Paul had just been commenting on his circumstances for the gospel. He had concluded that popular opinion was not as important to him as the preaching of the gospel. He also concluded that even though leaving this earth and being with the Lord would be great gain and far better than any other decision, he wanted to stay with the Philippians for the progress of the their faith and joy in the gospel.
Now we get to the first imperative of the letter:
Only behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27).
That is the actual meaning of the phrase there, though to my knowledge no English translation renders it as such. The imperative has the idea of citizenship. This hints at the citizenship to which Paul refers in chapter 3. We as believers are to behave in such a way worthy of the gospel. We are not primarily citizens of this earth. We are different. We are of a different nationality. We belong to heaven.
What does it look like to behave this way? Paul says that they would “stand firm in one spirit…for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). In other words, we demonstrate our citizenship when we stand firm with one spirit for the gospel. Paul is looking for a tenacious church. Paul says that we can stand tenaciously for the gospel by “striving together with one soul” (the word for “striving together” actually has the root which gave us the word “athlete”) and “not being intimidated by those who oppose you”.
This is a positive and negative way of explaining gospel tenacity. The positive is that we strive together like athletes for the gospel. We are like a basketball team that pushes each other on even though each player is tired and worn. We keep pushing each other and encouraging each other and motivating each other to persevere for the gospel.
Could you imagine a place where you can come after working day in and day out for an unbelieving boss who curses both you and your Jesus, so that when you feel as if you just can’t go on any more at that place, a brother or sister in Christ can come to you and pray for you and encourage you in the Lord for boldness to stand firm for the gospel? Could you imagine a place where a woman with an unbelieving husband can go to find godly women who will lock arms with her and strive with her for the gospel in her home? What a place the church could be once people band together for the gospel!!
The negative side is that we are not intimidated by those who threaten or oppose us. This means that even when we are threatened and opposed, we are not moved. We are fearless. We strive together and we are unintimidated because we are convinced of the reality and power of the gospel. This is what Paul envisions. He envisions a community of believers who are all on the same page with the gospel. It is central to its existence and it is the substance of the community’s fellowship.
When the church stands firm like that, it becomes an ominous sign of the coming wrath of God on her enemies, and it also signifies the coming deliverance for her (1:28). Now Paul reminds the Philippians (and us) that such a life can only be lived in the context of suffering. Tenacity thrives through intimidation. And that is the purpose of God:
It was granted to you for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake (1:29).
This will not connect us with our American dreamer friends, but it will connect us with the persecuted church who will receive a far greater reward than capitalism will ever offer.
“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” (2:1-2). The missing piece to fullness of joy for Paul was the unity of the saints in the gospel. This will not happen automatically, though. It takes an attitude adjustment.
Do nothing from rivalry 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 (2:3-4).
To live together for the gospel, then, believers must not only have a tenacity for the gospel, but also an others-directed humility. Self-centeredness and rivalry kills the cause of the gospel in your church. Conversely, a humble, self-sacrificing, loving tenacity for the gospel and the saints is just unstoppable. May God bless us to become such a people.