If We Are Disciples of the Gospel Our Lives Will Fittingly Reflect the Gospel
Dear heavenly Father, I humbly come before You knowing that my life’s conduct is often everything but humble and is, instead, completely self-serving. Forgive my sins of selfish ambition and work in me the heart and mind of Jesus, my Savior, who for My sake offered Himself on the cross. So influence the hearts and minds of my fellow believers and me that we will stand fast in one spirit and purpose as we strive together for the Gospel and look out for the interests of one another. Bless us in worship today, I pray. Amen.
Every thing we have and every ability we possess is from God. Nevertheless, it is natural (i.e. true to our sinful nature) to become self-absorbed in what we have and who we are. The Gospel teaches us a different course. Jesus is our example and He was anything but self-absorbed when He came to be our Savior. We truly have nothing in ourselves about which to boast. We do have MUCH in the Lord our Savior about which we can (and should) boast!
Mary and Martha both acted out of love for their Savior. Martha’s desire to serve her Lord was praiseworthy, but she allowed herself to become distracted by the service and lost sight of the Lord she was serving. Mary chose to cling to Jesus’ every word. The saving Word of Jesus—the Gospel—is our life and also what we want to have reflected in our lives through our everyday conduct.
Text: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me. Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow-redeemed:
It was the summer before my junior year in high school…and I remember it well. I was in drivers training. The classroom portion was all done and we were behind the wheel—My driving instructor, my driving partner and I. On the day dubbed “interstate day” we were coming back into town on I-90 and traveling the full speed limit when the instructor asked, “How many water towers can you see.” One water tower was very obvious, it was right in front of us and you couldn’t miss it. The other tower was off to the side a little bit—but still in front so to see it you didn’t need to stop watching the road. It was further in the distance and partially hidden by trees. The instructor’s hope was that we would see both of the water towers. His goal was to teach us that even though it is important remain focused on driving and to keep your eyes on the road there is also more that can be enjoyed as part of the whole driving experience. To travel down that interstate seeing only one water tower might be good driving, but it doesn’t include everything that can be part of a safe and profitable driving experience.
Our lives can be a little like that trip down the interstate. We have a tendency to make our lives very “tunnel-visioned” with the “tunnel” pointing at ourselves. In this way we don’t see well around us. We are aware of our needs—spiritual and bodily—and everything going on in our lives, but what about those around us. Are we seeing the needs of others?
The Scriptures encourage us to go through life with Christ at the center. He is the person toward whom our vision should be directed. Following Christ and His Gospel is what our lives are about. It’s very important that we do this carefully like driving a car down the road. But while we are engaged in that very important work and while we have Christ as the center of our lives, part of that “Christ/Gospel-life” is that we also see the things around us and the people around us—seeing them in the light of the Gospel and making them part of our Christian life.
The Gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ, is the spring from which our entire life flows. We go back to that Gospel for every part of our lives. IF WE ARE DISCIPLES OF THE GOSPEL (and we indeed are as we profess to be) OUR LIVES WILL FITTINGLY REFLECT THE GOSPEL I. Pursuing the Gospel effort II. Remembering the Gospel blessing III. Maintaining the Gospel Attitude
Paul begins by instructing the Philippians to “let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ” [v.27] As Paul speaks of our conduct (i.e., our life and everything in that life) being “worthy” of the Gospel, he simply cannot mean that we DESERVE the Gospel. We do not EARN or MERIT the salvation which the Gospel brings. Paul cannot mean this at all, because Scripture is abundantly clear in saying that we do NOT deserve salvation. We are UNdeserving sinners, condemned under the Law of God with no hope! It is purely out of the undeserved love of God that we even have the Gospel, much less believe it and receive salvation from it.
So Paul has to mean something very different from the thought that we are going to “live up to the Gospel” and be worthy of its blessings. What Paul does admonish is that our lives & conduct be FITTING, that is, corresponding to what we would expect (and more importantly what God would expect) from a child of God. You expect a plumber to be able to unplug a drain; you expect an electrician to be able to find a faulty circuit and repair it…we expect a CHILD OF GOD to act and live in a certain way and to have a certain hope and confidence about him.
Let your CONDUCT be worthy of the Gospel. This is more than actions…more than just what you’re doing in your life but your WHOLE life being, your whole outlook. It is every part of you reflecting the Gospel and its blessings in a fitting way.
Paul encourages this Gospel reflection regardless of who is watching. He says, “…so that whether I come and see you, or am absent, I may hear of your affairs…” [v.27] Paul was in prison as he wrote these words. In the section just prior to these words, Paul explained to the Philippians that he didn’t know what the Lord had in mind for his future. Perhaps he would live, be released from prison, and be able to return to Philippi and see the Philippian Christians again. Or, perhaps, he would remain in prison and eventually lose his life for Christ’s sake. Either way, Paul had said, was a winning situation because to live is Christ and to die is gain (cf: Philippians 1:21). Either way, Paul now wrote, YOU keep your conduct reflecting the Gospel.
As we seek to have our lives reflect the Gospel message of salvation in a fitting way, we too realize that it doesn’t matter who is watching…or who isn’t. We want to reflect that Gospel AT ALL TIMES.
HOW do we reflect the Gospel? We reflect the Gospel in our conduct by pursuing the Gospel effort. This work of the Gospel is, first of all, taking place in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We will have a conduct worthy of the Gospel and be pursuing the Gospel effort when we are NOT pursuing SIN. This almost goes without saying. Paul doesn’t mention it specifically in our text, but it needs to be said. Anything that is sin CANNOT be reflecting the Gospel fittingly. Paul wrote the Ephesians, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as isfitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:3-4).
Sin contradicts the Gospel. Sin is darkness. The Gospel truth is light. They cannot coexist. Therefore, any pursuit of darkness is not walking in the Light of Christ…is not walking worthy of the Gospel. We need to shun all sin.
Paul adds that another part of reflecting the Gospel appropriately in our lives is…
Standing fast in ONE spirit…
Paul encourages the Philippian Christians to stand firmly—be rooted in—the “Christian spirit” which is one that puts faith in Christ and acts accordingly as one who has salvation. A Christian spirit is one that is built on faith. It is one that the Holy Spirit creates in our hearts through the Gospel, one we cannot create on our own.
Again in Ephesians, Paul writes, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
We are united in the spirit of love for our Savior. His love showered upon us has created love for Him which then spreads to one another as we are bound together in Him. Paul writes to the Philippians as well as our Christian congregation, “pursue the Gospel effort and keep/treasure/hold onto that unity of spirit.” It is a unity in the truth of God’s Word. ONE HOPE—the hope Christ gives through His suffering and death on the cross. ONE CALLING—one calling from unbelief to faith. We are united. We have that common ground in our Savior. As the hymnwriter puts it, “our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares.” [TLH # 464 st.2] We have this unity, we have this joint “spirit of Christ.”
In doctrinal discussions, Martin Luther once said his opponents had a “different spirit.” The people on the other side of that discussion were not even on the same “page” as Luther was. They weren’t approaching God’s Word in the same way, and therefore there was not “one spirit” in which they could stand fast together. By God’s grace, we have such a spirit.
When we stand fast in one spirit we are reflecting the Gospel, because the Gospel and indeed our God Himself is united in one purpose. Consider how all three persons of the Triune God work for our salvation. The Father had our salvation as His goal and purpose, so He sent His Son. The Son of God had our salvation as His goal and purpose so He willingly came to die. The Holy Spirit has our salvation as His goal and purpose so He comes into our hearts creating and preserving faith. The Triune God is unified in His purpose to save us from our sin. His Word also is bound together with one theme: the salvation of sinners!
When Christians don’t stand fast in the spirit, they lose their common ground and the Gospel effort suffers among them. This happened in the congregation in Corinth. Paul writes, “Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13). Oh, a congregation can survive externally while not standing fast in one spirit, but that will not prosper the Gospel effort.
Paul adds another part of pursuing the Gospel…
I have come to enjoy watching a young brother-sister pair get a drink of water out of the water fountain. Neither one is quite tall enough to get a drink on his own. So they take turns…first one gets on hands and knees while the other crawls on top to drink; and then vice-versa. THAT is STRIVING TOGETHER! They both have the same goal with an obstacle in the way, neither can reach that goal alone, so they work together to accomplish what they need.
We are going to STRIVE in this world when we face our enemies. There WILL BE enemies, its guaranteed. Paul told Timothy, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). As we seek to walk worthy of the Gospel of Christ and pursue the Gospel effort, we are going to face persecution, trouble, and enemies of God. We will have to CONTEND and STRIVE for our faith; but STRIVE TOGETHER—not as individuals pulling different ways, but standing firm in one spirit working TOGETHER, pulling TOGETHER!
Paul writes a little later in our text, “fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.“ [2:2] Paul describes one complete union that strives together toward the same goal. Here some would argue for a union at any cost. “After all, the world is evil. All ‘Christian’ churches should unite together against a common enemy and go the same way not worrying about the insignificant differences.” This is not what Paul is encouraging. He says, “striving together for the faith of the Gospel.” The faith of the Gospel is the truth of the Gospel as God has revealed it in its entirety.
As we are going forth and pursuing the Gospel effort and thereby showing the Gospel in our lives, we need to REMEMBER the GOSPEL BLESSINGS.
I recall being in a recording session of Immanuel Lutheran College’s tour choir. Things were not going so well. We were repeatedly singing the same songs over and over again trying to “get it right.” Everyone was getting tired and began grumbling. Feet began to ache and patience wore thin when a voice from the far corner of the choir said, “You know, if Jesus suffered, hung on the cross, and died on the cross for us, the least I can do is stand here joyfully and sing His praises.” He was right.
We do get caught up in the difficulties that come because we are disciples of Christ. We might grow frustrated with the witnessing that doesn’t seem to have any impact, or slide into the temptations to make God of lesser importance in order to go along with friends. You name it and you can be sure the Devil is willing to try it—anything to lead us to FORGET our purpose and our blessing which we have through Christ Jesus. So we need to remember that BLESSING.
When we remember the blessing which we have in the Gospel, that too will show itself in our lives as we seek to have our conduct worthy of the Gospel. Paul says, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” [v.29] Our faith comes completely and freely from God’s grace. The very fact that we believe and have salvation from our sins is a complete and amazing gift from God. How could we not show forth the joy of that gift when we are remembering that blessing!?
REMEMBER that we were lost and condemned sinners, but Christ has purchased and won us from all sins from death and from the power of the Devil, not with gold and silver but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. He did this that we should be His very own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and joy! (cf: Luther’s explanation to the 2nd article of the Apostles’ Creed). This is the BLESSING that we have through the Gospel. This God has freely given us. REMEMBER IT! and the joy of that salvation will flow out into your life.
However, Paul adds, that just as surely as our faith is part of God’s blessing of grace, so too is your suffering. Also to suffer for His sake has been granted on behalf of Christ out of God’s grace. “…having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” [v.30]. Paul had suffered persecution for his faith in Philippi. He was now suffering persecution in his imprisonment in Rome. The Philippians were suffering persecution back in Philippi. We at times will suffer persecution because of what we believe, and Paul says this suffering is all a gift of God’s GRACE!! Suffering for Christ’s sake is a gift for which we can thank God and a BLESSING to REMEMBER!
Suffering for Christ is a gift because it reminds us that what we have is valuable. It is a gift because through those strivings and strugglings, God will strengthen our faith and help us persevere to the end. So as we’re facing those “down sides”—the laughter in our direction because of who we are and how we live (etc.)—we can remember the blessing of what it means to be a child of God. Remember the salvation which He gives.
Paul says not to be terrified in any way of the adversaries who oppose Christ’s kingdom because your “standing fast and striving together” while they oppose is a “proof of perdition (destruction) but to you salvation, and that from God.” [v.28] As we face opposition for following our Savior, it stands as a testimony: “I’m standing here for my Savior. Let the world rage. Let it do its own thing. It will be destroyed, but I have the blessings of salvation in Christ my Savior!”
Paul continues, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy…” [2:1] “IF,” Paul says, these things are true, THEN fulfill my joy. None of the things Paul mentions are in doubt. They are all very much real and part of the Christian’s life. Is there consolation in Christ? There most surely IS! He calls you to His side and says, “I am with you always. I will strengthen you, uphold you, lead you.” Is there COMFORT OF LOVE? Yes there is, for God so loved the world that He gave Jesus to die for your sins. The same love of God will give you blessings in this life day by day. Is there FELLOWSHIP of SPIRIT and AFFECTION and MERCY? Yes there is IS! God has given us this union and fellowship together to aid one another as we live in a sinful world under His abundant mercy.
So all of these blessings are there, ready to encourage and help us along the way as we strive to have our conduct worthy of the Gospel.
The writer to the Hebrews expressed it this way:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
We can go forward reflecting the Gospel fittingly when we look to Christ and REMEMBER the BLESSINGS OF THE GOSPEL.
Finally, the third part of Paul’s description for conduct that is worthy of the Gospel, is that we maintain a GOSPEL ATTITUDE.
We can be very quick to revert into the “Attitude of ME.” “What’s in it for me? Where am I going?” We would, maybe, never talk this way, yet by where we direct our attention, the time that we spend, and the feelings we have we are in reality looking completely at “ME.” Paul says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” [vv.3-4]
In the verses following our text, Paul goes on to use Jesus as the perfect example of someone NOT acting on of selfish ambition and conceit—someone who DID look out for the interests of others.
When Jesus as the eternal Son of God and looked down and saw sinful mankind and said, “I will willingly go and be their Savior,” He was not looking out for His own interests. Paul describes it as setting aside that divine honor and glory so that He could humble Himself and become obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Not just any death, but death on a CROSS, the cursed death of a criminal! That was not Jesus’ own interest. It was His interest in us! Christ’s love was so great that He set aside His interests so that He could be our Savior…wounded for our transgressions to bring us life.
This is the example we seek to put into action as we seek to reflect the Gospel in a fitting way. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that love does not behave rudely, does not seek its own (1 Corinthians 13:5). If I am pursuing my own selfish ambition, that is not love, that is SELF and never will be love. If I treat others rather harshly, rudely, because…well, they’re in the way, and they just don’t get it; they’re so slow sometimes; they’re frustrating me! That’s NOT LOVE, that’s SELF.
To the Romans, Paul wrote, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8) and then he goes on to cite all the commandments that deal with love toward our neighbor. A little later, Paul continues, “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification” (Romans 15:1-2).
A Christ-like love that is a fitting reflection of the Gospel loves one another, does not seek its own…does not pursue things for SELF, but actually esteems others as being more important than “me.” My first thought won’t be: “ME—what’s in it for me, how will this benefit me?” My first thought will be: “How is it going to benefit YOU and what can I do to bring that benefit to you?” This is true with husbands regarding their wives, wives regarding husbands, friends regarding friends, siblings toward siblings, and any relationship we might have.
When we esteem others better than ourselves we will not be looking out just for our own interests but will, like Christ, be looking out for each other’s interests. What’s so beautiful about this is that when you are among children of God looking out for the interests of one another, your own interests are also served in a blessed way. They are served, not selfishly, not according to your own sinful lusts and fleshly interests, but by Your Lord through your Christian brothers and sisters who are esteeming you better than themselves.
It is hard to pursue this attitude of looking out for others because there is so much pulling us in the other direction. That makes our conduct stand out in the world when it is worthy of the Gospel. When we fittingly reflect the love of Christ by showing this great love to one another, people will stand up and notice and they will praise our God. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Amen!
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt