We are very good at excusing ourselves when we sin, using our imaginations to think of fresh reasons why our sin is not that bad. Usually, it is very easy to blame difficult circumstances for the way we’re behaving.
“Yes I was rude but work has been difficult today.”
“Yes I snapped but she was being an idiot.”
“Yes I didn’t pay for the train but they make enough money anyway.”
The Philippian church, as a church dealing with false teaching, arguments from within and persecution from without, would have had plenty of reason to excuse bad behavior. But Paul is having none of that. Look at what he writes in Philippians 1:27: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
It doesn’t matter what pressures we’re under or how tricky things are for Christians, we must conduct ourselves in a way that would make Christ proud of us, a way that honors and glorifies Him. Anything less is unacceptable for the Christian.
It’s a high standard, isn’t it? To always behave in a manner worthy of the gospel is not easy. But then the stakes are high. A world that needs to know Christianity offers something radically fulfilling is watching and should be able to see from the lives of Christians that they are missing something wonderful!
For that reason, Paul lists two particular ways we can behave in a manner worthy of the gospel. Firstly, we should be united—we are to “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith” (v. 27).
It may surprise some of us that Paul’s first standard is for us to be united with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is hard work, but it is absolutely necessary to show the world that the Jesus who saves us and brings us together is so much more important than whatever might divide us.
This command challenges us as Christians, because we love to bicker and argue, allowing personal pride to trump unity. Given the backbiting and gossiping that we see all around us, it’s clear that Paul’s command to the Philippians is still relevant for us today.
Secondly, we should be courageous—we are to live “without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you” (v. 28).
Writing from his prison block in the first century, Paul knows very well that there are good reasons to be afraid of opposition. But doing anything out of a fear of man is inappropriate for a Christian; it’s to forget that He who is with us is greater than any other power or trial, that our Jesus has overcome the world!
So instead of using the threat of pain or difficulty to excuse our sin or failings, Paul is saying we ought to be like the fearless Christians of centuries past, men and women marked by a costly love and not by terror. What could be more distinct?
So the standard is high and the cost of living the Christian life is also high. Why not keep our heads down, wait for heaven, and avoid drama?
Well, the pattern of the Christian life of suffering now, glory later is deliberate. Later in Philippians 1:29, Paul says, and demonstrates, that one of the marks of a Christian is that we get to suffer for the faith. And when we endure suffering for Christ, without being paralysed by fear or turning our backs on our brothers and sisters, in obvious courage and obvious unity, we show the world that Christ is worth giving your life for.
And let’s face it; when we’re finally worshipping in deep joy round the lamb’s throne with fellow Christians in the new creation, we won’t regret having sacrificed for Jesus during our time now.
—By James Bunyan, England
Questions for reflection
- What excuses do you give to trivialize your sin or failings? How does today’s passage encourage you to conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel?
- What are some practical steps you can take to ensure you remain united with other Christians?
- When do you find it hardest to be courageous for Jesus? Why?