A. The Pattern for a Sanctified Walk (1:27)
In the earlier verses in this chapter, Paul acknowledged he had a desire to depart and be with Christ, which was far better, but he recognized their need for him to continue to live in order to minister to their needs. On this basis he expected to be released from prison. The word “only” which begins verse 27 points back to these facts and expresses Paul’s concern that they give heed to his doctrine. The remainder of the letter deals with the spiritual needs of these believers and how these needs are met by Paul’s teaching.
Following the word “only” in the Greek New Testament is the Greek word axios, or worthily. It is translated “as becometh” in the King James Version. It is the word “worthy” of Ephesians 4:1 and always suggests a pair of scales which balance a known weight against an unknown mass in order to determine its weight. In Ephesians 4:1our walk is to balance (weigh as much as) our high calling; in Romans 16:2, we are told to show hospitality to our fellow saints in a way that balances our being saints; here in Philippians 1:27 our way of living should balance the gospel we preach.
The word “conversation” is the imperative form of a verb (middle voice), which means “conduct yourselves” or “behave yourselves.” Its basic connotation is to live. Bishop H. C. G. Moule says it may be translated as “live your citizen-life.” It means to live, not in the sense of mere existence, but so as to follow a course of principle and order. The reference to “citizenship” in the word (found again in 3:20) is likely because Philippi was a colony of Rome and its citizens enjoyed all the privileges of Roman citizenship.
Paul uses this fact to illustrate our heavenly citizenship. The Philippians lived in Philippi, but they were considered citizens of the capital of the empire, Rome. This gave them all of the privileges and responsibilities of living as special citizens of Rome itself. Similarly, we are living in the world, but our citizenship is in heaven. This gives us all the privileges of heavenly citizenship, and all the responsibilities of living as heavenly citizens as ambassadors for Christ should live. The present tense of the verb denotes this should be a continuous action.
B. The Plea for Spiritual Unity (1:27,28)
1. Stand Firm
The purpose in asking them to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ is so they might “stand firm in one spirit.” We are to “stand fast” (or firm) in the faith (1 Corinthians 16:13); in freedom from legal bondage (Galatians 5:1); in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 3:8; Philippians 4:1); in the Apostle’s teaching (2 Thessalonians 2:15); and in one spirit (Philippians 1:27).
2. Strive Together
We are not only to take a firm stand in one spirit, but we are to “strive together with one soul in the faith of the gospel.” The expression “strive together” is the same as we find in Philippians 4:3, “labored with.” It is our word for athlete or athletics, with a prefix meaning “together with.” We are to work together with the same zeal, enthusiasm and cooperation an athletic team shows. There is no room for laziness and loafing, no place for loners looking for glory for themselves. It must be a team effort, and the goal is “the faith of the gospel.”
3. Show Courage
Paul told the Philippians they must not be “frightened in any way by those who oppose you” (1:28). The word translated “adversaries” in our Authorized Version literally means “those who are standing against you.” This implies they were facing persecution. Paul encouraged them to show courage, not fear. This persecution and suffering might appear to the unbelieving world to be punishment from God because of His disapproval of their lives, but believers know persecution from the world is often evidence of a life in fellowship with the Lord, one which has His approval. Paul himself had endured the same type of persecution, as they knew quite well (1:30), and it was the result of his standing firmly and striving together with other believers for the faith of the gospel.
C. The Privilege of Suffering (1:29,30)
Dr. Lehman Strauss in his DEVOTIONAL STUDIES IN PHILIPPIANS shares the following timely thoughts (pp. 100-101):
This verse (1:29) simply tells us that the privilege has been bestowed upon us to suffer in the place of Christ. We know it is not possible for any sinner to share in our Lord’s expiatory sufferings which He experienced at Calvary. But we can suffer for righteousness’ sake, even as He suffered. Faith in Christ and suffering for Christ are inseparable experiences. The very fact that a man identifies himself with Jesus Christ will result in his suffering for his Lord. Jesus said: “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
Paul wrote a little later: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
To believe in Christ in our day means the very opposite of hardship and suffering. It has come to mean that the believer now has a place in a church pew where he can sit snugly and smugly. But when the child of God takes his place in the battle against evil, the devil will see to it that he has plenty of opposition. Paul speaks of such suffering as a favor granted of God. Actually it is a part of the grace of God bestowed on Christians when we are called to share the sufferings of Christ. The apostles realized this when called upon to suffer. “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).
Suffering may differ today in meaning from its meaning in the early days of the Church. By that I mean that it may not mean bodily torment, imprisonment, starvation, and even a torturous death, but it will always be the price one pays when he sincerely and uncompromisingly identifies himself with Jesus Christ. To stand, to strive, to suffer always has been the experience of those who love the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Paul’s personal experience when he wrote this Epistle, and it is his plea to each of us.
Alfred L. Greenway, in THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS, A STUDY MANUAL, puts it quite to the point when he states on page 31, “The Christian who continues to attract the antagonism of the world because he proclaims the message of salvation will suffer in the place of Christ who is in heaven.”
In his book, LETTERS FROM PRISON, Stuart Allen comments (page 200):
Such suffering then did not come by accident. The Lord was in control, and rather than being a mark of His displeasure, it was one of His approval. And moreover, the Lord identified Himself with the suffering of His children, as Paul doubtless remembered from the words of the Savior when He arrested him so dramatically on the road to Damascus and said, “I am Jesus, Whom thou persecutest” (Acts 9:4,5). Paul reminds the Philippians they were not only being tested, but he himself was sharing in their sufferings, in his Roman prison. This he emphasizes by the word “same” (1:30) … They were engaged in a common struggle, in part of which they had seen him involved in the early days at Philippi.
And the veteran Greek scholar and teacher, Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in his PHILIPPIANS IN THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, page 54, says:
He has left with the Church the message of salvation, the preaching of which draws the antagonism of the world. Thus, as the saints suffer for righteousness’ sake, they substitute for their absent Lord not only in the task of preaching the message He has given them but also in suffering for His sake and in His stead.