Conduct Worthy of the Gospel of Christ
Only, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
A Fitting Conduct for the Gospel of Christ
The word "conduct" in the original is suggestive of a kind of life, as associated with whatever culture or kingdom you belong to. Young boys in the high school culture tend to walk in a certain fashion, perhaps thinking that it is attractive to girls. If you are a graduate of a famous university, you may carry yourself differently than a person from another college would. A resident of a major cosmopolitan center may act differently than someone from a small town would. Your conduct is based upon your realization of what kingdom you belong to. This is why Paul writes, "Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Phil. 1:27a). It is not a matter of behaving according to some code of morality. You are in the divine kingdom that carries out God's testimony on the earth! Your behavior should match your citizenship.
A Worthy Conduct Is Measured and Weighed
The Greek word translated as "manner worthy" has to do with measuring, weighing, and appropriateness. This implies that we should conduct ourselves by considering what is fitting for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ. The gospel of Christ should be the element that leads us and by which we measure our living. The conduct of a healthy believer is measured, weighed, and deemed appropriate in light of the gospel of Christ. When we make a decision, the gospel of Christ should be the factor by which we measure and weigh things. When our living matches the gospel of Christ, then our decision is right.
When I came to the United States 40 years ago, the gospel of Christ was the element that governed my decision. Therefore my conduct was worthy of the gospel. I was seeking to live a life that was best according to God's kingdom. All of us should weigh and measure our conduct by what is best for the gospel of Christ.
Suppose a brother who is serving the Lord full-time is called by the Lord to go to Africa. If he responds, "But Lord, my wife has a job here…," then his conduct is not worthy of the gospel. It does not match. If, however, he realizes that the same Lord who provided his wife with a job in America is the One who will take care of them in Africa, he should be able to say, "My existence is measured according to the gospel of Christ. Because I live in this kingdom, every decision I make is worthy of it. I choose whatever furthers this gospel. The gospel is the living element that animates all my manner of life."
Four Matters Which Test Our Conduct
Paul presents four matters by which we may know whether our conduct matches the gospel of Christ. These are the saints we are with, the opposers, the sufferings of Christ, and the apostles. These practical matters correspond to the reality of the economy of God embodied in the gospel of Christ.
As we struggle together alongside the other saints who share the same commitment, we will confront opposition. This opposition does not necessarily come from without. It may come from religious ones who turn people away from Christ as the rightful center of the church life. As we suffer opposition, we must remember that Christ suffered first. We also should remember that there are some who are struggling to uphold us before the Lord.
1. Struggling in One Spirit and with One Soul
The first item is standing firm in one spirit and striving together with one soul along with the faith of the gospel.
To stand firm in one spirit is to be organic; to strive together with one soul is to take God's economy as our focus. To stand firm in one spirit is something that comes out of the common life possessed by all believers. The moment you touch this life, you experience being one spirit organically with the other believers. To be one soul with others, however, is not so easy as being one spirit with them. Think of all the different kinds of souls among us. Some are from the East; others are from the West. Some are quiet and reserved; others are outgoing and even wild. How can we be one soul? The secret is to empty ourselves, as the Lord did (2:7). We must become lowly (2:3) and focused on Christ and His economy.
Any time our soul becomes focused on something other than Christ, we become opinionated and can no longer be one soul with those who are simply for God's economy. When our soul is unto the gospel of Christ, however, we are spontaneously one soul. Things other than God and His unique economy cause us to lose our ability to strive together with one soul. Even debating about the high peak truths can cause us to lose the experience of being one soul, if it draws us off from striving together for the fulfillment of God's economy. To be one soul requires that we share the same unique focus. We only care for this gospel of Christ.
Striving Together as Athletes
When we become focused upon the gospel of Christ, we begin to experience something called striving. This word is applied to athletics. It means that there is an award in view. When you have such a goal in view, you do not slow down or become easily distracted. If together we have such a heart and such an exercise, together we are able to run with endurance, for our whole being is occupied with winning the prize.
Americans have a good quality of working together as a team. They say, "If we are to live, we all must live together." This tendency among Americans is the reason that so few "spiritual giants" can be found among them, for too much teamwork can cause you to bury your own talent. People from China, on the other hand, tend to grow up as individualists. They say, "For me to live, you must die." To the person of the "Chinese" temperament, being one soul with others seems to be a great frustration. Some like to go fast, and others are very competitive. But when we are focused on Christ and His economy, we enjoy the organic relatedness as members of His Body, and spontaneously we desire to run together so that the gospel of Christ may achieve its goal.
Striving Together along with the Faith of the Gospel
The Word of God unveils something further when it says that we strive together "along with the faith of the gospel" (1:27b). An operating force is personified here. This faith therefore is a person. What was it that caused us to begin running this race, and why are we still running? Who keeps drawing us on? It is this faith that we respond to. It operates in us to draw us onward.
Faith Dispenses and We Respond
I began pursuing the Lord in 1954. You may ask, "How have you been able to pursue Christ in His economy for so many years?" It is not because of me. I know I am here because the Lord has been faithfully operating, and I just kept responding. I don't know how it happened-I just became a "Jesus lover." I could have had a comfortable life and a successful career. I gave up all that to serve the Lord, and today I am still focused on the gospel of Christ through a living faith. This faith is a person who is continually operating and dispensing, and we are continually reacting to the operation of this faith.
God's economy is a life-dispensing economy. Some day we may be tempted to say, "I made it!" but the Lord will respond, "No, the faith made it. My continuous dispensing of life made it." We can only respond to the operation of this faith. We can only say, "Lord, You opened my eyes to see the goal, and You operated something in me to cause me to strive towards it. You have given me companions who have the same thing in view. So many saints are together with me in one spirit and in one soul. You are the One who has been attracting and drawing us, and You are the One who has called us on. Because of You, we are never satisfied. We are always longing for something new."
Keeping the Faith on Our Life-Long Journey
When Paul reached the end of his journey, he appeared to have nothing left. The churches in Asia had forsaken him, and many of his co-workers had left him. He had no vast work to look upon for encouragement. He had just a few brothers who were still faithful. He had nearly nothing to show for his life-long labor. Yet he was happy and could say, "I have finished the course….Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." His whole life was for Christ and His economy. He was able to say that he had kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7-8). When nothing around us is encouraging, Christ Himself operates more and more to be our true encouragement.
When the church life becomes "messy" and discouraging, what is it that keeps us struggling on in spite of everything? It is the faith of the gospel, dispensing the divine element into us, generating a believing in us, causing a reaction and a response in us, struggling alongside us and calling us onward as it continues on just ahead of us to cut the way. How marvelous this faith is!
2. In Nothing Frightened by the Opposers
As we are standing firm in one spirit with one soul striving together along with the faith of the gospel, we shall encounter opposition. A healthy local church will always confront religious "dogs" (Phil. 3:2) who are more fearful than Satan as the "roaring lion" (1 Pet. 5:8). So many saints have been hurt by the biting of these dogs, who talk of things other than Christ in the church life. After such "fellowship," the saints end up wounded and bleeding, yet they often do not know why. In the Greek, the word for "frightened" in Philippians 1:28 has the sense of drawing back or withdrawing. How do we know when saints have been frightened by the opposers? It is when they begin to withdraw from the full participation in the church life after having had "fellowship" with someone.
In the Healthy Church Life, Dogs Cause Sufferings
It would seem that Paul should say, "Kick all such 'dogs' out of the church life. Excommunicate them!" But he never does this. Instead, he just tells us that in the church there will be dogs. It is inevitable that when the saints begin exercising in a healthy manner, such people will begin to operate, to raise questions, and to plant things in the minds of the saints. Often when a saint begins to lose his love to the Lord and to the church, it is just because of this. If you were to question him, you would find that his "sickness" began right after he began fellowshipping with a certain brother or sister. It could have been a phone call. It is surprising how long the legs of dogs can become. They can even swim across oceans, as they did when they followed Paul to Europe. Perhaps they carried with them the Epistle of James, which was the earliest Epistle to be circulated among the churches. Paul realized that after the church life begins to function in a healthy manner, such dogs will certainly come. Paul calls such people "opposers," for they oppose the pure gospel of Christ and would substitute for it a mixture of Christ plus something else. In Paul's day, those from the headquarters in Jerusalem sought to bring the saints of all the churches into law-keeping, such as circumcision, the Sabbath, and dietary regulations.
The gospel of Christ must become the faith that carries you in the church life. It must operate among all the saints to produce this striving together with one soul. In this way, God's goal can be accomplished. When the church life is like this, it is wonderful! But be assured that when this takes place, some will try to come in with the sole purpose of drawing you away from the experience of the faith of the gospel. However, Paul's word indicates that their works will come to nothing, for they will experience destruction. Indeed, that is what happened to those Judaizers: their headquarters and their work were destroyed in AD 70. We do not need to deal directly with those who oppose. The Lord will take care of that. The gospel that Paul and his co-workers preached eventually prevailed. Even to this day, the faith of the gospel of Christ still prevails to cause us to strive together in one spirit and with one soul towards the goal of God's economy. Hallelujah!
3. Suffering on His Behalf
Sometimes when we look at the situation, however, we are brought to tears. So many have been hurt and drawn away from this gospel to something else. As we are suffering from the operation of those who oppose, we should realize that Christ is the One who suffered the most, and our sufferings reveal that we are one with Him. It has been graciously granted to us on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer on His behalf (1:29).
Suffering in His Sufferings as Those Organically United with Him
Our suffering together with Christ indicates that we share an organic union with Christ. His sufferings were to produce the church, and today the church as His Bride still has not been produced in readiness for Him. This building up takes place in the local churches. Since the Bride is something produced out of Christ Himself, our focus in the churches must be upon Christ alone. We must pursue Christ, gain Christ, grow in Christ, and be built up in Christ. For this to occur there is no way but to suffer.
The Church Is Built Up through Sufferings
Therefore let others have the benefits, the comforts, the recognition, the power, and the wealth. The disciples might have felt very hopeful when the Lord said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18), but His work was to go to the cross. No church has been built up based upon prosperity. The Lord's sufferings for the church must become ours. Since we are one with Him, we share in His work and in the sufferings that are necessary for the building up of the church. Our suffering with Him is a great honor that the Lord has graciously bestowed upon us. We are not only His believers; we are His co-sufferers, not for the accomplishment of redemption, which only He alone could do, but as His co-laborers for His present work of building up His Body.
If you are determined to strive in one spirit with one soul after Christ in His economy, you must be prepared to suffer. Much of the suffering we experience in the churches comes about because of those who will seek to draw us off from the gospel of Christ. The dear ones who are affected by the "dogs" become irresolute, lose their joy, and fall away from the church life. Others remain, but cannot trust the elders anymore. What a suffering! Yet you have to learn to trust all such things to the Lord. We should not seek to root out those who cause such suffering. Instead, we must continue to strive forward so that the Lord may gain what He is after. Let us leave everything else to the Lord. He has a way to deal with every situation. We need the Lord's mercy that we ourselves would not oppose Him by promoting something other than Christ and His economy.
4. Having the Same Struggle as the Apostle
Finally, even though the opposers have their operation, we thank the Lord for the operation of those who serve the Lord for His gospel and who share our struggle. We and the apostle share in the same struggle together. He wants to hear that we are standing firmly in Christ alone for His gospel's sake and that our conduct matches this kingdom into which we have entered.
We are not standing upon a certain teaching or practice. Our stand is for Christ with His economy. Paul was in this divine and mystical realm. We also have received this gospel. Now we need to stand firm in what we have received. This is how we must practice the church life. We must never deviate from this.
When Paul said, "Having the same struggle which you saw in me" (Phil. 1:30), he was referring to the days when he first arrived in Philippi to bring the gospel to that city (Acts 16). The Philippians witnessed his struggle at that time. He was put into prison, and he was released when an earthquake miraculously set the prisoners free. The jailer received the Lord and perhaps became one of the leading brothers in that city. I believe such saints would have had a lot of feeling when they heard this word. When Paul and Silas were in that jail, they could have had many reasons to think that they had made a big mistake. Paul could have wondered, "Why did I ever believe that dream of the Macedonian man? Now everything is finished." They could have looked at each other and wept. Instead, they joyfully sang hymns, even though they had no idea that the Lord would release them. How could they do that? It was because of this faith within them, causing them to struggle forward even as they were shackled in that discouraging cell. Now once again Paul was imprisoned, and he wanted them to know that his struggle still remained the same-to enjoy and magnify Christ. The opposers, even though they might have had a hand in his imprisonment, could not cause him to fall away from this stand. In Philippi he had continued steadfast, even though everything seemed to be going in favor of the opposers, and now in Rome he knew even more clearly that his struggle was not in vain. He encouraged the saints with these words.
Those who oppose often have a way to convince others that they are right. Perhaps those from Jerusalem could say, "You in Philippi only have a few meeting together. In Jerusalem there are tens of thousands! And we have James, the brother of Jesus, leading us. Whom do you have? Incarcerated Brother Little?" (Paul's name means "small.") "His gospel is deficient. It is far too simplistic. Yes, Jesus is the Messiah. But haven't you heard that you also must be circumcised? Let me show you in the Bible where the Lord told Moses…." Meanwhile, Paul was telling the believers in Philippi, "Hold to the gospel of Christ that you have received and entered into. Do not be drawn away from it. Pursue Christ together in one spirit and with one soul in the church life. Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of citizens of this heavenly kingdom. I am still here for you, struggling in the same struggle."
Our Stand for the Building Up of the Church in Resurrection
How can we enter into resurrection in the church life? It is by striving together in one spirit and one soul, conducting ourselves according to the faith of the gospel, and being joined to Christ's sufferings. If we are willing to suffer with Him, we shall live with Him (2 Tim. 2:11). In all this, we need to conduct ourselves worthily of the gospel of Christ, stand firm in one spirit, and strive together with one soul to enjoy the transmission, energizing, and leading of the organic operation of faith. In nothing should we be frightened by the opposers, but we should be willing to suffer so that the Body of Christ may be built up among us. May this be our stand in the churches today!
© 2004 T. Chu, The Church in Cleveland