Philippians 1:27-30

Sun, 29/05/2011 - 10:00 -- James Oakley

“What’s the catch?” That’s one question I ask myself often when someone offers to give something that seems too good to be true.

Sadly, many people today don’t ask that question about the Christian faith because they think that being a Christian is the catch. Instead of saying “what’s the catch”, they ask “what’s good about that?”

But actually, the offer to follow Jesus is so good it does seem too good to be true. Jesus was criticised for spending time with people who were not religious enough, who had done too many bad things, or who had not done enough good things. But Jesus taught that he has come for exactly such people. Paul will explain in Philippians chapter 3 that Jesus came to put an end to all our efforts to be good enough for God. He knows we’ll never be good enough for God. But Jesus died and came alive again so that we can be forgiven for all the ways we fall short, and given a right standing with God as a gift.

Does that not seem too good to be true? God want to wipe out our past, give us a fresh start, assure us that he loves us, have us as his children, and promise us a dream future. And he wants to give us all that as a gift, it doesn’t cost us a penny.

That’s so good, that we ask: Where’s the catch? And the answer is that there isn’t one. It really is for free.

Live Worthy of the Gospel

There’s no catch. But having been given such a wonderful gift from God, there is a way to live that is consistent with having been given such amazing privilege. We don’t have to earn God’s favour; we don’t have to pay back the debt. But having received the gift, we should want to live gratefully.

And that’s what Paul tells the Christians in the Roman colony of Philippi to do: Verse 27: Only one things is needed. Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. The gospel of Christ is just another way of referring to the good news about Jesus that we’ve been talking about. He’s saying that we need to live in the light of the amazing message we’ve received.

The little phrase that he uses there for “manner of life” is related to the word citizen. The residents of Philippi were extremely proud that they were Roman citizens. Philippi itself was a Roman colony, like a little mini-Rome, an outpost of the great city in a corner of the empire.

Paul says here literally: Only let your citizenship be worthy of the gospel of Christ. For the Christians in Philippi, Paul is saying something very radical. It touches every area of life – their identity, their priorities, their way of life, their relationships. He says to them: Citizens of Rome you may be. A privilege you may count it. But the gospel of Christ has made you citizens of heaven. You may have sworn allegiance to the emperor, but the gospel of Christ means you owe allegiance to the king of heaven.

These days, if you want to get British Citizenship, the Government wants to know that you have enough of a grasp of British culture, British identity, the British way of life before they’ll let you in. And you have to take a test. To practice, there’s a sample of the kinds of questions you need to know the answers to. So: “In the 1980s, the largest immigrant groups were from the West Indies, Ireland, India and Pakistan. True or false”. “Which TWO of these are names for the Church of England? Methodist. Episcopal. Anglican. Presbyterian.” “Schools must be open 150 days a year, 170 days a year, 190 days a year, or 200 days a year.” And so on.

Well I failed the test. A good thing I was born here, then.

If there a test to check if we qualified to be citizens of heaven, we’d all fail it. By God’s grace, the gospel of Christ makes us citizens of heaven. That’s a gift, but there’s a way of life that goes with it. Paul says: Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.

It’s tempting to resent people who were born with money. Most of us have to earn what we have, and it seems unfair if people just have that privilege with no effort. Actually, what is tragic, is when someone is born with a great deal, and squanders it. They live as though they had no privilege at all.

Actually, it’s a greater privilege to be a Christian than to have any amount of inherited wealth. And it comes to us for no effort. But the real tragedy is if we have all that, and then live as though we did not.

Suffer for Christ

Which doesn’t mean that living in the light of all that God has given us will be easy. Paul says at the end of our reading that we have been given two great gifts by God.

Verse 29: 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. Gift number one: We get to believe in Jesus. Gift number two: We get to suffer for Jesus.

When we sign up to follow Jesus, we have to stop and think who it is we are deciding to follow. It’s the one who was misunderstood and abused by many throughout his life. It’s the one who freely picked up a cross and went to his own suffering and death. Paul is saying that it’s normal for Christians to suffer. He did, verse 30, and now the Philippians are too, and so will we. It’s normal. And it’s part of the privilege of being a Christian.

But if we forget that it’s normal for Christians to suffer, we’ll be totally thrown when it happens. Paul is saying to us that we need to live in the light of all that God has given us, and be ready for the fact that life might be about to get more difficult as a result.

So, let’s ask what it looks like to live out our trust in Christ. Paul develops 3 things it will mean. They are applications that we will return to again and again in this letter, because in many ways this short paragraph is the heart of the letter; it’s where Paul spells out what he wants the Philippian Christians to do as a result of hearing his letter read out.

Here then, are 3 ways to live out your privilege

Hold on to the gospel without cowering

First, Paul says we are to hold on to the gospel without cowering. Hold on to the gospel without cowering.

You may remember that Paul wrote this from prison, and he didn’t know whether he would be released or not. That is why verse 27 goes on: So that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm.

The Philippians have inherited the gospel. The message of the good news about Jesus. And here is the key question. Will they hold onto it? Will they stand firm?

Why ever would they not, you ask? Because of verse 28. They need to be not frightened in anything by your opponents. Not everyone in Philippi thought that following Jesus was a wonderful privilege. When Paul visited there and first told people about the gospel, it landed him in prison. And not everyone who lives in your street will think that following Jesus is wonderful. Not everyone in your extended family will think so, and neither will everyone at work. Quite a few of your friends will have serious reservations as well.

We don’t know what these opponents were doing that was so frightening or intimidating. But the pressure is there, when others don’t like the gospel, either to let it go altogether, or to soften it at the edges to make our Christianity less objectionable to the modern mind.

You see this at work in schools, don’t you. I remember one secondary school where the craze was to tie your tie back to front. So that the fat end of your tie was near your shirt, and the thin end was at the front, usually tied so that it doesn’t hang down very far either. If everyone’s doing that, it’s hard to stand against the tide. And even the child who wants to be a bit smarter than that will find themselves tying theirs with a little more at the back and a little less at the front. It need not be the threat of physical violence; it could just be that they didn’t want to stand out.

Most of us are surrounded by people who don’t know the privilege of knowing Christ, and all that comes with that. An d so the pressure is on to tie our ties slightly differently. We don’t want to stand out too much. Which is why Paul tells the Philippians that whatever else it means, living worthy of the gospel means standing firm, not being frightened or intimidated.

Remember we’re citizens of another country. That’s why we tie our ties differently. That’s why we believe and live out the gospel. Look at the West Indian communities in Britain. Many of them continue to eat some traditional foods, they use turns of phrase from back home, they dress distinctively. They live here, and they’re glad to do so, but the way they live shows that they know where their home is.

We live in Britain. We’re glad to do so. But the way we live needs to show that we know where our home is. We must hold on to the gospel without cowering.

Hold out the gospel without keeping quiet

Second, Paul says we are to hold out the gospel without keeping quiet. Hold out the gospel without keeping quiet.

That’s also in verse 27, where he says he wants to hear that the Philippians are striving for the faith of the gospel.

Now we know what that means because of what Paul’s already said earlier in chapter 1. It means striving to share the gospel, to hold it out to others, to preach it, to spread it.

The word here for striving is the word from which we get our English word for athletics. It’s not a competition, one Christian over against another, one church over against another. But it is a contest in that we are striving, wrestling, running, keeping going at the business of sharing the good news of Jesus with others.

That metaphor of the Olympic games is a helpful one, because if you are like me, sharing your faith with others doesn’t happen by accident. Some people seem to have the gift of talking about Jesus without really having to try; it just happens. Most of us find that it takes effort to talk about Jesus with someone. Unless we ask God for opportunities to do so, and consciously seek to take those openings when they come, we end up keeping stum.

And again, those opponents lurk in the background in verse 28. When Paul urged them to hold onto the gospel, the risk was that they would be cowed into letting go of it. But now Paul is urging them to hold out the gospel, and the risk is that they would be cowed into keeping quiet. We need to hold out the gospel, without keeping quiet.

If we find this difficult, Paul is giving us a great help here. His exhortation to hold out the gospel without keeping quiet isn’t on its own, much as an old-fashioned army sergeant might bark an order across the parade ground. It’s part of his encouragement to live in the light of the great blessing that it is to be a follower of Jesus. He says you’ve been given this great gift. Now pass it on.

Some of you will use Facebook. Others here won’t. Facebook makes it easy to do something we all do quite instinctively. You find a great page on the internet. Perhaps it’s a joke. Or a special offer at a department store. Or a photo of your best friends. And with just one or two clicks of the mouse, you can click on “share”. You enjoyed it, so you share it with your friends and they can enjoy it too.

All Paul is saying to us here is that it is a wonderful thing indeed to be able to follow Jesus. If you agree, click share. Share it with your friends. Don’t keep quiet about something that is just too good to keep to yourself. Hold out the gospel without keeping quiet.

Hold together for the gospel without cosiness

There’s one final aspect of living worthily of the gospel that Paul needs to draw out. He says we are to hold together for the gospel without cosiness. Hold together for the gospel without cosiness.

Look again at verse 27: that … I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.

Right at the heart of that sentence. One spirit. One mind.

Unity is what the gospel demands.

The two phrases “one spirit” and “one mind” paint a very comprehensive picture of the unity. One Spirit gives us the picture of these Christians being willing to do things together, to work together. One mind paints the Christians as having a common mind, a common drive, united to the very core of their being.

Is it not easy in a church for one or other of these to be missing? It would be possible to claim to have a common mind about things, but never actually to be willing to serve together and join together in a common project. It is equally easy to agree that we’re going to work together in church, but it’s just a marriage of convenience. There’s no real unity there, when you strip away the layers.

And yet what Paul urges these Christians to do, and what God is urging us to do, is to be a united church. Truly having a common aim, a common heart, a common goal. And for that to issue in real active service together. United.

Hold together for the gospel, says Paul, without cosiness.

What do I mean “without cosiness?” Well it’s possible to be united, but for that unity to serve no purpose. We all get along, but the goal of getting along is no bigger than feeling cosy. Feeling comfortable. Enjoying our nice united feel. Whereas for the Philippians, they need to hold together for the gospel. So it’s one spirit, because that’s how they’ll stand firm. It’s one mind, because that’s how they’ll strive side by side. The unity serves a purpose. They’ll only manage to do the other two things Paul’s encouraged them in if they hold together.

Without holding together, they won’t manage to hold onto the gospel, and they won’t manage to hold it out either.

So we must be a united church. We must hold together. But not so that we can enjoy the cosy feeling of being free of discord. But because if we are serious about the business of holding onto the gospel without cowering it needs to be done together. If we are serious about the business of holding out the gospel without keeping quiet, it needs to be done together.

While I was at school, I had the privilege of doing a little rowing. I was never terribly good at it, but it was great fun. You watch the crews in the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, they make it all look so easy. In fact, there are two things that are quite hard to get right. One is to balance the boat. You don’t want the boat to flop over to one side so that all the oars on that side of the boat drag along the water. And the other is to make the boat move with some speed, so that the effort you put as you drive the oar through the water actually gets the boat moving!

There’s a key to both of those, and it’s timing. All 8 must move forwards together. The 8 blades must drop into the water together. 8 pairs of legs have to push back together. And all 8 paddles have to feather out of the water at exactly the same moment. Unless the crew move exactly together, the boat will not balance, and most of the effort you put in will be lost in the turbulence.

Unless we at Kemsing and Woodlands move together, think together, pray together, work together, the rest won’t happen. Instead of holding onto the gospel, the church will let go to one side or the other. Instead of holding out the gospel, the efforts we put in to make that happen will get lost in the turbulence we stir up.

Hold together for the gospel, without cosiness.


So where’s the catch? The Christian gospel is such stunningly good news you have to ask! Forgiveness for those who don’t deserve it. New life for those who have thrown theirs away. As a gift. There’s got to be a catch.

Well… there isn’t! But one of the things we get is a new identity, a new passport, a new citizenship. There’s a way to live that’s plain ungrateful, and there’s a way to live that lives out what we’ve been given. Doing that may involve suffering; it did for Jesus. It certainly involves holding onto the gospel, holding it out, and doing so together.

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