The dictionary defines a cause as “a principle, aim, or movement that, because of a deep commitment, one is prepared to defend or advocate.”
Now there are a myriad of causes to which people devote themselves. Some of these causes are noble and worthwhile. Many are not. Some of these causes are for temporal things that soon wither away. Some of them endure longer than that. Some people devote themselves to such causes with little ardor or devotion others give their all—their lives thoroughly devoted to a matter.
Of all the causes that have ever been fought for, no cause is more noble and more virtuous than the cause of the gospel. It is a cause to which every believer in Christ has been enlisted. And it is a cause to which we are to devote our lives and unite ourselves to.
Just a reminder of the context. Paul is writing to the Philippians, a church which God had used Paul and his companions to start, from a prison. The church in Philippi has sent a gift to him, and they were no doubt wondering how he was doing. He responded with this epistle. Most of the first chapter has to do with his own experience. His prayer for them. His optimistic understanding of his circumstances. His question regarding what might happen to him and his optimistic perspective whether it be life or death. So, we come to the end of the chapter, and the tenor changes from Paul’s experiences to the application of his own experiences to the Philippians in theirs.
- A Cause to Live For
There is a common misconception that exists in our day regarding the message of the gospel. Many wrongly assume that the gospel message—that Christ died for sins and rose from the dead–is something that we simply believe and then we put the message behind us and move on to other things. That’s a wrong way of thinking about the gospel. We never put it aside as believers.
The ESV has it right in its translation of 1 Corinthians 15:2 when it says of the gospel that we “are being saved” by it (present tense). The gospel message has not just worked to save us from our sins by way of forgiveness, it has also worked to unite to Jesus Christ and to His death and resurrection, so that we might walk in newness of life in Him (Romans 6:1-4).
That being said, there is a kind of conduct that is worthy of the gospel. There are two important terms that we need to define in this phrase.
The first is the term “worthy,” which is related to our English term “axle” or “axis.” The thought behind the term is “that which balances the scales.” So, this verse is speaking of the kind of conduct that is consistent to the gospel message. Put the gospel message on one side of the scale. Put your conduct (your walk; the manner in which you live your life) on the other. They should balance out. The same term is used in Ephesians 4:1, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” There needs to be a measure of consistency between one’s believe in Christ and their behavior in Christ.
The other important term is “conduct.” An interesting term is used here which means literally “to live as a citizen.” The term is related to our English terms “police” or “politics.” The emphasis here, though, is not how we behave as citizens in the earthly realm, but as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
The emphasis in the passage is on Christian unity as it goes on to speak of how we need to be of “one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel” (verse 27). So, the focus here is on that conduct which is appropriate for fellow citizens on God’s heavenly kingdom. It’s not surprising that Paul uses this particular term, for Philippi was, after all “a leading city of the district of Macedonia.” The citizens of Philippi took pride in their Roman citizenship. So, Paul applied a term that they would be familiar with to their spiritual situation.
And the term fits. What makes for a good citizen in the earthly realm? In the heavenly realm?
A good citizen acknowledges governing authorities. What is true in the earthly realm needs to be true of the citizens of heaven. Our authority is Jesus Christ. He is the head of the church. We are those who acknowledge Him as Lord and seek, as His servants, to do His bidding (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:4).
A good citizen obeys the law. And again, in the heavenly realm we are guided not by our own human wisdom, but by the Spirit of God and the Word of God. We gladly subject ourselves to the Word and live our lives according to a “what does the Bible say?” way of thinking (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:5).
A good citizen relates properly to his or her fellow citizens. He doesn’t disrupt the peace or seek to do harm to his fellow citizens. Instead he proves himself to a beneficial member of a community. And so, it is the heavenly realm.
When it comes to the earthly realm people most endeavor to live their lives as good citizens. But when it comes to the church there is much conduct that is not befitting those who claim to be Christians. There are plenty of professing believers who are not subjecting themselves to the Lord Jesus or to any God-given authority. There are plenty who don’t endeavor to live their lives according to the Word. And there are plenty who see little value in having a contributing role in the community of believers.
This is a real problem for the church. There ought to be a discernible difference in our lives as believers in Christ. That’s what Paul was speaking about in verse 27, “So that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you.” Whether I’m able to come to you or not, I’ll hear of the church in Philippi that they are living out the gospel. We ought to live to the same purpose. That when people hear of LCBC they might hear that our behavior is consistent to our testimony and that we are united in the cause of the gospel.
The gospel message is adorned when our behavior is consistent to the message. Titus 2:9-10, “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.”
The phrase applies not just to bondslaves, but to all of us. There is a kind of behavior that adorns the gospel. There is a kind of behavior that makes the gospel beautiful before others. It is the kind of behavior that is the fruit of our relationship to Jesus. It is people seeing Jesus in us—His love, His joy, His wisdom, His righteousness, His joy, His peace; the hope we have in Him.
If you are going to be contribution to the cause of Christ, you are going to have to conduct yourself in manner befitting to the cause of Christ.
2. A Cause to Unite Behind
The terms used in this passage are terms associated with warfare—“standing firm” and “striving together” (verse 27); “opponents” (28); “suffer” (29); “conflict” (30). We are engaged in a spiritual conflict.
So, in this cause of the gospel we are engaged in a great conflict. And it is important that we be united in the cause. Let’s look at some of the terms are phrases that are used.
Note the terms “one spirit” and “one mind.” It is possible for us to stand firm in “one spirit” and to have “one mind” because God has united us to the body of Christ. The unity spoken of here is not a unity of human organization, it is a unity of divine relationship. 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” Ephesians 4:3, “Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” There is a song in our hymnal entitled “Our God has Made Us One,” and that’s the truth of it.
It’s a miraculous thing when you think about it. You will find the Latin phrase, “E pluribus unum,” on US currency. The phrase means literally, “Out of many, one.” That’s a noble statement. And there is some truth to it inasmuch of America is made up of people who originally came here from all parts of the world. But there is another sense where there is not so much truth to it—because America could hardly be called “united” anymore. But it’s different with the church. God has worked to join folks from every possible identity and background to the body of Christ. Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We all share the same Lord and are indwelt by the same Spirit. You could fly anywhere in the world and find brothers and sisters in Christ whom you could readily identify with and enjoy fellowship with. It is in the church that we find a genuine “E pluribus unum.”
Now we’ve been united by God in this common cause. And it’s important for us to keep our focus. Because we are all to prone to lose sight of that which unites us. A.W. Tozer, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So, one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” We are united in Spirit to a common cause, the cause of the gospel.
The term “standing firm” is a warfare type of term. A related term is used in Ephesians chapter 6 where it speaks of the spiritual conflict we are all engaged in and the need for us to take up the whole armor of God so that we might “stand firm.” The idea in the military sense is to “not leave one’s post.” To not abandon your place as a fellow soldier in the battle. Now in the olden days of warfare it was important for an army to attack another army with a united front. If a soldier were to leave his post that could mean disaster for his fellow soldiers. The enemy would then attack at that point of weakness and gain a victory. The same kind of thing happens within the church. The enemy is always looking for a weakness in the Christian community from which to launch his attacks.
Make note of another phrase which is equally important—“striving together for the faith of the gospel.” The phrase “striving together” translates the Greek term “sunathleo.” Did you catch the last part of the word, “athleo?” It a term related to our term “athletic.” It means to “contend in games.” But here it speaks of how we contend together for a certain thing. Put simply, its speaking of teamwork. We are to labor together as a team in this great cause. We see something of the value of teamwork in the earthly realm. I’m a big basketball fan. And it’s the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Recently the Oregon Ducks defeated the Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-12 basketball tournament. The coach of Arizona complimented the Oregon team. He called them one of the best teams in America. He said that they weren’t the most talented team, but because of their teamwork the sum of their parts was greater. Teamwork can do that for a group of people. It’s amazing what a group of people can do if they will simply work together. What can a people led and empowered by the Spirit of God do if they were to work together? Amazing things! That’s what the early church was doing. That’s what God has called us to do.
If you are going to succeed according to that formula, there are couple of things that are necessary:
From the negative standpoint you are going to have to deal with conduct that is detrimental to the team. Ephesians 4:2-3 speaks to this: “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
From the positive standpoint you need for every member to find their God-given place in service. “Ephesians 4:16, “From whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part.”
Note that the concern is that we would be striving together for a specific cause, “the faith of the gospel.” It is not…
- Striving together for a political party.
- Striving together for a social cause.
- Striving together for world peace or any other kind of earth-bound agenda.
The cause for which we are to strive together is the faith of the gospel. Mark Dever, “When Christians unite around something other than the gospel, they create community that would likely exist even if God didn’t.” But we’re united in a common cause and that cause is the gospel.
That’s the cause of which Christ spoke when He said, “And you shall be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8). It is the cause which Paul called the “matter of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:1). It is the cause represented to us to be “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11) and “the power of God for salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16). It is a cause
3. A Cause Worth Suffering For
The Apostle Paul speaks of opponents. The word speaks of those who lie opposed to the cause of Christ. Later in the epistle we read of those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18).
We should not be surprised by this. So, Jesus had forewarned His disciples, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). He also told them, “A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
Opposition and persecution are not an anomaly for the believer in Christ, it is to be expected: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). Perhaps you didn’t realize that when you trusted in Christ for salvation? We live in a society with a great degree of freedom, so our experience is not the same as those early believers or of people who live in oppressed regions of the world today. But persecution and opposition are the norm for the believer. 2 Timothy 3:12, “And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
That is the legacy of the church. From Stephen’s martyrdom to the one who died this very day in some persecuted region of the world. Paul likewise faced opposition (Philippians 1:30). He too had to deal with those seeking to cause trouble for him (Philippians 1:17). There is a growing antagonism against Christianity in our world. So, it’s important for us to understand that our cause will be met with opposition. It’s always been that way. It will be that way until Christ’s church is raptured into heaven. God’s work done God’s way will always be met with opposition.
But it is important for us to respond to it in a God-honoring way. Don’t be “alarmed” by your opponents. The term “alarmed” translates a seldom used Greek word which means to be terrified or scared. Don’t be scared by them. You’ve got no reason to be?
You’ve got God on your side. Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who is against us?
1 John 4:3, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
I came across this delightful Scottish chorus the other day:
Cheer up ye saints of God,
There’s nothing to worry about;
Nothing to make you feel afraid,
Nothing to make you doubt;
Remember Jesus saves you;
So why not trust him and shout,
You’ll be sorry you worried at all, tomorrow morning.
1 Peter 3:15 speaks to how we ought to respond to those who seek to do us harm: “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
- Submit yourself in your heart to the Lordship of Christ. Trust Him. Determine to obey Him.
- Your hope is in the Lord. Don’t be moved from that.
- Make your defense. Your testimony regarding Christ.
- Respond to your opponents in gentleness and reverence.
It matters how we respond. Paul says that our response is a “sign of destruction to them.” The term speaks to a “showing, or point out, or demonstration.” So, your trusting response (i.e. Stephen when he was martyred) demonstrates the rightness of the cause and warns of the ultimate destruction of those who will remain opposed to the gospel.
2 Corinthians 2:14-16, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.”
All that being said, the cause of the gospel is a cause worth suffering for. People devote themselves to all sorts of causes. Many of them are unworthy. But in the cause of the gospel we have a noble and eternal cause worth fighting for and worth suffering for.
Someone wrote the following (taken from the Hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers). It is meant to be humorous, but there is far too much truth to it. And we need to recognize this, repent of these wrong ways of thinking, and determine by God’s grace to head in a better direction:
Backward Christian soldiers, fleeing from the fight
With the cross of Jesus nearly out of sight.
Christ, our rightful master, stands against the foe
But forward into battle, we are loathe to go.
Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God
Brothers we are treading where we’ve always trod.
We are much divided, many bodies we
Having many doctrines, not much charity.
Crowns and thorns may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the Church of Jesus hidden does remain.
Gates of hell should never ‘gainst the Church prevail
We have Christ’s own promise, but think that it will fail.
Sit here then ye people, join our useless throng
Blend with ours your voices in a feeble song.
Blessings, ease and comfort, ask from Christ the King
With our modern thinking, we don’t do a thing.
If you are a believer in Christ you’ve been enlisted into this common cause, the cause of the gospel.
And Paul uses three wonderful analogies to speak of the spirit in which we are to devote ourselves to the cause:
As fellow citizens. Our allegiance is the Lord Jesus Christ. We are led by the Spirit to trust Him and obey Him. We work together as fellow citizens.
As fellow soldiers. We are to stand firm in one mind. That mind is the “mind of Christ.” As fellow soldiers we are bonded together in this cause. Our success is dependent upon the mutual support of each one of us for our brother in Christ and our sister in Christ. There can be no Lone-Ranger Christians. You need me. I need you. We all need each other.
As fellow athletes. We are all part of a team. Our success necessitates teamwork. On the negative side it is important that we do all that we can to preserve the unity of the Spirit. On the positive side it is equally important that we find our own particular role in serving the body of Christ.