I was given this theme to preach on for our 27th church anniversary worship in case no guest preacher would be available. Fortunately enough Rev. Claude Tucker responded to the invitation on time. So I thought of preaching it last Sunday but due to the occasion of “Thanksgiving Day,” I opted to re-schedule it. Today could be the perfect time for this message. What image comes to your mind when you hear “Standing Together?” Those of you who have been in the military service could easily think of being a part of a squadron who fought in battle as a unit, where your lives were in the hands of fellow soldiers beside you. Some imagine your sports team that won a championship match because of teamwork or a task force that accomplished a big project beyond your imagination because of cooperation. Maybe a family that stood together through a terrible crisis when members supported and encouraged one another on a far deeper level than everyday life. Perhaps a small group that remained intact and strong despite threats of disbanding. Keep these pictures in mind as we approach our text this morning.
TEXT: PHILIPPIANS 1:27–30.
Our text describes that life individually (Christian) & corporately (church) is not a playground but a battleground. It pictures a church (group of believers) that stands together against the enemy – social evils or spiritual opposition. How can we fight and defeat our enemy? Paul’s answer is contained in the opening words of this section: v.27a – “live a life worthy of the gospel.” Adopt this as a life verse, a core value of your family or of our church. ”The most important weapon against the enemy is not a stirring sermon or a powerful book; it is the consistent life of believers” – Warren Wiersbe. As Christians we must behave what we believe. A member told her pastor that her friend would not believe her explanation about her faith, sort of asking for a better way of explanation. The pastor opened his Bible to 2 Corinthians 3: 2 where it says, “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men.” People are lazy reading the Bible but so eager to read our lives. What the people around us need is not more explanation but clear demonstration of the gospel. The succeeding verses provide us essential ways how a local church like ours can behave in a manner worthy of the gospel of JC:
I – Stand Firm Together In Unity – v. 27.
“Divide & conquer” is our enemy’s method and too often he gets his way. He does this by encouraging gossip, backbiting, judgementalism and magnifies petty quarrels or conflicts to destroy relation, unity and testimony. As a result we look like phonies and become laughingstock. To defeat his ploy, “Stand firm in one spirit” or “stand united” (Mss).“One spirit” refers to unity of mind, heart and purpose that binds us together. It describes a Roman military formation where soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder. In Napoleonic wars, the foot soldiers used a defense and offense formation called “square.” They would form a little fortress that no cavalry could penetrate. When we stand together united and unified, we draw strength from one another enabling us not to yield to any circumstances i.e public opinion / rumors against us; we are not frightened by oppositions or worldly philosophies and we present a beautiful and attractive testimony before the world – Psa. 133:1. But this is not easy among us Filipinos. Filipinos are so regionalized that Ilocanos find it hard to get along with Tagalogs; Tagalogs find it hard to get along with the Visayans, etc. even in the same church. Filipino spirit can be divisive. We should not allow anything to hinder us to promote the spirit of togetherness in Christ – Gal. 3: 28; Rom. 14:19. To “stand firm together” is not a passive concept; we have to work at it. How? By being united for one noble cause.
II – Strive Together For the Faith – v. 27 (kjv).
Taking a stand requires conviction, without which we will be easily swayed by any persuasive argument to give up our position or at least to weaken or compromise our stand. Down through history, people have taken stand against various social evils i.e. abolition of slavery, end of Vietnam War / Gulf War, Human Rights / Civil Rights / Rights of Children, Equal pay, and the list is endless. C&MA in Canada is taking its stand against prostitution, etc. As mentioned earlier, Filipinos find it hard to unite; there’s an exception though: when there’s a one rallying cause! Remember the People Power 1 & 2? Currently, 50% + of our people in the Philippines are taking their stand against “pork barrel” and other forms of corruption. Have you ever taken a stand on something? To take a stand is a brave step but a lonely thing. It will mean criticism and ostracism. The big question: is it worth? Charles Colson saw a demonstrator’s signboard that read, “Nothing is worth dying for?” In response he wrote, “If nothing is dying for, then nothing is worth living for either!” To live a life worthy of the gospel, every Christian must take the stand for the faith. Faith here speaks of the body of truth given to the church the essence of which is the gospel – 1 Cor. 15: 1-4. Paul’s deep conviction and passion is the defense and advance of the gospel. He stressed this in Romans 1:16. Power is the one thing that Rome boasted of the most. Greece had its philosophy but Rome got the power! But with all of her military prowess, Rome was very weak morally and was corrupted. She was branded as a cesspool of wickedness. This caused her to suffer downfall. Paul was taking the power of gospel to Rome to change lives. The gospel had worked in sinful cities like Corinth, Ephesus, etc. thus Paul was confident it would work in Rome. The gospel had saved his soul and transformed his own life and knew it would save and transform the lives of others. Right or Wrong: “I don’t care what you believe as long as you live right!” What we believe determines how we behave; wrong thinking ultimately leads to wrong living. The gospel is the only means to escape hell and to be sure of entering heaven later. It is also through it that we enjoy meaningful life now. This is what we must strive together to advance and defend. Why? Because it is through the proclamation and hearing of the gospel people will believe and trust Jesus Christ who is the answer to the world’s needs. Many think the church is here for other purposes – socialization, social action, personal betterment (health & wealth). If the gospel is not our unifying cause, then we are not living the life worthy of the gospel. How wonderful to gather on Sundays to worship & socialize briefly and on weekdays to fellowship as small groups. But if fun and enjoyment are all we are after then we have missed the point, we have fallen short of our goal as a church. Listen: our enemy is out to weaken our stand on this truth. Paul has already warned us – 1 Tim. 4:1. Satan influences the world to believe another gospel – the gospel of good works (humanistic), health & wealth, etc. Thus the challenge: “strive. . . “ is an athletic term. Strive requires focus that enables runners to put their heart, mind and strength into it to win the race. One single purpose that should hold us and cause us to strive together wholeheartedly is Jesus Christ and His gospel. This is our reason of existence.
III – Suffer Together for Christ – 28 – 30.
The first image that came to my mind about standing together was marriage (two become one). Can you remember your marriage vows? Marriage vows assume that life together can be difficult and circumstances will come that can cause separation i.e. conflicts, sickness, poverty and other rough times. Similarly, because of our faith in Jesus we become one body / family: you belong to Christ. I belong to Christ. We belong to each other. We too will face challenges to test our unity – oppositions and persecutions. When we take a stand for Jesus and the faith (gospel) and be united around this cause, guess what will happen? We will face opposition. Oppositions within: love for comfort and pleasure. Being a disciple of Christ is fine if it fits our schedules, if I won’t mess up with our comfort zones. Apostle John had to deal with Diotrephes because he loved to have preeminence – 3 Jn. 9-10. Oppositions from without – Jn. 15: 8 like persecutions – 1 Pet. 4: 14. All these mean suffering and no one likes it. If we have pains and discomforts we do everything to ease the pain and get comfortable. Being comfortable is great; the problem with it is we become lazy. It also follows that we don’t want to be serious in following Jesus because we don’t want to suffer – 2 Tim. 3: 12. The problem with this is we become spiritually complacent and stagnant. The Bible exhorts us not to fear and avoid sufferings. To suffer for Jesus is a gift, a privilege and an honor – v.29. It too has blessed purposes. David Curtis lists 7 Purposes of Suffering: 1) Matures us – Jam. 1: 2 -4. 2) Weans us from self-reliance – 2 Co. 1:9. 3) Encourages evangelism – Phil. 1: 12. 4) Assures eternal reward – Mat. 5:12. 5) Helps minister to others – 2 Co. 1:3-4. 6) Keeps down pride – 2 Co. 12: 7. 7) Identifies with JC – Phil. 3:10. Let’s be encouraged by sufferings!
CONCLUSION: If we have to live worthy of the gospel, let us stand firm, striving for the faith and suffer for Christ in the face of challenges! Satan succeeds in discouraging and scaring us because he makes us think we are alone in the struggle. Is it true? No! We should be together, amen? If one of us takes a stand to live worthy of Christ and the gospel, will the rest stand with that person? If one member takes a stand to say “No” to immorality, say sex outside marriage, will the rest of us take the same stand? If one member of our small group takes a stand to reach out to others, will the rest of the group members take their stand with that person? Yes!