The Lord's Day Morning
August 5, 2007
“Living In a Manner Worthy of the Gospel (2)”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter one, as we continue to work our way through this great letter of the Apostle Paul. The last time we were together in this book, a couple of weeks ago, we were looking at verses 27-28. That's where we're going to be today. In fact, the last time we were together, we didn't get past the first phrase in verse 27…and today we're not going to get past the first phrase of 27! The last time we were together, all we did was try and spell out the meaning of the Apostle Paul's exhortation when he said, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And what we said when we were together was that Paul's big point is that he wants the Philippians to live lives that fit the gospel, lives which are befitting of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, lives that are consistent with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, lives that adorn our profession of the gospel so that we do not appear to be hypocrites to the world around us, but indeed are those who have been transformed by the grace of Christ. In short, the Apostle Paul is calling on the Philippians, and on you and me, to live lives worthy of the gospel.
One modern paraphrase of this verse puts it this way:
“Live in such a way that you are a credit to the message of Christ.”
Now, when we were together the last time, we said the minute that that thought hits home to us that what Paul is actually exhorting us to do here is to live up to the gospel, to live lives that are consistent with the glorious grace of God in the gospel, which is the greatest story in all the world….it's the greatest act of redemption…it's the greatest manifestation of grace and mercy… the minute that he tells us to live lives that are a credit to that, lives that are consistent with that, lives that live up to that, lives that are worthy of that, we ought to be on our knees…on our knees begging God for help and grace to do that, because “who is sufficient to these things?” And indeed, Paul's encouragement (and we saw him give two encouragements even in the exhortation) help us somewhat in understanding that the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus equips us to respond dependent upon His grace to this exhortation.
We saw it in two parts. If you’ll remember, we said the first part of this exhortation is that we needed to live as citizens of a different kingdom — a new kingdom, a heavenly kingdom, the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now again, if you’re looking at your pew Bibles or if you’re looking at your own translation, chances are when you see words like conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel, you’re wondering (legitimately), “What do you mean, live as a citizen of the kingdom? I don't see anything about citizenship. I don't see anything about a kingdom there.” That's a good question. I'm going to remind you again of the answer that we gave to that question today.
But the second part of Paul's message in that phrase is that we are to live in a manner which is consistent with (or in a manner which is worthy of) the gospel. And we said that both of those things, realizing that we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and realizing that we are the undeserving but overjoyed recipients of an undeserved but overwhelming mercy in the gospel of Jesus Christ, has a controlling motivation on our life, and helps us to respond to this great challenge. So what we're going to do today is come right back to that phrase, simply with a view to applying it.
Let's look to God in prayer before we read His word.
Lord, this is Your word. Your word is truth, and Your word is meant for sanctification; that is, Your word is meant to make us more like Christ, to make us to live more in accordance with Your eternal character and duty, to make us to be more like the image of God that You created us to be, to make us more like that which Christ exhorted His disciples to be. And so we ask for Your Holy Spirit, that we would have a desire to be like Christ, that we would grow in that desire to be like Christ, and that we would grow in the Christ-likeness that we desire. We ask that the Spirit would cause the word to so shine in our hearts that we would be both convicted and encouraged and exhorted by these words, which are not merely the Apostle Paul's words or the church's words, but God's words. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of the living 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. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
There are two things that the Apostle Paul wants the Philippians and you and me to get from this one-phrase exhortation: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ….” He wants us to see that we are to live as citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and second, that we are to live in consistency with the gospel. And I want to look at those two things with you today as we seek to apply God's word.
I. Live as citizens of heaven.
When Paul says, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,” he is actually bringing to the Philippians’ minds the category of citizenship. You say, “How do you get citizenship out of Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy?” Well, because as we noted the last time we were together, the term that Paul uses when he uses that verb conduct yourself is a term that would have been commonly used in social or communal or political discourse in Rome and in Philippi. Philippi was a Roman colony, and the term conduct yourself was the normal term that would have been used when a civil leader or an upstanding elder in the community or state would have said to the rest of people in the Philippian colony, “Act like good Romans. Be good Roman citizens. Remember that you’re a citizen of Rome, and act accordingly. Realize your privileges and your responsibilities.” And the Apostle Paul is apparently deliberately using this terminology because the Philippians were Romans. They were a Roman colony, and they were proud of it, but he wants them to remember that they are actually citizens of a greater state and empire than Rome. They have by grace become citizens of the kingdom of heaven and they should conduct their lives accordingly, and so he says continue to exercise your citizenship in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
As we said the last time we were looking at this passage, Moises Silva translates this phrase, “What really matters is that you behave as citizens of heaven.” In other words, Paul is saying to the Philippians (and of course it applies directly to us) this: “You are Roman citizens,” he's saying to the Philippians, “and you’re proud of it. You recognize that you have privileges that few in this world have. But you also have responsibilities, and those responsibilities are very important. The future of this state depends upon it. Remember, then, Philippian Christians, that as believers you have a higher citizenship even than the citizenship that you hold from Rome. You are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and you have the greatest privileges and responsibilities in the world.”
And you see how that directly applies to us. We have the privilege of living in what is surely the most prosperous nation that has ever lived on earth, a nation that has enjoyed unparalleled freedom and privileges, and that brings with it responsibilities. For instance, on Tuesday you’ll have the opportunity to exercise one of your very important responsibilities as a citizen of the County of Hinds, or Madison, or Rankin, or wherever you’re from…Simpson, or Warren, or somewhere else. And as a citizen of the State of Mississippi and as a citizen of the United States, you will be able to vote in an election for elected officials. The Apostle Paul is reminding us that we may have great privileges as American citizens, as residents of the State of Mississippi, as citizens who are a part of this community, but that we in fact are at the same time citizens of a greater kingdom — a heavenly kingdom — and it is from that kingdom that we ought to get our marching orders.
However appropriately involved we are in the life of this community, and as Christians we should be; however devoted we are to the general welfare of this whole community and state and nation, and we ought to be, as Christians; however ready we are to lay down our lives to protect the freedoms of others who are fellow citizens in this land, and we ought to be, we must also remember that as Christians we are citizens of a greater kingdom, a heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that's never going to pass away. And so the Apostle Paul is saying that in all our dealings public and private, personal and social, we are to manifest a realization that we are not ultimately simply citizens of this earthly city; we are citizens of a heavenly city, and therefore we have a different set of standards, we have a different expectation of conduct and of desires that are placed upon us by a different king in a higher and an everlasting kingdom. And the Apostle Paul wants that to come home with a dramatic impact upon us.
Think of it. Whatever your theory is about the fall of Rome, certainly one of the aspects of the fall of Rome has to have been a major contributing factor was the loss of the sense of responsibility on the part of the Roman citizens. They got to the point where they would hire people to go fight their wars for them. They didn't realize the privileges that were theirs as Romans, and it's not surprising that not long after that that they lost the privileges and the empire crumbled.
Well, as Christians there is also a threat. There is a threat to our well-being. Ultimately, not to God's plan, not to God's church, because the church's one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it, but there is always a challenge for us: will we live in such a way which is consistent with being citizens of this heavenly kingdom, or will we be conformed to the world around us? And that challenge is before us at all times. And the Apostle Paul is reminding us here that we as Christians have a permanent responsibility to a joint struggle that produces unanimity in the body of believers as we together struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and seek to walk in accordance with the gospel of grace. The world is not walking in accordance with the gospel of grace. The world is not part of the kingdom of the gospel of Christ. But we as Christians are to be citizens of that kingdom and live in a way that is consistent with citizenship in that kingdom. And when we do not, our unity, our growth, and our witness are at stake. So the Apostle Paul is urging us to realize that because we're citizens of the heavenly kingdom we're supposed to be different from the world around us. That difference produces in us a unity in our difference, which in and of itself shows our difference to the world and bears witness to the gospel. So the Apostle Paul is calling us to recognition that we have as believers a permanent responsibility, a permanent obligation to march to the beat of a different drum.
Now, my friends, that call to us as believers is pervasive. From the time that you make your profession of faith at First Presbyterian Church (however old or young you are) until the time that the Lord calls you home, if you are a professing believer and a part of this fellowship you are called to be different from the world…to live like a citizen of the heavenly kingdom. And that difference begins even on the playground at recess when you’re a child in school.
Young people, have you ever been on the playground at recess and seen children doing things that their teacher, or their parents, or even Mr. Herring might have told them not to do? And yet, because many young people are doing them, you join in and do the same thing. Have you ever been caught doing something that you shouldn't have been doing…that your parents or your teachers or Mr. Herring told you you shouldn't do? And you've been called to give an account: “Why were you doing that?” And have you ever said something like this? “But everybody was doing it! They were doing it, too!” You know, I used to try that on my parents when I was a boy. And my father had two things that he would say to me when I said, “But Dad, everybody's doing it!” One thing he would say is this: “Son, if everybody was jumping off a cliff, would you go jump off a cliff, too?” The other thing he would say is: “Son, you’re a Duncan, and Duncan's don't do that.”
Well, this is what the Apostle Paul is exhorting you — to live in light of the fact that you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Your name is Christian. If you are resting and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, your name is Christian and you are a citizen of a heavenly kingdom; and you are not to do things because everybody else is doing them. Now we can laugh at that little playground illustration, and we can laugh at those kinds of exchanges that we have with our children, but have you ever thought about it? That fundamental exchange that starts — how young? — is actually a battle that we continue to wage until we die, because what do we want to do? We want to fit in, and we want to conform to the people around us. And when your parents say, “No, we're not going to do things in our family because other people do them. We’re going to do things in our family because that's what Christ would want us to do, that's what the Bible says we ought to do, that's what citizens of the kingdom of heaven ought to do,” they’re not just telling you something that they’re taught in “Parent School.” They’re telling you something that is part and parcel of the Christian life: We are to be different from the world, because we're in a different kingdom. We are citizens of a permanent land that will never pass away, and we're not to be like those who are around us just to fit in with them…to give in with their wrong way of thinking, to give in with their wrong way of living, to give in to the wrong actions that they do. We are to be different.
And think of how this plays out in absolutely every arena of life. Again, young people, what you do on Friday and Saturday nights is a witness either to the fact that you are a citizen of a different kingdom, a heavenly kingdom, or that you long to fit more into this world than you do to enjoy your citizenship in the heavenly kingdom. When you are tempted to do certain things and to go certain places that you know in the back of your mind you ought not to do and you ought not to go, you are being confronted with this very issue: Will I try and be a citizen of this world and be conformed to the world, the flesh, and the devil? Or will I live as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven? The Apostle Paul is exhorting us to live differently.
But again, this plays out in every area of life, and the Apostle Paul knows that as a congregation we have to do this together, and that not doing it together undermines our unity. Think of this. If you have people who are all part of one congregation, and that congregation is called to be different from the world — not to buy into its ambitions, its desires, its way of conduct, but to live as citizens of a heavenly kingdom — and you have some in that congregation that are trying to do that and you have some that are doing their best to try and fit in with the world, what's going to happen in that congregation? First of all, there's going to be division. Second of all, either the whole congregation is going to sink to the lowest common denominator or there is going to be a final break as some attempt to be faithful to the call to be citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and the others go merrily on their way conforming themselves to the world around them.
My friends, that battle is with us 24/7, whether it's in the realm of sexual purity…whether you will be sexually faithful in your marriage, whether you will be modest in the way you dress or in the way you encourage your children to dress, whether you will be careful when you are alone at your computer…that battle (will I conform to this world, or will I walk as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven) is always with us. It can even come up when we're talking with friends over a cup of coffee, and the conversation turns to gossip. Will we conform ourselves to the ways of this world in order to fit in, or will we be different?
You remember the Apostle Paul addresses this with the Corinthians. The Corinthians, when he The Apostle Paul is calling us to a radical difference, but not so that we can cut off all interaction with the world around us. called them to be different from the world of Corinth around them, accused him, ‘Well, you’re just telling us that we've got to leave the world.’ And the Apostle Paul says, ‘Absolutely not. No, you’re to be right there witnessing to them, but you’re to be different from them. You’re to know them and love them and care about them, but you are not to conform your lives to them.’
Friends, do you realize how different the call of the kingdom of God is to our prevailing culture? Even in this relatively traditional part of the United States? Do you realize how many ungodly things pervade our culture, and are part of what we think of as “normal”? Have you started to look at the whole of your life, from the way you view money to the things which are the priorities of your family's existence, and ask the question, “Am I being more conformed to the world around me, to the prevailing norms of the community, or am I living as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven?” The Apostle Paul is calling us to that kind of radical difference that's part of being a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.
II. Live in the light of the gospel.
There's another thing that the Apostle Paul says here. He says that we're to live in light of the gospel. Notice his words: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Do you know what that reminds me of? It reminds me of Romans 12, when Paul is transitioning from that glorious doctrinal section in the book of Romans, and then he's getting ready to exhort you to live as Christians. What does he say?
“Brothers, I implore you [I plead with you, I exhort you] in accordance with the mercies of Christ that you will live in this way.”
And Paul's doing the same thing here in Philippians 1:27. He's calling you to live life in light of the gospel of Christ, and I think that that means at least four things here. Let me spell those things out using four words that begin with “U”: Undeserved mercy; Unwavering; Unity; and, Unfrightened. [OK, five words! But it's one phrase and four words.]
Undeserved mercy: First of all, the Apostle Paul is calling us here to remember that the gospel is not about what we have done. It's not about what we've earned. It's not about what we've deserved. The gospel is about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ that we would not and could not do for ourselves. The gospel is about a gift given to us by God's grace at the cost of the death of His Son — a gift that we did not deserve, a gift that we did not merit, a gift that we could never have earned or paid for. And so if the gospel is about something that God has done for us that we couldn't do for ourselves, if it's about a mercy given to us that we have not deserved by our own deeds, then God's grace and mercy must have a controlling effect on our conduct. If God has been merciful to us in the gospel, we too must become merciful persons.
You remember the story that Jesus told about the man who owed an enormous amount of money to his master, and that master amazingly forgave the debt that that man owed him. And yet, when a man owed that man who had been forgiven the debt a comparatively tiny amount of money, the man was unmerciful to him and refused to give him aid and relief in the face of his request. Do you remember what Jesus said would happen to that man who was shown great mercy, but who showed no mercy? He would be cast out into outer darkness. So also the Apostle Paul is reminding us here that we are to live in light of the gospel. God's grace and mercy must have a controlling effect on our conduct. If God has been merciful to us, it ought to show in the mercy that we manifest in our lives.
Secondly, to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ means to live in unwavering commitment to the gospel of Christ. The gospel is our only hope, and so the Apostle Paul makes it very clear in this passage we are to cling with it with tenacity.
Look again at verse 27. He says that whether he comes and sees them or whether he remains absent, he wants to hear something. What is it that Paul wants to hear? “That you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” The Apostle Paul wants to hear that they are holding fast to the gospel, they are standing firm in the gospel, and they are striving together for the faith of the gospel. That is, the Apostle Paul wants to hear that they are absolutely unwilling to part with the gospel or to see it compromised. In the context of this passage Paul is probably warning the Philippians about those Judaisers who were attempting to compromise the gospel of grace by saying that it's Christ plus the traditions of Moses. And in this passage the Apostle Paul is probably saying to the Philippians, ‘I want to hear that when others come along and offer you a hybrid gospel, that you are saying ‘No thanks, I gave at the office. I am not compromising the gospel of grace. I am standing fast with it. I will not allow for any substitutes. I will not go after any other opinion. I will stay with the pure gospel which Paul faithfully preached to me in accordance with Jesus’ commands to Paul.’
And so also we, if we are going to live lives worthy of the gospel, must know the gospel and care about it and cling tenaciously to that gospel. And yet, my friends, all around us Christians today are having things taught to them in churches (and especially through the radio and television waves) which are not in accordance with the purity of the gospel revealed in the word of God. Will you walk worthy of the gospel and say, ‘No, thank you, I do not want a man-made substitute,’ and instead hold fast, stand firm, strive together to cling to that gospel, knowing that it's your only hope? That's what the Apostle Paul is calling you and me to do if we're going to walk worthy of the gospel.
Thirdly, notice Paul's concern for unity. You remember a couple of weeks ago I said that one of Paul's themes in this larger section was that gospel humility creates a gospel unity in a local congregation. (Well, I'm still not going to get to that point yet!) But Paul is talking about unity here, and here's what he says. Notice again in the very phrase we just read — whether he comes or not, he wants to hear what? That they are standing firm — what? In one spirit, with one mind, striving together. It's almost a military picture, isn't it, of soldiers shoulder to shoulder, arm to arm, all going about the same thing, in lockstep with one another, faithfully, steadfastly fulfilling their duty, a total unity of the whole body together working for the gospel.
You see, the gospel has united us to one body, and that one body has one struggle, one warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil and for gospel truth and blessing. And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘I want to see unity manifested in that fight. I want to see a harmony in the congregation because we are in this thing together, and it takes all of us in order for all of us to stand in unity against the forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And so the Apostle Paul is concerned that there would be a united understanding in the congregation that we're all in this together, we've all got the same struggle. And every person has the opportunity either to encourage the body with his desires, his thinking, his conduct, and his words, or to break apart the unity of the body by desires, thinking, conduct, or words.
Finally, the Apostle Paul says, and he says this especially in verse 28, that we're to be unfrightened. You remember the Corinthians not only were going to face people coming in who claimed to know more than the Apostle Paul about God's word and God's plan and God's gospel [the Judaisers, who were opposing him everywhere in Asia Minor], but they were actually going to face Roman citizens who thought of Christians as being atheists.
Now that's strange, you may think. Romans were polytheists. What in the world could they have called Christians atheists for? Christians believed in God, and the Romans believed in lots of gods. Well, that was why they called them atheists, because the Roman Christians didn't believe in the Roman gods. They believed in the one true God, and therefore the Romans called them atheists because they didn't believe in the pantheon of Rome. And so they faced great opposition. The Philippians themselves would have faced great pressures and eventually even persecution, especially in the time of Nero, because of their standing firm in the gospel. They would have been viewed by the prevailing culture as weird…as superstitious, as irreligious, as… not good citizens! Because of what they believe and Who they professed, and because of their embrace of the gospel. And the Apostle Paul is saying to them here ‘Don't be intimidated, don't be daunted, don't be surprised when you meet these kinds of adversaries. Instead, be brave and courageous in the face of opposition.’ Listen to what he says (verse 28):
“…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.”
In other words, when your opponents oppose you because they oppose the gospel, when your opponents oppose you because they reject the gospel of the grace of Christ, that is a sign of their ultimate destruction, and it's also a sign of your salvation because you are clinging to the one hope that sinful men and women have — the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And when they are fighting against that, they are showing their rejection of the one hope that men and women have: the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so the Apostle Paul in this passage calls us to live like citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and to live in accordance with the gospel of Christ. May the Lord help us to do so.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. These things, as hard as they are to say and to hear, are actually harder to do than they are to say and hear. So by Your grace we ask that You would help us to live up to Your word. In Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling]
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirits. Amen.