Philippians 1:27-29 Whatever 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 without 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. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, …
Paul is writing from prison to a family of believers who are feeling frightened and discouraged by the opposition and other difficulties they were facing because of their faith in Jesus. It was also discouraging for them to hear that their beloved founder had been incarcerated, possibly in ‘death row’, for his own faith in his Saviour.
Perhaps we can identify with them as we face mounting opposition to our proclamation of the Gospel today, and as we hear about the persecution and suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in India and other parts of Asia, in North Africa and in many other places. What is Paul’s exhortation to them, and therefore to us, in these circumstances? It is to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”, to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel”, and to do this “without being frightened in any way”.
And why does he urge them is this way? Because it is “a sign to [their opponents] that they will be destroyed, but that [they] will be saved – and that by God”, and because “it has been granted to [them] on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”. In other words, everything that is happening around them and to them (and to Paul himself) is very much safely in GOD’s sovereign hands, and part of the outworking of HIS sovereign providence for the sake of HIS glorious Gospel and the building up of HIS Church and the advancement of HIS Kingdom. Paul tells us that our ‘suffering’ is an integral part of God’s ‘Plan A’ for his Creation (cf Romans 8:18-28), and therefore never takes God by surprise or catches him on the back foot!
Every time we ‘stand firm together’ and ‘suffer well’ in and through our difficulties, we are proclaiming eloquently to a lost world that God is still in control of ALL things. Hopefully Paul’s readers would reflect back on the time when a prominent jailer in their own town, along with his whole household – and perhaps many others as well, came to faith in Christ as a result of Paul’s earlier beating and imprisonment there (Acts 16:16-40). Let us all pray for the Holy Spirit’s indwelling strength to do in us what Paul says, and thus to see many people coming to faith in Christ, as is happening in a powerful way today in places where Christians are being persecuted.