Philippians 1:27–30

Philippians 1:27–30

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Philipp Jakob Spener was an interesting man.

He was a 17th-century Lutheran believer who became disenchanted with what he saw as the coldness and empty formality of the Lutheran church. In response to this, Spener called for a rebirth of experiential Christianity, that is, a Christianity in which believers had an actual experience of conversion and grace that gave way to lives of true holiness. Spener sought to create a collegia pietatis (pious assembly) within the church: small groups of intensely-committed Christians who would seek actually to live out the Christian faith. The Wikipedia article on Spener offers a nice summary.

Spener wanted to strengthen and renew the church through the development of more knowledgeable and devoted members. In his Pia Desideria, he gave six proposals of how to enact this reform: (1) to more thoroughly acquaint believers with Scripture by means of private readings and study groups in addition to preaching; (2) to increase the involvement of laity in all functions of the church; (3) to emphasize that believers put into practice their faith and knowledge of God; (4) to approach religious discussions with humility and love, avoiding controversy whenever possible; (5) to ensure that pastors are both well-educated and pious; and (6) to focus preaching on developing faith in ordinary believers.[1]

Now, for some people, “pietism,” the name usually associated with Spener’s movement, is a bad word. It has, for some, connotations of a highly-individualistic, inward-experience-focused brand of legalistic Christianity. Some also point out that Spener’s proposals attempt to create a church within the church, a group of actual Christians among otherwise nominal Christians.

I think, personally, that some of this is unfair to Spener and some of it might have a point. We also need to distinguish at certain points between what Spener was trying to do and what actually happened with some attempts to implement his ideas.

This much seems to be true: Spener appears to have been operating out of an actual, sincere sense of frustration that the churches he knew were not producing disciples. Furthermore, Spener seems to have understood clearly that the church is called to be a called-out and holy people. So whatever faults he might have had, I do not think Spener’s overall project of wanting to see the church renewed was a bad one. In fact, I think his overall desire was one with which the apostle Paul would likely have been sympathetic. After all, in Philippians 1:27–30, Paul appears to be calling the church to greater devotion, to unity, to Christlikeness, and to holiness in their lives. Let us see how Paul does this.

The church must stand firm together in the Holy Spirit.

Paul has been sharing with the church what he is thinking, where his own heart and mind are in his imprisonment. Now he pivots to turn his attention to them, to the church at Philippi, to where their hearts and minds need to be. He starts with a most interesting statement.

27a-b Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ

The New International Version translates this as:

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

It is interesting to note that Paul clearly believes, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the gospel makes certain obvious demands on our lives. It is possible for our lives to be out of sync with the gospel. It is possible for our lives to be in sync with the gospel. And Paul is saying that he wants our lives to be in sync with the gospel, to be “worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

His reference to our “manner of life being worthy” or our “conduct” being worthy is most interesting here. There is actually a political connotation in this language. Frank Thielman writes:

The word that the NIV translates “conduct yourselves” (politeuesthe) is unusual and probably carries a deeper significance than is immediately apparent from most English translations…In other ancient Greek literature it sometimes means to “have one’s citizenship” or “home” in a certain city or state, to “rule” or “govern the state,” or simply to “live, conduct oneself, or lead one’s life.”[2]

Gordon Fee translates the beginning of verse 27 as “living out your citizenship—the heavenly one of course—in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” He continues:

…Paul is here making a play on their “dual citizenship”—of the empire by virtue of their being Philippians; of heaven by virtue of their faith in Christ and incorporation into the believing community…As Philippi was a colony of Rome in Macedonia, so the church was a “colony of heaven” in Philippi, whose members were to live as its citizens in Philippi.[3]

Many commentators over the years have suggested that the people of Philippi were particularly proud of their Roman citizenship and of the fact that their city was a colony of Rome, a much-respected legal designation. They reveled in their citizenship. So Paul is likely playing off of this idea and saying, “Remember this: The citizenship you should be most grateful for is your citizenship in the kingdom. Conduct yourself as citizens of the kingdom, of which the gospel is the great good news and Jesus is the King!”

The gospel carries with it not only implications for our eternal home but also implications for our immediate behavior. Continuing in verse 27, Paul spells out an initial behavioral implication for the church on the basis of the gospel.

27a-f Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit…

The church must stand firm together in the Holy Spirit.

We may be tempted to read “standing firm in one spirit” as merely an encouragement to stay on the same page and maintain a strong sense of group solidarity. But “spirit,” translated in the lowercase here, is probably better read as “Holy Spirit.” Gordon Fee has argued that “several matters indicate that Paul is instead referring to their standing firm in the Spirit.” These include:

  • “…‘in one spirit,’ which seems to make perfectly good sense to us, in fact has no analogy in Greek literature, especially not in Paul and the NT.”
  • “…most significantly, Paul himself uses this very language (‘in one Spirit’) in another Prison Epistle (Eph 2:18; cf. 4:4) as well as in 1 Cor 12:13 to describe the Holy Spirit, precisely in passages where the emphasis is on believers’ common experience of the one Spirit as the basis for unity.”[4]

This is an important distinction. Paul is not calling for a unity of some vague notion of the human spirit. No, he is calling on the church to “stand firm in” the Holy Spirit of God!

God’s Spirit is therefore operative and manifested in the unity of the body of Christ. Nor is the Holy Spirit a weak adhesive. The Holy Spirit binds us together. The Holy Spirit draws our hearts together in:

  • a shared conviction concerning our need for repentance;
  • a shared conviction concerning the truth and beauty of the gospel;
  • a shared love for one another;
  • a shared passion to see the Kingdom of God expand in the world;
  • a shared mind in right and true doctrine based on God’s word;
  • a shared desire to offer right and true worship to the Lord;
  • a shared desire to live lives of holiness and goodness.

And on and on we could go.

Church, we must stand firm together in the Holy Spirit! Our unity must be God-given, Spirit-empowered, and Christ-conformed. This means that anything that might be in our lives that would threaten or attempt to erode the Spirit’s binding must be strongly and instantly rejected!

The church must strive side by side for the faith of the gospel.

And, having planted our feet in the binding power of the Spirit, Paul tells us what we must next do and be:

27g-h …with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel

That “one mind” reference harkens us back to the “one spirit” immediately preceding this. In the Holy Spirit we have one mind and so, out of that, we “strive side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

Side by side, church! We are bound together in Christ, covenanted, commissioned, and sent together. The church of Jesus must stand together!

“Blessed are the peacemakers…” Jesus said. (Matthew 5:9)

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” Paul said. (Philippians 2:3)

The absence of peace destroys unity. Selfish ambition destroys unity.

We must be of “one mind” and not fractured.

Frank Thielman has helpfully pointed to Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and his “seven principles for eradicating selfish ambition from Christian communities. Christians, [Bonhoeffer] says, should:”

  • hold their tongues, refusing to speak uncharitably about a Christian brother;
  • cultivate the humility that comes from understanding that they, like Paul, are the greatest of sinners and can only live in God’s sight by his grace;
  • listen “long and patiently” so that they will understand their fellow Christian’s need;
  • refuse to consider their time and calling so valuable that they cannot be interrupted to help with unexpected needs, no matter how small or menial;
  • bear the burden of their brothers and sisters in the Lord, both by preserving their freedom and by forgiving their sinful abuse of that freedom;
  • declare God’s word to their fellow believers when they need to hear it;
  • understand that Christian authority is characterized by service and does not call attention to the person who performs the service.[5]

We must live side by side, brothers, sisters! We must be of one mind!

And not merely that! We must share in a common striving:

27g-h …with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel

The gospel, then, is the basis and measurement of our own transformation. It is also that for which we strive, that which we seek to advance in the world. We stand as stewards of the gospel, defenders of the gospel, and advancers of the gospel! And we do this best when we do it together!

Many of us are familiar through movies and shows with the idea of the ancient phalanx, the fighting formation in which soldiers would stand tightly together creating a single, shielded entity that was largely impenetrable. In this way, they could push forward against the enemy and strike out at the enemy, normally with long spears. The phalanx is oftentimes associated with Sparta and with Greece, but it predates these usages, for instance in what is likely the earliest depiction of a phalanx: the Stele of the Vultures from 2400 BC which depicts the victorious army of King Eannatum of Lagesh over Umma.[6]

It is a powerful picture: human beings interlocking their shields and, indeed, their very lives, in order to form, defensively, a single protective unit and, offensively, an effective means for advance. The church does this, except we do it with the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.

27g-h …with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel

I ask you: Do you see your life as a believer as a unified “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”? Or are you Lone Rangering the Christian life? Are you out there by yourself, indifferent to the larger body of Christ? Do you see yourself as having a mission for gospel advance? If not, why? What then is the body of Christ to you? What shared calling do you see yourself as having with the church at large? Do you not see yourself as part of something bigger than yourself?

The church must not be frightened by the devil’s attacks, even if they mean suffering.

There is a third way that we conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel. Paul continues the imagery he has been unpacking.

28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Part of conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel is by not being afraid, by not being “frightened in anything by your opponents.”

The church throughout time has had opponents. Sometimes those opponents come in the brute force of state persecution. Sometimes they come with the subtle dagger of public mockery. Sometimes these opponents come in your own home: a spouse who sneers at your devotion to Christ, parents who taunt your weekly worship, a sibling who calls you “Holier than Thou!”

Paul is calling upon the church to stand firm, to stand united in the Holy Spirit, to strive for the faith, and to not be afraid.

And what happens when we refuse to fear? We stand as a sign of the devil’s destruction and of our salvation. We say by our refusal to despair that we know who our King is, where our home is, and who our family is.

We will have opponents. Indeed, “it has been granted” to us for Christ’s sake that we “should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” How can Paul say that suffering for Christ has been “granted” to us, as if it is some kind of gift? Because, as we have seen earlier in Philippians 1, God can use our courageous suffering to advance the gospel just as He did Paul’s.

Paul is calling upon the church to be a radically Christ-conformed, cross-carrying, gospel-extolling people who are willing to pay whatever price we need to pay in order to truly be followers of Jesus. The world does not need a shallow church, a plastic church, a posturing church, an unbelieving church. The world needs us to be this kind of church!

In his memoir, Hannah’s Child, Stanley Hauerwas writes:

People often ask, “Where is the church you allege is so central for the world? Where is the church that is the necessary condition for rightly knowing the way things are?”[7]

Let it be found here, now, in us.

Let us be this kind of church, the church that faithfully communicates “the way things are”: that there is a King who has a kingdom He has invited us into through His death and resurrection.

Let us be this kind of church: grounded, advancing, proclaiming, and unafraid.

The world needs to see this kind of church.

We must, by God’s grace, be this kind of church.



[2] Thielman, Frank S. Philippians (The NIV Application Commentary Book 11) (pp.92-93). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.

[3] Fee, Gordon D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT)) (pp.161-162). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

[4] Fee, Gordon D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, p.164–166.

[5] Thielman, Frank S. Philippians (The NIV Application Commentary Book 11) (p. 107). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.


[7] Hauerwas, Stanley. Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (Stanley Hauerwas) – Highlight Loc. 3155-56 | Added on Wednesday, September 22, 2010, 11:00 AM

One thought on “Philippians 1:27–30

  1. Trying to live in TWO worlds at the same time; some of us got our politeuesthe all tangled up into a mess and paid dearly for the mixed up mess it turned into BUT God sent Wym my way and a better day began to dawn then even if it took a long time; Hope sprang up and new life became believable again. Your off script remarks are priceless like Spener’s forehead and thanks to you me found the direct connection between his forehead and that of Christian Thomasius who kicked off the early version of the Enlightenment (a bridge of sorts). They both had to stand up to that generations version of a church-state mixture. Those hair dos are kinda special and the “robes & vestments” of both seem odd to us moderns. Mr. Thomasius seems pretty BIG on freedom of speech and he paid dearly for that assertion; he also had definite convictions about what NOT to do to aetheist and witches. Thank you Dr. Richardson. That little “s” vs. Spirit me missed all my days 🙂 now CBCNLR can share their politeuesthe with a local theologian & Abby Normal as well if/when it comes up

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