When you look at today’s title, “Living lives worthy of the gospel,” what do you think it means? To be a good Christian witness? To be sharing your faith? To live holy lives? Certainly all these things are true. But I think that Paul has something else in mind as he wrote to the Philippians,
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. (27a)
More than anything, he’s talking about something we’ve talked about a lot recently: unity in the church.
That phrase “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy” actually has the idea of behaving in a manner worthy of one’s status as citizens.
The Philippians had great status as citizens in the Roman empire. They had some special privileges of land ownership and were even free from having to pay certain taxes. As a result of all this, they were quite proud of their status as Roman citizens.
But Paul says, “As proud as you are of being citizens of Rome, be even prouder of the fact that you are citizens of heaven. And live that way. Live in unity as fellow citizens so that,
…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 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. (27b-28)
And Paul warned, “You will be opposed,” telling them,
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (29-30)
That’s a strange phrase, “It has been granted you, that is, you’ve been given this privilege of not only believing in Jesus, but also suffering for him.”
But that is exactly how the apostles saw suffering. They saw it as an occasion to rejoice. You see this in Acts 5 when they were beaten for preaching the gospel. And you see it in Paul throughout the book of Philippians as well. They rejoiced because,
…they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus]. (Acts 5:41)
So part of living lives worthy of the gospel is also suffering for Christ’s sake.
But the thing is, while we may at times have to face adversity alone for the sake of Christ, Paul is primarily talking of suffering adversity together with the other believers in the church. And he tells them that as they stand together, showing no fear, but unity in their love for God and their love for each other, that it is a sign to their opponents of their coming judgment and the Philippians’ salvation.
In other words, as their opponents saw the life in the Philippians in their love for Christ and each other, it would show them the death that reigned in their own hearts.
Exactly what should their opponents see in them?
People encouraged by their union with Christ. People comforted by the love of Christ in the midst of trial. People walking in the leading and power of the Spirit. People who are tender and compassionate even to their enemies, but especially to each other. People like-minded, loving each other, and one in spirit and purpose. People who do nothing out of selfishness or conceit, but humble, not looking out for their own interests but for the interests of others. (2:1-4)
That’s what it means to live lives worthy of the gospel. The question is, are we living that way? Not just as individual Christians, but as a church? We, the church, will never make an impact on this world as long as we live as mere individuals, serving only ourselves. It’s time to stop thinking of ourselves as mere individuals, and start living as citizens of heaven.
Remember the prayer of Jesus the night before he died.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-21, 23)