A Life Worthy of the Gospel
Reading: Philippians 1: 27-30
27 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 the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 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. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
Years ago, I was a new teacher working in a school for children aged 5-12. One lunch break, as I came around the corner of the hall, I saw Douglas (not his real name) sling his badminton racket away in a temper and shout an obscenity. The boy was quite troublesome and not well liked, so I decided to put him in his place once and for all. Just as I was about to deliver my withering rebuke, the school deputy head, Roger, appeared from the other direction and walked up to the boy, who was angrily stamping his way out of the hall. I waited to see my experienced colleague give the boy an ear blasting, but to my utter surprise, Roger simply stopped him and said quietly but firmly: “Is this the sort of behaviour I should expect from a 12-year old boy? Now go and pick up your racket and play properly” before walking away. I was even more astonished when the boy did exactly what he had been told to do! At first, I felt aggrieved that Douglas had not received what he deserved; on reflection, however, I realised that Roger had unwittingly taught me a lesson. I thought to myself: That’s the sort of teacher I want to be. That’s the way that I want to conduct myself.
And we read in verse 27: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”
Why? Because it will demonstrate that as believers and disciples of Christ, we stand firm in the one Spirit… with the result that:
- We strive together ‘as one’ for the faith of the Gospel.
- We are not afraid of those who oppose us.
STRIVING TOGETHER (I’ll spend most time dealing with this aspect)
There are two inseparable words here … ‘striving’ and ‘together’
- But there’s also an apparent contradiction … we must strive together … yet of itself, striving achieves nothing
- We strive to achieve things… yet we cannot achieve anything of lasting worth by ourselves unless the Holy Spirit is involved
- We make every effort… but no amount of effort can, of itself, save a single soul or transform a life.
In our striving, we have to acknowledge that it is not by our might or power but by the work of the Holy Spirit that anything of eternal value is achieved
- Yes, we can and should do good to all, especially fellow believers… and learn to persevere
As John Wesley memorably declared: “Do all the good you can… by all the means you can… in all the ways you can… in all the places you can… at all the times you can… to all the people you can… as long as ever you can”
- Yes, it’s right to encourage the downtrodden, support those in need and be salt and light in the world
- We read that Jesus Himself “went around doing good”… for goodness comes from God… only He is good
But transforming someone’s life… bringing them out of darkness into light is beyond our natural ability… only the Holy Spirit can do that
It is true that God often uses us to create the right conditions for Him to work … through kindness and friendship and treating people with loving respect…
- But the most elaborate, imaginative and inspired strategies in the world will not, of themselves, save a single lost soul
WHAT IS THE APOSTLE SAYING AND NOT SAYING?
- He is not saying that we should stop all our social and caring activities and walk around with grim faces warning people of their impending doom!
- He is saying that however worthwhile our activities may be, we must never lose sight of our primary aim, which is to strive for the faith of the Gospel
Paul also emphasises the importance of striving together
- Some of us don’t find it easy to be a team member… We are more individualists like John the Baptist than squaddies like one of the twelve disciples!
Yet ‘togetherness’ is important for at least three reasons:
No one, however knowledgeable, has all the answers…
We need one another because each person has unique and special gifts, talents and insight to contribute to the endeavour
- Someone might be an “up front” person… others are “behind the scenes” people … both types are needed in God’s work
- Some are natural leaders… others are natural followers… offering the leader practical skills, encouragement and advice
Just as each piece of a jigsaw is needed to complete the picture, so every follower of Christ (our true leader) is needed to help fulfil the Gospel mission… “Go and make disciples”
- So avoid saying, “I only do this or that…”
- God does the work through us… we offer back to Him our abilities for Him to use, be they modest or great
As Paul writes to the church in Ephesus: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within us”
- It’s the level of our commitment to Him that matters, not the particular role we play… We obey… He does the rest!
Someone has written… If a man is a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that the hosts of heaven will pause and say: “Here lived a great street cleaner, who did his job well”.
Togetherness also helps to provide checks and balances
- I tend to be a “do it now” type… and need others to steady my ship and make sure that I don’t run ahead of God…
- Others are more cautious and need people of deep faith to remind them that nothing is impossible for God
- And we all need to offer one another wise counsel about the way we behave and the choices that we make.
Togetherness is important because it provides opportunities to show love for one another
Jesus said that this is the way that people will know that we are His disciples
Loving one another does not mean that we all have to like each other!
- I sometimes find that someone with whom I struggle initially to develop a good relationship turns out to be a real friend…
- I used to warn student teachers when they went into school to be cautious about children who were too friendly, too soon…
- The more tentative children were usually the most trustworthy in the long run.
“Loving one another” is not being sweet and sugary…
True love is seeking the best for one another… and also being brave enough to raise tricky issues with the person if the need arises.
Togetherness means that we serve one another and pray that God will bless and prosper the other person, whether we like him/her or not!
Striving together is important in sharing a single ultimate purpose…
Our ultimate purpose is not to make people happy… or have activities for the community… or do fun things… or even to share and (hopefully) enjoy fellowship… though all these things are important
- Our ultimate purpose is to see people brought out of darkness into the light through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ
- Our ultimate purpose is to present people with the eternal truth that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners”
And also to warn about the likely consequences of rejecting Him
In practice, many different strategies and approaches will be used to bring people to Christ… One of the most popular “methods” is through ‘friendship evangelism’…
- Showing both genuine friendship and concern for the person’s spiritual welfare… both of these things are necessary
- Seeing people as Jesus saw them… like sheep without a shepherd
We are not, of course, to use friendship as an underhand way to “snare” a person into the church!
- But we need to keep firmly in mind that “knowing about” Jesus is no substitute for “knowing Him” as Saviour and Lord
So take special note of the fact that Paul’s emphasis in this passage is on striving together for the faith of the Gospel
Many times in my Christian life, I’ve got so caught up in the practicalities of organising events, services and the like that I’ve almost forgotten why I’m doing it!
- Hard work, commitment and determination are essential qualities for soldiers of Jesus Christ
- But our “high calling” in Christ involves more than doing good… we are His hands, mouth and feet for declaring the good news
So we “strive together” for the faith of the Gospel … As a modern Bible version puts it… “Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the (Gospel) message, the good news”
THIS IS A SERIOUS AND IMPORTANT BUSINESS…
- Yes, we must retain a sense of joy in serving the Lord and avoid coming across as miserable pessimists…
But we cannot escape the fact that without putting their trust in Christ, people miss out on His blessing in this life … and have no assurance of salvation in the next
Finally, Paul underlines the challenge that we face as believers by reminding us of two rather uncomfortable facts:
- We will experience opposition. 2. We will experience suffering.
This is far removed from the idea that being a Christian is all about floating through the clouds or tiptoeing through the tulips!
OPPOSITION comes in many forms:
- False accusations… very common.
- People’s nasty comments, cynicism or disinterest
- Satan’s accusations and distractions that unsettle us
- Our own lack of zeal (we can be our own ‘worst enemies’)
- And even… opposition from those in the fellowship who prefer a quiet life.
SUFFERING also takes various forms:
- A result of national policies that contradict God’s word
- Through individuals who take delight in making our lives a misery by their aggressive speech and behaviour
- Through mental anguish about our reputation, usefulness and personal standing
Of course, if we lived in many parts of the world, I would have to add physical pain, imprisonment and even death to the list.
1) Paul makes it clear that we need to stay focused on preaching the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ…
- Repenting from sin and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform a person …we often refer to this experience as being “born again”
- Methods for doing so will vary… but our principle purpose is clear
2) Opposition and suffering for the faith of the Gospel is inevitable… but it’s a sign of success and not of failure!
- The promise of God is that regardless of circumstances, He will stand with us and give us the strength and courage we need to witness for Him.
- As we read in I Thessalonians 1: 5… Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.
The central message of the New Testament to us is one of having both present and eternal hope in Jesus Christ… but also a warning of the price that each one of us may have to pay if we are to be His true disciples.