Posted: 27 Mar 2011 12:00 AM PDT
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27)? The expression is striking. It is also adverbial—that is, it describes the manner of our conduct, not us. Paul does not say that we ourselves are worthy of the Gospel, for that would be a contradiction in terms: the Gospel, by definition, is good news to people who are not worthy of it. But once we have received the Gospel, however unworthy we may be, we are to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of it.
The way Christians are to do this (Philippians 1:27–30) is by standing firm together ("in one spirit," Phil. 1:27), "contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose [them]" (Phil. 1:27–28). People who have benefited from the Gospel are certainly not conducting themselves in a way worthy of the Gospel if they are ashamed of it (Rom. 1:16). Of course, in a time when the surrounding culture ridicules Christians or even persecutes them, it takes courage to stand together in bold and transparent witness to the power of the Gospel. But there, too, another element of what it means to conduct oneself in a manner worthy of the Gospel comes into play. "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him" (Phil. 1:29).
What a remarkable notion! Paul does not say that these Christians have been called to suffer as well as to believe, but that it has been granted to them to suffer as well as to believe—as if both suffering for Christ and believing in Christ were blessed privileges that have been graciously granted. That, of course, is precisely what he means. We often think of faith as a gracious gift of God (Eph. 2:8–9), but suffering?
Yet that is what Paul says. On reflection, it is easy to see why. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that in God's good purposes Jesus suffered on our behalf, bearing our guilt and shame and atoning for our sin. Surely it should be no surprise, then, that conduct that is worthy of such a Gospel includes suffering for Jesus. In fact, that theme is part of what makes this paragraph transitional. For on the one hand, it looks back to the example of the apostle Paul (Phil. 1:12–26). He ends the paragraph by referring to his own "struggle" (Phil. 1:30), of which his Philippian readers have just read—a "struggle" so severe he was not certain he would survive. And on the other hand, the chapter ahead is one of the most powerful New Testament descriptions of Jesus' humiliation and death. We are to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of that kind of good news.
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