Striving And Suffering For Christ

Philippians 1: 27-30

by
Gary Young

Throughout the book of Philippians we see a great deal of very encouraging teaching, and on the whole it is probably correct to say that Philippians is one of the most positive books in the whole of the New Testament. The Philippian church seems to have been beset with fewer problems than many of the other churches we read about in the New Testament, and the book generally portrays what we might call an ‘upbeat’ atmosphere.

This is not to say, however, that the Philippians, or indeed any other Christians, were free of suffering or difficulties in their walk with God. Indeed, in the reading we have for this lesson, we see terms such as “striving” and “suffering” which certainly indicate that the Christian life is not the easiest life to live. Paul tells us that fact quite clearly when he elsewhere tells us “Yea all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3: 12). Accordingly, even in a church without too many internal difficulties, we can still expect that there will be trouble given from outside the church and from false teachers. Indeed, as this passage makes clear, our difficulties will actually increase the more we strive to serve and follow Christ.

Verse 27 commences with an exhortation to let our lives be worthy of the gospel of Christ. Paul hoped that he would hear this whether he was present in Philippi or absent. It is certainly true that we should live a life becoming to Christ whether we are with our brethren or not. We are reminded of the example of Daniel, who refused to defile himself with the King of Babylon’s food and drink, despite the fact he was many miles from anyone who knew him – he could have partaken of the ritually impure food and drink without any of the Jews knowing, yet he chose to serve God. Part of living a life worthy of the gospel was that Paul wanted the Philippians to be “with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”. Clearly, this area of striving is an important part of living for Jesus. The life of a Christian is not one of ease, we are expected to work. Living for Jesus is not just living a life that is morally pure, it is living a life that is working and striving for the gospel of Christ.

What then is it to strive for Jesus? Striving can come in several different ways: we can strive in our spreading the gospel, and preaching to the lost. We have the commandment of Jesus to go forth and do so (Matt. 28: 19-20), and we must realise that those who do not obey the gospel will be lost (II Thess. 1: 8-9). Surely we should strive with all our hearts to reach everyone that we possibly can with the saving truth of the gospel of Christ?

In the context of these verses, however, it would seem that Paul has in mind more the idea of striving against those who would oppose the truth. Jude tells us that we must “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3). We must be willing to stand up for the truth against anyone who would oppose it – not in a contentious or violent manner, but in a loving and courageous manner which is pleasing to God. When we strive for the gospel, we must first be sure that we are striving for the truth – we are authorised to contend for the faith, nothing else. We cannot contend for our opinions, however well-founded we might think they are. We cannot contend in this sense for anything that is not a matter of faith – something that is authorised either by the explicit statement, inference or approved example. To contend for something besides this is to be contentious in the bad sense: and this will only lead to conflict and division.

We must also be careful, having identified that what we are striving for is indeed the gospel, how we strive. Just because our cause is just does not authorise or allow us to do anything we like in support of the gospel. We cannot use power tactics, control techniques, factionalism and politics in defence of the gospel. When we are dealing with Christianity, the end most definitely does not justify the means. Christians have two ways authorised in God’s Word to strive for the gospel – we can teach and we can give the right example. No other technique is authorised, and if we do resort to tactics that are not proper for a Christian, then we make ourselves no better than the opponents of the truth. We must strive, to be sure, but as Paul tells us, we must strive in a manner that “becometh the gospel of Christ”. If we go beyond this, we have sinned and we as well as the opponents of truth must repent.

Verse 28 assures us that we will be faced with adversaries, and we should not fear them. They will often appear formidable – sometimes we can feel that we are quite alone in the fight for truth, to the point that we question whether or not we can prevail, or even whether we are really standing for the truth. These feelings are natural – indeed, a person who is in absolutely no doubt whatever about anything he believes, down to the tiniest detail, is more likely to be a blind ideologue that a true Christian. Elijah felt this way – he thought he was the only one left who followed God, and he doubted that he could accomplish his mission (I Kings 19: 1-18). Yet, he was assured that God was with him. We should not be afraid of the enemies of truth, no matter how powerful or numerous they seem (Psalm 3: 6). Athanasius, the defender of truth against the Arian heresy, once stood alone in his defence of the correct doctrine about the nature of Christ. Despite the odds, he bellowed to the assembled heretical bishops Athanasius contra mundum – “Athanasius against the world!” He was prepared to stand against all the odds, and so should we be.

As Paul tells us, the very opposition of the enemies of the truth is an evident proof of their perdition and our salvation. When someone opposes the truth of the Bible, it may be baffling, disheartening and even frightening to us, but we should understand this important fact – by that opposition they are all the more marking themselves out as an opponent of God, and someone who will ultimately be lost if he does not repent. As long as we stand for the truth in a way that is becoming to the gospel – and that is an important condition – we are showing a token of our salvation. By behaving always as a Christian should, by standing up for God’s truth and not compromising either in what we stand for or how we stand for it, we show the world that we belong to God. We are all the more giving an evident proof of our salvation by God if we stand up for Him.

In verse 29, we learn that it is not only the lot of the Christian to believe in and to follow Jesus Christ, but also if necessary to suffer for Him. As we have already seen, Paul tells us clearly that an integral part of living a life pleasing to God is suffering persecution (II Tim. 3: 12). If we do not experience any sort of persecution or opposition, we might perhaps ask ourselves whether or not we are truly living for Jesus. How can we say we are properly living for Jesus if we are not willing to stand up for Him in the face of opposition? Rather, as we are told by Jesus Himself, we should rejoice when we are called on to suffer for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5: 10-12). When we so suffer, we are only walking in the footsteps of the apostles, prophets, and Jesus Himself. When we have the opportunity to stand up for Jesus, we should rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for our reward in heaven is great. There is nothing that this earth can throw at us that will not count for nothing when it is compared with the glories of heaven (Rom. 8: 18). We can look into God’s Word and take that assurance when we are called on to strive and to suffer for Jesus.

As Paul tells us in verse 30, he was not just speaking academically – he too had suffered these things, and had risen to the occasion. We can look to his example, and to the many other examples in the Word of God, of staying true to God and withstanding persecution. He never compromised the truth, he never behaved in a way that was unbecoming to the gospel, and he never caved in to the opponents of the truth of God’s Word. May we also have the strength to stand in the same way, as an evident token of our salvation, and of the perdition of the enemies of the truth.

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