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Sermon 2019-01-06 Ross Woodhouse

Philippians 1:27 – 2:4

As Christians we are: in the world but not of the world, we do not belong to the world (John 15:19), our true home is eternity with God (Phil. 3:20). And though in the world, we are called to a great responsibility, to love Christ in it (1 John 2:15-17), to be distinct from the world, to represent Jesus.

*Here’s a summary of headlines of what Christians, the church, in many parts of the world are facing today. Yet this is the world we live in and are to represent Jesus in. Perhaps the opposition to the gospel today is not to different to what Paul and early Christians faced.

The point is we must be fully aware of the world in which we live, where it opposes the gospel and its ideologies. Because it’s in this world we’re placed, we must know the truth, how together we stand for truth, but also aware of our own conduct before Christ and for Christ.

Reading – Philippians 1:27 – 2:4

27 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 the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 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. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 


If we took a snapshot of these verses with the overall view of the letter to Philippi in mind, Paul’s encouragement here was regarding Christian conduct, attitudes, and unity; the key to all these being humility, modelled by Jesus. Paul would say you’ve got and are dealing with *opposition in the world (outside), but the church in its conduct and attitudes is not to mirror the world but to mirror (imitate) Jesus.

*Call of Conduct

27 Whatever happens…conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel

Paul is communicating to the church that irrespective of what happened to him, or their circumstances, (“whatever happens”) the only thing, they need to concern themselves with…was their conduct.   Whatever happens to you regardless of how miniscule or massive it is, your conduct is to be Christ-honouring, “worthy of the gospel of Christ”, all-encompassing in and over every part of Christian living.

Our conduct is to be worthy of the gospel. That means, in alignment with all that Jesus taught, (P) as our response to his grace toward us, and as a witness to the world…but also with a view to our eternity, that’s where we’re head, that’s the goal!

“Worthy of the gospel” implies the belief that Jesus is good news to us, translates into Christian life reflecting that belief. The gospel doesn’t just come to us, it flows through us, changes us, transforms us heart, soul, mind and strength

This principle is best understood in Jesus’ own words:

Matt. 10:37-38 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me”

Couple this with verse 27…means to value Christ (his name, his love, his grace, his teaching…) of greater worth, than anything or anyone else on this planet. …”our citizenship, is in heaven”.(3:20)

Our motivation for our conduct to love each other comes from Christ himself. When we are in Christ we need no other reason or motivation. Why? Because when we are Christ-centred, to glorify him, alone, is enough reason to love each other. More simply put, Jesus has asked us to love others, so we do. We pass grace, on…

That people are hard to love, are awkward to love, are cold, are difficult, are unresponsive, though that is often true, it is not the rationale we apply…Jesus says love, so we do.

Verse 27 (B)…Then whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.

What is an evidence of this Call to conduct? Paul helps us…

*THEN, (when) you conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel – that is putting Christ first – 3 evidences: “I will know that you will: 1. Stand firm as one, 2. Strive as one, 3. Without fear.

*Without fear of what? Losing our way, giving in to opposition, giving ground to opposition, bringing worldliness into the church, or tearing each other down.

Starts with the gospel having its effect in us, on us

(Philippians 1:28-30) This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

These verses beg the question how is our love for each other, standing firm, striving as one, with fear, how are these, as Paul says, a “sign to them that they will be destroyed”?… “them”…those who oppose Paul, oppose the gospel

…For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19)

Their – those who oppose the gospel – ‘god’ is their appetite, pleasure, satisfying self ahead of others, their minds do not go beyond this world, earthly…their citizenship is not in heaven…

Here this group (opponents), are confronted by Christians who when faced with persecution, imprisonment, loss and death…they don’t give way to those (experiences), their morality doesn’t slip and slide, their theology doesn’t bend and shift, rather they take a stand. This is the truth…

…that, is a “sign” to those opposed to the gospel, they carry on doing what they’re doing, destruction (eternal ruin) is the likely outcome.

…Paul says it’s a sign, that means they see the Christians, they see how they’re responding, they see the “sign” of “salvation”, and they see how far away they are from God…they have the option to respond

The “sign” is that the god (small g) of the world, is not the god to follow, destruction, the wide gate and the broad road, is their road, for all the benefits, temporary, that the world can offer…compared to the salvation that comes from knowing Christ.

Do note that Paul or no other NT author suggests that Christians engage in any form of aggressive behaviour against those who may oppose God, the gospel and us.  Why? God will deal with those who oppose the gospel.

…Paul writing to the church at Rome (from Deuteronomy)...”Do not take revenge, my friends,” he says elsewhere, “but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).

*In fact that response is essential, it may even win some people over…the idea is we are so focused on our citizenship being his kingdom (pressing on toward the goal), and “living such other-centred lives that those around us want to become citizens of that kingdom as well”

…Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:12)

(Illustration) Early Christian apologist, Athenagoras is famous for pleading with Roman emperors to stop what was a policy of persecuting Christians. These emperors encouraged the study of philosophy, Athenagoras making the most of that knowledge in his plea. So he asked the emperors to consider whether any of there great philosophers “despite their good educations and quick minds, “have so purified their own hearts as to love their enemies instead of hating them; instead of upbraiding those who first insult them, to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against them.” He goes on to describe the conduct and demeanour of the persecuted Christians:

With us, on the contrary, you will find unlettered people, tradesmen and old women, who though unable to express in words the advantages of our teaching, demonstrate by acts the value of their principles. For they do not rehearse speeches but evidence good deeds. When struck, they do not strike back; when robbed, they do not sue; to those who ask, they give, and they love their neighbours as themselves.[1]

Looking now at verses 1-4. Paul shifts his focus as far as those outside the church are concerned to more in-house. “Therefore if you have any encouragement:

…from being united with Christ,

…if any comfort from his love,

…if any common sharing in the Spirit,

…if any tenderness and compassion, 2

The message here is when you have encountered and experienced these for yourself, you’ve received something amazing, a gift, when the gospel has taken effect in your life, don’t keep these to yourself, your conduct is to show these toward one-another…how? …by being like-minded, having the same love, having no selfish plan, and valuing others above ourselves!

Christ’s love and grace evidenced in unity and love for each other was Paul’s end game, making his joy complete.

*Call to be like-minded

…show the worth of the gospel to others by: “being like-minded, having the same love…”. Literally, “think the same thing, have the same love, be united in soul, thinking one thing”[2]

Now, this doesn’t mean we all think the same way, it does *mean we have the same goal, purpose and vision – different vision is di-vision, in mind. Being like-minded means though we are different/diverse, we need to be willing to show love for one another through putting the well-being of others first. There are risks inherent in not being single-minded; vision becomes di-vision, the church becomes unstable, and there is a hindrance to the gospel

*Call to Unity

Paul’s overall theme in this passage is unity…we are to demonstrate the grace of Christ, shown to us by being one in spirit and of one mind.3

*that is agreement, oneness, and harmony. Paul knew that things were tough for the church at Philippi (see 1:30), but he appeals to the church to stick together in, whatever happens, stand firm in one spirit, be united (1:27).

(Illustration) During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren assemblies, half complied and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time. Those who did not, faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp.

When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups and there was much tension. Finally, they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ’s commands. Then they came together.

Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, “What did you do then?” “We were just one,” he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred. When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ.

*…the ability for us to work together[3] in unity is critical in God’s mission. Why? Because Unity gives credibility to our message, which needs to be the same as what we do, otherwise what does that say about our message?

Unity is a partnership

…between the work the Holy Spirit effects in us and our individual commitment to unity…

Unity represents Christ’s body

Christ was/is not divided; he is One. 1 Corinhians 1:13 Paul responding to a bunch of infighting among the church about who was the best teacher, Paul asks “Is Christ divided? “NO, Christ is not divided; he is not dismembered, but whole. So we are the body, because we’re the body, of Christ, what are we doing here?

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”

The point here is that the body is one, equal, but with different roles, functions and gifts, no one of us is more important than the other. When we push others aside, elevate ourselves, or others it becomes a contradiction of Christ, is disunity and undermines the work of the cross.

Unity answers Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21…

… “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Us being united in Jesus helps the world believe!

That Jesus would pray such a prayer suggests he doesn’t want his church disjointed, but rather working in the same direction toward the same goal, playing from the same piece of music. Paul had confidence that if the church conducted their lives worthy of the gospel, unity was a natural by-product of that conduct

(P)…that sounds to me like the sort of church God will add to daily those who are being saved (Acts 2), the church where God will command his blessing! (Psalm 133)

*Call to value and prefer others

(2:3f) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others

This means in all of our conversations, all of our dealings with people, in all of our relationships, in *all of our business… we set aside any sense of rivalry, of entitlement, of ambition that is driven by self, when we embrace the humility (talk a bit more about that shortly) of our Lord Jesus.

This is the humility of the cross, as v.5 says, having the same mind-set of Jesus, adopting his attitude, thinking and acting the way he would want us to…

..when we do that (there is the work of the Holy Spirit, of course…), we are able to value others above ourselves, place the interests of others above our own

*…this (action of valuing) is an action of grace. Mean? It is Grace shown to us, becoming Grace shown to others by us…Valuing others above ourselves, is seeing others as worthy to be served, by us. Like, for the Lord Jesus, regardless of who the person was, morally or ethically, he served them

German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer supplies six principles for eradicating selfish ambition from Christian communities. He says Christians should:

…hold their tongues, refusing to speak uncharitably about a Christian brother or sister

…cultivate the humility that comes from understanding that they, like Paul, are the greatest of sinners and can only live in God’s sight by his grace

…listen “long and patiently” understanding their fellow Christian’s need

…refuse to consider their time and calling so valuable that they cannot be interrupted to help with unexpected needs, no matter how small or menial

…declare God’s word to their fellow believers when they need to hear it

…understand that Christian authority is characterized by service and does not call attention to the person who performs the service.

* There are 3 examples right here in Philippians (besides Paul’s of course) of the Call to Value and Prefer Others

…Jesus (2:5f), in the very next verses – he emptied himself, took on the form of a servant, humbled himself

…Timothy, Paul says: (2:20f) “ I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself…”

…AND, Epaphroditus, (2:26f) “ For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill….29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.

(2:3f) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others…


Philippians, on its own speaks so boldly to humility that it should radically change our heart in the pursuit of it. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.  (v.3).

Note what Paul’s says “in humility, value other’s…”….means that humility is required, first in order to value others. Why was this important to Paul? Because he knew that it wasn’t healthy for the church when people had a selfish agenda, or were arrogant, mean and unkind toward others.

Humility is not about I, or right, or want, or me, myself – these are a contradiction of Christ

…humility is the bridge between self, selfishness, it’s all about me, myself and I, and…a heart to serve others, willingly. This is a conscious decision we make daily, because of what the Lord has done in us, to serve and value others.[4]

Paul’s not saying have no interests of your own, he’s not saying don’t look after yourself…it’s ok to have our interests, it’s right and godly to look after ourselves, keep healthy and strong…(p) but not and never at the expense of or the exclusion of others.

It’s human sinful nature to think about ourselves first. Putting others first is hard work and requires sacrifice. It means stepping back and allowing others to take the credit, when we desperately want the limelight for ourselves.

Humility is evidenced in the church when we willingly commit to volunteer for something that’s not in our area of interest or gift, but because we want to serve. That’s when unity happens! 

…when our gaze is on the person of Jesus, when we are being transformed by the renewing of our mind, when we are surrendered to Holy Spirit, we see our/these blindspots[5]. When our focus is Christ, humility is the vehicle to others’ needs.[6] Grace shown to us, is grace we are to demonstrate to others. 

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”― Ernest Hemingway. Humility recognises I’m no better than anyone else.

*What humility looks like is, spelled out for us in verse 5-11. It’s Jesus we’re to imitate. It is his demeanour and his attitude we’re to imitate. Which was what? To serve others at great cost to himself. What was that cost? He gave his life. It follows then that humility, this bridge between self and serving others, is loving at great cost to ourselves.

So Paul was right to encourage humility[7], because Jesus himself was unwilling to use his position as God the son for selfish ends, rather he came not to be served but to serve….

We’re in the world but not of the world. It’s as kingdom, citizen-of-heaven people that God wants us to conduct ourselves as, on this planet. Whatever our natural tendency or pre-disposition is, it can change, when submitted to Christ. God is in the business of transforming us from being self-centred people—concerned with our own stuff—to other-centred people who have a heart for what’s of his heart.

God’s grace amazes us, it endears us and motivates us to pass that grace on. Why should we? Because we’re agents of Jesus, light…in a lost and morally desperate world…


Practice conduct worthy of the gospel

Practice Unity

Practice being Like-minded

Practice Valuing others

Imitate Jesus


[1] Thielman

[2]Thielman, Frank. “Bridging Contexts” In NIV Application Commentary, New Testament: Philippians. By Frank Thielman, 102. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1995.

[3] Setting aside our own agenda for the sake of the gospel

[4] This (and any other time we gather) is a gathering for those who love Christ, to worship him, but it’s not an exclusive thing. This, must be an environment that for anyone who wants to and needs to, be a pathway to Christ.  This (here) must be where people can find Christ. There is no ranking of eligibility, favouritism when it comes to serving and valuing others.

[5] Of self, of me trying to enforce my way, my agenda, my lack of humility…

[6] It’s automatically our motivation

[7] Paul was right to encourage the church to humility because God commands it (See Micah 6:8 (NIV) He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”; Col. 3:12 Pauls writes “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”; 1 Peter 5:5 “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.”)