The apostle urged the Philippians to walk in a manner that was worthy of the gospel of Christ. But he does not just offer a generic “be a little nicer” sort of exhortation. The thing that is worthy of the gospel is a true unity in the gospel. When many minds, voices, and hands come together to strive for the advancement of the gospel, this is something that adorns the gospel itself—in the same way that apples adorn an apple tree.
“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (Philippians 1:27–30).
Summary of the Text
Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians is that they are to have their conduct fit together well with the gospel of Christ (v. 27). When our behavior is worthy of the gospel, we are not talking about anything like merit. We are not earning the gospel, or deserving anything through our works. Rather it is simple matter of consistency—do our lives go together with the gospel as preached? Does the whole thing fit together?
What Paul means by this is that he wants them to be unified. He wants to come and observe that reality in them or, if he is absent, he wants to hear about it (v. 27). He wants them to stand fast in one spirit, and he is eager for them to be striving together for the faith of the gospel in one mind. One spirit, one mind. The congregation of God’s people is designed to work together as one organism.
Being unified in the gospel in this way is bound to provoke opposition, and the fact that Christians can be fearless in the face of such opposition is a terrifying thing for the persecutors (v. 28). Always remember that persecutors are frequently driven by fear.
Remember that true Christian likemindedness is the fast road to being called a cult member. And also remember from earlier in the chapter that to live is Christ, and to die is more Christ. This places the Christian completely out of the persecutor’s reach, and this is deeply unsettling to them. They were already unsettled, and this is far more unsettling. It is proof to them that they are sons of perdition, and that you are among the saved (v. 28).
Thus the Philippians had been given a two-fold gift, a two-fold grace—not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for Him (v. 29). They had seen Paul go through this sort of trial, and they had also heard of his imprisonment—and now they were going through it all themselves (v. 30).
Like-mindedness is Not Group-think
I have sometimes thought that atheists and infidels must run secret versions of “Vacation Bible School” for all the infidel children. This is where they first learned to quote verses like “judge not lest ye be judged.” And they sing little infidel songs to help them remember everything. Another thing that unbelievers do is this. They first complain about all the divisions among Christians. “Look at all the denominations. You guys can’t even get along with one another.” And yet when the grace of God is poured out on believers, such that there really is true unity of mind in evidence, their response is to accuse everyone of belonging to a cult. And so it is that wisdom is vindicated by her children (Luke 7:32).
We sometimes imagine that the enemies of God are much bolder than they actually are. Herod the Great sat on a throne, but he certainly sat on it nervously. He was spooked by the news of a baby. And his son, Herod Antipas, was threatened by a fierce man who lived in the desert, and who lived on a diet of locusts and honey. But why? John the Baptist had no regiments, no battalions. The apostle Paul was once held prisoner by Felix, and as the apostle spoke of things like righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come (Acts 24:25), it was Felix who trembled. And when Pilate was talking to Jesus, holding the power to condemn Him in his hands, with a mob outside shouting, when they repeated what Jesus had said, it was Pilate who feared (John 19:8).
We might here repurpose the words of the economist Thomas Sowell, who once said, “It’s amazing how much panic one honest man can spread among a multitude of hypocrites.”
When the grace of God surrounds Christians during a time of persecution, this communicates something to everyone involved. The believers know that God “will never leave them or forsake them.” They know that God is with them, and so they are deeply encouraged by it. But this presence of God is noticed by everyone—not just the believers. As Paul puts it here, this celestial calm is an evident token to them of their perdition. Another way of putting it is that grace under fire is a potent hellfire sermon.
A Two-Fold Grace
The Philippians had been given a two-fold gift. The first gift was that of believing in Christ in the first place. But if a man were to able to say to his wife, “not only did I give you the bracelet, I also gave you the necklace,” how many gifts did he give? That is correct—two. If Paul says that not only was the gift of faith given to them, but also the gift of suffering, we can see that faith in God through Christ is itself a gift of God.
Scripture teaches us this in various places. Peter says that we have obtained a precious faith through the righteousness of God and Christ (2 Pet. 1:1). Paul says that we saved by grace through faith and that [faith] is not of yourselves, but is rather a gift of God—lest anyone boast (Eph. 2:8-10). And the faith that healed the crippled man was a faith that was “by him” (Acts 3:16).
And so just as faith is a gift from a sovereign God who knows exactly what He is doing, so also are all the persecutions that have broken out over the centuries. When the apostles were flogged for their preaching (Acts 5:40), what was their response?
“And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”
Acts 5:41 (KJV)
It was an honor to be so dishonored. It was a grace to be disgraced. Notice how this suffering meant to them that they were “counted worthy” to be shamed for the sake of His name. But counted worthy by whom? Not by the Sanhedrin. They were counted worthy of this honor by God, and so that means that it was God who gave it to them. And our text in Philippians tells us to let our conduct be worthy of the gospel that we are striving to advance. And so what does this mean? It means like-mindedness through shared suffering.
And that is entailed when we follow the Christ who has gone before us.