The Lord's Day Morning
July 22, 2007
“Living In a Manner Worthy of the Gospel”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians 1:27. Now, it may not show in your particular translation a break, although some of you may well have a new heading that has been inserted by the editor of your particular edition of the Scripture, but something big happens between Philippians 1:26 and Philippians 1:27. Even though there's a connecting word that makes it clear that Paul is now turning to a new subject, transitioning right out of verse 26 into his new topic in Philippians 1:27, this is a new section of the book. In fact, when you get to Philippians 1:27, you have gotten to the main section of the book.
You will remember, we have said several times that the verses that we've been studying for a number of weeks now are part of a missionary report. Paul was a missionary sent out by the church in Philippi. Even though they were poor, because of the grace of God given to them, they felt rich and they wanted other people to enjoy the riches in Christ that they enjoyed through the gospel that had been preached to them by the Apostle Paul, and so they wanted to be involved in sending Paul out to tell that same gospel to other Gentiles like themselves, so that churches would be planted, souls would be saved, people would be built up, Christ would be glorified. And so they are intimately involved in Paul's ministry and mission, even sending him money so that he can go on in other places. And the Apostle Paul is concerned to give them a report.
Naturally, they would be somewhat discouraged to find that this missionary that they were supporting–the guy who's the best missionary in the world, the best evangelist in the world, the best theologian in the world, the apostle to the Gentiles–is in jail! He's in prison. Naturally they would be discouraged by that, and so the Apostle Paul is writing them a missionary report back; and in large measure he is concerned to encourage them, lest they be discouraged by the report that he is in prison. You can imagine what would be running through their minds: ‘You know, this is God's No. 1 player; this is the No. 1 player in the Apostolic Draft, and he's not only on the sidelines on the bench, he's in prison. He's chained up to a Roman guard. What implications does this have for the gospel?’
And the Apostle Paul wants to express to them that the implications for the gospel of his imprisonment are good. God is still sovereign, because the gospel's going forth. In fact, now he has a captive audience. He may be captive, but so is the guy that he's chained to! And he's going to let the Philippians know that the whole praetorian guard is hearing the gospel because he's imprisoned, and he has the opportunity to share the gospel with them. And that means that the people that guard Nero's house are going to hear the gospel. It's no surprise, is it, that in the New Testament you find out that there are Christians even in Nero's house, because God had chained Paul up to the people that guarded Nero's house. So this whole first section of Philippians has been in large measure Paul's attempt to prevent any discouragement amongst the Philippians about the progress of the gospel through Paul's ministry, which they were supporting even though they were poor. They were giving what they had so that Paul wouldn't have to spend time tent-making in order to make enough money to feed himself and pay some rent, and have some clothes on his back; he could spend the bulk of his time preaching the gospel, teaching the truth, going into the synagogues, reaching out to the Gentiles, discipling young Christians, reaching out to interested pagans, and he wants to let them know that. And so that's what he's done up to this point.
Now, however, we enter the main section of the book in verse 27, where he starts with an ethical exhortation. Paul is clearly concerned in this whole section of Philippians with the life that the Philippian Christians are going to live, and the witness that that life is going to give to the culture around them, and the unity that that life is going to bring to the experience of that local congregation. In fact, it's very clear throughout this passage that Paul is concerned about the Philippians’ humility.
I'm going to say two things today that I'm really not going to develop today at all, but you’re going to see them coming back over and over again in this long section. We all know that people love to preach sermon series on Philippians 2:5-11, that beautiful Christ-hymn in which the Apostle Paul meditates on the astounding condescension of the Lord Jesus Christ, and — how can we say it? — the colossal humility of the Lord Jesus Christ in what He did for us. But you understand that that is Paul's “Jesus example” for the larger thing that he starts talking to the Philippians about here in verse 27, and one of those larger concerns that he has in the whole passage is the Philippians’ own humility. He desires that they grow in humility, and there's a reason for that.
Here's my first thing of the two that I mentioned that I'm not going to develop today. You’ll hear it again, though! Gospel humility creates a united front in a local congregation…Gospel humility creates a united front in a local congregation. You’re going to see Paul say that umpteen different ways over the course of this whole center section of the book of Philippians. It is a huge truth, and I hope that we’ll imbibe something of the atmosphere which he is wanting the Philippians to imbibe by everything he says in this passage as we study through this passage together. This, in and of itself, of all the radically transforming verses and truths in the book of Philippians, this is one of the greatest ones: Gospel humility creates a united front in a local church, and Paul is going to be majoring on the doctrine of gospel humility. That is not humility because you come from really fine, godly, sweet, wonderful parents, and you sort of emulate them, but humility that comes from the gospel coming to bear on your own life in such a way that you know what it is to have received the utterly undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus Christ personally, and that reality radiates everywhere in your life. It's not just something because you’re emulating great people — and that's a wonderful part, and let me tell you that gives you a jump start in the expression of real gospel humility — but Paul is wanting every single one of the Philippians to know that gospel humility, and for that to radiate everywhere in their lives because of the experience of grace that has transformed them in the most fundamental and most radical way.
But one reason why the Apostle Paul just keeps hammering home on this is because the second thing that I want to say (and then not develop today)…and it is something that has impressed itself on me more and more as I've gotten less hair and more gray, and a little bit larger, and a little bit older. And that is this: Unity does not just happen. Unity does not just happen. You cannot have unity in any organization, and especially in the local church, simply by abstaining from doing anything outrageously positively destructive of it. Unity does not happen. Stuff has to happen to cultivate unity. And the Apostle Paul in this whole section is going to say the fundamental thing that has to happen for unity to reign in a congregation of Christians — which is so vital when we are facing a world which is united in its opposition of us and rejection of Christ, and indifference towards the gospel — the thing that has to happen so that unity happens in the church is gospel humility. There can be no unity in the church without gospel humility.
You know, the Apostle Paul himself…[I just said I wasn't going to develop this, but just let me say this!] The Apostle Paul himself was such an example of this. Paul was on what you might call the progressive side of early Christianity, and James, as you've already heard from Derek on Sunday nights in the book of Acts in these passages that we're in, was on what we might call the more conservative side of Christianity. There have always been groups in the church. Don't think that when you get back to the New Testament there were no groups. There were groups. But notice, Paul, the leader of this so-called progressive side of Christianity, is deeply desirous that people in Philippi who were the product of his ministry will do what? Give an offering to help Christians back where? In Jerusalem. Now, whose leadership are they under? They’re under the leadership of James. And they’re under this “more conservative” Jewish side of Christianity, the part of Christianity that had a tendency to retain more of the Judaism of its origins, and even to try and impose that a little bit on the Gentiles, which the Apostle Paul strenuously objected to and resisted with all of his might on theological principial grounds, and yet he wants those Gentiles to be doing what? Giving to those Jewish Christians in Palestine. Why? Because unity does not happen. Paul could think of no better way to express the reality that there is neither Jew nor Greek because of the gospel work of Jesus Christ than for these Greeks, who are held in a little bit of suspicion by those Jewish Christians, these Greek Christians who give to the Jewish Christians in their need. The Apostle Paul is all about that. He will travel land and sea in order to go back and bless those Christians who are most suspicious of his work. Oh, boy! Does that have ramifications for us in the local church, for us as a denomination, for us as evangelical Christians! If we would learn something of that lesson, it would be dramatically fellowship-transforming. [But I'm not going to develop that!]
What we want to do is look at Philippians 1:27, 28 today…and let me just tell you ahead of time, we're not going to get out of the first clause today. All I'm going to be able to do is outline the significance of what Paul says in the first clause, and then, God willing, two weeks hence (a fortnight, as they would say in Britain), I’ll come back and we’ll try and apply specifically the truth of that first clause. We’ll work out what it means: What does it look like to live a life worthy of the gospel? But today we're just going to try and unpack what Paul is saying in that great phrase. But we’ll read the whole of Philippians 1:27, 28 so you can get some idea of the fullness of the exhortation that the Apostle Paul is giving.
Now let's pray and ask God's help and blessing as we come to this great word.
Lord, it moves our souls just to hear Paul speak the words that we're about to have the privilege of hearing read in our own ears. It boggles our minds that the God who flung the stars out into this vast universe — and ‘vast’ is the biggest understatement that was ever spoken — it boggles our mind that the God who flung the stars out into this vast universe wants to be friends with us, wants to commune with us, wants to fellowship with us, wants to talk with us. And that's exactly what You’re doing in this word. You are talking to us. You, more than the Apostle Paul–he was Your instrument…his personality went into this, his heart, all of him went into these words– but in the final analysis, these are Your words speaking deeply into our hearts about what You want us to be like. And it gives us great joy to know that in just a few verses Paul is going to remind us that what You’re asking us to be like in this passage is what Your only begotten Son was like. So when You ask us to be like this, all you’re saying is ‘I want you to be like your older brother, Jesus Christ. I want you to be just like Him. I want you to be conformed to His image. I want you to live like He lived; not for your salvation, because you’d be in hell; not so that you can keep your salvation, because we’d be in hell; but the joy of the gracious salvation that I have given you based on what He's done for you, to which you cannot add a thimbleful. I want you to be like Him, because I saved you freely so that you would be utterly changed.’ The Lord help us hear this word. In Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the word of God:
“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents–which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.”
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Paul is giving the Philippians an exhortation in this passage. It's an imperative:
“Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Now I don't know about you, but that exhortation crumples me to my knees. Before he's got the last syllable of it out, I'm going, “Lord, could you give me some help on this? You’re asking me to conduct myself, to live my life, in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ? I would like to volunteer. I would like to get in the line right now and ask for some help.” And Paul is giving it to you before he finishes the verse, and he's especially giving it by way of pointing you to your motivation, and he points you to two motivations for living in this way, even in the short first clause of Philippians 1:27: “Conduct yourselves….” There's actually a motivation hidden in those words that maybe you and I don't pick up readily in English. I'm going to go back and just remind you what this is probably implying in the Greek word that Paul uses for that phrase that in some of your Bibles may be translated as walk, and in others as conduct yourselves, and maybe there are other translations out there as well of that little verb.
But the second part of the motivation comes in these words: the Apostle Paul says that we are to conduct ourselves in light of the gospel of Christ; and as imposing as that is at first glance, to think of living up to the gospel, there's actually some not-so-hidden and very real encouragement in that phrase. And so in both the exhortation and the verb used — conduct yourselves, live this way, walk this way — there's encouragement; and in the phrase the gospel of Christ there is encouragement.
I'd like to look at these things with you today. In fact, the Apostle Paul says fairly directly three things in this passage that I want you to see. He tells you that you need to realize your new citizenship, and that's going to be one of the encouragements, one of the motivations to living in a manner worthy of the gospel — realizing your citizenship. Secondly, he's going to tell you to live in light of the gospel. And when you realize what that means, what the gospel was for you, that's a real encouragement. And then, thirdly, and implicitly, he's reminding you that you need to know the gospel and its implications. Studying the gospel is a life-long pursuit. Knowing the gospel and seeing it worked out in all of the ramifications that it has into every area of our life is a life-long pursuit. It's something that we are always seeing deeper implications of. It's something that we're always seeing new applications of in our life. And those three things I want to explore with you this morning.
“Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit.”
Do you understand what Paul is saying here? Paul is saying your motivation for living this way should not be that I'm coming. Paul is saying I want you to live — not because you think I'm coming and I'm going to check up on you. This is not the motivation that your mother gives you…“Clean up your room; I'm going to be there in fifteen minutes!” This is not the motivation …Mother's going to be up there in fifteen minutes, and it better be clean, because she's going to be making her list and checking it twice. This is not the motivation. It's not ‘Look, I'm going to be there in a few months, and I'm going to be checking up on you.’ Paul is saying no, I don't want that to be the motivation.
Here's how one modern paraphrase puts this verse:
“Live in such a way that you are a credit to the message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance.”
Matthew Henry, the great commentator on Scripture, has a glorious little phrase that he uses to describe this very point. He says:
“Our religion must not be bound up in the hands of our ministers. Whether ministers come or not, Christ is always at hand.”
So Paul wants to make sure that their motivation for following this exhortation is not tied to his coming or not coming. His presence or absence shouldn't matter. Their motivation ought to come from somewhere else. Where?
I. Christians have a new citizenship.
Well, here's the first one: their new citizenship. And you see this even in the word that Paul uses to exhort. In our New American Standard translation, if you’re reading from the pew Bible or your own copy of the New American Standard, or you’re just listening to the version that I read aloud, it reads “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.” But here's how William Hendrikson…some of you have used William Hendrikson's wonderful commentary.
Here's how he renders this passage:
“Continue to exercise your citizenship in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
And you’re asking, “Hold on. Where did that whole ‘continue to exercise your citizenship’ thing come from?” Well, it comes from the little word that Paul uses that sometimes is translated walk, or sometimes translated live, sometimes translated conduct yourselves. It's a word that was closely associated to the practice of good citizens in the Roman Empire. And you remember that being a citizen in the Roman Empire was a pretty big deal. We saw how big a deal it was — was it two Sunday nights ago, or was it last Sunday night that Derek mentioned that as a Roman soldier raised the scourge to prepare to land the first blow on the back of the Apostle Paul, the Apostle Paul looked up (and you get the feeling that it's sort of a nonchalant delivery) and said, ‘Um…ah…is it lawful for you, a Roman soldier who probably doesn't have Roman citizenship, to scourge a Roman citizen who has not been tried, and who has not even been properly accused before a Roman court of law? Hmmm?’ And what does the soldier do? ‘Whoa! You’re a Roman citizen?’ ‘As a matter of fact, I am.’ And the soldier then says, ‘Well, I am a Roman citizen, but I had to bribe somebody to get it.’ And then the Apostle Paul says, ‘Yeah. I didn't pay for mine. I was born a Roman citizen.’ And you remember, of all people that were in the Roman Empire, only a small proportion of the total population were citizens. So it was a big deal to be a citizen.
And with citizenship came privileges, and with citizenship came obligations. So that word that Paul used here was often used to exhort Roman citizens to live up to the privileges and responsibilities that they had as citizens, and because in this passage Paul keeps bringing in ideas about the kingdom of heaven and you being a citizen of that kingdom of heaven, it may well be that in saying this phrase — conduct yourself like this, live like this, walk like this — he means, especially to these Philippians who would have understood all the ramifications of Roman citizenship, that we ought to live like kingdom citizens. We ought to live like citizens of God's kingdom. We ought to live like we are blood-bought, grace-granted citizens of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here's how Moises Silva translates the passage:
“Behave as citizens of heaven, in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
You remember how Jesus once said to a circle of His disciples that the kingdom of God is within or among you? And then, you remember elsewhere where He says, “Let your light shine before men”? Well, it's almost like the Apostle Paul is saying the kingdom of God is within you; let it shine before one another and before the watching world in Philippi. Realize your new citizenship. You have been granted citizenship not in the empire of Rome, but in the empire of God through Jesus Christ, and it has brought with it for you phenomenal privileges — and corresponding responsibilities. And so he is virtually inviting you to go into a long meditation about the privileges and responsibilities that you have as a citizen of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then to work out the implications of that for how you live.
Now, that's why we're going to come back to this passage in a couple of weeks and try and do that together. I know that you can do that on your own. You’re smart people. But I'm always looking for a little help, myself, in this area, and I'd like to maybe give you a little help in that area. But you see how that can be a whole sermon right there by itself, so that's what we're going to try and do — work through that.
Now, there's motivation one; what's motivation two?
II. Christians should live in light of the gospel.
Live in light of the gospel. Now, as I say, you mean I've got to live up to the gospel? How can I do that? It's the greatest story ever told. It's the greatest thing ever done. It's the greatest feat, it's the greatest quest, it's the greatest adventure, it's the greatest epic by the greatest person that every lived. How can I live up to that?
Well, you think of it that way and it's pretty daunting, isn't it? That's good. Keeps you where you need to be — humble! And that's what this whole thing is going to be about. But in the midst of the humbling of the gospel, there's also a lot of encouraging, too.
The gospel call begins when God, out of His free love and grace, gives you a gift of incalculable value that you not only do not deserve and could not earn, but you positively don't deserve because of who you are and what you've done, and it cost Him His own Son to give it to you, and He gives it to you anyway. And that, my friends, is a very encouraging thought. And the Apostle Paul now wants you to proceed to live the Christian life again and again and again, over and over and over again, in light of that incalculable gift. He's saying ‘Don't you ever forget the gospel of Christ, because it didn't just get you in the kingdom; it's how you live…how you live over and over again.’ It's how you live. Those who profess the gospel live their lives according to the gospel. Our lives are called to be suitable to the gospel, to bear the marks of the gospel, to be a complement to the gospel, so that those who believe gospel truths submit to gospel commands, depend on gospel promises, and live out gospel lives. The Apostle Paul is saying adorn your profession of faith with a life of grace, according to the gospel.
Now again, you see just from that little phrase, it's going to take a whole sermon just to begin to tease out the application of that.
III. Christians must understand the gospel.
That brings us to the third thing, and the final thing that I want us to think about today, and that is simply the gospel itself. If we are going to live in light of the gospel, then we need to know what the gospel is. If we're going to understand the implications of the gospel, then we've got to understand the gospel itself.
The gospel is not simply “God loves you.” Understand, it's better than that. The gospel, to begin to inch toward a short one-sentence statement of it, is not simply that God loves you; it's that God loves you at the cost of His Son. Despite your sin, God loves you at the cost of His Son. Despite your sin. Or, to say it another way, the gospel is that God in His infinite love has given His own precious unique Son, who has come in our flesh and borne God's wrath, because He was bearing our sin so that you might be received by God as if you were His only unique son. Friends, you understand that that's the most radical message that's ever been spoken in this world. There's nothing like it. You can truck up and down all the world's religions, and I defy you to find a message like that.
It has been said well a hundred different ways in Greek words and sentences, but we need to have it so ingrained in our hearts that if someone were to say to us, “Quick! Fifteen seconds! Give me the gospel!” it's so deep in our hearts, in our bones, in our marrow that it just comes out. And it's not that we can say a little phrase by rote, it's something that has begun to work itself into the way we think. It's altering the way we think, altering the way we live, it's altering our value system, it's causing a tension between what we now are and believe and the way we want to live with the way of the world around us–the way it thinks and what it values and how it behaves and how it wants to live.
The Apostle Paul is urging us, you see, even when he says live, conduct yourself, behave like a citizen in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, he's urging you to know what the gospel of Christ is. Come to think of it, this may be a four-part sermon series on this phrase…you know, where we explain it today, and then the next three weeks we work out each three of those things by way of application. I don't know…Philippians, ending in 2014 at First Presbyterian Church! I can see it now! But wouldn't it be worth it to you to understand those things?
I’ll tell you why it is to me. As I see more of myself, and I think I see more of myself not just because there is more of myself to see in the mirror these days…as I see more of myself, it's not always a pretty sight, and especially in my habitual sins. I find myself constantly saying, “Lord, I need something big to help me on this, because I've tried all the little stuff and it's not working. I need something really big to help me on this.”
Do you notice the Apostle Paul is riding over the hill? He's the Cavalry, and he's coming with something big to help. If you knew that something big was coming to help you, wouldn't you be anxious to get the delivery? I would. Maybe you’re struggling with anger today, anger that has gotten hold of you somewhere deep, and the little stuff isn't helping. Or maybe you’re struggling with impatience, and it's gotten hold of you somewhere deep, and the little stuff isn't helping. Maybe you’re struggling with jealousy, and it is tearing your life apart, and the life of people that you love, and it's gotten hold of you somewhere deep, and the little stuff isn't working. Or, maybe you’re struggling with pornography…fill in the blank. I don't know what you’re struggling with. But the Apostle Paul is coming; he's coming with something big.
I'm so thankful for those big things the Apostle Paul drops on your head. He drops them on your head not because he wants to be really, really smart and know more stuff than other people; he comes with those big things because he knows that you’re a big sinner. And big sinners need big grace. And big grace requires a big Savior, and big truth. So you know what Paul is coming with? He's coming with a big Savior and big truth…a Savior and truth that's bigger than your sins, because, sister, brother, we need it.
Lord God, come help us live this life that You’re exhorting us to with the blazing truth and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We ask this in His name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: All for Jesus]
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirits.