Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Suffering and Standing – Philippians 1:27-30

Philippians Bible Study, Week 7

27Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, 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 28without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, 30since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:27-30

Things to Think About:

What is Paul looking for among the Philippians?

How does Paul view suffering?

What does Paul advise when facing opposition?

What is the nature of Paul’s struggle?


The Influence of Church Leadership

Looking ahead in Philippians 4:2-3, we see that two ministers in the Philippian church did not share the same view on some matter. Their disagreement was bringing disunity into the church. I have often observed that whatever is happening among the church leaders will also happen among other church members, even when what is happening among the leaders is not spoken about openly. For example: if the leaders are prayerful, the other members will be prayerful; if the leaders are lazy in ministry, the other members will be lazy in ministry. I have seen this dynamic occur so often that I take it to be a general principle[1]: If the leaders are living it, the church will live it, whether good or bad, whether spoken or unspoken. This is why authentically living and modelling Christian behaviour, and not just teaching about it, is so vital. The attitudes, behaviours, and habits of a congregation is usually a direct reflection of the attitudes, behaviours and habits of its leaders.

Unity

Lack of unity has been one of the major issues of the church throughout its history. However, real unity is much more than holding to the same doctrines, belonging to the same church denomination, or falling into line under the same church government.

Unity is a pervasive theme in Philippians. In Philippians, Paul addresses the issue of unity with various expressions: “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man” (Phil. 1:27), “being united with Christ” (Phil. 2:1), “being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Phil. 2:2).

In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul writes that true unity cannot occur unless believers are spiritually united with Jesus Christ and have a genuine and real knowledge of him. This includes having an experiential knowledge of Jesus and not just an intellectual knowledge. Unity develops as believers serve and work together, each using their different gifts and abilities cooperatively to encourage and build up the church. Paul goes on to say that the goal of unity can only be reached when believers “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Since most of us are quite a way away from attaining the “fullness of Christ”, is it any wonder that unity is often lacking in our churches? At best, unity is a work in progress. Nevertheless, authentic unity in the church is a goal we should be aiming for.

Standing Firm in One Spirit

Paul urges the Philippians to stand firm in one spirit. “Standing”, or “standing firm”, is often mentioned in the Bible in association with warfare. In the New Testament “standing” is associated with spiritual warfare. Christians should be courageous and strong, standing firm and resolutely resisting the attacks of the devil with the mighty power of God (1 Cor. 6:13; Eph. 6:10-18; Jas 4:7; cf. Phil. 4:1).

1 Peter 5:8-9 says:  “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in your faith . . .”

The phrase “one spirit” is ambiguous in Philippians 1:27, and there are two possible ways of interpreting Paul’s meaning.  Paul may be encouraging the Philippians to stand firm with (1) the same disposition of spirit; or he may be saying that he wants the Philippians to stand firm (2) in the power of the one Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 4:4). Standing firm against spiritual opposition is only possible because of God’s power, available to us through the Holy Spirit; so the second option seems much more likely. Each one of us is to stand firm through the power of the one and the same Holy Spirit.

Suffering and Standing – Philippians 1:27-30

Contending as One Man

The Greek word sunathleō is used twice in Philippians, in 1:27 and in 4:3.[2] It means: to contend on the side of someone; to cooperate vigorously with a person; or, to make every effort in the cause of, or support of something. (Perschbacher 1990: 388) “One man” (NIV) is literally “one soul (psyche)in the Greek. The NASB translates this as “one mind”.

The Christian life is a struggle at times. If the church wants to be strong and victorious over the enemy, and effective and fruitful in mission, Christians must strive and contend together, united with the same mind and heart.

Opponents

Whether we realise it or not, we are in an ongoing battle against spiritual powers (Eph. 6:12). Spiritual opposition, however, often presents itself through ordinary human beings. Who were the opponents of the Philippians?[3]  Were they Jewish false teachers? Were they pagan members of Philippian society? Where they Roman authorities? Were they Christians with heretical ideas?

Kent (1978:119) writes:

“In the light of Paul’s discussion in 3:2-6 it seems clear that Jewish hostility was present. But there is nothing in 1:28 that restricts the reference to Jewish opponents. What is virtually certain is that these were external foes, not false teachers within the church. It is most likely that Paul was speaking generally of adversaries of the church of whatever kind. Whether Jewish or pagan, they usually employed the same tactics, and the need for courage and unity among the believers was crucial. Failure of the church to be intimidated by enemies is a token of the ultimate failure of the enemies of God.”

After the terrifying and alarming events of September 11, 2001, Americans were encouraged to get on with “business as usual” and not let the terrorist attacks affect their way of life. This was going to be a sign to the terrorists that their appalling plan had failed. (In fact, the September 11 attacks have left a definite mark on American society.) Paul was employing a similar principle in Philippians 1:28. Paul wanted the Philippians to remain undeterred in the face of frightening opposition. This, he believes, will show their opponents that they are destined for destruction, but that the Christians are destined for salvation. Perhaps “salvation” has the meaning of “vindication” here as it does in Philippians 1:19: God will vindicate the Philippians if they remain courageous despite opposition.

The Gift of Suffering

Suffering is a recurrent theme in the New Testament; a theme that is largely ignored by the modern Evangelical church and even denied by some Pentecostal churches. Christians have often lived in cultures and situations that were hostile to their faith and have had to endure suffering and persecution. In some parts of the world, and in some sections of society, many Christians are still suffering brutal persecution for their faith.

Jesus, and the New Testament authors, did not shy away from the topic of suffering. They spoke openly about the reality of suffering and the potential for persecution. Paradoxically they associate suffering with joy.[4] The New Testament authors regarded suffering as a privilege because they saw it as a way of identifying and sharing in Christ’s suffering (e.g. Phil. 3:10).

Suffering has a way of testing and proving our faith, refining it, and making it strong, mature and resilient (1 Pet. 1:6-7).  Suffering can be one of the most effective ways to bring about spiritual maturity in Christians. If we truly want to be followers of Jesus, and if we are serious about becoming more and more like him, we should not shy away from suffering; instead, we should count it a joy. Paul told the Philippians that their suffering had been granted to them. It was a gift. He also indicates that they were to suffer as Paul was suffering. Were the Philippians to experience imprisonment? The exact nature of suffering is unclear here.

It is somewhat reassuring to know that when we suffer, our sufferings are not unique and that other believers have experienced similar experiences. Moreover, I have found it comforting to know that Jesus has experienced the same sufferings that on occasion I have experienced (though to a much lesser degree.) God does not leave us comfortless.

For many Western Christians, those who live relatively comfortable lives, the concept of suffering is foreign and may well explain why our churches and spiritual life are lacklustre. It is suffering and persecution that brings an utter dependence on God and his Spirit. Suffering increases and refines our faith making it like gold  (Jas 2:5; 1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Peter’s first letter was written to people who were suffering persecution because of their faith in Christ.[5] Peter writes to them:

. . . for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  1 Peter 1:6-7

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial that you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate/share in the sufferings of Christ so that you will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  1 Peter 4:12ff


Endnotes

[1] I am uncertain whether this is a spiritual principle or simply a practical consequence. I have also observed this principle at work in secular governments.

[2] The word “athlete” is derived from this verb (without the prefix sun).

[3] The Greek word antikeimenos, meaning “adversary”, is also used in Luke 13:17, 21:15, and 1 Timothy 5:14, and is used to describe the antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:4.

[4] “We even rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5

Suffering is also associated with future glory: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:17-18

[5] “Suffering” is mentioned more than 17 times in 1 Peter.  If you are suffering for your faith, especially with slander, read 1 Peter!

© 1st of July, 2010; Margaret Mowczko


< < < Week 6: Paul’s Courage – Philippians 1:19-27

> > > Week 8: Harmony and Humility – Philippians 2:1-5

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