Only 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 of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 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. 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, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:27-30
Some commentators describe this letter of Paul to the Philippians as a missionary support letter reporting to his supporters what God has been doing on his mission field and keeping the flow of funds coming so the missionary can stay on the mission field. I get it. But, I think it under-rates Paul. I don’t get from this that Paul is writing a fundraising letter for himself. Paul is, however, clearly addressing the Philippians as partners in the gospel. I don’t read this as Paul writing to supporters, but to partners in the work, not just financial partners. This is a letter of encouragement in Christ, a letter of disciple-making, encouraging growth in Christ and the making of disciples by the Philippians, not just Paul. As the one who brought the gospel to the Philippians and began their journey as followers (disciples) of Christ, he is furthering that process by strong encouragement.
Only 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 of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.
When Paul follows that up with the imagery of the bold stance of the Philippians as a sign of the destruction of their opposers I almost want to chuckle. The great powers, whether religious, economic or political, cannot remove the gift of faith from the hearts of God’s kids. This fact alone proves that the enemies of God have been defeated. They just don’t know it yet. Now comes the fascinating part. God has graciously granted to the Philippians (and to varying degrees, us) two things for the sake of Christ. We all like to talk about the gracious gifts of God’s grace. We rightly get excited about radical forgiveness and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We love to experience God’s spiritual gifts and the blessed fellowship with our fellow believers, all wonderful gifts of God’s grace. But here are two gifts that we don’t generally put together in the same sentence as Paul does, the gift of saving faith and the gift of suffering for Jesus sake. Whoa! Wait a minute, Lord. If you don’t mind, you can just keep that last gift. I’m looking for the peace and prosperity part of the gospel. I’d just as soon leave the suffering part out if you don’t mind. This deserves some thought, more than I have space to write about right now, but I do want to make a couple of observations about this gift of suffering.
- It is indeed a gift. The word translated “granted” is the Greek word charizomai which comes from the root charis, the word for “gift” and also translated frequently as “grace.” The form charisma is used to refer to all of those various gifts of the Holy Spirit that we find scattered through the New Testament. So, we really are talking about a gracious gift from God.
- It really does mean suffering. The context is Paul’s suffering that includes beatings, imprisonment, stoning, etc., real suffering for Jesus sake and the gospel. To say he suffers “for Jesus sake” and “the gospel” is the same thing.
- The suffering contemplated here, based on the context, does not refer to the general human suffering that all men endure. We get old, and things break down and wear out. Sometimes we catch the flu or get a bad cold. We occasionally undergo financial reversals that cause suffering. We have loved ones who go astray and cause us untold emotional pain as we agonize for them in their lostness. This is all real suffering, but it isn’t what is referred to in this text. This text refers to suffering “for Jesus sake.”
- I believe this is referring to the obvious gift of God that allows martyrs to endure the loss of their lives for Jesus sake with a smile on their lips and a song in their hearts praising the One who saved them. If you have never read Fox’s Book of Martyrs, I encourage you to do so with this passage in Philippians in mind. See where it has been freely granted to these saints to suffer for Jesus sake, they have experienced what some call the gift of martyrdom. That’s not a Biblical term, but I believe it expresses what Paul is referring to here.
Most of you reading this do not live in an environment where your life is on the line if you confess faith in Jesus Christ. (That is not necessarily true of all of my readers. I am amazed where this blog goes. Places I am sure I will never visit in person in this life). But for the majority of us who are not threatened by suffering for Jesus sake, what should we take away from this text? Here is one suggestion: Stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and do not be frightened in anything by your opponents. This boldness is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. If you ever need this gift of suffering for Jesus sake, I am confident that he will make it available, freely by grace. Be a disciple-maker!
According to Open Doors World Watch List for 2018:
215 million Christians experience high levels of persecution in the countries on the World Watch List. This represents 1 in 12 Christians worldwide.
North Korea is ranked #1 for the 16th consecutive year (since 2002).
During the World Watch List 2018 reporting period: 3,066 Christians were killed; 1,252 were abducted; 1,020 were raped or sexually harassed; and 793 churches were attacked.
Islamic Oppression fuels persecution in 8 of the top 10 countries