Signs of a Heavenly People
Text: Phil 1:27-28
Last week we saw that Paul uses the language of v27 to remind them of the obligations they had as people who participate in a society, which in this case, is the society of believers whose strongest ties are in heaven.
Now the unity of those who are citizens of heaven is going to be repeatedly enforced by Paul over the next number of verses. In fact you will see similar terms used between 1:27-2:4, one spirit, one mind, likeminded, the same love, one accord. And in everything he says it will come back to his original assertion that they should show that they are citizens of heaven (v27a).
Everything Paul wrote about from 1:12-26 with reference to himself, shows the absolute dominance of the gospel in his thinking. There was nothing more important. It was more important than his comfort, his reputation, and ultimately his life. He is the example. Paul was a citizen of heaven.
I remember someone telling me early in my Christian life that there are those who are so heavenly minded they are of no earthly use. It sounds like a witty observation, but it’s completely false. It is impossible to be truly heavenly minded and useless upon the earth. The more heavenly minded you are, the more likely you are to be of use upon the earth.
I. THEY WILL STAND IN UNITY – “stand fast in one spirit”
“stand fast” – standing with resolution and determination. 1 Cor 16:13. Masculine posture. Gal 5:1 has the same idea. It is a willingness to stand regardless of the threat. And beloved, I have hammered this and will continue to hammer this out, that your claim to the Christian faith is not something of an appendix to your life. It IS your life. It dictates your every decision.
So if you are given a choice which compromises the faith on which you claim to stand, you stand fast. Ps 40 has us standing upon the rock, which we know depicts our standing upon Christ. All around that rock is the mire from which you claim to have been delivered. To compromise is to step off Christ — not in a legal sense, but in a practical sense — and into sin that disassociates you from Christ. It is to deny Him. “in one spirit” – here he qualifies his statement. This is not a letter to an individual, but to the church.
The entire church is to stand together upon truth. It is not to compromise due to pressures from without or within, which is what it was facing. Phil 3:2 warns of external pressures. Phil 4:2 addresses the internal pressures. One of the things necessary in order to maintain this “one spirit” is to be like Paul exemplified in v23-24 – to sacrifice our own desire and opinion for the greater good of the body of Christ.
Beloved, not everything is black and white. One may believe a TV is cesspool and that any Christian is mad to have one, but that does not mean you treasure your opinion on that matter more than the fellowship of a fellow Christian who doesn’t see it that way. The same goes for Christian dress, home schooling, the Lord’s return, who should be voted into government, etc, etc. Some Christians have their own little hobbyhorse, the little topic they specialize in and everyone should see precisely as they see it. No.
The government of the church by a study of scripture and consensus of mind among the oversight, stipulates the matters of division and distinction. That way people can read what the church believes, and if they agree or are at least are willing to submit to that understanding, they will find the church runs consistently with those views. But some churches you read their views and agree, and then when you get in there you realize there are unwritten rules of conduct, too. That won’t be the case here.
II. THEY WILL STRIVE FOR ORTHODOXY – “with one…the gospel”
“striving together” – only other usage is Phil 4:3 ‘laboured with me’. The original shows athletic vigour. It has the idea of a team sport. We’ve all known teams that when you match the individuals against each other they are weaker, but that doesn’t dictate the outcome of the game. It’s the team that works together best on the day that wins.
“with one mind” – Acts 4:32. The attitude in striving for the common goal. What is that common goal?
“for the faith of the gospel” – Striving for their own faith, to get others to have faith, or for the body of truth they believe? I think it’s the latter. It’s the spirit of being ready and willing to stand for the truth, as Paul said he was in Phil 1:17. It’s what Jesus calls for His followers “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” Mk 8:35.
III. THEY WILL SHOW THEIR BRAVERY
i) It Requires Commitment – “And in nothing terrified by your adversaries”
The idea is that nothing you face will cause you to shy away or hide. Nothing will drive you away from the faith. One commentator notes. “The term occurs only here in the New Testament and suggests a reflex action resulting from being startled.”
All Christians understand; “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matt 10:28. Many churches now speak of God as if they were talking about an old friend at school. There is a evil, irreverent spirit that betrays a lack of solemnity toward the One they claim to know. I’m all for intimacy in communion with God, but this attitude that you would high-five God if you could is abominable.
Gen 22:12 showed that it was Abraham’s fear of God that was noted by the Lord. It is this fear of God that drives away fear of all else. For Paul, all the Romans could do is threaten him with glory and the prospect of seeing Christ, which we have learned was his great desire. Oh how weak our faith is when we fear man.
No doubt the enemies in Philippi from Acts 16 were still there. And listen, if you take a stand in your workplace, or even at times among your family, you’ll get labeled as a religious nut. As someone who belongs in the dark ages.
ii) It Results in Conviction – “evident token of perdition” “evident” – 2 Cor 8:24 “the proof of your love”
“perdition” – mostly refers to the destruction of men in Hell. Phil 3:19. When you stand for the Lord against the enemies of the gospel, will be a sign of their coming destruction. How? Men have a conscience, and while it may be misguided and seared, yet it most often gives a sense of right and wrong and therefore an awareness of punishment for wrongdoing. What men call karma, is evidence of their awareness of punishment for sin.
As Christians live blamelessly before the world as citizens of heaven, the world would take note of their lack of retaliation and their love, while at the same time their unflinching resolve to not budge in face of their threats.
Let me give you a historical example of what this does.
Patrick Hamilton was the first Scottish martyr of the Protestant Reformation, dying in his mid-twenties on Feb 29, 1528. His last words were “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and it’s said that his courageous spirit in death attracted more attention than ever to the doctrines for which he suffered, and greatly helped to spread the Reformation in Scotland.
It was said that the “reek of Master Patrick Hamilton infected as many as it blew upon” and even those against him were affected, and no doubt many a conscience was pricked, even among those who continued to oppose what he stood for. And that’s what Paul is teaching.
When the ungodly witness one who with meekness declares they would rather choose death than flinch at their threats, conscience gets the better of them. It tells them of their wickedness, and becomes a “token” of their worthiness of hell’s torments. In fact, it may have been the demeanour and conduct of Stephen in his martyrdom that caused the “pricks” that the Lord spoke of at his conversion. There is an evangelistic power in our resolve to stand for Christ against enemies and suffering.
iii) It Results in Comfort – “but to you of salvation, and that of God” Their stand would further strengthen their knowledge of God’s grace in their hearts. It would give them greater evidence that God had begun a good work in them (Phil 1:6). Left to ourselves, we would capitulate in order to prevent physical, relational, or economic suffering. When you come through trials, beloved, does it not strengthen your faith? Does it not encourage your heart?
The source of the suffering – “that of God”. God is in this all. Look beyond your difficulties, there’s a sovereign God in all this. Paul’s entire example shows that he knew God was in everything that happened to him, and that it would work out for good. And that’s what the Philippians and we need to learn as well. Let us not be overcome by our selfish yearning for ease. God has ordained our present and future difficulties.
Close – So these are the signs of a heavenly people that Paul identifies in these verses. Standing in Unity, Striving for Orthodoxy, and Showing our Bravery. And you know beloved, it shows the benefits of being part of a tightly knit church.
When we have stood together for years, prayed together for years, preached together for years, rejoiced together for years, wept together for years, we become much better equipped to face our adversaries. We hear the testimony of other believers in the church and the Lord’s deliverance of them. We hear their thanksgiving to God in prayer for present deliverances and our hearts are strengthened.
In all this we’re being equipped to face our adversaries. Will you pray today that we’re a church like this? None of us know what we’ll face in coming days, either as individuals or as a church, but we need these signs of a heavenly people to be evident.