06 February 2016

Gospel Conversation: Living the Gospel (Pt 1)

I would like to take a look at some verses from Paul where he is exhorting the Philippians in his absence. Our text comes from Philippians 1, and of course looking at the context here, we find Paul writing to those at the church in Philippi with great joy. Let’s do a real quick synopsis to get the context of Paul’s words.

In verse 5 he states they have been partners in the gospel with him since day one, and in verse 6 he reminds them that he who began the good work in them would complete it in the day of Christ. In verse 7 he states that they were partakers with him in grace in both imprisonments and defense of the gospel.

In verse 8 he openly yearns for them in the affection of Christ. In 9-11 he prays that they abound more and more with knowledge and discernment, so as to be ready for the approaching day of Christ.

In 12 through 14 he speaks of all of his trials and imprisonments as being a great benefit to the spreading of the gospel message. In 15 through 19 he speaks of those who preach the gospel, some with good motives, others with bad ones, but explains how he is happy either way since in both cases Christ is preached.

In 20 through 26 is the familiar section where Paul speaks of his desire to die to be with Christ, but how it is most beneficial for the gospel’s sake that he remains present in the flesh. Then, in 27 through 30 he exhorts them to continuing living in a manner worthy of the gospel, not fearing their opponents, for they have been granted the privilege of not only just believing in Christ, but also suffering for him just as Paul has.

Now, verse I would like to discuss this morning in verse 27:

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…  (Phil. 1:27 ESV)

Paul is exhorting them to live in a manner of life that was worthy of the gospel of Christ, and that is the topic I would like us to look at to see if we are striving to live up this exhortation.

First, notice that to Paul, living in manner worthy of the gospel of Christ is of utmost importance. He starts by saying “only” – which is to say above all else. He places this at the start of his thought, and says that living in this manner is above all else the most important thing to do. To do this it entails many aspects of love, mercy and righteous deeds as we shall see.

So, above all else, we are to strive to live in a manner of life worth of the gospel – but what exactly does that mean, and what does the Word tell us about doing so?
When it speaks of the “manner of life,” the original Greek implies to live as good citizens. In the King James, which I spent most of my early Christian years using, it is translated as “let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ,” which is where my title comes from.

While the original writers and even the readers of days of old would have understood the term conversation to mean more than our speech, unfortunately to the modern reader it is often misunderstood as being limited to how we speak, and so a better, more modern interpretation is often needed to get the point.

However, even the translation we have here - to live in a manner worthy of the gospel – still misses the mark a bit. These people were citizens of the local government. They lived in accordance with the rules and regulations of the local government, and they knew the difference between being a good and a bad citizen.

Philippi was a colony under Roman rule, and so they had to abide by Roman rule. This brought forth many advantages as well as disadvantages. Living as a good citizen probably had more advantages than disadvantages, and so they knew this.

Being a good citizen in a city means being a part of a community where people pull resources together to use for the common good of the whole. Even today, we have people using their talents to assist others in the area who do not have those skills. Being a good citizen means using those skills honestly and not taking advantage of others, and working together for the common good.

Those in the church of Christ also belong to another polity, or order of things though. Just as they were to be good citizens of their local government, Paul is encouraging them here to apply similar standards to how they should live within the church body, and do so in such a way as is worthy of the gospel of Christ. John Gill puts it like this:

A church of Christ is as a city, and is often so called; the members of it are citizens, fellow citizens, one with another, and of the household of God, and have laws and rules according to which they are to conduct themselves; as such do who walk worthy of their calling, and becoming the charter of the Gospel by which they have and hold their freedom and privileges, as citizens of the new Jerusalem: and such a Gospel walk and conversation lies in such things as these; constant attendance on the preaching of the Gospel, and on the administration of Gospel ordinances; a strict observation of the rules of behavior towards persons that have given offence, either in public or private; a just regard to the discipline of Christ's house, in admonitions; reproofs, censures and excommunications, as cases require; cultivating love, unity, and peace; keeping the ordinances as they were delivered; retaining and striving for the doctrines of the Gospel; holding the mysteries of it in a pure conscience, and adorning it by a becoming life and conversation.

Now, Paul goes on to say that he wants them to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” and then verse 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. (Php 1:28 ESV)

While we may not be facing the same enemies or situations that Paul was directly addressing here, we still live in a world that is opposed in many ways to the gospel, and therefore the church still has opponents. Plus, we all belong to the same body of Christ that those at Philippi did, and therefore can pay heed to Paul’s exhortation here.
Now, he states that “this is a clear sign” – what is the clear sign? The clear sign is the “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” When a church body is united, standing firm beside one another, and working as a single body, then it performs in a way that is a good sign to others.

As a general rule, does that sound like the state of the church these days? Do we as Christ’s body stand firm in one spirit on hardly anything anymore? Do we have one mind and strive side by side for anything?

Sadly, the church does not do this, and that is a key reason why so many in the world around us see today’s church as impotent and of little use to society in general. There is so much disagreement between denominations and individual congregations, that to say the body of Christ works as a single body is near impossible.

The individualistic mindset is much more the way of the day. Everyone wants to do their own thing, they all want to make a name for themselves, or they want to do a ministry their own way. There may be two churches on the same street, just a stone’s throw from each other, with many similarities, but to think of merging them into one body so pool their resources is rarely ever a possibility. Neither body – or their leaders - wants to give up their position.

Instead of wasting twice the money on overhead and resources that do the same thing, wouldn’t merging together, pooling the resources, and combining talents not allow them to accomplish much more for the kingdom? But this is never an idea because no one wants to give up their small piece of the pie.

Even on a non-congregational front, I can’t help but wonder how much more good would be accomplished if the multitudes of separate “feed the children organizations” and other such organizations would join together as one. Think of all of the money that would be saved in avoiding having all of the individual promotion and overlapping of 
labor that is being done to promote each group.

However, admittedly, Paul’s context is more directed at a single church body and how it functions together, so let’s move back in what he is saying here. After this section of verses, he continue on in chapter 2 to explains some of what he means by all of this one-spirit one-mindedness. This is not just applying to the individual mindedness of most independent congregations, but is mainly directed at the individuals in the church themselves. Paul continues:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  (Php 2:1-4 ESV)

A lot of what fuels the individualistic attitude in churches today tends to come from our own pride and self-worth. We tend to put ourselves above others, and only look out for our own interests. Self-love is highly promoted by the world, but seems to have taken a foothold in the church body too.

Paul here says it would aid in completing his joy if they were to have the same mind and same love, and look not to their own interests only, but to others also.  This idea of love is nothing new of course; Paul has said it elsewhere, like Romans:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Rom. 12:10 ESV)

If we are concentrating on outdoing one another in showing honor, and looking out for their interests, that will pretty much squelch any self-love, pride, or selfish attitudes we could have. We should be actively on the look-out for ways we can show honor to others, and put their interests ahead of our own interests. This is just one key aspect of loving one another and is repeated by others, for Peter tells us:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.  (1 Pe 1:14-15 ESV)

Again, he is giving us an emphasis on the conduct and manner of living, which of course is tied to loving one another as he states a little later:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. (1 Pet. 1:22-23 ESV)

John tells us many times the same message on loving one another:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34, see also 15:12, 17)

And then over and over again in 1 John we are hit with it:

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:11 ESV)
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. (3:23)
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (4:7)
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (4:11-12 ESV)

This is a major key to kingdom living – love others, especially within the body of Christ. This self-sacrificial love is what brings a body together in unity and love. Our manner of living must be raised higher than normal, and higher than the natural law requires, in order for it to be worthy of the gospel.

The gospel message is a message of peace, love and reconciliation. Our manner of living should reflect that too. We must live in a manner that manifests the power of the gospel beyond just the words we say – it must be evident in our very actions.

We'll pick here in part 2