Worthy Citizens | Philippians 1:27-30
To kind-of get us back into this chapter, let me remind you that Paul, in the 26 verses we’ve looked at so far in this book, he’s been laying down a basis for his authority, kind-of reminding the Philippians that they know who he is. He’s been updating them on his life and how God is using him, and making sure they remember that he is an apostle and not a charlatan. What he has to say matters. In verse 27, Paul moves from more general meeting and greeting and explanation about where he’s at in prison and how he’s doing, he now moves to focusing on the Philippians themselves—the church at Philippi.
Verse 27, again: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The word “only” there can also be translated “Just one thing,” or some of your translations say, “Whatever happens, one thing for you,” to live a life worthy of the Gospel. The point is that Paul is summing up in one phrase what we’re to be doing as Christians and as the body of Christ. “One thing: let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel.”
Now, it’s very important that we are clear here as to what Paul is saying with this main command he’s giving. When he says this, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” we can very easily think along the lines of, “Earn the gospel of Christ.” Even, “Live in such a way to earn the Gospel of Christ.” It’s like in the movie, Saving Private Ryan: This squadron of soldiers are given the specific task of going behind enemy lines to rescue one soldier, Private Ryan. Without getting into all of the details, five of the soldiers end up losing their lives before we come to the very last scene of the movie, when Tom Hanks, who plays Captain John Miller, he says to Private Ryan, just before he dies, “Earn this. Earn it.” It’s an incredibly moving scene, and honestly, a fitting thing to say in the moment.
But, it’s very tempting to think of these words from Paul like that of those from Captain John Miller: “You’ve been saved by the gospel, now earn it! Earn the sacrifice that God has made for you!” That’s not what Paul is saying here. Our motivation for living for Christ, and living in obedience for God’s glory, is not to somehow live up to God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice. You know why? Because we can’t! Our motivation for living for Jesus, and living in obedience for God’s glory is because we’ve been given God’s grace despite not being able to earn it before or after the fact!
So when Paul says, “Live worthy of the Gospel, he means something different than, “Earn it.” Probably one of the more important things to know about the language that Paul uses here, is that the verb “let your manner of life” or “conduct yourselves” carries with it this connotation of citizenship, so it can also be translated, “conduct yourselves as citizens” in a way that’s worthy of the Gospel. Paul is using this language specifically to compare living as citizens of heaven to that of living as citizens of a city, like Philippi!
You see, Philippi had a strong pride in its status as a Roman colony. They considered themselves a little Rome. Civic duty, civic responsibility, city pride was very important to the Philippians. So Paul, in saying “Conduct yourselves as citizens,” was saying something that carried a lot of meaning for the Philippians. Not only did they receive the benefits of being citizens of Philippi, which meant several different privileges, but they also, being citizens of Philippi, had particular responsibilities!
In the same way, in the kingdom of God, we have been granted citizenship, not of our own accord, but because of that of another! You see, we can’t lose our citizenship, because our citizenship is based upon the work of another, Jesus Christ! But, as citizens, we have certain responsibilities. And these responsibilities, these joyful obligations, are not to be seen as the way in which we earn our citizenship. Again, we couldn’t earn it. We were granted it! Verse 29 says that we were granted on behalf of Christ to believe in Him. We live worthy of the gospel because we are now children of God, citizens of heaven; it’s a gift of God’s grace that he has transferred us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son.
We are, as I said a few weeks ago, becoming who we already are in Christ. We are citizens—therefore we strive to live as citizens! We are children of God— therefore we strive to live as children of God. Perhaps the best way to translate this command is this: Above all else, conduct yourselves as citizens worthy of the gospel.” “Above all else, conduct yourselves as citizens worthy of the gospel.”
You and I are citizens of heaven. Whether we live like it all the time or not, that’s where our true identity is found, that’s where our purpose and goals and ambitions are found. We are citizens of heaven, not just Lee’s Summit, or Greenwood, Belton, Raymore, Peculiar, Harrisonville, Holden, Blairestown, Pleasant Hill, Raytown, Blue Springs, Independence, Kansas City, Oak Grave, Loan Jack, you get the idea, wherever you live. We are citizens of heaven, and we’re to live like it because that’s who we are!
We’re to conduct ourselves within the reality of the Gospel, this great reality that you and I were wretched sinners who deserved nothing except eternal death—God’s justice demanded that— and then God’s Son became a man, lived the perfect life, died on a cross bearing our sin, rose again defeating death, so that if we turn from our sin and trust in Christ, we are saved. That HUGE reality, that we’ve been saved from sin for the glory of God—there’s no greater factor determining how we live our lives. We have the greatest truth of all time to transform and to unify us. So Paul is saying, Live worthy of it, as citizens of heaven. Let it transform us; let it unify us, etc., etc.
So, the question Paul answers for us today: What does it mean to live a life worthy of the Gospel? What does it mean to live like Citizens of Heaven? He gives us four answers to those questions:
- It means Living with Integrity.
Paul brings this up in passing, but I think it’s worth taking note of. He says, “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear that you are standing firm…” He says, “Whether I’m there or not.”
It shouldn’t matter whether or not Paul was there watching them. It shouldn’t matter whether or not Paul would find out eventually how they’re living. In the same way, it shouldn’t matter whether I, as your pastor, or the other elders, are watching what you do, like we could have elder bobble-heads for all of you to keep with you so you can know that we’re always watching. How creepy is that? No! We don’t live like born again Christians because someone is watching. Why should we live worthy of the Gospel? Because that’s who we are! New Creations, new citizens of Heaven by God’s grace, by Christ’s work, not ours. We’ve been saved! We have new identities in Christ. That’s who we are.
It’s easy to serve the people around us, even our families, when their watching, and maybe not so much when they’re not watching. Or it’s easy to serve when it’s visible, when we know we will be appreciated! Is that why you should serve your family, or the people around you? No! In fact, that just reveals that there’s inconsistency there. Now that doesn’t mean we just shirk our responsibilities or just stop caring about people, because, “Oh, that’s just not who I am, and I need to be true to myself.” What a terrible excuse for not serving or shirking responsibilities. Instead, ask the Lord to foster in your heart and mind a real desire to serve others, a real desire to put others before yourself. Which, by the way, if this is you and you struggle putting others before yourself, then be here the next 3 to 4 weeks. That’s all we’re talking about in Philippians chapter 2, in particular, how Christ’s example in the Gospel is just our FUEL for humility.
The motive for living and behaving as children of God, as citizens of heaven, is not to make Paul happy, or any other Christian leader, but because that is who we are! We are no longer children, who behave when parents are watching, but misbehave when they’re not. Our little one that’s with us temporarily, he thought we wouldn’t catch him when he was supposed to be asleep, but instead he was on the bathroom floor with Lauryn’s makeup, in particular, her mascara. All over his face, all over his arms—I think he was trying to make tiger stripes. When he heard us walking in, he kicked the makeup trying to hide it as quickly as possible and tried to run in and jump back into his bed.
Children do that, sure. We don’t have to, do we? We don’t have to look around the corner at work or at church to see if the pastor is there, or your Christian friend is there and they might hear you. Or at least, hopefully you don’t feel the need to do that! We have been transformed. We have been saved, we have been brought into the kingdom of the Son; We are citizens of heaven; That’s true of us no matter who’s watching. Even if no one is watching. So, the first answer Paul gives to the question, What does it mean to live worthy of the Gospel, as citizens of heaven: Living with integrity. The second is this:
- It means we’re Unified in the Gospel.
Paul says in verse 27, “so whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” To live worthy of the gospel, as citizens of heaven, it means we are unified!
We stand firm as one man—that’s how the New International Version translates it. The language Paul uses here, “standing firm”, it means unshakable determination and conviction. Not fleeing, not compromising, not giving in, not backing down, not divided. I am here to stay, and nothing will move me. A similar verse is 1 Cor. 16:13- “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” So in one spirit, with one mind, we’re to stand firm.
Now in this particular verse, one spirit and one mind- I take those to be synonymous. Some see “spirit” as referring to the Holy Spirit. I don’t think that’s what Paul means here, although it’s certainly still true, that we are united in the Holy Spirit. In fact, He is the One who gives us the ability to stand firm and be united. But I think what he’s saying here is that we’re to stand firm, one body, one mind, one spirit, especially as the Body of Christ. And part of standing firm is actually not just standing, it’s “striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel.” We move forward together because of the incredible importance of what lies ahead. Paul uses this very serious, somber, military language here, when he says, “side by side striving for the faith of the gospel.”
Just picture this for a moment: In battles, soldiers fight side by side. Why? Because to be effective in battle, you must move and fight as one. Paul’s image of striving together with one mind and one soul, and one spirit, conveys such unity that Christians are no longer striving as separate individuals, but striving together as one.
Imagine a group soldiers side by side, all of them, except for one. One soldier is out on his own. How long will that soldier survive? Not long. Or imagine if the group of soldiers were unified across the line, except for somewhere in the middle. In that one spot right in the middle, they’re kind-of hit-or-miss, and their shields aren’t connected. Do these few, not being unified, endanger the whole group? Yes! Paul uses this very serious language on purpose. We must strive side by side, one mind, one soul. It is a matter of life and death, in fact eternal life and death! The foundation that unifies us to the core is this great truth of the Gospel, and the great NEED for the Gospel to go out from among us! That’s what we’re fighting for! The faith! Not just out there against enemies, but also inside of ourselves, fighting sin and the flesh.
The reality that anyone who dies without Christ will spend an eternity in a real place called Hell. That is far more serious even than earthly war. We see the comparison in Ephesians. 6:12- “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but worse! The cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” For Raintree to live as citizens of heaven worthy of the Gospel, we must be united. Because here’s the thing: Our enemy is united by one purpose… The devil and his demons are united by one purpose. So, are we? We must stand firm in the Lord, on His Word, and strive side-by-side for the Gospel.
I’m convinced that most problems that churches have, like long-term systemic problems, are because the gospel is not the central and unifying core of the church. A few of you have actually been to war, and perhaps have even seen the battlefield, you can probably understand this better. But for those of us who haven’t, just try and imagine standing there with your fellow soldiers, looking ahead to the battle that is coming. Looking at the other army! Perceiving in your mind what you’re fighting for! Your country, your freedom, the freedom of other citizens of your country!
This is what we’re doing as citizens of heaven. We’re fighting for the faith of the gospel. We’re fighting for obedience in our own lives and the lives of other citizens in our kingdom. We’re fighting against the enemy who seeks to kill and destroy. And yet, it is so easy to become distracted in our churches by things that simply don’t matter. You have the whole army marching forward to battle, and two soldiers stop marching and start bickering about, in some instances, color of the carpet or style of music. Trivial things can be distracting, but even really good things can be distracting from the centrality of the gospel!
Good programs or weekly church activities can be a distraction! Being absolutely convinced that the best way to do church is with Awanas, or with home groups, or with a choir, or with a band, or young people or old people. There are plenty of GOOD things that can become a distraction from not just the best thing, but THE THING—the gospel. I’ve used this analogy before building off of Paul’s language here. It’s as if your side by side in battle formation, and you see this beautiful sword laying in the grass off in the distance, so you break formation, run over to it, and just sit down and coddle it, and cherish it, all the while the real battle is raging all around you. A great tool for the battle can very easily make you miss the point of the battle, or just miss the battle altogether, because you’re more focused on the tool than the purpose of the tool.
Even with church organization, or the responsibilities of elders, it’s easy to replace the best thing with good things. It’s easy to think that the role of elders and leadership and just the organized church in general, is to organize volunteers, communicate well of upcoming events, planning events, especially community outreach and service projects. Those are all great things, that we hope to do! But, they can distract from the thing we’re to be doing: striving for the faith of the gospel, making discipleship, equipping you as believers to have a Gospel impact on your community.
There seems to often be two tendencies: you want to serve, and so you pick a ministry and you become the busiest person on the face of the planet, usually busy with administration and not really ministry. Do you get what I’m saying? We can replace THE thing, the gospel, our faith, with good things. We get so involved in church activities and doing stuff, that we don’t even think about bearing each other’s burdens, discipling one another, praying for each other. It’s so easy to let programmed things take over the life of the church, or even to feel like you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing if you don’t have a ministry or church activities taking over your life!
The other tendency, I think, is even more common. A few of us might struggle with thinking that we’re supposed to be busy, busy, busy in the church. I think far more of us tend toward the other way. We think ministry is the job of the elders, the so-called “professionals.” So you come here to experience the leadership of the professionals. You know, we have a programmed thing here for you. Sunday mornings are supposed to be a gathering of family members, not an experience, or something you observe. You are ministers of the gospel. You are to strive side by side with us for the faith of the gospel.
My job as your pastor is not to minister to all of you, like I’m the queen ant having this one-way communication and ministry, if you will. My job is to equip you to minister to each other and those outside the church, like a big mound of ants all gathering and participating. That’s a terrible analogy, but hopefully you get the idea. When you leave the ministry to the leadership or even just to other Christians, you are not unified in the gospel. You’re not striving side-by-side with us. You’re more like an anthropologist who joins in a group not to really become part of the group, but really to observe. You may think you’re part of the group, the body, but really, you’re just observing. Don’t be an anthropologist. Be unified with us. Man, I am just full of terrible metaphors today. Number 3—what does it mean to live worthy of the gospel, to live as citizens of heaven?
- It means we are Fearless against Opposition.
Pauls says, leading into verse 28, he wants us to stand firm, “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
Persecution was rampant almost everywhere at this time. Christians had many who opposed them. Paul, however, told them not to be afraid “in anything.” No matter who it is opposing you, do not be afraid. There is only one being in the entire universe to truly be afraid of. Matthew 10:28- “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Do not be afraid even of those who may kill you, because they can only kill the body!
The next part of the verse may sound unusual: “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” Our unity in the Gospel, our one-mindedness and unity is a sign to our opponents that they will be destroyed. How is that? Well, the church, standing firm as one mind, one unit, is a sign of its inevitable success. Truth stands firm. For opponents, seeing the unity of the body of Christ can be proof that they were wrong, and were in rebellion against God. This unity also brings encouragement to the Church. It reassures us of our salvation, of the truth of the Gospel. Standing firm in the midst of persecution, not afraid, is also reassuring because we are being steadfast.
It’s PROOF that we are children of God. 2 Thessalonians 1:5, in reference to suffering, Paul states, “This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.” We are not moved, we know we are citizens of heaven, because we’re acting and living like citizens of heaven. The reality of the Gospel is there, and we are conducting ourselves as citizens worthy of the Gospel. And, our God is far greater than any opponent we could possibly face. And any fight against God is pointless. It’s just a fight that reveals inevitable failure, which is exactly why we have no reason to fear, even in the midst of suffering, which is where we come to the fourth answer Paul gives to the question, “What does it mean to live worthy of the Gospel?
- It means we’re Privileged to Suffer for Christ.
This is what Paul gets at in verses 29-30: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
How is it that God has “granted to you” to suffer? Gifted to you to suffer for Christ? Do we view suffering and persecution, as a gift? How is that a gift?! Here’s how. Your very sufferings are witnesses to the goodness of God, because in them you have a real evidence of your faith. We just saw how unity in the gospel is evidence of our inevitable success and our enemy’s inevitable failure. Now we see that our suffering is evidence of our faith in God!
How is it evidence or proof of your faith? Because you’re standing firm… You are standing firm, in one mind, striving for the faith of the Gospel, no matter the circumstances, even when persecution is knocking at your door. Even when any pain and suffering comes! Not that you don’t struggle, but that you do move forward! It goes to prove, that guess what?! God has begun a good work in you, and no matter the pain or persecution that comes, he will carry it on to completion! That takes us back again to Philippians 1:6.
The simplest illustration I can think of to help us understand this is of a rock vs. a leaf. A rock is going to be there basically no matter what’s going on around it. A leaf, though, can be taken away by the wind, or even rain causing a little stream of water. The rock stays put, the leaf is taken away, right? Of course! So here’s the question: which one will experience more pressure being put on it? The rock or the leaf? The rock, right? Precisely because it doesn’t move with its surroundings, the rock it will have more pressure on it from the rain and the wind. The leaf doesn’t have much pressure put on it, does it? No! Because it just goes along with the wind or the rain.
And here’s what I want us to get: What does this pressure on the rock reveal about the rock? That it is in fact a rock. If the wind came and the rock was just taken away, or a little stream came and literally lifted it up and it floated away, what do we know about that rock? It’s not a rock! It’s foam or paper mache or something. That’s exactly what suffering can do for the Christian. It reveals and assures us of the reality that we are citizens of heaven, because no matter the pressure around us to conform and just live like the world, we live like citizens of heaven. Not that we’re perfect, or don’t make mistakes or even sometimes don’t go with the wind forgetting who we are. But, our tendency is to stand firm.
Suffering truly can be a source for assurance and a witness to God’s goodness. I know that sounds unusual, but I hope that analogy helps you understand. Ultimately, the unity of the church, all acting like little rocks following our Great Rock, who is Christ, and our refusal to cower even in the midst of pain persecution, is a gracious sign that our heavenly citizenship is real.
But again, the way to be sure, is not to try your best to become a rock! Try your best! Pretend to be a rock, and eventually you’ll become one! No, no, no. No amount of trying to gain heavenly citizenship will ever gain you heavenly citizenship. It must be granted to you. And the only one with the authority and payment to be able to grant you citizenship is Jesus Christ. We trust in him alone for our salvation, our citizenship, that he paid the price for it, and that he granted us citizenship. And those of us who are already fellow citizens, we live worthy, not to earn it, but precisely because it was granted to us when we could do nothing to earn it.
I don’t know where all of you are with all of this, but I just want to heavily charge you with this task: examine your citizenship. Make sure it’s not falsified. That’s why we have the church; we can help do that together. Make sure you’ve truly been granted citizenship, and then? Live worthy of it! As new creations, GIVEN the greatest gift in the history of mankind: live as citizens.
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