Above All (Phil 1:27-30)

Updated: Aug 26




Our text for today’s sermon is Philippians 1:27-30. I have thought a lot about this text. I’ve thought a lot about the whole letter of Philippians, and we’re only a quarter of the way through the letter. There are such profound riches here, so much to embrace, so many glorious heights to explore.


Climbing a mountain is a good metaphor for studying Scripture. There is only one way to authentically experience the view from the top; you have to do the work to get there. Now you could charter a helicopter and end up standing on the same peak the mountaineer arrived at the hard way, but let’s not kid ourselves – the view arrived via the helicopter is unworthy to be compared to the view attained by the one who risked his life scaling the heights. The helicopter view, mind you, does avoid the scraped-up knees, the bleeding fingers, and the heart-stopping slip next to the deep crevasse. It does avoid those moments of exhaustion at the side of the trail, your legs and lungs on fire. The helicopter view may appear to the naïve to offer the same experience – shell out the cash, skip the pain, and get all the gain. But that’s surely a lie. It’s a postcard view; it’s not the authentic experience. Yes, you can stand there on the mountaintop next to the mountaineer in your street clothes, witnessing the same distant mountain ranges and breathing in the same mountain air but the two experiences will be radically different. If you truly desire all that is to be had from the mountain top experience the saying is true, “No pain, no gain!” Don’t like pain? Oh well, you’ll have to settle for the postcard.

 

I want you to experience the pain so that you can get in on all the gain.

 

Isn’t what I’m saying true, brothers and sisters? You know it’s true in your own life in a dozen different ways. My aim from the beginning of this series has been to say, “Come climb with me, and let’s explore the heights together!” If all you’re getting from this sermon series is my telling you how glorious my climbing experience has been I’m pleased with that. I’m glad I may have given you a few moments of inspiration; sometimes we’ll never set out to do our own climbing until we encounter someone who tells us how exciting it is. But I want more than that for you; I want you to experience the pain so that you can get in on all the gain.


It’s not like I’m particularly fond of struggling in and of itself, and it’s not like I want you to embark on the adventure just because I like to see people with skinned-up knees and bleeding fingers. But I want you to experience the thrill of hauling yourself up over that last obstacle so that at last you can stand there, out of breath, and take in the view. I want that for you because you’ll be a better man or a woman in Christ for it.


Now we’d all be fools if we decided to take on Everest for our first mountain climbing expedition. The same is true in the adventures found in the exploration of our biblical texts. You won’t be able to keep up with the man or woman who has been scrambling up and down the biblical slopes for decades. You’ll have to start with a more gentle ascent and less precarious peaks. But this is where everybody starts! And, yes, perhaps you’ll never want to make the trek up Everest; that’s OK! Not everyone makes mountain climbing their solitary aim in life. But you deserve that challenging climb that’s within your range. And then you deserve that one a little beyond it as well. And on we go. This is the thrill of the Christian walk. Doing the hard work of encountering God – running after him with all we’ve got, collapsing for a while beside the trail, and then getting up and pressing on until at a last, out of breath, we stand and look in his face for a moment – this is an experience I can’t give you; you have to go after it yourself!

 

Our faith is meant to launch us into a glorious adventure,

and that adventure is found down the road that involves pain.

 

As Paul wraps up what we call Chapter 1 in Philippians he’s speaking this kind of language. He’s saying, “Now dig in and press on!” He’s saying, “Now it’s time for you to get on with the journey; to invest deeply, and to be willing to pay the painful price for it!” His point is that we’ve been profoundly privileged to have been called by Christ to believe in him. There is no greater privilege! But our response to the call is crucial. “It’s been given to you,” says Paul, “graciously given as a gift, to believe in him!” And what a privilege it is. “But that’s not all you’ve been given!” says Paul. Listen, if you miss what Paul says next the only mountaintop view that will be possible for you to experience is the postcard view. To believe is indeed a gracious gift but it’s not meant as an end it itself; our faith is meant to launch us into a glorious adventure, and that adventure is found down the road that involves pain.


Here’s how Paul said it:


Philippians 1:27–30 (My Translation)

27Above all conduct yourselves as heavenly citizens in a manner consistent with the good news of Christ. Then, whether I see you in person or only hear from a distance about you, I will find you standing firm in one spirit, contending together as one person for the faith of the good news, 28without being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign from God of their destruction but of your salvation. 29For on behalf of Christ, it has been graciously given to you not only to believe in him but also to suffer on his behalf. 30Indeed you are experiencing the same struggle which you witnessed in my life and even now continue to hear about.


 

Suddenly the searing lungs, the gash on your knee,

and the bleeding fingers are something to celebrate!

 

I hope the mountain climbing metaphor has helped you to arrive at this text with the potential to see it a little differently. The metaphor, like all metaphors, will not completely get the job done, but I think it’s helpful on some level. Paul is urging the Philippian believers to embrace their suffering as a gracious gift. And I think he’d say it much the same way I’ve tried to say it through the mountain climbing metaphor. Suffering, like clamoring up a steep mountain slope, is not much fun for its own sake. But if you can see your suffering as part of the journey towards a glorious destination it will change how you view it. More than that, if you can see your suffering as a Christian as the sign from God that you’re actually engaged in the battle for his sake, then suffering can even be something to sing about! Suddenly the searing lungs, the gash on your knee, and the bleeding fingers are something to celebrate not something to cry about! Why? Because this means that you’re engaged in an adventure that ends on a mountain top!


Have you ever tried to climb a mountain with a child? They give up too easily. They can’t see what’s ahead like you can, and so instead of pressing on through the pain they cry at the side of the trail and beg to go back down. Paul is urging the Philippian believers on to maturity. “It’s been graciously given to you, on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer on his behalf!” Not sure that makes any sense where you live and the struggles you contend with through life? Neither does all the work of mountain climbing to a child. You have to envision the destination!


 

That’s why he can sing in the midst of it all.

 

But now it’s time to tweak the metaphor to get a little more mileage out of it. We need to see Jesus as the one who has gone on before us, who has arrived at the peak and is urging us on up the trail. Paul, we are to see as one who is in hot pursuit, eager to run after Christ. And the suffering along the trail of faith doesn’t look like deep crevasses and rocky outcrops; it looks like a cross. Jesus embraced the cross as the path to glory and urges us to do the same. Paul has embraced the cross and is urging us to embrace it as well. He doesn’t see his sufferings as an indication that something is going wrong but that something is going gloriously right! That’s why he can sing in the midst of it all. Jesus’ victory was won through the cross, and if that is true then when our lives take on the shape of the cross we’ve got something to sing about as well.


Those disciples who followed Jesus in his lifetime were eager for the mountain top and they had already plotted their route. Jesus came along and said, “Boys you’re going about it all the wrong way! Let me show you how it’s done!” So he told them all about it. “We’re going to go to Jerusalem; I’m going to get arrested and handed over to the authorities; they’re going to kill me, and then comes the glory. I’ll be raised to life again!” And they said, “You’re nuts!!” Peter said, “Never!! Don’t be a fool!” And Jesus said, “You get behind me Satan! This is the way up the mountain, and I’m taking it every step of the way!”


Why did the way have to involve the cross? Why not the way the disciples wanted to go? Because the way of the cross is the way of love! It’s as simple as that! The way of the cross is the way of sacrificial love. The cross is the path where God’s heart for humanity was on display through Jesus. We are the people who believe in all that the cross symbolizes, aren’t we? We can’t truly believe in the cross if we are unwilling to embrace it in our own lives.


And here’s the strange thing. Once we see this everything changes! Once we see the cross as the pathway to life then suddenly the cross (the pain) is no longer a sign that something has gone terribly wrong; it’s a sign that something is gloriously right! Jesus achieved victory through the cross and he urges us to take the same path, a cross-shaped path – a cruciform life. But if all we can see is the suffering and the loneliness, if all we see on that path is skinned up knees and the agonizing struggle, we’re likely to stay parked in base camp. But if we see the victory of the cross for what it is, suddenly all the pain is more than worth it. Of course it’s worth it!! Beyond the pain – indeed, through the pain – comes victory!

Those who are Christ’s – listen, this is very important – those who are Christs not only believe in the cross they take it up and follow him! Those who are Christ’s don’t just assemble week after week to celebrate Jesus' work on the cross; they do more than sing about it – they enter into it! That’s how they celebrate it! They say, “Yes! Give me my cross so I can follow him!” Sound insane?? No more insane than the young man who says in base camp, “Where are my bleeding fingers and skinned up knees. I want my legs to feel like they’re on fire!” Only those who have never scaled the heights will call him a fool to want such things.


And so as the world looks on while the church embraces the way of the cross they think we’re nuts! That’s OK!! Let them think that! Some will never get beyond the mocking and the jeering. For them as we stand in solidarity, striving together for the cruciform life, unfazed by all who oppose us, our testimony is a sign that they’re never going to make it – they’ll never reach the mountain top. But for others our insistence on the way of the cross will be precisely that thing that urges them to join us in the adventure, running after our Lord Jesus. And so the very same sign – our struggling together as one for the way of the cross – says to us, “Victory!” but says to others, “Defeat!” This is Paul’s point as he wraps up Philippians chapter 1. Our determination to stand as one, contending together up the slopes in the pursuit of Christ is the sign that we’re on the right track, and that salvation is on the horizon.


Now, let’s have a closer look at the text:


Philippians 1:27–30 (My Translation)

27Above all conduct yourselves as heavenly citizens in a manner consistent with the good news of Christ. Then, whether I see you in person or only hear from a distance about you, I will find you standing firm in one spirit, contending together as one person for the faith of the good news, 28without being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign from God of their destruction but of your salvation. 29For on behalf of Christ, it has been graciously given to you not only to believe in him but also to suffer on his behalf. 30Indeed you are experiencing the same struggle which you witnessed in my life and even now continue to hear about.

Above all conduct yourselves as heavenly citizens in a manner consistent with the good news of Christ.

  • Above all… This is Paul’s point. Above all, aim at this! Paul has been revving up to this point for the whole of this first chapter. He’s laid the groundwork for this statement and now he urges us to the most important thing he wants to say in the opening part of the letter.

  • Not all translations say, “Above all!” But that sums up well the thrust of what Paul is saying. The Greek text is literally translated as, “Only conduct yourselves…” But what does Paul mean by “only” here? “Above all!” communicates what the “only” means. The point is that Paul is wanting to emphasize the “only” thing that really matters. The NIV says, “Whatever happens conduct yourselves…” That helps us out a bit. The CEB says, “Most important live (this way)…” These more expansive translations are pointing in the same direction as I am advocating.

  • Paul is about to emphasize a very important point and we ought to turn up our radar and give him our full attention.

conduct yourselves as heavenly citizens

  • Typically the English translations phrase this simply as “conduct yourselves” or “live your life” but if you look at the ESV footnote on this text you will see that the idea of citizenship is part of the Greek wording here.

  • If you’ve been reading the Philippians week by week you know that Paul will explicitly talk about citizenship in 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

  • The word translated citizenship there and the word I have translated, “conduct yourselves as heavenly citizens” here in verse 27 are related. It’s possible, and I think probable, that Paul, early in the letter is pointing us in the direction of where he will later arrive. I have supplied the word “heavenly” in the text here to help us recognize that the citizenship Paul is talking about is citizenship in Christ’s kingdom, not Caesar’s. The point is that through the gospel Jesus is proclaimed as Lord, so act like it!

  • We are to conduct ourselves in a way that bears the proper testimony to the gospel, the good news of Jesus.

in a manner consistent with the good news of Christ.

  • Most translations translate this as “in a manner worthy of the gospel.” And for good reason – this is what it says. But the question I want to ask is, “What does it mean to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel? This does not mean that Paul is urging us to some impossible standard – as if our response to the gospel must somehow merit God’s work of salvation.

  • Living a life ‘worthy of the gospel’ is to live a life that properly resonates with the good news of our salvation, a salvation that was accomplished through the cross of Jesus. With my expansive translation I’m trying to make the point Paul is after clear to us. Our lives should be a reflection of the gospel; they should be lived “in a manner consistent with the good news of Christ.”

  • So what would that kind of life look like? That’s where Paul goes in the next verse.

Then, whether I see you in person or only hear from a distance about you, I will find you standing firm in one spirit, contending together as one person for the faith of the good news

  • What constitutes a life which is “consistent with” or “worthy of” the good news of Jesus? First, it is a life of unity in Christ – oneness. Paul literally says, “standing firm in one spirit, with one soul striving together for the faith of the gospel.”The idea is that we contend together as one person.

  • “contending together” is a sports metaphor. It’s one word in Greek – sunathlountes. The prefix “sun” (pronounced “soon”) means “with”, and the rest of the word is the Greek word from which we get the English “athlete.” The idea is of athletes struggling together. The church, it appears to me, often gets this wrong. You would think that somewhere it was written that we as Christians ought to be in competition against each other. That’s an athletic metaphor too, but it’s the wrong one. We’re supposed to be on the same team, contending alongside each other for the faith of the gospel.

  • To return to our mountain climbing metaphor, this is about scaling the heights together, supporting each other on the journey, working as a team so that together we reach the summit.

28without being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign from God of their destruction but of your salvation.

  • In the face of all opposition our unity, our oneness, our single-mindedness, which is manifested in lives consistent with the gospel of Jesus, constitutes a dual sign from God – to us, that we are being saved, but to our opponents that destruction awaits them.

  • Paul is urging the Philippians to see things as they are! When our life together looks cross-shaped, when we suffer as one, when we struggle as one in the way of Christ, it’s a sign of our salvation!

  • And now to the last two verses.

29For on behalf of Christ, it has been graciously given to you not only to believe in him but also to suffer on his behalf. 30Indeed you are experiencing the same struggle which you witnessed in my life and even now continue to hear about.

  • Here is where Paul has been headed. The worthy life is not a life that somehow holds the message of the cross at a distance, believing it but refusing to embrace it. The life lived which is consistent with the good news recognizes that is a profound and glorious privilege to enter into the sufferings of Christ.

  • This is an astounding thing to say. But it’s where Paul lives and he’s urging us to live there too. He would insist that there’s no other place to live, no other response to the gospel that is worthy of it – consistent with it.

  • the same struggle… Paul is trying to get the Philippians to see that their struggle, like his, is not a sign of defeat but victory. He’s urging them, therefore, to sing in the midst of it all, just like he is.

  • This is the authentic sign that you are Christ’s!!! Above all, embrace this!!

Can we see this perspective as we walk out our lives in the service of Christ? Can we see our suffering in light of where we’re headed? Can we, like the vigorous mountain climber, embrace the pain of the adventure with joy, knowing what it all means? Paul is sprinting on out ahead of us, telling us where we’re headed and that all the pain is worth it. We are engaged – Praise God! – in the work of Christ. So when our paths look like his it’s not time to get long in the lip but to celebrate. It’s OK to feel the pain. Jesus felt it. It was very real to him. But he pressed on, he stood firm and fought for it. Our task is to walk the same path and contend for the same things while we suffer on his behalf. Can we live this glorious cross-shaped life? You bet we can!! And when we get a little break from the pain you’ll find us singing about it!!






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