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United We Stand

Clergy/Leaders’ Mail-list No. 1-140 (Sermon)

UNITED WE STAND Philippians 1:27-30

by Rod Benson

“We live amidst the ruins of the great, five-hundred-year epoch of Humanism. Around us is that ‘colossal wreck.’ Our culture is a flat expanse of rubble . . . Is it surprising that we are run down? We are desperate, yet we don’t care much any more. We are timid, yet we cannot be shocked. We are inert underneath our busyness. We are destitute in our plenty. We are homeless in our homes.”

So said Australian academic John Carroll in 1993. The basic ideas and patterns of behaviour of Western culture, on which mainstream Australian society is built, have left us bankrupt.

Material affluence doesn’t inevitably lead to well-being. Intellectual and technological sophistication don’t make us better people. The search for spirituality without God is futile. Every human attempt to revise or replace the God-given blueprint for living found in scripture is destined to fail.

But while the world has given up on God, God has not given up on them! That’s why the Bible was written. That’s why Jesus came to die. That’s why the church was created. That’s why we have Good News to share with all people everywhere!

The sad reality is that so many people who seek a relationship with Jesus use it like a ‘Get out of jail free’ card in Monopoly. Life goes on as usual until you hit a rough patch, and you call to God for help.

The more I observe Christian practice, and the more I reflect on the Bible’s teaching, the more I’m convinced the church needs to take discipleship more seriously, and accept that the Good News involves clear ethical guidelines as well as declaring God’s way for people to escape from hell and find heaven.

That’s not to say we should give evangelism a rest and focus solely on discipleship; the two go together. In many places in his letters, Paul emphasises that those who have accepted the Good News should live according to its principles, and so go on bringing glory to God through their righteous lives.


In Philippians 1:27, Paul makes this very clear: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” That is, he says, “Live day by day in the Roman colony of Philippi as worthy citizens of your heavenly homeland.”

The people of Philippi enjoyed a special honour. In 42 BC, Octavian (who later became Emperor Augustus) won a decisive victory against Cassius and Brutus (the assassins of Julius Caesar) on a plain near Philippi. To celebrate, Octavian granted Roman citizenship to all the people of the city.

Now, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, these Philippians have dual citizenship: they are citizens of Rome and citizens of heaven. In the same way, we who accept Jesus Christ as Lord are citizens of [Australia] and of heaven, and we are encouraged to order our lives, and regulate our conduct, so that it is worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Paul has similar advice for the Ephesians: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). The difference is that, in Philippians 1:27, Paul emphasises the need to take an active part in the affairs of the kingdom of God – both a missionary outlook, and a pastoral concern for the Christian community.

The rest of our passage flows from this imperative. As we develop a consistent life that honours the gospel of Christ, we’ll discover three associated benefits: a confident foundation that promotes unity in Christ; a clear message that encourages commitment to Christ; and a courageous attitude that strengthens our faith in Christ.


The first benefit is a confident foundation that promotes unity in Christ. “I will know,” Paul says, “that you stand firm in one spirit” (verse 27b). In the face of situations within the church that may lead to disunity, and oppression from the general community, he encourages them to be strong, and to be united.

There’s a common saying, “United we stand, divided we fall”; and it applies not only to the trade union movement but to the church of Jesus Christ. Don’t lose your confidence in what you believe and what you’re doing, and never be guilty of factionalism.

Instead, “stand firm in one Spirit.” The Holy Spirit should be the one who brings us together, rather than a non-essential doctrine or practice. Our unity is one of our most powerful weapons against the devil, and we can be sure he will do all he can to disrupt it.

Apart from direct spiritual warfare, one of the most effective ways to prevent division in the church is to support activities that foster fellowship and build a sense of community and mutual understanding. It’s when we don’t know one another well that the devil creeps in and places doubts or hurts in our minds. We too need to stand our ground, and “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).


The second benefit is a clear message that encourages commitment to Christ. Paul urges the Philippian Christians to “[contend] as one man for the faith of the gospel” (verse 27c). That is, they are to present a single message that communicates the Good News clearly and effectively.

We can run into three problems in our evangelism. First, we can opt out altogether and keep the Good News all to ourselves. Jesus urged his disciples to become “fishers of men.” Too many Christians today are no longer fishers of men but keepers of the aquarium.

Second, we can share part of it and withhold the rest.

Third, as a church or a denomination, we can present a variety of messages that confuse or distract those who are seeking the truth. We need to avoid these pitfalls, and present a clear, united voice saturated with love and compassion, that will turn people’s hearts and encourage them to say “Yes” to God.


The third benefit of a consistent life that honours the gospel is a courageous attitude that strengthens our faith in Christ. Paul wraps up his exhortation by saying, “stand fast . . . contend . . . 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” (verse 28).

There’s one thing we can be sure of as we seek to live a Christ- honouring life and contend for the gospel, and that is opposition – both from the human heart that resists the grace of God, and from our adversary the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Peter goes on to say, “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering” (verse 9).

Paul offers a similar explanation to the Philippians: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have” (Philippians 1:29-30).

He casts their present suffering in terms of their relationship with Christ, and then in terms of what they have seen and heard of his own experience as he contended for the gospel. It may be that the Philippian jailor, and Lydia, and the young girl whom Paul released from spiritual bondage, were recipients of this letter, and they could recall the hard time Paul had in Philippi and other places.

I like the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of one of my heroes of the recent past, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She said on one occasion, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . . . You must do the thing you cannot do.”

Otherwise, the really important things in life just won’t get done. Fear is a powerful emotion, but with the Holy Spirit strengthening you, and with a united and praying church behind you, anything is possible!

And we’re all in the struggle together. Paul’s imprisonment, and their oppression, and whatever holds you and me back from living the Good News and sharing it with others, comes from the same anti- gospel source, and we all need to stand firm and contend as a united team for the sake of those who have not yet been introduced to Jesus.


The enemy is outside! In the Western world, the physical opposition is light, and the struggle is largely a battle for the mind, with secularism, atheism and postmodernism rising up as powerful enemies of the cross. But in Africa and Asia and the nations where Islam is entrenched, the struggle is physical, on a daily basis, as well as in the world of ideas and ideology.

As we start this week, let us live as worthy citizens of our heavenly home, let us stand firm in one spirit, devoting ourselves to the unity of the body of Christ, contending as one for the Good News, without being overwhelmed or intimidated by our opposition.

And let us pray for our brothers and sisters in other places who experience real physical suffering, whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by their witness for Christ. “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”


E042 Copyright (c) 2000 Rod Benson. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1980).

You can contact Rev Rod Benson by e-mail at <>. To subscribe direct to his weekly sermons, e-mail him with “subscribe” in the subject.


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