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A sermon on Philippians 1:27-30 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 21 November 2021

In our passage today the apostle Paul urged the believers in Philippi:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

“Whatever happens” is a reference to Paul’s situation. You might remember that Paul was in gaol for promoting the gospel, the good news about Jesus. But he wanted to reassure the Philippians that everything was turning out for the best. The guards in the prison were getting to hear his message and other believers were becoming more fearless in sharing the gospel because of Paul’s example. Paul expected to be released from prison and to be able to visit his friends in Philippi again. But even if he wasn’t, even if he was put to death, Paul knew that better things lay in the future for him in the coming kingdom of God.

“Whatever happens” means that there is only one thing that the Philippians needed to concern themselves above all. Whether Paul was released and saw them again or not, he wanted his friends to “conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel”.

By “conduct yourselves” Paul meant that the Philippians must make a deliberate choice about the way they behave. They were not just to blunder through life, making it up as they went along. They were not just to go with the flow, copying others without any conscious thought. Their choices and decisions, the things they did and the things they said, were to be the direct result of certain values and convictions that they held to be real and true.

Paul said,

Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

It’s easy to live without thinking. It’s like walking along without noticing the air. It’s just something we take for granted. In the same way, it is possible to live our lives without ever really thinking about why we do the things we do. But the gospel of Christ demands a conscious decision. Not just in the act of faith by which we believe in Christ and confess our sins and trust in him for salvation and begin our journey through life with him. The gospel isn’t just a list of things that we have to believe to get into to heaven. It is so much more. The gospel exposes the lies that we believe and teaches us the truth. The Holy Spirit applies this truth to our heart and to our mind to change our priorities and to transform the things we care about. We learn to love the things that God loves, and the different parts of our lives are restored to be what they were created to be. The gospel transforms us from the inside out.

To conduct ourselves “in a manner worthy of the gospel”, therefore means to embrace the new life in Christ not just to believe the good news about him but to adopt the values that Jesus taught as our own so that everything we do and think and say reflects the things that God loves and the things that God wants to see in our lives. This is what it means to become a disciple of Jesus. He is our teacher and we learn from him and we put his lessons into practice. This is what it means to walk with Jesus, to follow in his footsteps so that we do the things that he would do in the same situation. This is what it means to live by faith, not just a faith by which we start the Christian life but a faith that guides the whole of our Christian life.

To conduct ourselves in a manner “worthy of the gospel of Christ”, means that there are things that are not worthy of the gospel, that are inappropriate for a follower of Jesus. Things that contradict the message by which we are saved.

Dishonesty, by which we pretend to be something we are not.

Hypocrisy, by which we judge people by a standard that we do not apply to ourselves.

Apathy, by which we do not care about others and are indifferent to their needs.

Violence, by which we force others to do what we want or punish them for not being or doing what we want.

Greed, by which we hurt others and ourselves in the desperate need for things we don’t have.

Envy, by which we cannot be happy by the good things that others have.

Lust, by which we are controlled by our desires instead of being able to control our desires.

These things are unworthy of the new life we have in Christ. They are part of an old life that cuts us off from God and from other people. A life that lives for itself and is empty and friendless and alone. A life that is headed for destruction. A life that falls short of God’s purpose for us and which contradicts all that Jesus said and did to fulfil that purpose in us.

By that old life we live like lost sheep, believing that we are living life our way while we are headed into danger and death. But the gospel says that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who looks for the lost sheep to bring it back to the fold, who risked his life, who gave his life to rescue the lost sheep from the danger of judgment and hell. The gospel says that although Jesus gave his life, his Father gave him that life back, so that he not only died for us but lives for us, so that whether we live or die we belong to him and he belongs to us. This is the new life. Jesus is our risen saviour. Our living Lord. And by his Spirit he leads us on a journey through life and death to himself. So that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died and lives for us.

To persist in that old life, to return to that old way of life, is to live in a manner that is unworthy of the gospel of Christ. We may confess the gospel with our lips, some people, not mentioning any names, even get to preach that gospel from the pulpit, but to live in that selfish, hard-hearted, thoughtless, careless way is to deny the truth of the gospel by our actions. And part of conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel is not being too proud to admit that we have made a mistake, that some aspect of our attitude or behaviour is out of step with the things we say we believe, to confess that to God in prayer and to any one that we have hurt, and to look to the instruction of the Scriptures and to the leading of the Spirit to guide us to a better way.

What are the values of the new life that is worthy of the gospel of Christ? In the rest of Philippians chapter 1 Paul focuses on three things. Now these are not the only values that make up the new life in Christ. But there will be many more Sundays to talk about them from other passages in the Bible. The important thing today is to draw your attention to the values that were on Paul’s mind.

In verses 27 and 28 Paul writes:

Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one person for the faith of the gospel  without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.

Firstly Paul mentions unity. He asks them to stand firm in “one spirit”, to contend as “one person” for the faith of the gospel. Notice that Paul is addressing the community. Of course, he wrote his letter to individuals, to people who lived in Philippi and loved Jesus. But it wasn’t written to them as individuals, but as members of a community. Like a family, children and God, and brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus, and therefore siblings to each other. Or like a team, sharing a common outlook on life and common goals and working together to achieve them.

And what a community needs, what a family needs, what a team needs is unity. It doesn’t mean that their minds are controlled so that they all think and believe the exact same things, but that differences, if and when they occur, are able to be resolved in a spirit of love for each other and by a shared commitment to their common core values.

Disunity is easy. It just requires everyone doing what they want regardless of what anyone else wants. But unity requires humility and love and a shared commitment to what is most important.

Humility that doesn’t demand its own rights, that doesn’t assume it is always right and knows all the answers, and that listens twice as much as it speaks on the grounds that God gave us one mouth and two noses and they should be used in that proportion.

Love that cares about other people and about what they want and need and shares what it has with those who don’t.

And a shared commitment to God our Father, to his Son Jesus Christ and to his Holy Spirit and to the truth revealed in the word of life, the gospel.

So that every member of the community, whatever colour they think that the church should be painted, or however the pews should be arranged, wants above all to know Jesus and to make him known. So that out of all the things that make them different, Jesus is the one thing that they share in common, that he belongs to them and they belong to him and therefore they belong to each other. So that when one person is happy we are all happy. And when one person is sad we are all sad. And we work and pray and live with each other and for each other, for the common good.

The second thing that Paul wants is for them to be faithfully active. As a community, he wants them to “stand firm”, “contending” for the faith of the gospel. Faithfulness to Jesus requires perseverance, stickability, solidity, immovability, not in a stubborn, sullen way that resists change because it doesn’t like change, but in a faithful and dependable way that trusts in Jesus and follows him and once on that course, does not want to deviate even a millimetre. That knows that when you are on a good thing, you should stick to it. Like a family in a crowd needs to stick together. Like a husband and wife need to be faithful to each other. through all the ups and downs of life. Like a team, under the pump and behind on the scoreboard, needs every single player to keep doing their best for each other.

But that stickability, that immovability is the result of constant activity. It doesn’t come about because the church community never does anything, never takes a risk, never sticks out its neck, but because as one person it contends for the faith of the gospel.

“Contending”, of course, implies a struggle. But it is not a struggle that we win by fighting with people or by trying to win arguments. Not by shouting the loudest. Not be having the best slogans. But by trying to win souls for Jesus. For there are many ways to advertise, but the best advertisement is word of mouth. One satisfied customer sharing the benefits of a product or service with their neighbours and friends. Are you satisfied with Jesus? Are you aware of the amazing benefits that knowing him provides? Could you list them if you were asked to? It isn’t easy. Some people don’t want to hear us and some people do not want us to be heard. And that’s precisely why there is a struggle. It is why we need to “contend” for the gospel. But it is also why we must keep contending as one person, unified and unashamed for the gospel, so that others may enjoy the incredible benefits that we have in Jesus.

Thirdly Paul wants the Philippians to be brave. He wants them to contend for the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. By “frightened” Paul means intimidated. Without being intimidated in any way by those who oppose you. I stress that because some people are afraid of clowns. And clowns are scary, in a way, but they aren’t trying to be scary. Puppies are a bit scary too especially when there are a lot more of them than there are of you and they form a pack to lick you to death. But they aren’t trying to make you afraid. They are trying to intimidate you.

The Philippian believers, however, followed Jesus in an environment that was hostile to him and to them. To the Jews the claim that their Messiah had been crucified was offensive, and to the Romans the claim that a rebel who had been convicted and executed by a Roman court of law was not a criminal but a hero was subversive and antisocial, undermining everything that the Empire stood for. In that environment, following Jesus was dangerous. Jesus, their Lord, had been put to death. Paul, their teacher, was in gaol. But it was in that environment that the early believers found courage and it was in that environment that the early church grew, especially among the poor and the marginalised that the Empire forgot.

It’s a good reminder that we are not being persecuted in Australia. We are not being persecuted because our values are no longer informing our government’s laws. We are in fact very fortunate that both the Prime Minister of Australia and the Premier of New South Wales are practicing Christians. That’s not persecution. You will know that you are being persecuted when you risk losing your job and your freedom and your life for Jesus. What we are losing is our position of privilege in the wider community, a privilege that the early church did not have and did not need. Instead, it grew without it. All the more reason for us to be brave in making Jesus known. If the Philippians could do it, we can do it too.

There are a lot more ways that we can conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. But three is enough today. It’s important to leave something for me to say next week. But it does mean being united in love, being faithfully active in sharing the gospel, and being brave.