In 1778, during the American Revolution, John Adams of Massachusetts was needed by his young country as an ambassador in Europe. His 10-year-old son Johnny (John Quincy Adams) would accompany his father on the trip. It was an amazing opportunity for such a young man, but, as you might imagine, his mother Abigail was concerned. Just after he left, she wrote him a long letter which he would receive when he arrived. In it, she encouraged her young son:
“Improve your understanding for acquiring useful knowledge and virtue, such as will render you an ornament to society, an honor to your country, and a blessing to your parents … and remember that you are accountable to your Maker for all your words and actions.”
That was a great letter from a mother to her son — and on this Mothers Day, we might say it is the kind of advice that a LOT of moms might wish their child to heed: to learn, to grow, to be useful in service, to make us proud — and to remember you are accountable to God for everything.
In fact, that’s not too different from what we find Paul writing to the Philippians here in 1:27-30 — which is not too surprising, because he was the Philippians’ spiritual “parent” in a very real sense. He had planted this church; he led them to the Lord, and they were his “spiritual children.” What kind of “conduct” did he want to see from his children? It’s the same kind of conduct that we want to see in OUR children — and that God wants to see in each of us as HIS children too, as we see in this text:
I. Worthy Behavior
Paul writes his spiritual children: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” This has to be one of the best overall pieces of advice that any person can be given: conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel.
When Abigail Adams wrote her son John Quincy, she admonished him to be “an honor to his country.” She was saying: your father is going to Europe as an ambassador of the United States. He will be representing our country. And YOU are going as a representative of our country as well. Make sure that you are an honor to your country while you are there. Don’t let people think poorly of America, because of YOUR bad words, actions, or attitudes. You are representing your home country.
In the same way, God is telling US as His children: “I want you to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” As Christians, we are representing our “home country” too — and that “home country” is not the United States, or even Texas! Paul says later in this book (3:20), “our citizenship is in heaven.” If you are a Christian, you are not ultimately a citizen of this world; you are ultimately a citizen of Heaven. And God is saying here, WALK in a manner worthy of the gospel of heaven. Make sure that your LIFE matches your claim to be a citizen of heaven. We’ve talked about this before: you are His representative (wearing His uniform!) wherever you are, whatever you say and whatever you do.
I’ve shared before that the book Karen Rohr loaned me, “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” was one of the best books I’ve ever read. It tells the story of a young Muslim man who eventually comes to Jesus. (I shared a bit of his testimony on Easter Sunday, about how even as a Muslim, he couldn’t deny the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus.) Well, one day in his early teenage years, Nabeel’s mother Ammi said to him: “You will always be an ambassador for Islam … When people see your face, they will think, ‘He is a Muslim boy!’ It doesn’t matter what you do. You could be the valedictorian, and they will think, ‘Look at the Muslim valedictorian!’ You could be the President of the United States, and they will think, ‘Look at the Muslim president!’ … This is a good thing. (she said) It is a blessing and an opportunity for you to represent Islam and to help people understand its beauty. Become the valedictorian, so people will think, ‘Wow, Islam produces good students!’ Become the president, so people will think, ‘Islam makes good leaders!’ But even if you become a janitor, be the very best. …
Whatever you do, be the most respectful, honest, and dignified one doing it, so that people will praise Islam. Treat your teachers with the utmost respect! Treat them like you would treat me. When I visit them, I want to hear them tell me that you are the most respectful student in the class. … Be such a virtuous person that no one can even point a finger of blame at you. … They will know that Islam has made you the good person you are.”
(Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, pp. 74-75)
Take the word “Islam” out of what she said, and put the word “Christian” in it, and I could not think of a better exhortation for every Christian. Do everything you do, the best you can do it — whether it is president of the United States, or the janitor at the school — in such a way that will glorify the God you serve. “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.”
We’ve talked about this before: TOO many people in South Texas have encountered too many people who claimed to be Christians, but who didn’t “conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel,” and it has turned them away from the Lord, perhaps forever. You’ve GOT to realize how important this is. Everything you do, everything you say, the way you live, wherever you are, impacts other people either FOR or against the gospel. In other words, the way you live can literally either lead someone to heaven or to hell. That’s why we HAVE to take this seriously. If you are a follower of Jesus, you’ve got to “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.”
II. Family Unity
Notice there are TWO indications of that in :27:
— “standing firm in ONE SPIRIT”
— “with ONE MIND striving together for the gospel”
You see that? “ONE … ONE …”. He says I want you to be “ONE;” I want you to be united in God’s service. God wants to see UNITY in the children of His family.
In His last, High Priestly prayer Jesus prayed here on earth before He went to the cross, in some of the very last words He spoke, He asked the Father: “that they may be one, just as We are one ; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, THAT THE WORLD MAY KNOW that You sent Me …”. (John 17:22-23) These were almost the last words Jesus spoke here on earth, and His request was just what Paul asks for here: that His children would be united, “one.” It’s so important. Again, He says it is part of our witness to the world. Jesus prayed this “THAT the world may know that You sent Me.” When God’s people are united; it is a powerful witness to the world. But when God’s people are divided and fighting among themselves, the world shakes its head at us, and says, “there’s those Baptists fighting again.”
That’s why Jesus says this is SO important. Being united before the world may determine whether someone who is watching will go to heaven or to hell. That’s why we are going to see in the first verses of Philippians 2 that it is so important that we don’t “merely look out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” That we “make others more important than ourselves.” Because is is not just about us; it is not just about getting our way. It’s a witness to the world. Be willing to NOT get your way; be willing to lose out on an issue because you realize that being unified and our witness to the world is more important than whether you get your way on that thing. We need to be willing to do whatever we need to do, short of compromising the fundamentals of the faith, to keep the unity in the family of God.
Many of you know that Cheryl & I have 4 children — we just got back from a long trip to see our youngest graduate, and help him get established in an apartment, get a job, and start his life in the world. But like all parents, we enjoy it when our whole family gets together — and one of the most gratifying things to a parent — and many of you all know this same feeling — is when your kids are all together, and they are just playing some game, or laughing together, ALL unified; ALL enjoying each other. It’s just one of the best feelings on earth to a parent.
And God is the same way. He says in Psalm 133, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity. It is like precious oil coming down upon the head, coming down on the beard, even Aaron’s beard; it is like the dew of Hermon …”. God says there in such expressive words how important the unity of His children is to Him. It is a huge desire, and a huge priority of His — and we need to make it OUR priority too, to make and keep the unity of His children in the church.
Those of you who are members here at First Baptist Angleton know that I am not preaching this because we have a lot of problems with disunity in our church. We don’t. Thank God, by His grace we are a very loving, very unified church. But we have to know that the devil is always looking for an opportunity. He is always looking to bring something up in the church that you don’t like, and he will try to use it to put a “wedge” between you and someone else in the church, and you will be tempted to “make a fuss” over it. You think twice about that. You think three times about it — and don’t do it! Whatever that thing is; whatever that issue is — unless it is a denial of a fundamental doctrine like the Resurrection of Christ from the dead — it is not worth causing disharmony in the church. Be ready to make whatever sacrifice is necessary, to make and keep the unity of God’s family. It is a huge priority to Him, and it needs to be a huge priority to us as well. God wants His children to keep family unity. It is vital both for our own spiritual health, and for our witness to the world.
III. Successful Mission
Paul tells the Philippians here he wants to see them “standing firm,” and “striving together for the gospel.” There are two things here he wants to see them doing successfully in their mission as a church:
A. “standing firm” — you “stand firm” against something that is coming against you. In warfare, when an enemy unit is rushing against you, you “stand firm” and do not retreat from your position.
What comes against us as Christians? Temptations, attacks from Satan, perverse doctrines that distort God’s glory in the gospel. Satan sends all these things against us in the church, and Paul says he wants to see us “stand firm” against them.
We must be aware that there are satanic attacks that are rushing against the church today: trying to influence us to turn away from the historic faith, and compromise with modern culture.
Pastor A.W. Tozer, writing in the 1950’s, warned the church against some of the “currents” he was seeing coming against the church then: using celebrities who were barely saved and who were not spiritually mature, to try to promote the Kingdom; “whitewashing” worldly methods to use in the church; giving the church over to politics instead of focusing on the GOD’s kingdom’s work. He admonished the American church of the 1950’s and 60’s to reject these compromising attacks of the enemy, predicting that they would weaken the church. Unfortunately, most churches did NOT heed Tozer, and now whole denominations have been totally compromised and virtually neutralized for the work of the gospel. The fact is, many so-called “churches” don’t even believe basic gospel any more. They did not “stand firm” against the attacks of the enemy.
And now today, what was once a “stream” of compromising tendencies has become a “torrent.” In many churches today, the Bible has been cast aside as irrelevant. Doctrines and practices which have distinguished the Christian church for centuries have been cast aside in favor of more “progressive” beliefs. Deviant sexual practices which are as clearly prohibited and condemned as anything taught in the word of God are now not only accepted in the membership of many churches, but they are also being openly celebrated and practiced by the so-called “ministers” who are leading them. To hold on to the truth of God’s word today is to be called “old fashioned,” “narrow minded”, “bigoted,” and to be ridiculed by the mainline media.
Against all of this, the faithful church of the Lord Jesus Christ must STAND FIRM. God says here, I want to hear that you are “standing firm.” DO NOT GIVE IN to the torrent of modern “progressiveness” that is carrying so many away. STAND FIRM:
— stand firm that the Bible is the inspired word of God and is our one final authority
— stand firm that Jesus Christ is “the way the truth and the life,” and that He is the only way to heaven
— stand firm that in the beginning God created us male and female, and said “for this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
That’s not what we’re going to hear from the world, and there is going to be a LOT of pressure to compromise. But “STAND FIRM” church of God. The Lord did not strategically plant us out here by one of the busiest highways in Texas so that we could be “blown about by every wind of doctrine.” He planted us out here to STAND FIRM!
And what Satan is trying to do to us as churches, he is also trying to do to us as individuals. He’s trying to get you to “give in” on something you know is not right — I may be speaking right now to someone this morning; you know what you are wrestling with — you know what you are tempted to to compromise with — DO NOT give in to it. “Stand firm!”
B. “striving together for the gospel”
We need to “stand firm” against the attacks of the enemy upon our faith. But as Christians, we are not supposed to just be staying “on defense” all the time, resisting Satan’s attacks. We are supposed to be moving FORWARD in God’s kingdom’s work. That means sharing the gospel. Paul calls it here: “Striving together for the gospel.” That means we are to be working together to share the gospel in the world.
“The gospel,” as we have seen, is the heart of Christianity. It is the basic story of what Jesus has done for us: I Corinthian 15 says the gospel is that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” THAT is “the gospel.” THAT is the message we are supposed to be getting out into the world.
And notice He says we are to be “striving together” for the gospel.”
“Striving together” is “sun-athleo”, “athleo” is the Greek word we get our word “athlete” from. So this is saying we are to be athletically striving — not AGAINST each other, but WITH each other — NOT to win a “sports medal,” but striving together to get the gospel into the world.
This is what God has put us here for as a church. He didn’t plant us here just so that we would have a better, more comfortable place to have fellowships! Now, don’t mistake me, we ARE to have fellowships in the church — but our MAIN purpose here is not our own comfort and fellowship, but to work together to get the GOSPEL into the world: the gospel that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures”!
And notice that He says we are to strive “TOGETHER” to do this. This is important. It is not just that each of us is to strive to share the gospel, although we each ARE to try to do that. But TOGETHER we can do more than we can individually:
— together we can staff a complete Sunday School organization so that no matter what age group a person is in, we have a place for them to come on Sunday morning and learn the word of God. You alone can’t be a Sunday School and reach all age groups by yourself — but working together with others from our church, we can provide that vital ministry together!
— it’s hard for just one person to try to reach out to a neighborhood like we did with the neighborhoods around our church, but all working together, we can — and we are going to continue to do that!
— it’s hard for one person to do so many gospel mission activities that reach out to people: our Port Ministry to reach sailors, the Pregnancy Help Center to reach expecting mothers and their families, orphans who need care, an unreached Muslim people group in the mountains of Bulgaria, and over a BILLION lost people in India — what can one person do to reach all of them?
But TOGETHER we can! Together we can “strive together” for the gospel, to form a Sunday School that can teach God’s word to ALL age groups; together we can mobilize to reach whole neighborhoods around our church; together we can support the Port Ministry to reach sailors, and the Pregnancy Help Center to reach mothers; together we can give to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon to keep over 4000 Southen Baptist missionaries on the field overseas reaching people; together we can support a Sanjay Charan who is discipling Indian pastors to share the gospel with those unreached billions there.
Together we can do more than we can do individually. Which is why I hate when people say things like: “l love Jesus but I hate ‘organized religion.’ I don’t want any part of the church.” That’s a copout. Jesus died to establish His church, and He gave us the command to put aside our selfish differences and work together to reach the world for Him. And we can do more to reach the world by working together, than we can by ourselves. That’ why God told us here that He wants to see us as His children “striving TOGETHER for the gospel.”
That’s what God has put us here as a church to do — and that is what we have GOT to keep our focus on doing: let’s “strive together to share the gospel.”
I think that God sometimes gives mothers an “intuition” about their children. I think that Abigail Adams knew that God gave her son John Quincy a lot of potential; and that he might grow up to be someone important in our country — perhaps even a President of the United States — which, as you know, he did. And so she was very diligent to write to him: John, it is SO important that you listen to my words, be an honor to your country; be accountable to your God. Be all that He made you to be.
I know that’s the heart of the parents who are dedicating their babies to the Lord today: they want them to be all that God has planned for them to be, for His kingdom and glory.
And that’s God’s word for each one of us today — and for all of us together as a church:
— Make sure your behavior is worthy of the gospel you say you believe
— Be willing to make sacrifices to keep unity in the church for the sake of the gospel
— and stand firm: don’t compromise with this decadent society, but let’s stay focused on the mission God has given us to share the Gospel in our world.
Let’s make our Heavenly Father proud of His children’s conduct in this world.
— Is there anything in my life that people might point to, which would do harm to the reputation of Christ in the world? Is there something you need to confess to God, and ask Him to help you STOP doing …
— Is there some sacrifice you might need to make, to help keep the unity of the church? (ask God to help you be ready to do that …)
— is there any area of God’s word you are tempted to compromise, because of our society … God is telling you today to stand firm!
— what part do I have in “striving together” to share the gospel in our community; in our world?
— Maybe you need to JOIN THIS CHURCH, so that you can be a part of “striving together” with others to share the gospel.
— Or maybe you need to give your life to Christ today, and be baptized …