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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Living under the cross
Text:Philippians 1:27-30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Persecution
 
Preached:2012-11-11
Added:2013-03-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Living under the Cross                                 

Ps. 9: 1, 4, 5

Ps. 5: 2 – 5 

Hymn 27: 1 – 4

Ps. 27: 1, 2, 6

Ps. 33: 5, 6

 

Scripture reading:       Phil. 1: 27 – 2: 18

Text:                              Phil. 1: 27 – 30

 

Beloved congregation, saints in Christ Jesus,

 

The apostle has to appear before Caesar.   And this time the trial will be decisive: life or death.   But even in these circumstances he rejoices in the Lord.   For in spite of all his sufferings and all the opposition he faces, Christ’s kingdom is making progress.    And thus he says:

 

“…I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel…” (verse 12)

 

As long as Christ is proclaimed and magnified, Paul rejoices (verses 18 and 20).

He has only one aim in life: to magnify Christ, both in life and in death.  

It does not matter to him whether he will be set free or whether he will have to die a martyr’s death, for to him to live is Christ and to die is gain.

 

But now, here in our text from verse 27 onwards, the apostle turns away from his own circumstances and addresses the Philippians and the circumstances they face.

Yet, the apostle is not jumping to a different topic.

These Philippians are experiencing the same conflict as the apostle Paul – verse 30.

 

When the apostle spoke about his own conflict, it was with the view to encourage the saints in Philippi.   The Christ-centered way in which he views all his suffering now becomes an example to the Philippians.   He exhorts them to have the same mind.  

Yes, he does not only exhort them to be of one soul and one mind amongst themselves, but to be one soul and mind with him also, and with all the saints, so that they may all unite in the same struggle for the faith of the gospel.   

Paul has set them an example of how they ought to stand firm, and of how they ought to strive courageously, united under the banner of Christ alone. 

 

Dear congregation, our text this morning is a passage in which the apostle encourages the saints in the midst of much persecution.   He exhorts them in these circumstances to walk worthy of the gospel of Christ, to stand firm, with one soul and mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not to be terrified by those who so fiercely oppose them.  

Even their suffering has become a proof of their salvation.

 

I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme… 

Living under the cross

 

We will note…


1.      A life worthy of the gospel

2.      The grace of suffering for Christ

3.      Being in good company


In the first place we note the command to…

Live a life worthy of the gospel

 

Our text starts with an exhortation:

            “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ…”

The apostle is as it were lifting his finger, saying: “Only…”   I tell you one thing only…

Just one thing: let your conduct be worthy of the gospel!

This exhortation forms, as it were, the heading for the instructions that will follow.   In everything they do, their conduct must be worthy of the gospel.

 

Now, here in our text the Greek word for “conduct” is derived from a word that means: to be a citizen.  

When he says “let your conduct be worthy of the gospel”, the word “conduct” refers to your conduct as citizen.

 

We may even translate: “…exercise your citizenship worthy of the gospel…”

 

Now, later, in chapter 3: 20, the apostle speaks about their citizenship, and says:

 

            “…your citizenship is in heaven…”

 

And in that passage the apostle emphasises that they are citizens of heaven in contrast to the unbelievers “who set their mind on earthly things”.

 

The meaning is then that those who are citizens of this world set their mind on earthly things, but we – who are citizens of Christ’s heavenly kingdom – set our minds on the eternal and glorious kingdom of Christ that has been promised us.

 

Now, to conduct ourselves worthy of this gospel, means: that we live by faith; that we put our hope completely on the glory that has been promised to us in Christ.  

It is this hope that causes us to stand firm in the midst of much opposition. 

 

Yes, to conduct ourselves worthy of the gospel, in this context, means: to conduct ourselves as citizens of Christ’s heavenly kingdom.   To exercise your new citizen-conduct worthy of the gospel, means that you do not set your mind on earthly things seeking earthly pleasures or earthly comforts, but setting your mind on Christ and His kingdom only, you are also ready suffer all things for Christ’s sake.  

 

The reason why the apostle reminds the Philippians of the gospel of Christ, and exhorts them to live as worthy citizens of that heavenly kingdom of Christ, is in order that they may stand firm in the midst of the persecution and opposition they face.

 

If they would still conduct themselves as citizens of this world, seeking the things of this world, they will not be able to persevere.   Then it will soon become too much for them.  

Therefore he reminds them of the glory of the gospel of Christ, and exhorts them to keep this gospel before their eyes, in order that they may stand firm.

 

Conduct worthy of the gospel, means: a life that flows from believing this gospel.

And in this context it involves perseverance in the midst of suffering.

 

Brothers and sisters, if we truly believe the gospel of Christ, that God through Christ made us citizens and heirs of His heavenly kingdom, then our conduct will show this – not only when all is going well with us, but especially when we have to suffer for Christ’s sake.

 

It is now in this context – a context of suffering and trial – that the apostle comes with the exhortation: let your conduct be worthy of the gospel!

  

And then he adds:  I hope to hear only one thing about you…

 

“…that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel…” – verse 27

 

They should all have one aim only: to live for Christ.   It is the gospel of Christ that will unite them, so that they will all be of one soul and one mind: one purpose in life.

Yes, they can only strife together for the faith of the gospel, if the faith of this gospel has united them under the banner of: Christ alone.     

 

By nature each of us has his own ambitions and goes his own way, but when our minds have been united by one aim and purpose only – to live for Christ – then we become like a well trained army that marches out in good order, united under one banner, striving together for the faith of the gospel.

 

And the striving for the faith of the gospel is necessary, because there is so much opposition against the faith of the gospel.

 

Now, the apostle does not only exhort the saints in Philippi to be united in this struggle, with one heart and mind, but he also exhorts them to be bold in their striving.   Behave yourselves as brave soldiers.   Don’t be terrified by your adversaries – verse 28.

 

The apostle says this more often in his epistles:

 

            “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.” – 1 Cor. 16: 13

 

But that brings us to the question: who are these adversaries?   And in which way do they try to terrify the saints?

 

Well, in the first place, the apostle mentions here in verse 30 that the saints in Philippi were experiencing the same conflict as the apostle himself experiences.   And the apostle already told us what his conflict was: persecution for Christ’s sake.

 

The persecution came from outside as well as from inside the church.  

From outside there was the hostile Roman Empire persecuting the Christians.   It was the Romans who chained Paul.

But the persecution also came from the false church: the Jews who rejected the gospel.   These Jews were of old God’s covenant people, and they were still very religious, but they were fierce enemies of the gospel.   It was the Jews who tried to kill Paul.   Their hatred was so fierce that in comparison with them the Romans could almost be viewed as Paul’s guardians against the Jews!   More than once it was the Romans who rescued Paul when the Jews were about to tear him apart.  

 

But this was not only the situation in the time of Paul and the Philippians; it has been thus throughout all of church history.   The fiercest persecution has always come from the false church.  

At the time when this epistle was written the Jewish synagogues were the false churches of the day.   Later on various other false churches also emerged.   In the time of the Reformation the false church was especially the Roman Catholics.   And again we see how the fiercest persecution proceeded, not in the first place from heathen governments, but from the false church.  

It was the Roman Catholics who burned the Protestants on stakes and killed them by thousands. 

 

We see this in all of church history.   The fiercest persecution comes very often not from total heathens, but from the false church.   The hatred has always been most fierce where true religion stood over against false religion.   And so the worst persecution very often comes from religious people.

 

But the adversaries of the saints in Philippi did not only come from outside – from a heathen government and from the false church – it also came from false brethren inside the church.

The apostle already mentioned here in chapter 1 that even some of the ministers in the church were controlled by selfish ambitions and preached Christ out of envy and rivalry, and that these men sought to add affliction to the apostle’s chains – 1: 15, 16.  

 

And then there was also a different kind of adversaries in the church: false teachers.  

He mentions them in chapter 3.

 

So then, these were the main adversaries of the saints in Philippi.   From outside: the Romans, who were total heathens, and the false church (at that stage mostly Jews).   And from inside: false brethren and false teachers. 

 

Now, brothers and sisters, in all of church history this has remained the same.   The name of the adversaries may change, but it still remains these categories of adversaries.   And therefore our situation today is not so much different from the time of the apostles.

 

Now then, when the apostle says: do not be terrified by your adversaries – verse 28 – you will now realise that he is not speaking of one kind of opposition only.   He is not only speaking of physical persecution.   Their adversaries employ a great variety of methods to oppose them and to add to their affliction.  

We will note this in a moment, and it will become clear that we don’t have to live in China or North Korea to know and experience such persecution.   In fact it is common to all believers.

Suffering for the sake of Christ is an inescapable part of being a Christian. 

 

To walk worthy of the gospel of Christ also involves joyful participation in the sufferings of Christ.   In fact, it is a gracious gift of God when we are counted worthy to suffer for Christ.

We note that in the second place…

The grace of suffering for Christ

 

It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake – verse 29.

God has graciously granted you faith; He has also graciously granted you the grace to suffer for Christ’s sake!

 

Just as faith in Christ is a gracious and undeserved gift of God, so also is suffering for Christ’s sake a gracious and undeserved gift of God!

 

And the saints have always known this.

We read for example in Acts chapter 5 that the Jewish council first threw the apostles into jail, then after beating them also threatened them, and then we read that the apostles departed from the council, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name” – Acts 5: 41

 

They were rejoicing, because God counted them worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s sake!

 

This is not the behaviour of some fanatics; it is and it should be the conduct of all believers.   In the Form for celebrating Holy Supper we pray:

 

            “Grant us Your grace that we may take up our cross joyfully…”

 

The apostle is now teaching this to the saints in Philippi.

And He still teaches this to us today.

It is a gracious and undeserved gift of God to suffer for Christ’s sake.

 

Why?

The apostle already said in verse 28 that their suffering for Christ’s sake is a proof of their salvation.  

 

The very opposition of their adversaries proof that these adversaries are heading to destruction – for no one can stand against Christ.   Those who fight against the saints of Christ will be fell by Christ Himself.   But the very persecution which the saints have to endure for Christ’s sake is proof of their salvation.

 

The apostle also says this to the Thessalonians:

 

“…we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgement of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous things with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven…” – 2 Thess. 1: 4 – 7

 

Their suffering for Christ’s sake is manifest evidence that God counted them worthy of His kingdom, and that He will reward them on the day of Christ’s coming.

           

Christ also said to His disciples:

 

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Mt. 5: 10

 

But you may ask:

 

“How does this apply to us?   We are not living in a country where Christians are physically persecuted and put to death.   What persecutions do we endure here in Australia?   We are not like Paul in chains awaiting a trial before Caesar.   We are no longer living in the heathen Roman Empire.   What persecutions do we face?”

 

Somehow many think that when Scripture speaks about persecution and suffering for Christ’s sake, that physical persecution is meant.   But Scripture makes clear that the persecution which the saints suffer is more often spiritual and emotional, suffering shame and insult.   The saints are despised and rejected in this world.   People speak evil of them and scorn and revile them. 

 

In the same place where Christ said: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, He also elaborates on the manner of persecution, saying:

 

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.   Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Mt. 5: 11, 12

 

There He describes the persecution of those who suffer for His sake, and He describes it mainly as persecution with the tongue.   They insult you and tell lies about you.  

 

Also when the apostle Peter describes the suffering of the saints for Christ’s sake, he focuses mainly on persecution with the tongue: being troubled by threats, being defamed as evildoers, being reviled – 1 Peter 3: 14 – 16.  

They speak evil of you – 1 Peter 4: 4.

They reproach you and blaspheme you – 1 Peter 4: 14.  

In each of these cases the apostle Peter is speaking about persecution and suffering for Christ’s sake, but most of the time he mentions tongue-persecution: being defamed, reviled, reproached and blasphemed.

 

We find this everywhere in Scripture.   Suffering for Christ’s sake and being persecuted for His sake does not refer in the first place to physical persecution, being imprisoned, or dying on a stake, but first of all to bear the reproach which unbelievers and also false brethren vomit out against the saints of Christ.

 

This happens especially when a believer refuses to partake in wrong doing, or when a believer stands for the truth of God’s Word and refuses to compromise.

Then you are called names: narrow minded, fundamentalist, a misfit.

We are all familiar with this kind of persecution, the reproach and insults which are so common in the media, at the work place, in our daily lives as a Christian.

 

Brothers and sisters, although our circumstances may vary from that of the apostle Paul and the Philippians, we still share in the same conflict, and we still suffer the same suffering which is common to all believers.

 

For: “…all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” – 2 Tim. 3: 12

 

There is no exception.   All believers have to bear the cross of Christ and share in His reproach, or else we do not belong to Him.

 

And thus the apostle is not directing his exhortation only to the Philippians; it is God’s Word directed to the church of all times; also to us here in Kelmscott.  

Do not be terrified by your adversaries. 

Stand fast, with one spirit and the same mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.

When you have to bear the shame of the cross, do not fear, but rather rejoice, for your suffering for Christ’s sake is a proof that God has counted you worthy of His kingdom.

 

Yes, it is a gracious gift of God that you may believe in Christ; and the gracious gift of faith in Christ is always complemented with another gracious gift: the grace to suffer for Christ’s sake.

 

Dear congregation, suffering for Christ’s sake also brings us into good compony.

We note that in the last place…

Being in good company

 

“…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.”

 

You are in good company.  

Your suffering is not something strange happening to you; something that makes you the exception of the rule.   No, that conflict which you experience is the very same suffering which you also saw in me.   You saw it from the very first day we met.   And from the reports that you receive about me you know that the same conflict still continues.  

 

The apostle reminds them of the past and the present.  

When he was still with them they saw with their own eyes how he was beaten and thrown into jail, even on his very first visit to Philippi.   And now they hear from him how he still endures the same things.

 

Know then that your suffering for Christ’s sake is not by accident.   It is the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.   We are sharing the same approach of Christ, and bearing the same cross.   This kind of suffering which you experience is common to all believers.

 

Yes, by suffering for Christ’s sake the saints in Philippi find themselves in the good compony of the apostle Paul.

 

In fact, whatever we may suffer for Christ’s sake brings us into the good company of all the saints.  

Christ comforted his disciples in the same way when He said:

 

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.   Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt. 5: 11, 12)

 

When they insult and despise you for Christ’s sake, then you find yourself in the good compony of the prophets; then you are sharing the same reproach with them which they also experienced.

 

In fact, the sufferings for Christ’s sake make us share in the good compony of Christ Himself, for He is the one who was despised and rejected.   And against Him all the hatred of the world is ultimately directed.   When we suffer for His sake we are partaking in His sufferings – as He says in 1 Peter 4: 13.  

 

Dear congregation, none of us wants to be associated with trouble makers or misfits – we don’t feel comfortable in such company.   But when we realise that such names were given to Christ and to all His prophets and apostles and to all the saints throughout the ages, then it becomes much easier to bear such approach.

 

Do you know which names the people gave to Christ?   Beelzebub (Mt. 10: 25), evildoer (John 18: 30), a political rebel causing unrest (Luke 23: 2; John 19: 12).

Do you remember what the prophet Elijah was called?   The troublemaker (1 Kings 18: 17).

Do you remember what the Jews called the apostle Paul?   A pest, and a creator of discord (Acts 24: 5).

When we see what names they have given to Christ and to His disciples, and to the prophets of old, then we should realise that we are in good company when we have to bear the same names for Christ’s sake.

 

It is with this purpose that the apostle reminds the Philippians of his conflict.  It is yours, it is mine; it is the conflict of all who follow Christ.  

 

Let us not be terrified by it, but see it as a gracious gift of God to suffer for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Let us then by His grace stand fast, and with one spirit and with one mind, strive together for the faith of the gospel.

 

Brothers and sisters, by His grace God has made us citizens of the glorious and heavenly kingdom of Christ.

Let our conduct then – in the midst of much opposition – be worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Let us not waver, or be terrified by those who oppose the gospel.

 

Let us believe God’s promises and take up our cross joyfully.

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Mendel Retief

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