“27 Only let your life as citizens be worthy of the gospel of Christ, that whether I come and see you or be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one soul striving together for the faith of the gospel;”
“only” (Gr. monon – 3440)
Alone, above all, at all costs.
“let your life as citizens” (Gr. politeuomai – 4176)
This is the literal translation.
Means to conduct one’s life according to the laws and customs of the state.
“be worthy of the gospel of Christ”
Philippi was a Roman colony. To be a Roman citizen in those days was a big deal. People were proud of their Roman citizenship. Paul was instructing the Philippian Christians to live their lives as citizens of Rome that was worthy or consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, as Christians, to live under Roman authority had limitations. They were first and foremost, citizens of Heaven (Phil 3:20), and their first duty was to God’s authority.
To live a life that is “worthy of the gospel of Christ” is to live a life that is consistent with citizenship in the Kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13), where He reigns as King. Rome had their king (Caesar), and we have ours. Citizenship in the country in which we live requires obedience to their laws. However, our obedience to those laws has limitations for us. We are to obey only as it allows us to remain in harmony with God’s will. Where there is a conflict between the will of the state and the will of God, our first duty is obedience to God. We are to be faithful citizens of the state as long as we can remain faithful citizens of God’s Kingdom at the same time.
“gospel of Christ”
The heart of the message of Christ, is His death and resurrection. However, the gospel of Christ is actually about His whole life, and that is what Paul is referring to here. The way we live our lives as Christians is to be consistent with the life of Christ. Our lives are to be distinctly Christian.
We live in a day, at least here in America, where believers, in large part, are not living lives that are distinctly Christian. The line between the citizens of the world and the citizens of Heaven, have become very blurred. Paul was exhorting the Philippian believers not to blur the line that separated them from the rest of the Roman citizens. Wherever we happen to live, we must bear in mind that God has drawn a clearly marked line between the kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of Christ. We must remember who we are and whose authority we’re to obey.
“that whether I come and see you or be absent, I may hear of your affairs”
It’s not how we conduct ourselves when others are around that matters, but how we conduct ourselves when we are alone. The true test of our faith and of the sincerity of our love for Christ, is how we behave and think when there’s no one else around. It’s who we are when it’s just us and the Lord that validates our verbal claims.
Pau knew the position he held in the Church, and he also understood human nature. He knew that whenever he was in someone’s presence, they would naturally behave in a manner that was consistent with the Christian faith they shared. He was more concerned that their faithfulness be seen in his absence than in his presence (Phil 2:12). Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “when the cat is away, the mice will play.” That’s not the way it should be as followers of Christ, for He is always present in our lives.
Therefore, whether our pastor is around, or whether there are other Christians around, “let our lives as citizens of Heaven be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
“that you are standing firm in one spirit”
“spirit” (Gr. pneuma – 4151)
It’s possible that Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit here. However, the context of one spirit and one soul and striving together, suggests that Paul is referring to the spirit of unity and harmony among them. On the other hand, it’s only the Holy Spirit that can bring about this unity and harmony among believers. Thus we must allow ourselves to be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit in all things, and in this context, in our dealings with each other….especially within a local church setting.
There should never be any rivalry or jealousy between us. We should never allow selfish pursuits to hinder the work of the Lord. But instead, we’re to allow the love of Christ to reign in all things, and to behave in a manner that honors His name.
“soul” (Gr. psuche – 5590)
Mind (5590) (psuche or psyche from psucho = to breathe, blow, English = psychology, “study of the soul”) is the breath, then that which breathes, the individual, animated creature. However the discerning reader must understand that psuche is one of those Greek words that can have several meanings, the exact nuance being determined by the context. (Click an excellent article on Soul in the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology; see also ISBE article on Soul). The “soul” describes the vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing. Apply that thought to the picture of the “body” of Christ, the Church. Is your local body alive, filled with vital, supernatural energy, breathing well or “gasping for breath”?
One “soul” indicates that unity must extend to inward disposition. They were to maintain a single “souled” (minded) focus in the face of opposition. Christians face a common foe & should not fight each other but should unite against the enemy.
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible:
“with one mind — rather as Greek, “soul,” the sphere of the affections; subordinate to the “Spirit,” man‘s higher and heavenly nature. “There is sometimes natural antipathies among believers; but these are overcome, when there is not only unity of spirit, but also of soul” [Bengel].”
The apostle uses both pneuma and psuche, and therefore recognized a distinction between them. In their separate use they are apparently interchangeable; for though they really represent different portions or aspects of our inner nature, it may be loosely designated by either of them. But the adjectives pneumatikos and psuchikos are contrasted in reference to the body—1Co 15:44; and there is a similar contrast of character in Jude 1:19. Pneuma is the higher principle of our spiritual nature, that which betokens its divine origin, and which adapts it to receive the Holy Spirit, and in which He works and dwells. Psuche, on the other hand, is the lower principle—the seat of instinct, emotions, and other powers connected with the animal life. It is allied to kardia [word study], but pneuma to nous. Pneuma is the term applied generally to Christ in the Gospels; but in the account of the agony psuche occurs—psuche and soma (body) make up living humanity.
“striving together” (Gr. sunathleo – 4866)
To strive at the same time with another.
Striving together (4866) (sunathleo [only use in Scripture] from sun/syn = with + athleo [used only in 2Ti 2:5–note] = contend in the games or in classical Greek to contend in battle and of conflicts of cities; to strive = struggle requiring great determination to win) to contend or wrestle together as in an athletic contest in which a group of athletes co-operates with one another as a team competing against another team, and thus working in perfect co-ordination against a common opponent.
Clearly this verb would bring to the mind of the Philippians the picture of an athletic contest, which was a popular aspect of their culture (cp Olympics, Isthmian games, etc). The Greek verb athleo is the root of the English word athletic and means to contend for a prize or to compete in the (Olympic or Isthmian) games. The prefix sun/syn– means “together” and speaks of an intimate union which pictures the idea of “teamwork.”
There is to be a mutual striving together: side by side, shoulder to shoulder, and heart to heart. Paul pictured the local church as a team of “athletes” striving together to reach their God-given goal. Paul exhorted the Philippians to be friends, not foes and co-workers, not competitors. Since the church has a common objective and a common adversary, Paul pleads for a united and zealous church to resist the adversary, establish the true faith, and advance the gospel of Christ.
“for the faith of the gospel”
The body of truth, the Christian faith.
Paul is referring to the faith that is embodied in the gospel message. The gospel of Christ represents the Christian faith, the Christian doctrine. In other words, the gospel of Christ is “the faith.” Thus we are to be striving together, in one spirit and with one soul (mind) to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the Christian faith.
Spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ is the mission of the Church. It’s our mission as individual Christians, and it’s our mission corporately. If we are faithfully sharing our faith individually, then we together are doing that corporately.
Whether we’re citizens of a country that is free, or in a country where the Christian faith is outlawed, we still have a commission from God to spread the message of Christ and make disciples for Him (Matt 28:18-20). And we’re to do this in unity. There is strength in numbers. If only one or two people are sharing their faith, or if only one or two churches in a city are preaching the the gospel, then there is an imbalance, and that places a lot of pressure on the faithful few….carrying the load for everyone else, and perhaps suffering the consequences for everyone else.
We must all be strong followers of Christ. We must all be faithful. We must all work side by side to advance God’s Kingdom. A large and powerful army can accomplish so much more than a small army….however strong each individual may be. We must both abandon our fears, and get our eyes off the temporary things of the world. Only then can we get serious about what God has called us to do. We must recognize our place in this world, and live with that understanding.