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Improbable Joy – Philippians 1:27-30

Jan 28, 2024
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Philippians 1:27-30

In this portion of his letter, Paul is turning a corner in his challenge. He is saying, “Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ.” As the Philippians read this, they would have understood exactly what Paul was saying. Remember, Philippi was a Roman colony, a title seen as one of the coveted prizes of the Roman Empire. Their names were on the rolls at Rome; their legal position and privileges were those of Rome. They were considered a “mini Rome”. At the same time, this is also true of them spiritually as men and women in Christ. Grace has made them citizens of a heavenly city; in their far-off land they are the “mini heavenly homeland”; heaven’s laws are their laws, and their privileges are heaven’s privileges. Paul was imploring them to look to Christ and to not to Caesar for their model. The same could be said of us in the USA today.

Paul gave them (and us) clear instructions of how to do this:

  1. that you are standing firm in one spirit – We must stand firm, together. Each of us has a role to play, but we must work together. You have to know what you believe, and when you do, you can settle in and move powerfully with the church.
  2. with one mind, striving side-by-side – This word means “contending” like a team of athletes. As the church, we bring all our gifts together, and we realize we need each other.
  3. and not frightened – this word could be described as “a horse that is easily startled”. Paul goes on to say in verse 29, “for it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for His sake.” Being opposed shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Suffering for Christ is not considered accidental or a divine punishment for disobedience. Suffering is a sign of God’s favor. Phil 3:10 says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

The problem people had with Christians was not so much that they were following Christ, but that they were failing to properly worship the community’s gods – especially the emperor. Dishonoring the gods was thought to invite disaster upon the community, and those who abandoned pagan and imperial worship practices would have been treated with suspicion. In a strongly Roman city like Philippi, the decision to follow Christ could have brought severe social, economic, and legal consequences. Family and friends might cut ties with believers, employers might fire them, clients might take their business elsewhere, and conflicts could easily end up in court with Christians facing harsh punishment as trouble-makers or traitors. How does this compare to where we are as a post-Christian nation today?


  1. Have you ever experienced suffering for the sake of the gospel? How did that play out?
  2. If you haven’t suffered for the gospel, why do you think that is?
  3. Should people believe our defense of the gospel if they cannot see Christ in us? How has the church done damage in this area?
  4. Paul tells us to not be surprised when we are opposed. This is a potentially hostile year with an election coming. How do we live in faith and not fear in that possibility?