Dear brothers and sisters, we are at war. We have three enemies; the flesh or sinful desires of our hearts, the world and its philosophies, and the devil and his lies. As you may know, Philippians is traditionally known as the book of joy. Perhaps what you do not know is that it is not a book about feeling joyful or choosing a joyful attitude in the midst of the craziness of life. It is not about forgetting the struggles, or about taking a vacation from your problems. It is not even a book about how God will handle everything and how you just need to sit back and watch.
Rather, it is about living a life faithful to the gospel and finding joy in the Lord in the midst of trials. When soldiers prepare for battle, their general often encourages them with an inspirational talk. But he does not begin by telling the soldiers that they will not have to fight, that there will be no blood shed, or that their victory is guaranteed. He would lose all credibility, for these would certainly be lies. And no one follows a known liar! Rather, a good general acknowledges the struggle which the soldiers are about to face, and holds up before them a worthy cause for which to fight and lay down their lives. One of my tasks as a preacher is to prepare you for battle. It is a lifelong and difficult battle, but we know that Christ has already defeated all our enemies, and we who persevere are guaranteed success! Nevertheless, we are called to fight. I believe Paul is preparing us for this battle in our text for today.
Follow along with me as I read Philippians 1:27-30 from the English Standard Version:
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. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.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.
This is the Holy Word of God. Let us pray…
The language Paul uses here is the language of a general to his army. “Standing firm in one spirit” brings to mind the ranks of an army unified against a common enemy. “Not being frightened in anything by your opponents” adds to the imagery. “Destruction” for the enemy, “salvation” for the army of God, “suffering” for Christ’s sake, engaging in a “conflict”, these all communicate the same fact, beloved, we are at war!
If we are to win a battle, we must first prepare. We need to be able to identify the enemy. We need to know what we are fighting for. We need to have weapons and be skilled with them. And most of all, we need to know how to follow orders.
Paul holds up one banner, one cause for which we stand, one cause against which our enemies fight, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It may come as a surprise to you, but there are far more people who hate Jesus than those who love him. I’m not talking about cultural Jesus, the idea of a moral, accepting, kind-hearted teacher who wouldn’t hurt a fly, I’m talking about King Jesus who had to die to pay for our sins and who requires that we acknowledge our need for forgiveness of sin and His Lordship over all. I’m talking about King Jesus who loves us and offers us salvation but who will also judge everyone justly on the last day. The Muslims, for example, claim that Jesus was a prophet, yet they reject him as God. Since Jesus is God, they are rejecting the real Jesus for a figment of their imagination. In truth, they hate the real Jesus and refuse to bow the knee to his Lordship or acknowledge their need for the salvation he offers.
We stand for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We proclaim what the Bible explicitly teaches, that good works will get no one to heaven, that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that only those who persistently repent of their sins and turn to Jesus for salvation will be saved. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news is that Jesus offers us forgiveness of sins, he offers us his very own righteousness to put on like a garment, he offers us daily repentance and sanctification, and he offers us eternal life. This is good news indeed!
But while some believe the gospel and find life, peace, and joy, others reject the gospel. They oppose the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Oh, they do not mind some parts of the Bible, they pick out the comforting parts, the affirming parts, the parts which teach what they want to believe. But they reject much of what God has to say. They judge God’s Word to be too harsh, too judgmental, too extreme. They find the gospel to be offensive, not the part about God’s love and eternal life, but the part about Jesus’ death on the cross and the penalty for sin. Paul was persecuted for preaching the full gospel, including the part about sin and judgment. The Philippians fought the same fight, they shared the same faith, and they were also persecuted.
We do not face imprisonment for preaching the gospel in our country. But if you go around telling people that Jesus loves them, that He is God, that he died to pay for their sins, and that they need to repent of their sins and turn to Jesus for salvation, you will be rejected. People do not want to admit that they are sinners. They do not want to admit that they carry guilt, shame, or feelings of inadequacy. Instead of taking God at his Word and believing that the path to healing from sin and shame and death is through the open confession of sin and submission to Christ our Lord and Savior, they live in denial. They want to hide their sin and shame. And they reject all who are of the light. So if you are faithful to the call of the gospel and share your faith with those around you, you will likely be rejected, and perhaps even persecuted. Please pray for me, it is my special calling to publicly proclaim this gospel not only from this pulpit, but also at the hospital, in the nursing home, at funerals, and in the community. I often feel rejected and persecuted by those I seek to love and serve, and I am convinced that it is mostly because they do not want to hear the gospel.
Yet when we are rejected and persecuted for sharing the gospel, we can be comforted by the words of the apostle Paul in our text, “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”. God gives his saints the privilege of sharing the gospel with others and of suffering for it. It is a privilege in which we can delight. One of the greatest sorrows in life for the soldier of Christ is the rejection of the gospel by a dear soul. And one of the greatest joys is leading someone to faith in Jesus. Another great joy is knowing that you were faithful under pressure. To know that we fought the good fight and that our reward is coming from heaven, that brings great joy! As you have heard it said, we should serve with an audience of one.
Paul writes that the Philippians were engaged in the same conflict in which he had been engaged and was still engaged. Some may be tempted to believe that only pastors, missionaries, and evangelists are at war for the sake of the gospel. But that is not the case. All believers are at war. Until Christ takes us home, we who belong to him are at war. Our opponents are those who either reject the gospel or want us to stop preaching or sharing it. All who find God’s law and God’s salvation in Jesus Christ offensive and oppose the preaching, sharing, teaching, or living out of the gospel are God’s enemies, and ours.
But we do not fight the way the world fights. The apostles did not take up a sword. For our battle is not for a country or an earthly kingdom. The crusaders who fought for a geopolitical church state were wrong. They misunderstood the nature of God’s kingdom. Rather, our battle is for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We fight this battle by continuing to preach, teach and share the gospel in the face of persecution and rejection. Yes, it offends. But like Paul wrote in Romans 1 when he dealt with a very difficult subject in his day, homosexuality, he was not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation. We also must not be ashamed of the gospel. It is our unifying banner. It is the cause for which we fight and even lay down our lives.
Like our text says, many are frightened by the opponents of the gospel. This takes various forms. Perhaps it is easier to recognize when mayors require that pastors submit their sermons for review, for then we see clearly the attempt by the world to intimidate God’s preachers. But when fellow believers chastise us for preaching the gospel because they are afraid of its offense, then sometimes we may be confused. Yes, beloved, the saints often become afraid of the proclamation of the gospel, we may fear our opponents, friends and family who may despise or abandon us, good people who may give us the silent treatment, or even best friends who may shame us for associating too closely with Jesus’ difficult teachings. So Paul felt it necessary to address these saints. He urged them not to be afraid of their opponents. We must never allow the fear of rejection or abandonment to cause us to shy away from preaching the gospel. May I repeat that? We must never allow anyone, friend or foe, to intimidate us into sugar coating the gospel or compromising on the truths set down in scripture. Why? Because if we do, then we reject the only hope given to man by which we may be saved. If we sugar coat the gospel, if we water it down so that it is acceptable to the lost, and to the hard of heart, then we are living in the height of selfishness and hypocrisy.
All who know Jesus first came to know the weight of their sins. For until we come to know our guilt before God, until we feel the weight of our sins, we cannot possibly approach the cross in humility and ask God for the forgiveness offered to us in Christ alone. There is no salvation for those who do not see their need for a Savior. Therefore, if I, or any follower of Christ, should refrain from telling the lost that they are lost and in need of Jesus for fear of being rejected by man, we are rejecting Jesus and hating others. And beloved, I doubt there is a believer here who has not committed this sin of omission. I have many times. May God both forgive us and grant us the courage to share our faith boldly for his name’s sake!
If we love Jesus, we will tell people about why he came, we will tell people that their lies, adultery, hatred, disobedience toward legitimate authority, rejection of God, and all other selfish and sinful ways are damnable. We will not do this because we hate people, but because we love them! We will tell others that we are sinners ourselves saved by grace, that we were lost but have been found, that we were deserving of God’s wrath, but Christ forgave us, and we will offer to them the same hope we ourselves have received. Beloved, some will accuse us of being judgmental, but until we understand that we are born children of God’s wrath, that our sins must be paid for, that the penalty for our sins is death, eternal separation from God in hell, then we will not cry out to God for salvation! So beloved, when I share my faith, when I plead with unbelievers to turn to Jesus, I tell them the truth about their condition because I hope that they will call upon the Lord for salvation and be forgiven, transformed, and saved. And I believe that God does change hearts. I believe that the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to give people spiritual new birth. I preach because I believe Jesus saves! And he uses the Word. If you doubt that this is true, I urge you to carefully read John 3 and Romans 10 this week!
Beloved, Paul began this text with an admonition that the saints be unified in their manner of life, unified in living lives worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What does this mean?
We must all have a common confession which defines us. I John 1:9 gives us this confession, we have all sinned and are daily in need of forgiveness and cleaning from God. This confession unites us. It may be counterintuitive, but when we admit publicly that we are sinners in daily need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing, we find that we are freed from the guilt and shame that so easily weigh us down. We experience the forgiveness and peace of God. We experience the joy of knowing Jesus. And we experience the acceptance of the saints who share this confession.
But the world despises and is offended by this confession. The world is too ashamed to confess their sins, they fear the rejection of God and of mankind, so they cover up their sins, they pretend they are righteous, they do a few good deeds to feel better about themselves, and they may even call themselves Christians and attempt to live by the moral code set out in the ten commandments. But they have rejected the gospel. They do not know Jesus. They may be sitting in a pew on Sunday mornings, but they haven’t taken the first step of salvation, for they are too proud to admit their need of a Savior. They may think they live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for they may think that they contribute to the church and to Christ’s kingdom their good works. They may read this text and tell God that he should be thankful for them. But they fundamentally reject the gospel and do not live a life which brings glory and honor to Christ. Instead, they live to bring glory to themselves.
Most believers also struggle with this worldly pride. We don’t like to acknowledge our sins. We feel ashamed, so we hide from God, from others, and from ourselves the true state of our hearts. And we resent the scriptures and the prodding of the Holy Spirit which would bring to the light the ways we have sinned or have hardened our hearts. The good news is that the moment we admit our need for Jesus, the moment we ask forgiveness for our sins, the moment we repent even of our unrepentance, at that moment, we are forgiven! And if you have no idea of what you may need to repent today, then simply ask God to show you more of your sins that you may confess them and repent of them and be healed! This is the prayer of Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
Those who live a manner of life truly worthy of the gospel are those who daily come to God in humility, acknowledging that they fall far short of the glory of God, that they need more of the Holy Spirit in their life, that they cannot will themselves to be or do any good thing. The only way to serve the Lord in a manner which is righteous is to serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must learn to rely on God for every good deed. For in our humility, God is glorified.
We cannot live as though we don’t need the salvation of Christ moment by moment and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ that he offers us his salvation moment by moment. No brothers and sisters, those who are too proud to admit this moment their sins and need for a savior, who think they have obtained the so-called spiritual maturity of moral perfection, they are not living according to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we would not expect them to stand with the saints, for the arrogant spirit with them opposes Jesus Christ. Those who persist in this arrogant denial of the gospel, spiritual though they may seem, oppose Christ at every opportunity. Do not be deceived by them.
The measure of spiritual maturity is a measure of humility. Find me a man or a woman who is loud in proclaiming not their own good deeds, but their gratitude for the forgiveness they have in Jesus Christ, a man or woman who humbly prays, who does not see himself or herself fit to serve the Lord, who with reluctance leads or teaches for an acute awareness of their unworthiness, and I will show you a saint in whom the Lord delights. For God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, James 4:6.
The way of the cross is not the way of the world. A cross centered church is not a business. We do not exist for ourselves, but for the glory of God. We do not march to the orders of mankind, the agenda of the world, the desires of our twisted hearts, or the lies of Satan. We who would follow Jesus must march to His commands. And when we do, we have the joy of knowing Jesus. When we taste the sufferings of Christ in our own lives, we enjoy the comfort and joy of the Holy Spirit in the midst of humble faithfulness. May God make us a united church of humble saints reliant upon the Holy Spirit, proclaiming the gospel, and united in Jesus Christ. May we fight the good fight and enjoy the fruit of intimate fellowship with Christ who has gone before us and who has already won the victory.
Let us pray…