Often throughout this series we have heard that the theme of the book of Philippians is joy. This is true. However, as we get to this section in the book, we realize that the joy of which Philippians speaks is an implication of the gospel. Everything Paul writes in this letter is in some way an implication of the gospel. Mike Riccardi writes, “Philippians is about the implications of the gospel—what sort of practical effect the realities and truths of the gospel should have on the lives of believers.” Verse 27 indicates a transition in the overall flow of the book. It features the first imperative Paul uses in the book and begins the main argument: Believers ought to live lives worthy of the gospel and strive together for the faith of the gospel—and the rest of the book (indeed, the rest of the New Testament) shows what that kind of believer believes and how he lives.
This section is a challenging and rewarding section of Scripture from the mind of our resurrected Lord. We will examine the command to obey and two marks of obedience to it.
A. The Command to Obey (v. 27a)
The use of “only” highlights the importance of this imperative. Paul is essentially saying, “Whatever else happens—whatever happens to me—the most important thing you could ever do is to live in a way that tells the truth about the gospel!” “Conduct yourselves” carries the idea of living as a citizen, discharging your obligations as the citizen of a particular place. (A word from the same root is used for “citizenship” in 3:20.) The idea is our way of life, our manner of living, believing, feeling, and speaking, as well as the framework and value system out of which all that flows, is to be in conformity to, transformed by, and lit. “of equal weight” as the gospel. The present tense indicates this is to be an ongoing, characteristic lifestyle.
Philippi was a Roman colony within Greece. As such, the Philippians were extremely proud about their citizenship, privileges, customs and all else that marked them out as citizens of the Empire. But Paul is quick, and right, to exhort them: “Beloved, you are a follower of the true King and a member of His kingdom before you are a Roman! That is the citizenship you should most prize—and it is as a conscious, deliberate citizen of heaven that you ought to live!” Both the gospel of Christ and the law of Christ (the “rule of grace” embodied in the many NT commands, teachings, and their implications, the new covenant law which God writes on the heart) are to be the governing reality for the believer in everything he believes and does.
Everything God has revealed is important. None of it is optional. But the gospel is the foundation for everything else. We cannot believe and live out the life God calls us to if we have not first been reconciled to Him—or at least, like many liberal scholars, we will believe certain facts and that an apostle wrote such-and-such—but it will not constrain us, convict us, or appeal to us! Everything else in the New Testament, and technically the whole Bible, is on some level an implication of the gospel, falls into the grand story God is telling of which the cross is the apex, is to inform the thinking and worldview of the believer in some way and then impact how he is to live in God’s world as a citizen of the present and future kingdom of the Redeemer-King.
The gospel and its implications are to shape and transform our lives. The most important thing, beyond anything else, is to live in a manner that tells the truth about the gospel!
B. Mark One: Standing Firm: (v. 27b)
What does it look like to live worthy of the gospel? Paul gives two of many, many ways in these verses. It is important to recognize that both “standing firm” and “striving together” are related to each other, part of a larger whole. We stand firm in order that we might strive together, and the attitude that governs both is not being alarmed by our opponents, etc. But it is helpful to look at both individually to understand the pieces that make up the whole.
“Stand firm” carries the idea of being settled in conviction, unyielding, immovable in the face of opposition, persecution, stresses, and threats. While the most immediate context is persecution by unbelievers, it would not be wrong to broaden this standing firm to all the threats and pains of a fallen world and cursed environment. In all of it we’re to be “rooted and grounded,” steadfast, anchored firmly upon the rock of the Word and the Lord Jesus. This implies, of course, that there are threats to our composure, safety, pilgrimage, and peace (one needn’t stand firm when there are no threats). Indeed, the word implies not merely threats, but warfare, as it was often used of a soldier who refused to leave his post under any duress, even if it meant death. This is the kind of committed, sworn immobility we are to have in the face of the onslaught of a hostile world system and a fallen world. We are not to retreat. We are not to go AWOL. The heavenly Commander has placed us in a particular assignment which we are not to abandon, and His Word governs how all of us are supposed to live in the war, regardless of post. In neither case can we surrender. The One who governs heaven and earth, the One who owns all things as Creator and Lord, demands our loyalty and our commitment. Dare we refuse Him to trifle with lesser things?
But Paul goes on: We are to stand firm “in one spirit.” This parallels “one mind” in the next part of the verse. Because both terms are used it probably denotes the entirety of the inner person. This is a large command! We are to be united with our brothers and sisters—primarily those in our local church, but more broadly any genuine believer we know—in the entirety of the inner man. This carries the idea that our whole spirit must be entirely turned towards the Lord (I allude to a frequent exhortation of Mark Minnick’s), for that is the only way diverse people, with different levels of maturity and different baggage and temptations and blind spots can be unified in a common goal. Of course, this does not mean utter and complete agreement—as any serious theological debate would show, equally consecrated believers can understand the Bible in very different ways! We will never agree on everything in this life. But Paul here is emphasizing the enablement of unified steadfastness. As the world continues to degenerate as the Lord’s return approaches (barring some work of genuine revival, of course), the fact that all believers need each other will be more greatly underscored. We cannot stand against the wiles of a seductive age on our own. We cannot emerge from the coming dark ages, should the Lord tarry, with the gospel and the whole counsel of God intact for a new generation of people deceived and failed by a horrendous culture without relying on each other. We will not see our blind spots in our sanctification and the presentation of the truth to the world without each other.
C. Mark Two: Striving Together (vv. 27c-28)
Besides standing, believers are commanded to strive. The idea is “wrestling with.” We do not wrestle against fellow believers, but together with them against opposition in order to advance “the faith of the gospel.” What is that? Space does not permit a full exposition. But I believe it to be parallel to “living as a citizen” in verse 27. “The faith” in Scripture is not merely the facts of the gospel, but the entirety of the system of faith—everything God has revealed and wants us to believer, love, and do. “Citizenship” in 3:20 is from the same root as “conduct yourselves” in 1:27. The KJV translates it “conversation,” meaning manner or way of life. The NASB understands it as the citizenship itself. Both ideas are likely included. Our citizenship presses upon us in a certain way to believe and live differently than the world around us—moreover, we are to embrace, love, and fight for all that God has revealed. We are not to advance a truncated message, as if the gospel is all that matters and eschatology, cessationism, complementarianism, and all the rest are optional for the sake of “unity.” Nor are we to act as if behavior, deportment, and our relationship to the culture are optional or legalistic. The whole that God has revealed is “the faith of the gospel,” and God’s people are to advance the whole thing.
Paul concludes with our attitude in verse 28. The attitude in which we strive and stand is characterized by confident peace—the opposite of alarm. This is a work of grace in the face of hostility! The last phrase is rich. It is the opposition to the whole counsel of God, especially the gospel, that marks people out as destined for destruction by God. But it is the submission to and striving for the whole counsel, especially the gospel, that marks people out as destined for final salvation at the judgment. (The stress, as almost always in Paul, is on future salvation yet to be received, not evidence of past justification.) The very opposition which threatens you is a mark of being outside the faith, outside the blessing and protection of God, in the realm of sin and enmity. God will condemn those in that realm. But He will save those who have sided with Him against self and the world!
The gospel makes a claim on every part of our lives for the whole of our lives. It is not merely an escape from Hell. It is an introduction into the new order of things, under the authority of the King, who will one day come to complete the work He began with blood and which He continues in His Body the church. One day all things will be ordered under that reality (Eph. 1:10), and if we are to find ourselves on the right side of history, we must align ourselves with that rule now, and live it out with joy. Such is the life God calls us to through the book of Philippians!