A Life Worthy of the Gospel
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: Philippians 1:27–2:11
“A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL”
[1:] 27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
[2:]1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
You will notice that the Apostle Paul begins this passage by charging his readers to live their lives in a “manner...worthy of the gospel of Christ.” During last Sunday evening’s service we took a quick but focused look at what it means for theas followers of Jesus to live a “worthy” life.
The word itself (“αξιωs”) is found only six times in the New Testament, and in each case is translated “worthy of.” What’s more, there is a consistent pattern in the manner in whichway that it term is employed. Each On each occasion time the object that is considered “worthy” is similar or related. For example...
- ...in Romans 16:2, the church in Rome is instructed to “Wwelcome her (Phoebe) in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints.
- Philippians 1:27:...in Ephesians 4:1, Christians are urged to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which (they) have been called.” He charges the believers in Philippi to “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
- ...in Colossians 1:10, the church: The Christians in Colossae are is instructed told to “wWalk in a manner worthy of the Lord.”
- ...in 1 Thessalonians 2:12: , Paul exhorts the Thessalonian believers in that city are similarly charged to “walk in a manner worthy of God.”
- ...and in 3 John 6, : John the apostle praisesbelievers are encouraged those to whom he writes and encourages them to continue theirto show hospitality toward travelingto ministers of the Gospel, because they “sen(t)and to “send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.”
- ...and, of course, here in the passage before us, Philippians 1:27, “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
A slightly different word (“αξιοs”) is used by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:8, when he warned a group of critical Pharisees and Sadduccees to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
In each instance the emphasis is upon the “worthiness” of the object being mentioned, and in each case that object is directly tied to the Gospel: “worthy of the saints,” “worthy of the calling,” “worthy of the Lord,” “worthy of God,” and “worthy of repentance.”
Last Sunday evening we addressed the question of what a “worthy” might look like. We noted that it was something that only God can do—and will do—in and through those who belong to Him by faith. Solely by means of the indwelling and abiding “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9) is anyone able to do it. Therefore, what that means for you and me is that if we hope to possess and maintain a life that is “worthy of the gospel” to which we have been called, we must look to Christ as our supreme treasure and depend upon Him exclusively as the source of the grace that is required.
In this morning’s passage, the writer sets before us a portrait of the only One who ever truly lived a life “worthy of the gospel.” And because He did, He became the pattern that we are exhorted in this passage to follow.
Americans are at times accused of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothingnothing. Far too many of us have inverted value-systems, placing greater “worth” on the things that are fading away than on those things that will last forever. Jesus reminded us in Luke 12:15 that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And yet we continue to accumulate. You and I throw away more “stuff” in a year than people in other lands amass in a lifetime. As Christians, we have been called to live according to a radically different value-system and worldview from others. Specifically, we have been called to demonstrate “the mind of Christ” (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:16).
Throughout this passage, the apostle’s commands are directed both to the church collectively as well as to the individuals who make up the church. From both perspectives, we are told that life that is “worthy of the gospel” will be revealed in at least three ways. In the first place, it will be seen when Jesus’ followers...
“in a manner worthy”
Stand firm in the Gospel (1:27-30).
The opening statement in verse 27—“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel”—is the imperative that drives Paul’s discussion all the way through verse 18 of chapter 2. Everything he says in the intervening verses is intended to reveal what a “life...worthy of the gospel” looks like.
One’s “manner of life” actually conveys the idea of “citizenship.” It is the term from which our word for “politics” (“πολιτευομαι”) is derived. The implication is that Christians are to conduct themselves as citizens of another realm, recognized as being distinct from this world. That new identity is demonstrated when we are “standing firm (or, ‘holding one’s ground’) in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” As someone else has expressed it, we are to be “contending together as one person for the Gospel.” What a beautiful picture, and one that is essential for us to understand and obey. That is because the reality of the Gospel cannot be clearly seen unless God’s people are believing the same things and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with one another.
It is when Christians do stand together—in a manner that the Gospel requires—that both the condemnation of the lost and the “salvation” of the saved are clearly seen. It is a vindication, if you will, that the faith of belivers is not in vain, that the Gospel is real and that Jesus is Lord! Therefore, we are exhorted to “not (be) frightened in anything” by those who stand in opposition against us. After all, we are the ones who are on the winning side!
That is particularly comforting during times of affliction and great trial. Remember, Paul wrote these words while in an incarcerated state. Therefore, they are soaked with credibility when he writes in verse 29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and hear that I still have.”
Interestingly enough, both the faith to “believe” in Christ and the charge to “suffer” for Him are described as a “grace” (“χαριζομαι”). Both “faith” and “suffering” are gifts granted by a gracious and benevolent God who always does what is best for His own.
But lest we get ahead of ourselves, we need to be clear about something. And this is critical. Paul is not offering encouragement to believers about what might be described as “normal suffering” (which is part and parcel of the human condition) or “suffering in general.” He is here speaking of living for Christ in a world that is openly hostile to the Lord and resistant to the Gospel. It is “suffer(ing) for his sake.” As it was with their Savior, the path to glorification for believers leads through the cross that they are called to take up daily and bear on His behalf (cf. Luke 9:23).
Paul’s present “conflict” or “struggle” (“αγωνοs”) was being confined as a prisoner in Rome. As he awaited trial, he had no idea when his case would come before the Emperor or how it would be decided. But in a very real sense, the Philippian Christians—through their faithful prayers and loving support—were right there with him. How encouraging it must have been in those days and weeks of waiting that he was not alone.
If we are being honest, verses 29 and 30 seem remote to us. Few of us “suffer” as Paul did. Perhaps the reason that is so is because we are not being as bold as we should in “standing firm” for the Gospel. In our comfort and relative freedom, maybe we have grown passive in our “stance” for Jesus, waiting for “Gospel prospects” to come to us rather us actively pursuing them. Or maybe we fear the verbal and social reprisals that we may receive when we bear an open witness for Christ, neglecting to see that many others in the world are bearing the weight of “suffering” while we are content to let them do so. At times we tend to forget that the Lord has called us to “Bear one another’s burdens” (cf. Galatians 6:2).
When we are “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” we are letting our “manner of life be worthy of the gospel.” But the apostle has more to add. Continuing on with his main point, he reveals that the “worthy” walk demands that we also...
Be united in the Spirit (2:1-4).
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is “an epistle of joy.” We have seen in the previous two weeks that God commands His people to rejoice, and that He provides both the grounds and the grace to do it. We further observed that nothing glorifies God more than maintaining our joy when we lose everything but God. And we have also noted that it is possible to rejoice during the most difficult times of life because joy is the product that comes from a heart that is right with God and a mind that is set on Jesus Christ.
Joy within “the family of God” comes as a result of being “one in Spirit.” Paul alluded to this in verse 27, but he elaborates upon it here. Chapter 2 begins with a series of “conditional” clauses that are introduced with the word “if” (“ει”). These are not suppositions, but rather presuppositions that could be more properly can be translated “since”.
Because “there is...encouragement in Christ,” because there is “comfort from love,” because of there is “participation (or ‘fellowship’) in the Spirit,” and because there is “affection and sympathy”—in other words, because of the Philippians’ past history with Paul and the loving partnership they have shared, the apostle can make the following request of them. And as they comply, they bring his “joy” to “completion”...to the measure of fulfillment.
What was it that they could do that would cause him to rejoice? It was in their “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord, and of one mind.” It is the initial phrase—“being of the same mind”—that controls the other three. The verb of command (“φρονεω”) does not merely mean “to think about;” rather it carries the nuance of “setting one’s mind on” and having a certain disposition toward something or a certain way of looking at things.
What he specifically points them to focus upon is not revealed until verses 6 through 11, but we are given a glimpse of what it looks like in verses 3 and 4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition 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.”
The key word here is “humility” (“ταπεινοφροσυνη”), which will in effect be personified in the verses that follow. Commenting on this word, Gordon Fee has called “humility” “a uniquely Christian virtue, which as, with the message of a crucified Messiah stands in utter contradiction to the values of the Greco-Roman world, who generally considered humility not a virtue, but a shortcoming.” Or a “weakness,” if you will.
How are you and I to understand “humility”? It has been said that “humility is that one virtue, which when you think you have it you don’t.” That makes the point, but it may be a bit too simplistic. “Humility” is not to be confused with false modesty. Rather, it has to do with a proper estimation of self...the role of the creature before the Creator, utterly dependent and trusting. It means being aware of one’s strengths as well as one’s weaknesses, but not making too much or too little of either.
As Paul develops the thought here, “humility” involves “consider(ing) others more significant than (ourselves).” That does not mean that one should necessarily consider others “better,” but rather that we consider them according to God’s estimation of them. As we do that, we then look at others in terms of our caring for them. That is why he adds in verse 4 that we are to be “look(ing) not only to (our) own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Unity is the product of “humility,” and “humility” comes from having the life of Jesus Christ reproduced in us. You see, it all comes back to Jesus. It always comes back to Jesus.
This is beautifully brought out in verses 5 through 11. A life “worthy of the gospel” will stand firm in the Gospel, be united in the Spirit and with other believers “in the Spirit”...and it will also...
Have the mind of Christ (2:5-11).)
Let me say right away that the only way to have the mind of Christ is to allow yourself to be absorbed in and saturated with the Scriptures. There is no way we can separate “the written Word” from “the living Word.” There are no “shortcuts” to spiritual discipline, and there is no other way to know Christ than to immerse oneself in the Book that reveals Him and tells His story. And I know of no passage that reinforces that claim any better than the one that is before us.
Verses 5 through 11 truly represent holy ground. It is within this text that the mystery of the incarnation of God’s Son is revealed. All that Paul has said up to this point regarding a life “worthy of the gospel” finds its foundation here. I never tire of reading, teaching, and preaching this text...even though my words always come up short in conveying the amazing truth that is found here.
Theologians refer to this as the “kenosis,” a word from the Greek that is found in verse 7 and is translated “emptied” or “poured out.” It is a term that has generated a great deal of discussion and doctrinal debate. It refers to Christ’s self-humiliation, the example that is set before every believer who seeks to emulate His Lord. Regarding this passage, A.H. Strong has said, that it reveals “the submission of the λογοs to the control of the Holy Spirit and the limitations of His Messianic mission.”
It is believed by many that this was actually an early hymn of the church. That is quite possible, given its grammatical structure. It certainly contains rich theological truth, unparalleled anywhere else in terms of its Christological significance found anywhere in the Bible. And yet, even as we savor the essence of its doctrinal content and literary form, we must not forget that it appears here for our practical instruction and application. We are to live in a manner being modeled for us and presented to us here. In another place (2 Corinthians 8:9), Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
So, in verses 5 through 8 we find an exhortation to the Church, and in verses 9 through 11 we see an exaltation of Christ. First the exhortation for the Church:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Not only are believers to be of the “same mind” with one another, but their “same-mindedness” is to be founded upon Christ. Verse 5 gives foundation and content to the unity each Christian possesses with every other. More important than our common “likes and dislikes” is that we are all of “one mind” with regard to who Jesus is and what He accomplished through His life and death. So who was He, and what did He do?
When verse 6 reads that Jesus existed “in the form of God,” it is not speaking of a physical “form,” because God possesses no physical parts. In His essence, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Instead, the phrase speaks of Christ eternally possessing the same true and exact nature as the Father. There may, in fact, be no more theologically clear reference to the pre-existence of Jesus than what we find here. Make no mistake, we are told, Jesus is, was, and forever will be fully God!
But in the same breath, the writer tells us that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” That last word (“‘αρπαγμοs”) is sometimes translated “robbery.” It actually means “to grab hold of” something, clutching it tightly and exploiting it for personal advantage. Christ did not do that with regard of His privileged position in the Godhead. Instead—and verse 7 begins with a very strong contrast (“αλλα”)—He “emptied himself.” This is the word (“κενοω”) from which the term “kenosis” is derived. The question thus becomes, of what did Christ “empty himself” when He became a man by taking on “the likeness of men”?
Note carefully that the text says that He “emptied himself.” It is reasonable to take this statement as a figure of speech, suggesting that Christ was not actually “emptied” of anything, but rather—metaphorically speaking—He “emptied himself” by “pouring Himself out,” “expending Himself, or surrendering His privilege—in order to fulfill the Father’s preordained plan in providing a Messiah for His people.
This necessarily involved a significant degree of “self-limitation” on His part. How else might “eternality and infinity” enter the realm of “time and space?” This passage in no way implies that Jesus was “emptied” of any of His Deity in becoming a man. Had He dome that, He would have ceased to have been God. What it does suggest, however, is that He voluntarily and temporarily laid aside the independent use of certain of His Divine attributes in order to take on human flesh, live sinlessly among us, and die for the sins of His people.
Verses 7 and 8 further tell us that the “kenosis” involved a series of self-humiliating downward “steps.” Not only did Jesus submit to a normal human birth (albeit through a miraculous conception), but He assumed the role of a “servant” (“δουλοs”) in every respect. Without ceasing to be God, Jesus clothed Himself in real humanity. When verse 8 says that He was “found in human form,” a different word is used from the one we saw in verse 6. The one found here (“σχημα”) refers to “outward appearance.” Without intending any disrespect at all, there was nothing extraordinary in terms of Jesus’ human appearance. He would have blended into a crowd of people. He became a man...one just like us. And further, Jesus did not “transform” or “morph” Himself into a man...He added humanity to Himself...a humanity, I might add, that He will wear throughout eternity.
Adam had tried to become “like God”...but Christ, as God, did in fact become a man.
And never was there such a man so “humble” and so “obedient”... nor would there ever be. His “obedience” took Him to His death, and when He died He died the most shameful form of death imaginable in that day...“death on a cross” (cf. Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
Jesus’ “humiliation” meant that He took the lowest place among men in order to satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God with respect to men’s sin and “in bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10).
That “humiliation” also provided the grounds for the exaltation of Christ, which we read about in verses 9 through 11:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
We will ever be thankful that the story didn’t end at the cross. Because Jesus has been raised from the dead, having conquered sin and death, all who confess Him as Savior and Lord will also be raised to “newness of life” and live with Him forever (cf. Romans 6:4-5).
Even those who deny Christ and utterly reject Him now will one day “bend the knee” before Him. At that time it will not be a “bowing” in worship, but it will be a “forced” recognition of who Jesus is, and an acknowledgment of His right to rule and reign over all His creation. There is no name greater than His. Therefore, “every tongue (will) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
If you are without Christ today, then consider the implications in the light of eternity. You will most certainly submit to Jesus. And that day your submission to Him will not only be expressed by the bended knee but also by verbal confession. You will most assuredly confess “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Paul draws this thought from Isaiah 45:22 and 23, where we find the voice of God pleading with those who persist in their stubborn refusal to trust Him now. There we read...
“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’”
“Jesus Christ is Lord” may well have been the earliest Christian creed. And it will remain the confession of His Church until He returns. It will, in fact, continue to sound forth throughout the eternal ages. To be Christ’s followers means to confess Him as “Lord,” but it also means that we demonstrate His character. That is what it is to live “worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Let me encourage you to consider three things in light of where we have been and what we have seen today. As a local church, if you and I are to live “worthy of the gospel of Christ,” then...
- May our gathering together through Christ be characterized by our commitment to be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Let us renew ourselves to our common purpose, which—as it is printed on the front of our bulletin every Sunday—“Spreading a passion for the glory of God to all peoples through the preaching of the Gospel and making disciples.” Each of us must honestly ask ourselves how well we are doing in the areas of evangelism and discipleship. We have been called to live for Christ by making Him known.
- In addition, may our growing together in Christ be seen by our unity of the Spirit, “being of the same mind, having the same love, being of full accord and of one mind,” recognizing that the common ground we share as members of this local body is far more significant than any differences we may have. The passage we have been considering suggests that “joy” is impeded when we are not “look(ing out for) the interests of others.” Who among your fellow church members have you not yet gotten to know? Are you waiting for others to approach you when possibly the Lord is prompting you to take the first step toward getting to know them? When is the last time you discussed Scripture or prayed with a fellow church member over a cup of coffee? Who is it among those seated around you that you can bring along with you as you grow in Christ?
- And finally may our going together for Christ result in us being more and more conformed to His image with every passing day. As we walk in the world this coming week, may we inch toward more fully understanding what it means to have the mind of Christ...thinking His thoughts after Him, wanting what He wants, and doing what He compels us to do in order that His name will be “highly exalted” now, and so that others will also be moved to declare that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
As we gather together, grow together, and go together in this manner, may our lives emulate His...Him who set before us the only life that has truly been “worthy of the gospel.”
Gathering together through Christ
Growing together in Christ
Going together for Christ