Written by Dave Urbanski
It’s not easy to take a stand for Christ when others pressure us to sit down and keep quiet. But fortunately the Apostle Paul has a solution for us in the final four verses of Philippians chapter 1.
As Pastor Scott pointed out Sunday, Paul offers four principles — or pillars — that hold us up in a sturdy way as we step out and up for Jesus in all circumstances. It’s instructive also to notice that Paul in verses 27 through 30 uses terminology that reflects soldiers in the heat of battle: opponents, destruction, conflict. Certainly we’re not wearing uniforms and carrying real weapons as we contend for the gospel, but Pastor Scott noted it sure can feel that way sometimes — which is why we need to know how to equip ourselves to successfully stand.
First of all, we must maintain a clear FOCUS. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” Paul writes in verse 27. The key words here are “manner of life.” It’s an all-encompassing phrase reflecting how wide and deep and far Christ can go in our lives — if we let him. And it challenges us to live up to the words we speak about Jesus. Do things in our lives match up with Christ’s message? It’s a question we must continually ask ourselves — a constant self-check and FOCUS — because others are watching us and asking that same question.
Secondly, we must BE PART OF A TEAM. Christianity isn’t a solo sport, ideally, and Paul knows this. He tells the Philippians that he wants them “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Think about it: If you’re facing a really difficult, hard, scary situation, what would you prefer — standing in front of it alone … or with fellow believers in a big line right next to you? No contest, right? Pastor Scott offered an eye-opening illustration about how redwood trees grow hundreds of feet tall yet with very shallow root systems. Standing alone these trees would get knocked over by strong winds — except that their roots grow OUTWARD and join the roots of fellow redwoods, forming an incredibly strong base upon which they can stand up against almost anything. Few things are more inspiring or confidence instilling than being with a bunch of brothers and sisters engaged in the same battle — in fact, joined at the hip with the same root system. Going it alone? That’s for the birds!
Third, we must not be frightened by those who stand against us and against the gospel. We must BE COURAGEOUS! Why? Well, A LOT of people don’t like the gospel message. It’s offensive. It tells people they are sinners who need saving. For that reason, maybe they’ll ridicule you, put you down, and laugh at you. Such treatment is hard for some Christians to take. The easier route is to fit in to what society deems acceptable and “cool.” And as we’ve seen over and over again, the world generally is not kind to Christianity or Christians. Jesus, as we know, predicted such treatment — and he experienced the worst of it. Have you ever noticed that folks can bring up pretty much any other religion or religious figure in conversation without much of an issue — but when Jesus is mentioned, sparks fly? Why is that? No matter what language is spoken, there’s power in Jesus name — and authority — even 2,000 years since he departed this world in bodily form. And folks either embrace or bristle at his name. The question is, do we have the courage to speak his name to others?
Finally, in order to successfully stand even when others want us to sit down, we must RECEIVE THE GIFT. What gift? Well, Paul uses the phrase “it has been granted to you” — an act of grace toward us — and then continues saying “that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” (verse 29) So how is suffering for the sake of Jesus a gift? It’s a great question, and the answer is that while no one relishes the idea of suffering — in fact, if we’re living life correctly, we do plenty of things to PREVENT suffering! However, amid our collective existence on a broken planet, suffering inevitably will come our way in one form or another, no matter how diligently we strive to prevent it. And for Christians, when suffering happens, the Lord uses it as part of a refining process. As Pastor Scott pointed out, we can’t really learn patience until we’re faced with a person who tries our patience. And it’s a learning process. It takes time and walking through it before we emerge on the other side a different person. And also, experiencing suffering provides windows to our hearts and souls through which others will see how we respond to difficulties, pain, and loss. Not that we have to pretend or act like we’re happy when there’s good reason for sadness, not at all. But others’ faith in Christ — or interest in him — can be increased if they see we’re handling suffering honestly with Jesus in the center of it.
Summing things up in verse 30, Paul says our job is to be engaged in the same conflict he’s endured. And Paul faced down a LOT of conflict for the sake of Christ. A lot of ridicule. A lot of suffering. Indeed, it takes FOCUS and COURAGE to walk the path Paul took. But it can be more successfully navigated when we’re part of a TEAM that engages with the battle at hand and thrives amid receiving the GIFT that comes through suffering for Christ. That’s how we move forward, and that’s how we grow.