Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 1, specifically, Philippians 1:27-30.
Reflection | Sadly, lack of unity has been one of the major issues of the Church throughout its history. Unity is a pervasive theme in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We’ve already gotten hints of division among the wider community as to how some are reacting to Paul’s imprisonment. In this passage, allusions are made to opposition closer to home in Philippi. Later, in chapter 4, Paul will infer that two prominent leaders of the church in Philippi are diametrically opposed to each other on some unnamed matter. The more pressing concern however, for Paul, is that their disagreement has brought disunity into the church.
And so, as Paul transitions from reflecting on his future, he entreats the Philippians to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v. 27). The first part of this appeal, “conduct yourselves” is a single, specific word in Greek with political inferences. It is a reference to doing one’s civic duty. This word would stand out to the Philippians as their town had the distinction of being designated as a Roman colony with the full privileges of Roman citizenship. Paul appeals to this idea, being a part of a community carries not only privileges but responsibilities. Just as the Philippians pride themselves on being model citizens of Rome, Paul urges them to be good representatives of a Kingdom that is far greater.
What is the conduct that reflects the true value of, that honors and glorifies the gospel? Paul draws the attention of the Philippians to three things. First, by “standing firm.” In the original Greek, this was a military term that conveyed the idea of being steadfast and unflinching.
The picture here is of a soldier who refuses to leave his or her post no matter how severely the battle rages.
Second, Paul admonishes the Philippians in “striving together.” Followers of Jesus are not to walk or to struggle alone, they are to walk and to struggle along with others. Paul here moves from a military image to more of a sport analogy as the image shifts to one of athletes, playing a game not as bunch of individuals but side by side as a team, working together in seeking victory. Thirdly, Paul adds, “without being frightened in any way” (v. 28). The connotation is one of not being startled or jumping back in retreat. Living a Gospel-centered life demands boldness and courage in the face of opposition.
These three vivid images that reflect the conduct worthy of the gospel are interconnected by a single theme, unity. Our unity as followers of Jesus is “the sign” of the truth of the good news of Christ. Unity is not the same thing as uniformity. The Bible presupposes diversity among us. The Lord created us this way after all. And yet even though we are incredibly diverse, God calls us in Jesus Christ to accept one another and remain united despite the various ways in which we are not uniform. Our togetherness as followers of Christ, is grounded, not in our effort to try to all be the same, but, as Paul underscores “standing firm in the Spirit.”
In recent times, Christians have become better known for what they are against rather than with whom they are willing to stand. The Church is recognized more by its splits and in-fighting instead of its’ shared and harmonious work on behalf of others. Our unity in Christ is not a human achievement. It is, like everything else of the Gospel, a byproduct of God’s grace. Grace is not something we earn or achieve. But grace is something we must submit ourselves to in order to fully receive it.
Our unity in Christ is the reflection of the grace by and out of which we live together. Our mutual, unconditional love for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ verifies the truthfulness of the Gospel we profess. Any division between us in Christ, any denial of love towards each other, devalues the power of God’s grace and presents the good news about Jesus to be a lie. None of us is perfect. We are all still on our way in attaining “the fullness of Christ.” At best, our unity is a work in progress. Nevertheless, authentic unity in the Church is a goal towards which we should be striving together.
Consider & Discuss | In what aspects of your life right now are you operating more out of the framework of “what’s best for me” rather than “what’s best for we”? What would it look like for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be reflected in how you are living out those parts of your life?
Prayer Focus | Father, we confess our lives are not our own and that we live for Your glory. Therefore, we submit and surrender every agenda we have for our lives before Your will. Direct and empower us through Your Spirit so that every step that we take in this world, every word that we utter, every decision that we make, every action and reaction that we undertake here upon this earth, will be consistent with and reflect the love, truth, and grace of the very Gospel that has saved us. Amen.