Sunday, January 16, 2011

Good Soldiers

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. (Philippians 1:27-28, NKJV).
The full sense of this verse is clear: behave daily, moment by moment, like a Christian who is aware that he has received a priceless gift; acting accordingly, whether in public or in private; unmovable in unity and agreement as a witness of the good news; fearless in the face of his adversaries, demonstrating that he has been saved by God from eternal destruction.

This is the Apostle Paul's fervent prayer for those under his teaching and guidance. It was his entire purpose as a minister of Jesus Christ, to give his all, in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that his beloved and longed for brethren would stand fast in the Lord.

His Spirit-inspired word choice is, as always, immensely instructional to the church throughout history, and to us today. In all the long centuries since this letter was first sent to the church in Philippi, nothing has changed for the child of God living in a fallen world as ambassadors and servants of the Lord Jesus.

So Paul begins this passage by imploring his flock to exist continuously as recipients of the greatest gift of mercy and grace imaginable. The word translated "conduct", sometimes rendered as "conversation" in older English versions, comes from the Greek word politeuomai (pol-it-yoo'-om-ahee), from which we get the concepts of both politics, and civility or politeness. It is a word which describes the constant and rightful behavior of responsible inhabitants of a glorious kingdom, fully recognizing the value of their rights and privileges as citizens living under a good and just government. Further, it conveys the idea that behaving otherwise is irresponsible and unreasonable.

The word "worthy" denotes "in a manner worthy of", or "suitably". In other words, behave in way that clearly expresses your appreciation of the immeasurable value of the gospel. How does that manifest itself outwardly in reality? Primarily, through an attitude of humble gratitude in regard to the things of Christ. That we are benefactors of the grace of God says precious little about us, and a universe about God. A puffed-up, conceited, self-righteous Christian is an oxymoron of the highest absurdity. To take ANY credit whatsoever for being saved, is like congratulating yourself for creating the moon. It does not compute.

The apostle's exhortation was to behave in this way whether he was absent or present, in the dark, or spotlighted on stage. It is one thing to be real, and humbly, and transparently grateful in public. It is entirely another thing to have that attitude so much a part of you that it continues in private, behind closed doors, half-asleep, or exhausted. It needs to become, not just how we act, but who we are.

His choice of "stand fast" is interesting and meaningful, as well. It is a military term that encompasses what a soldier does to hold his position against the enemy. It is essentially defensive in nature, and depicts a faithful and well-trained combatant doing all that is necessary NOT to retreat, no matter how intense the enemy's onslaught.

Unity of spirit, and especially of mind, is a repeated theme in Philippians. Paul mentions "mind" at least eight separate times in these four chapters, clearly emphasizing the importance of rational thought and its relationship to a walk of faith. The word "spirit" in this context refers to the human will and emotions, with mind designating the center of intellect and reason. Christianity, though rife with the miraculous, is nevertheless an evidentiary faith. It is the fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah wrote centuries before Paul about God entreating His people to "come, let us reason together."

"Striving together" is what an athletic team does after much training and practice. It includes the idea of an "agonizing" commitment to mutual success, a collective will to maintain the course despite any obstacles.

The phrase "for the faith of the gospel", refers, not to the act of believing, but to the proper teaching and dissemination of the tenets of Christianity "once for all delivered to the saints". Through unified, well-taught, energetic commitment, the truth is to be spread throughout enemy territory, without compromise or retreat. This tactic will, of course, provoke resistance from the world and the current ruler of this world, Satan.He will rally and compel his human and angelic minions to set themselves as adversaries to the spread of the gospel, and the effective witness of the church. And those who participate in this resistance, by the very nature of their opposition to the gospel, prove themselves to be "sons of perdition", like Judas.

Likewise, the fact that such Christ-rejecting factions are against us who believe is "proof", literally "a demonstration of the fact", that we are saved by God Himself, and not by anything we have done. And the existence of our enemies is not to be a source of terror for us, but a confirmation of whose side in this long war against God we have chosen.

Beloved, if your Christianity is unopposed in the world, if it goes unnoticed by unbelieving friends, family or colleagues, if it causes not even the slightest ripple in the calm of your existence, then perhaps - just perhaps - you are not that "good soldier" who stands fast in the faith, without retreat or compromise that the Lord Jesus, through His servant Paul, exhorts us to be.