Series on Philippians, III Oneness through Service, A Exhortation to a Unified Stand, Text: 1:27-30 Title: Good Citizens


You may have heard the old gospel song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My troubles are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” That song echoes Paul’s sentiment in Philippians 3:20, But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under His control will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. The word Paul uses for citizenship is the word from which we get our English world “Politics.”  He uses it in Ephesians 2:19 telling them that they are fellow citizens with God’s people and he uses it here. Literally he says, “Only be citizens worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” Paul was a Roman citizen, Phillipi was a Roman colony, and the message is that the members of the church are to conduct themselves as members of a body and having public duties. So much for user friendly and needs oriented churches. It amazes me that John Kennedy’s words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,”  are so often quoted and so little heeded in our self absorbed society, but they apply here. Whether it was during the American Revolution, or in some current conflict today, it is the people who pay the price who are true citizens whether in the USA or the church.

I The Stand

The advice to the Philippians in verse 27 is, 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 one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel. In that great passage in Ephesians 6 where Paul says we must put on the full armor as soldiers of Christ, he says that we must do this in order to stand our ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. The idea is that after the battle with the devil and his cohorts, one person is left standing. Paul says, Let that be you. The metaphor is drawn from the Roman amphitheater where, like criminals or captives, Christians must fight for their lives. Instead of lions or gladiators they face the prospect of worldliness and sin. Only unflinching courage and steady combination can win the victory against such odds. We might think of Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea with Pharoah’s forces pursuing. Go forward together or die alone. They are left standing. Or think of Gideon’s army of 300 defeating the overwhelming armies of the Midianites. They were left standing. Brothers, I am talking about teamwork here. Standing firm in one spirit. Sometimes we sing, “Onward Christian Soldiers” in our worship. One verse goes like this, “Like a mighty army moves the church of God. Brothers we are treading where the saints have trod, We are not divided, all one army we one in faith and doctrine, one in charity.” We cannot solve all the divisions in the Christian church, but we can work at being united and supporting one another in the good fight of faith. Paul says, Stand firm in one spirit.

II The Sign

Now Paul says they should not be frightened in 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. This is a metaphor from a scared horse. Not a pretty sight if you have seen one. Personally I am more scared of them than they are of me. This city boy got on a horse for the first time at a Bible Camp in New York and the horse ran away. Then I was at Quarryville, PA, and a horse stepped on my foot. Ouch, Then I went with our youth group on a riding trip and the horse kept trying to knock me off its back. That is the last time I approached a horse. But horses get scared too. Paul says don’t do this. The reason is that this is a sign that God is on your side. When you are fearless in the face of persecution it conveys something to your persecutors. Paul calls it a sign. This could have many meanings, but I think it is again a reference to the Roman Amphitheater. In a contest the bloodthirsty crowds got the opportunity to give a sign that was thumbs up, or thumbs down. Paul is saying that God has thumbs up. This is the sign that you are the victor. Even if you die it is a sign from God that you have conquered. That is why the Christian gladiator does not have to await the signal of life or death from the fickle crowd. He is unafraid because he, like Paul, knows that to live is Christ and to die is gain. The great Christian Gladiator, Christ, has given himself for us upon the cross as a sure token of deliverance so that we can stand firm. Now when you look at II Thessalonians 2:13-15 you see that Paul has the same message to all the saints on Christ Jesus. But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

III The Suffering

Then Paul says in verses 29 and 30, For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on 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. To paraphrase, for to you it has been granted not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer for His behalf. And then he talks about his own struggles as an example. Oswald Chambers says, “To be able to explain suffering is the clearest indication of never having suffered.  Everyone is not going to go through the same troubles as Paul, but everyone has trials from without and within that challenge them. The highest joy to the Christian almost always comes through suffering. No flower can bloom in paradise which is not transplanted from Gethsemane.” As Ian Maclaren stated. “This is not an issue of what trials you have.” Some are persecuted for the sake of the gospel, others face addictions and failings or lose jobs and suffer loss of family and friends, others face health crises, financial disasters and innumerable problems. The Devil is our enemy, but in this world every appointment is God’s appointment. The world is broken. Expect trouble, but know that it is God’s gift to you because he is in control. This is clearly Paul’s point. He often speaks of the struggle as a gladiatorial contest. I do not know if this story is history or anecdote but it is old. In the days of the Roman Emperor Nero, there served him a band  known as the "Emperor's Wrestlers." Stalwart men, the bravest of the land, recruited from the great athletes of the Roman amphitheater.    They upheld the arms of the emperor against all challengers and then they sang before the throne “We wrestle for thee O Emporer to win the victor’s crown.”    When the Roman army was sent to fight in Gaul, no soldiers were braver or more loyal than this band of wrestlers led by their centurion Vespasian.  But news reached Nero that many had accepted the Christian faith.  The Emporer’s decree was dispatched. "If there be any among your soldiers who cling to the faith of the Christian, they must die!" The decree was received in the dead of winter.  The soldiers were camped on the shore of a frozen inland lake. With sinking heart the centurion, read the emperor's message. Vespasian called the soldiers together and asked: "Are there any among you who cling to the faith of the Christian?  If so, let him step forward!"  Forty wrestlers instantly stepped forward two paces, respectfully saluted, and stood at attention.  Vespasian said   "Until sundown I shall await your answer," Sundown came and again the question was asked.  Again the forty wrestlers stepped forward. Vespasian pleaded with them long and earnestly without prevailing upon a single man to deny his Lord.  Finally he said, "The decree of the emperor must be obeyed, but I am not willing that your comrades should shed your blood.  I order you to march out upon the lake of ice, and I shall leave you there to the mercy of the elements." The forty wrestlers were stripped and then, falling into columns of four, marched toward the center of the lake of ice.  As they marched they broke into the chant of the arena: "Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown!" Through the night Vespasian stood by his campfire and watched.  As he waited through the long night, there came to him fainter and fainter the wrestlers' song. As morning drew near one figure, overcome by exposure, crept quietly toward the fire; in the extremity of his suffering he had renounced his Lord.  Faintly but clearly from the darkness came the song: "Thirty-nine wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown!" Vespasian looked at the figure drawing close to the fire.  Perhaps he saw eternal light shining there toward the center of the lake. Who can say?  But off came his helmet and clothing, and he sprang upon the ice, crying, "Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown!"