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The church in Philippi was perhaps one of Paul’s favorites. Philippi was the first European city of any consequence that Paul visited, and the church that he founded there was strong. It was a generous church, and one that was mostly free from problems.
Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians while he was in prison in Rome. The purpose of this letter wasn’t to correct false teaching or wrong behavior—as Paul had to do in so many of his other letters. Instead, it was a thank-you letter for the Philippians’ generosity, and Paul was overflowing with joy as he wrote it.
The believers in Philippi were doubtless worried about Paul in prison, and wondering how the gospel could advance without him; so Paul opens his letter by reassuring them that, even though he was in chains, God was still in control. No matter what happens, Paul says, God will get His work done (see verses 12-18).
With this foundation, Paul transitions into the topic of this post by applying his situation to them:
27 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 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. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:27-31, NIV [Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.])
I like to think of the first sentence of verse 27 as the subject heading of this passage. English teachers might call it the topic sentence of the paragraph. “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Paul then gives two ways to do this.
First, we are to stand firm. This idea permeates the entire paragraph. There will always be trials and challenges, but God is in control. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV). During the time of Tertullian, a second/third century church father from North Africa, the Romans viciously persecuted the Christians. But, as Tertullian noted, “The blood of the martyrs is seed.” The more Christians Rome killed, the more people became Christians. In fact, during this period, the church experienced tremendous growth. God can and does use bad situations for the best. He is in charge, and nothing catches Him by surprise. So we need to trust God and stand firm, not wavering because our trials are too hard. And when we do that, we are conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.
Often, standing firm is very difficult, so in our paragraph in Philippians, Paul gives us some guidance. In verse 27, he says, “. . . stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” We can summarize with the word unity. This is the one issue that the Philippians apparently had trouble with. In fact, it is the subject of the next paragraph. We need to ask ourselves, “Why is unity so important for standing firm?” I believe that unity and fellowship are very similar, because Paul is saying here to stick together. It isn’t possible to stick together without having fellowship. So let’s examine fellowship.
Here’s Hebrews 10:24, 25 (NIV):
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The reason we go to church isn’t merely to hear a good sermon. In fact, you could probably tune your TV to 3ABN and hear a better sermon than what you would hear at your own church. Notice why the author of Hebrews says we should go to church: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. . . . Let us encourage one another.” This is fellowship. This is unity. And it’s the reason the writer of Hebrews gives for attending church. (Of course, there are other reasons, as well.) As we are in fellowship with one another, encouraging each other, we will be able to stand firm more easily. We are supporting each other.
This idea of unity/fellowship is central to the Christian life. Acts 2 describes what happened in the early church after the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. It records Peter’s sermon, and the fact that about 3,000 people became Christians in one day. Verses 42-47 describe the early church:
42 They [the believers] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV; emphasis mine)
Fellowship was key to the early church—that church that was growing like those of us who are in North America can only imagine. And because they had that fellowship, which produced unity, they were better able to stand firm.
I don’t know who’s reading this post (if anyone), but I want to give you the same challenge that Paul gave to the Philippians. Do you have fellowship with other Christians? Are you sharing life with them and are you holding each other accountable? If not, it’s essential that you start doing so. And finally, even if you are unable to have fellowship with other Christians, stand firm. Don’t waver when the going gets tough. Remember, God will take care of you.