October is one of my favorite months because I get to attend a large men’s conference held by the district of my denomination. It is a great event where 1500-2000 men gather together to learn and grow. I am always blessed and encouraged after this event. I love it!
A few years ago, I was at similar Men’s Conference when I heard Rev. Tom Green, the then National Men’s Leader for the Assemblies of God, talk about his grandfather. He told how his grandfather was a great man of God who went before him, prayed for him, and fought and won spiritual battles. Now, he the grandson was reaping many of the rewards of his grandfather’s spiritual victories.
Although the story was interesting, the part that stuck with me the most was when he said: “A lot of people say, ‘If I could only be half of the godly person they were,’ thinking they are paying the person a compliment. However, I my grandfather ever heard me say that phrase, he’s probably come out of the grave and slap me alongside the head and say, ‘What do you mean you only want to be half of the man I was? I didn’t work, pray, fight spiritual battles, and endure everything that I did so that you could be HALF of the man I was! Take what I gave you and become TWICE the man I was!’”
I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul had this same sentiment in mind when he wrote these words.
“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 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. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:27-30)
As we look at this passage, we have to remember that while writing this, Paul is sitting in a Roman prison, not knowing if he will be released or if he will die. Basically, the spiritual patriarch of the church is saying, “Whether I live and get to see you again, or go to be with Jesus…this is how I want you to live: conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
This is one of the most powerful challenges in the Bible: Conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. In other epistles, Paul uses the phrase, “Live a life worthy of your calling.”
Either way, it means the same thing: “Remember who you are and Whose you are and live that way.”
It’s interesting to note that when Paul gives them this instruction, he literally uses a word that means “to live as a citizen” for “conduct yourselves”. This is important because the Philippians were proud of their status as Roman citizens.
They knew that in the Roman Empire “citizenship” was a privilege (only offered to those who were born citizens, paid an enormous price to buy their citizenship, or served over 25 years in the military and received an honorable discharge).
They were also aware of the fact that “citizenship” offered a wide range of privileges and protections that were not available to “non-citizens.” For instance, only citizens had the right to vote, run for public office, make legal contracts or own property, or gain any benefits from the Roman courts. Citizenship also came with the right to have a legal trial where a person could appear before a proper court in which to defend themselves. This right also includes the ability to request Caesar here a case. Additionally, citizens could not be tortured or whipped (scourged), nor could they receive the death penalty, unless they were guilty of treason.
Citizenship meant being part of the elite, protected class of humanity---it was a coveted title to be sure. Drawing from this cultural background, Paul gives his readers two things that will help them carry on and take the Gospel even further no matter what happens to him.
What are these two things: Identity and Purpose.
#1 Identity: You Are Citizens of the Kingdom of God
Although the concept of being Roman citizens was very familiar to the Philippian church, as Gentiles, they weren’t quite so familiar with the concept of being “citizens of God’s kingdom”. So when Paul says, “Conduct Yourselves or Live as a Citizen”, he’s reminding them that even though they weren’t born into the kingdom of God, like an Israelite, they are still full-fledged citizens of the kingdom of God because their citizenship was purchased with the incredible price of God sending His Son to die on the cross.
Because of what Jesus did, the price for their citizenship is Paid In Full. They now have complete 100% citizenship including all of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that citizenship brings.
However, Paul didn’t stop by giving them a sense of identity. Instead, he went on to explain because of their new identity their lives also had a new purpose:
#2 Purpose: Live in a Way that Advances the Kingdom of God.
In the next few verses, Paul goes on to explain what that means:
“Stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 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. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”
You see, citizenship doesn’t just come with perks and privileges---it also comes with responsibilities. For instance, when a person becomes a citizen of the United States, they must take an oath, part of which says:
“I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic;…..that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law;”
A Joey Lawrence Whoa!! may have just popped off in your head!
Maybe you're thinking, "I just wanted to be a citizen; I didn’t say anything about wanting to go to war!"
However, that’s the thing about citizenship—it doesn’t just bring rewards, it also brings a commitment to stand by the other citizens when they are being attacked, threatened, or in danger of being destroyed.
Now, Paul is taking this principle that most of us understand in the natural realm, and applying it to the spiritual world as he tells the Philippian church that because they are all citizens in the kingdom of God, they must “stand firm in one spirit” against the people who are persecuting them and trying to destroy their church. As they always saw him do, they must work together to advance the Gospel even in the face of opponents who want to stop it and the work God was doing.
With this in mind, he tells them to “Stand firm in one spirit”. This phrase means they need to be unified realizing that they are all fighting the same enemy and working toward the same goal: advancing the Gospel of Christ. This isn’t every man for himself, it’s every man for the Gospel. Because we’re all fighting for the same cause, we need to work together and be unified.
In addition to being unified, Paul tells the church that they need to be courageous. Look at verse 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.”
Why is courage so important?
The church’s enemies wanted to intimidate the church. The enemy won if the church cowered away in fear and stopped spreading the Gospel. If the church wasn’t intimidated, God’s enemies failed. By standing strong, courageous, and united, the church was able to gain the victory and continue fulfilling their purpose as citizens: to advance the kingdom of God. Just as they’d seen Paul do in the past, they were now privileged to follow in His footsteps and suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:29-30)
I can almost hear him now---Paul writing to the Philippian church saying, “C’mon guys, this is an awesome opportunity. Just like you’ve seen me suffer for the sake of the Gospel for years, now you’re getting the opportunity to do the same thing. Don’t look at it as a bad thing. Instead, look at your suffering as a responsibility of citizenship. Be strong, be united, be courageous and stand together against those who are trying to destroy the Kingdom of God. Be proud that you get the chance to fight for the kingdom you love. Remember Who you are and what you’re suffering for. Take what you’ve seen me do and carry it even further for the sake of the kingdom. Then, whatever happens to me, I’ll know that you’re carrying on what I taught you.”
What is Paul saying? He is saying true happiness comes when you find your identity as a child of God and are fulfilling the purpose that God has for your life.
You see, there are plenty of people in the world that live aimless, carefree, worry-free lives. They’ve got health, they’ve got wealth, they’ve got fame, and they’ve got power. Still, they are absolutely miserable. (Think about it: Why do so many rich, famous people struggle with alcohol, drug dependency, unhealthy relationships, or even commit suicide?) Clearly, a lack of struggle is not the key to happiness.
Yet, here is Paul, sitting in prison awaiting possible execution for a crime that he didn’t commit, having long ago abandoned all of the privilege, money, and prestige that his former life might have brought him, and he claims to be “filled with joy.” How can this be?
The answer is that Paul’s joy came from knowing that he was a child of God---a citizen of the kingdom of God. No matter what happened to him in this life, Paul was joyful because he had the privilege of fulfilling his purpose within the kingdom of God. Even if that meant suffering, Paul was happy because he knew that he was suffering so that the kingdom of God could go forward.
Paul found his identity as a citizen of the kingdom of God and his purpose in advancing the kingdom of God. Together, these two things filled him with peace, contentment, and joy.
As he sat in prison contemplating whether he would live or die, Paul tells the church in Philippians, (very much like Tom Greene’s grandfather would say, “I didn’t work, pray, fight spiritual battles, and endure everything that I did so that you could be HALF the citizen of the kingdom of God I was! Take what I gave you and become TWICE the Christian I was! Live a life worthy of the calling. Find your identity and purpose in the kingdom of God…even if that means suffering…do it.”