christ. He is also Christ through us. And that means that He makes us to become fruit-bearing branches of the Vine. Through His grace we walk in all good works which also were before prepared, in order that we should walk in them. He works through us in such a way that where He leads, we follow; that where He blesses us with faith, we respond by appropriating, consciously laying hold on that which He has merited for us and gives unto us as set forth in the Word of the gospel.
In one word, Christ is the Anointed One, appointed to raise up the whole house of God!
Concerning this the gospel speaks!
Hence; the gospel is truly the revelation of God, of God as the God of our salvation in Christ from beginning to end!
When the apostle speaks of the faith of the gospel, this must ‘be understood in the objective sense. He is not speaking of our believing in the gospel, though this may be true and necessary in itself. Rather, he has in mind that we strive for the faith expressed in the gospel, that is, the truth of the gospel. By the faith of the gospel he refers to the truth of the gospel as it is believed and confessed by the church in the midst of a hostile world. Briefly, that faith of the gospel is expressed in the creeds of the church, in the Reformed community called the Three Forms of Unity.
Striving together for that faith!
The position which the church assumes in the world must of necessity be that of strife, because the faith of the gospel is constantly being gainsaid. Always there is the attempt to deny, to corrupt, to destroy the faith of the gospel. The attempt is also made to silence the church as she expresses the faith of the gospel. This attempt comes not only from without, but most generally from within the church. Not only do false teachers arise in the church who deny the faith of the gospel, but also the carnal element in the church, especially when it becomes a majority, will raise its head up to move the church from its very foundations, were that possible.
Like the Grecian athletes in the games, and like warriors prepared for battle, the church must always be prepared to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.
When the church preserves the faith of the gospel in all its purity in all her preaching, instruction, and discipline to her generations, when she unfurls the banner of her faith in the midst of the world where God has placed her, when she seeks to maintain the faith of the gospel in doctrine and in life, she must expect that there will be opposition. Consequently there will always be strife. And in the strife the church must stand as a unit.
Striving together . . .!
Not, you understand, striving with one another, nor among themselves! Bickering and squabbling over petty differences and fighting among the members of the church can only lead to forsaking our posts in the striving for the faith of the gospel.
But striving together, in the sense that we stand together in the line of combat, as one man, in contention for the faith—that is the calling of the church in the world.
And that strife will assume both a defensive and an offensive character. When the faith of the gospel is attacked, the church will stand fast in defense. However, as in all warfare, battles are not always won by merely taking the defensive position; but often the battle is won by strategically maneuvering on the offensive.
Shall the church faithfully fulfill this unique calling, there are certain requirements that must be met.
The apostle notes first of all, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.” The term “conversation” hardly expresses the thought of the apostle. To paraphrase the thought really expressed here, we could translate: “behave as citizens.” And make no mistake about it, the apostle is not referring the members of the church at Philippi to the fact that as Roman citizens they are to react favorably with respect to the authority of Rome. But, rather, he has in mind that the church of Christ belongs to another polity—the members of the church, while Roman citizens, are nevertheless citizens of the kingdom of Christ. In other words, the apostle is concerned that the members of the church live as those who are controlled by the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. In the strife for the faith of the gospel they are marching to orders not from Rome, but from heaven.
Moreover, the apostle adds to this, “Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind.” There must be unity of spirit and mind. Though the reference to the spirit here is not to the Holy Spirit, but to the spirit of man, the truth however is that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to realize this unity. When He realizes this unity, then the spirit of man, (that is, that part of him that is capable of being directed to God), and the mind (soul) of man, (that is, that part of him which is the seat of his natural and physical life and the subject of his thinking, willing, desiring, etc.), are not pulled apart; but they cooperate, they stand together in the striving for the faith of the gospel. And as this takes place in the individual members of the church, so it takes place in all the members at once—the stand fast as one man.
In order to stand fast, there must of necessity be a place to stand. That place is the sphere where the Holy Spirit operates, and where the faith of the gospel is maintained.
All this implies that we live as under the power of the gospel. The faith of the gospel and the striving for that faith are a matter of the heart. And as the heart is, out of which all the issues of life proceed, so the striving for the faith of the gospel demands our whole life. It requires that we stand in the covenant of God, and with all our mind, soul, and strength forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and godly life. So walking, we will never put the gospel to shame. It implies that we walk as a people that is brought under the power, and complete dominion of the faith of the gospel. It means that we always keep within us a fresh sense of belonging to the mother city, the New Jerusalem. It means that the gospel is not only a message to be believed, but obeyed.
To all this the apostle adds a word of encouragement.
How necessary that is!
If the church fails in her calling, there will be no enemies. You need not fear them. They will leave you alone. If you are a friend of the world, and make light of heresy, you will, of course, not have to suffer. There simply will be no opposition.
On the other hand, if you are faithful, many will be your foes!
When these foes arise, the apostle says, be not terrified. Rather lay hold on this two-fold token: on the one hand, their very opposition is a sign to you and them of their perdition; on the other hand, it is a sign of your salvation, and that of God.
Though the apostle does not demonstrate how this is true, this is not necessary. We know from the sacred pages of Holy Writ, and from the history of God’s covenant in the world, that when the enemies arise to assail the church, it is that they may be destroyed forever. When Pharaoh and his host, for instance, pursued the children of Israel, it was that they all might be drowned in the sea. When the Devil and the world with the apostate church rose up to destroy the Christ, it was that they might forever be vanquished. And this victory of Christ is ours forevermore.
And that is why the other side of the token must be a sign unto us of our salvation, which is all of God. When the enemy threatens, it is because you belong to the God of our salvation.
Remember, it is not only given unto you to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake!
Be not terrified by your adversaries!
Fight the good fight without fear. For the victory is ours unto the day of Christ, and forever!