The Christian life is not a playground; it is a battleground. We are children in the family, enjoying the fellowship of the Gospel (Phil. 1:1–11), and we are servants sharing in the advance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12–26); but we are also soldiers defending the faith of the Gospel. The believer with the single mind can have the joy of the Holy Spirit even in the midst of battle.
“The faith of the Gospel” is that body of divine truth given to the church. Jude calls it “the faith which was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3). God committed or entrusted this spiritual treasure to Paul (1 Tim. 1:11) and he in turn committed it to others, like Timothy (1 Tim. 6:20), whose responsibility was to commit this truth to still others (2 Tim. 2:2). This is why the church must engage in a teaching ministry, so that each new generation of believers will know, appreciate, and use the great heritage of the faith.
Paul warns “in the latter times some will abandon the faith, and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). There is an enemy who is out to steal the treasure from God’s people. Paul had met the enemy in Philippi and he was now facing him in Rome. If Satan can only rob believers of their Christian faith, the doctrines that are distinctively theirs, then he can cripple and defeat the ministry of the Gospel. It is sad to hear people say, “I don’t care what you believe, just so long as you live right.” What we believe determines how we behave, and wrong belief ultimately means a wrong life. Each local church is but one generation short of potential extinction. No wonder Satan attacks our young people in particular, seeking to get them away from “the faith.”
How can a group of Christians fight this enemy? “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world” (2 Cor. 10:4). When Peter took up a sword in the Garden, Jesus rebuked him (Jn. 18:10–11). We use spiritual weapons—the Word of God and prayer (Eph. 6:11–18; Heb. 4:12); and we must depend on the Holy Spirit to give us the power we need. But a victorious army must fight together, and this is why Paul sends these admonitions to his friends at Philippi. He is explaining in these verses that there are three essentials for victory in the battle to protect “the faith.”
Do you know the old English word conversation means “walk” and not talk? The most important weapon against the enemy is not a stirring sermon or a powerful book; it is the consistent life of believers.
The verb Paul uses is related to our word politics. He is saying, “Behave the way citizens are supposed to behave.” We Christians are citizens of heaven and while we are on earth, we ought to behave like heaven’s citizens (he brings this concept up again in Phil. 3:20). It would be a very meaningful expression to the people in Philippi because Philippi was a Roman colony, and its citizens were actually Roman citizens, protected by Roman law. The church of Jesus Christ is a colony of heaven on earth! And we ought to behave like the citizens of heaven.
“Am I conducting myself in a manner worthy of the Gospel?” is a good question for us to ask ourselves regularly. We should “walk … worthy of the calling” we have in Christ (Eph. 4:1), which means to “live a life worthy of the Lord, so we may please Him in every way” (Col. 1:10). We do not behave in order to go to heaven, as though we could be saved by our good works; but we behave because our names are already written in heaven, and our citizenship is in heaven. It is worth remembering the world around us only knows the Gospel it sees in our lives.
“The Gospel” is the Good News Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again (1 Cor. 15:1–8). There is only one “Good News” of salvation; any other gospel is false (Gal. 1:6–10). The message of the Gospel is the Good News that sinners can become the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son (Jn. 3:16). To add anything to the Gospel is to deprive it of its power. We are not saved from our sins by faith in Christ plus something else; we are saved by faith in Christ alone.
“Our neighbors believe a false gospel,” a church member told his pastor. “Do you have some literature I can give them?”
The pastor opened his Bible to 2 Corinthians 3:2, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.” He said, “The best literature in the world is no substitute for your own life. Let them see Christ in your behavior and this will open up opportunities to share Christ’s Gospel with them.”
The greatest weapon against the devil is a godly life. And a local church that practices the truth, that “behaves what it believes,” is going to defeat the enemy. This is the first essential for victory in this battle.
Paul now changes the illustration from politics to athletics. The Greek word translated “striving together” gives us our English word “athletics.” Paul pictures the church as a team and he reminds them it is teamwork that wins victories.
Keep in mind there was division in the church at Philippi. For one thing, two women were not getting along with each other (Phil. 4:2). Apparently the members of the fellowship were taking sides, as is often the case, and the resulting division was hindering the work of the church. The enemy is always happy to see internal divisions in a local ministry. “Divide and conquer!” is his motto and too often he has his way. It is only as believers stand together that they can overcome the wicked one.
Jerry was disgusted and he decided to tell the basketball coach how he felt. “There’s no sense coming out for practice anymore,” he complained. “Mike is the team—you don’t need the rest of us.”
Coach Gardner knew the trouble. “Look, Jerry, just because Mike gets many of the chances to shoot doesn’t mean the rest of you guys aren’t needed. Somebody has to set things up at the basket, and that’s where you come in.”
Sometimes, a team has a “glory hog” who has to be in the spotlight and get all the praise. Usually, he makes it difficult for the rest of the team. They aren’t working equally together, but are working to make one person look good. It is this attitude that makes for defeat.
Sadly, we have some “glory hogs” in the church. John had to deal with a man named Diotrephes because the man “loved to have preeminence” (3 Jn. 9). Even the Apostles James and John asked to have special thrones (Matt. 20:20–28). The important word is together: standing firmly “together” in one spirit, striving “together” against the enemy, and doing it “together” with one mind and heart.
It is not difficult to expand this idea of the local church as a team of athletes. Each person has his assigned place and job, and if each one is doing his job, it helps all the others. Not everybody can be captain or quarterback! The team has to follow the rules and the Word of God is our “rule book.” There is one goal—to honor Christ and do His will. If we all work together, we can reach the goal, win the prize, and glorify the Lord. But as soon as any one of us starts disobeying the rules, breaking training (the Christian life does demand discipline), or looking for glory, the teamwork disappears, and division and competition take over.
In other words, Paul is reminding us again of the need for the single mind. There is joy in our lives, even as we battle the enemy, if we live for Christ and the Gospel and practice “Christian teamwork.” Of course, there are some people with whom we cannot cooperate (2 Cor. 6:14–18; Eph. 5:11); but there are many with whom we can—and should! We are citizens of heaven and therefore should walk consistently. We are members of the same “team” and should work cooperatively.
But there is a third essential for success as we face the enemy and that is confidence.
“Don’t be alarmed by your opponents!” In these verses, Paul gives us three encouragements that give us confidence in the battle.
1. These battles prove we are saved (1:29). We not only believe on Christ, but also suffer for Christ. Paul calls this “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). For some reason, many new believers have the idea that trusting Christ means the end of their battles. In reality, it means the beginning of new battles. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
2. The presence of conflict is a privilege; we suffer “for His sake.” In fact, Paul tells us this conflict is “granted” to us—it is a gift! If we were suffering for ourselves, it would be no privilege; but because we are suffering for and with Christ, it is a high and holy honor. After all, He suffered for us, and a willingness to suffer for Him is the very least we can do to show our love and gratitude.
3. Others are experiencing the same conflict (1:30). Satan wants us to think we are alone in the battle, that our difficulties are unique, but such is not the case. Paul reminded the Philippians that he was going through the same difficulties they were experiencing hundreds of miles from Rome! A change in geography is usually no solution to spiritual problems because human nature is the same wherever you go and the enemy is everywhere.
Actually, going through spiritual conflict is one way we have to grow in Christ. God gives us the strength we need to stand firm against the enemy, and this confidence is proof to him that he will lose and we are on the winning side (1:28). The Philippians had seen Paul go through conflict when he was with them (Acts 16:19) and they had witnessed his firmness in the Lord. Knowing my fellow believers are also sharing in the battle is an encouragement for me to keep going and to pray for them as I pray for myself.
As we face the enemy and depend on the Lord, He gives us all we need for the battle. When the enemy sees our God-given confidence, it makes him fear. The single mind enables us to have joy in the midst of battle because it produces in us consistency, cooperation, and confidence. We experience the joy of “spiritual teamwork” as we strive together for the faith of the Gospel.