Part 4 – Standing Together When Life is Hard

August 31, 2008

By Derick Parfan

Philippians 1:27-30

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (28) and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. (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, (30) engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (ESV)

Today is National Heroes Day.  We celebrate the deeds of many men and women who stand up during the most difficult times of our nation – the repressive Spanish rule for 333 years, the colonial rule of the Americans in the early 1900s, the cruelty of the Japanese during the 40s, and the 20-year dictatorship of Marcos.  They stand up during times of great adversities.  They sought to unite the nation under a common goal of freedom for the Filipino people.  But not all stand up and cooperate with the cause.  Some took the side of the enemy, some chose to keep silent because of fear, and some don’t care at all and manage their own affairs, instead.

Some of the empty seats now in our church are proof that Christians tend to give up easily on their faith and stay away from our fellowship when life gets harder.  When life’s problems become tougher, when dealing with fellow believers becomes painful, when there is disillusionment with what is going on inside the church, we have a tendency to move away.  That is what our Enemy wants to happen but that is not what our Father in heaven wants to see among his children.

It is the will of God that Christians stand strong together when life is hard – especially when life is hard.  We must not move out of the fellowship just because life gets tougher.  We must stick together.  We must not stay away from our problems.  We must deal with it as one church, as one family.  This is what Paul wants to see among the Philippian believers when God allowed him to come to them or if not, at least he may hear that they are standing together.  “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit” (27a).  I will explain that in a little while but first let us make a review of the last three sermons on our series When Life is Hard and see how this last sermon fits into the whole.

In 1:12-18 (“Rejoicing When Life is Hard”), we realized that there are far more important reasons for rejoicing in the midst of hardships than the hope of someday having a hassle-free life.  We can and must rejoice because of God’s good purposes for making known the gospel to other people, for strengthening other believers’ faith, and most importantly, for the exaltation of the name of Christ in whatever circumstances.  Then in 1:19-26 (“Magnifying Christ When Life is Hard” and “Serving Others When Life is Hard”) we saw the single passion in life each one of us must have – the passion to magnify Christ in all of life.  This passion does not change with the circumstances in our life.  It remains the same.  And the overflow of this passion is gladly serving the needs of other believers, particularly their “progress and joy in the faith.”  All of these lessons in life came from Paul’s own attitude regarding the hardships he was going through because of his commitment to the cause of Christ.  Beginning in verse 27, he directly exhorts the believers how they must live in light of their present circumstances.

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit” (27a).  Whatever happened to Paul, whether he continues to live or is executed, what matters to him is that the believers are “standing firm in one spirit.”  Standing firm (Gk. steko) refers to “steadfastly holding one’s ground regardless of danger and opposition” (MacArthur, 86).  Obviously there were hardships that may cause these believers to lose their ground.  There are some opponents, sufferings and conflicts that might cause them not to hold fast to the word of life (2:16).  But they are to stand firm in the Lord (4:1) and they are to stand firm in “one spirit.”  They must be together in this.  They must stand strong together.

We, too, may experience some hardships in our life.  Some are caused by external pressures, and some by internal strife.  But whatever the cause, we need to hold fast, but not alone.  We are to stand strong together in going through the hardships of life. United we stand, divided we fall.

However, standing together is not easy for us to do.  We need some strong motivations to stand together when life is hard.  We need to know some important things we share in common so that we will stand together.  What are these?

One CITIZENSHIP Worth Living for (27a)

First, we must stand together when life is hard because we have one citizenship worth living for.  It comes from the main exhortation of Paul in this passage, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit (27a).  Our calling is to reflect the kind of life a citizen of the kingdom of Christ is supposed to live.  Going on separate ways and giving up on life’s hardships are certainly not among them.

Standing together is a necessary result if we will live in such a way that will reflect the worth of Christ and his gospel.  The gospel unites and not divides believers.  The word translated “let your manner of life” is literally, “live as citizens.”  We are to live as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ.  Philippi was a known Roman colony.  They are proud of their status as Roman citizens and their allegiance is to the emperor, their “lord and savior.”  Probably, the believers in Philippi were experiencing troubles because of their shift in allegiance in Christ, their new Lord and Savior.  Paul wants to remind them that whatever hardship they may experience as a result of that, they must live as good citizens of the kingdom of Christ.  “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:20).   And because they are fellow citizens of one kingdom with one goal of magnifying the name of their King Jesus, there is no cause for them to move out of the kingdom or live in disharmony with fellow Christians.  They are to stand together.

One society known as KKK stand strong against the Spaniards during the 1896 Philippine Revolution.  KKK stands for Kataas-taasang Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan.  They knew where they stand.  They knew they must unite as “mga Anak ng Bayan.”  They were carrying the Philippine flag to let the enemies know where they stand and that they stand together as one nation.  Even today when Filipinos met in other countries they will gather together and unite because they are citizens of one country, although they are living and working in a foreign country.  Our one citizenship is supposed to bind and unite us.

Although we live in this world which is not our real home, we are all carrying a banner bearing the name of Christ as citizens of his kingdom in heaven.  We are bringing shame to our citizenship if we face life’s hardships separately.  Whenever you are tempted to go out of the fellowship and not to cooperate with the ministries, think of the name of Christ we all are bearing and ask yourself whether the decision you will make or your inaction in the face of some needs or problems will magnify that Name.

One CAUSE Worth Fighting for (27b-28a)

Second, we must stand together when life is hard because we have one cause worth fighting for.  Paul elaborates the manner of their “standing firm in one spirit.”  It must be “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel28and not frightened in anything by your opponents” (27b-28a).  Their standing together is active, rather than passive.  It is fighting rather than merely defending.  It is fighting because there is a big cause worth fighting for.  That cause is the cause of the gospel and making this message known to all people as the only truth worth living for.

The word Paul used for “striving side by side” is sunathleo.  We can hear the word athleo in there from which we get the English word athlete.  It’s the word used in 2 Timothy 2:5 where Paul says, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”  It is also the same word that is used in Philippians 4:3 where Paul tries to get Euodia and Syntyche reconciled with each other after their supposed dispute: “I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel…”  So in its three uses, the word is translated strive, labor, and compete.  It has in it the effort and discipline and endurance of athletic endeavor.

One essential way, then, to live in a manner worthy of the gospel and therefore, stand together when life is hard, is to fix our eyes on the goal of spreading the gospel, and then apply the effort and discipline and endurance of an athlete in reaching that goal.  Our disunity will only hinder the cause of the gospel.  It will not in any way advance it.  We are called to strive, not to give up.

To give up is to be frightened by the opposition, hardships in life and the great Enemy himself.  If we are to stand together, we must not be “frightened in anything by [our] opponents.”  There is an Ethiopian proverb that says, “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”  The lion might be too big for a single thread of a spider’s web.  But when the webs of the Christians will unite we can overcome any hardship that will come our way and advance the cause of Christ for the salvation of the whole world.  We must believe in the vision of our church and pull all the resources we can muster to achieving that goal.  Remember, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

We work together to achieve a common goal.  We do not compete.  When we begin to fight against one another, and forget that we must be together in fighting for a one great cause, we can achieve little.  One story told about the strength of horses to pull weights.  One horse pulled 9,000 pounds, and another 8,000.  When they pulled together, you would expect them to pull 17,000.  Wrong!  When they worked together, they pulled 30,000 pounds!  The lesson: More can be done in a united effort than can be accomplished alone.

We do not compete against one another.  We unite in order to work – and work hard – toward a common cause.  The next time you are tempted to blame others for your emotional pain and leave the church because of the hardship of dealing with that problem, ask yourself what is the reason you sign up as a member of the church.  Some of you think too much of yourselves you no longer care whether your actions will contribute to the cause of the gospel.  True, life is hard; but don’t make it harder to others and to this church than it already is.  Work out your differences and unite for one common cause – the gospel of Christ!  Let us fight together.  Let us stand together.

One CONVICTION Worth Holding on (28b-30)

Third and last, we must stand together when life is hard because we have one conviction worth holding on.  The conviction we hold on is that everything we experience, no matter how hard it is, is working for us toward the salvation God has promised.  Hardships will not keep us away from the faith and from the fellowship.  Paul wrote, “This (referring to their standing firm together in the midst of opposition) is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God29For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake30engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (28b-30).

We believe in the goodness of God.  That is why we will not just give up on our faith easily, and not let others give up on theirs.  The hardships we are painfully experiencing are ultimately from God.  Paul said that it is a sign that we will ultimately be saved.  “This is a clear sign…of your salvation, and that [is] from God.”  Salvation is a gift from God.  But sometimes what we fail to realize is that sufferings are also a gift from God.  Paul makes it clear 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.”  The word used is charizomai derived from the word charis, meaning grace.  It means “giving generously, with the implication of good will on the part of the giver” (Louw and Nida).  It is a gift because it is a suffering for the sake of Christ, the one who himself suffered for us.  It is a gift because by sharing in his sufferings we may share in his resurrection also (3:10-11; cf. Rom. 8:16-18).  It is a gift also because it gives us assurance that we are really one of God’s children.

It is our firm conviction that all the things happening to us, good or bad, will ultimately work together for our good (Rom. 8:28).  The reason: God is good!  All the things he will give to us will be for our good.  We will choose to stick with one another even in tough times because we believe, not in our own abilities and worth, but in God’s goodness and hope that days will come that we will experience the fruits of our united labor for the cause of Christ.  Our country’s heroes fought for our independence with a conviction that a day will come that our country will be liberated, even at the cost of their lives.  They stood together and invited other Filipinos to join them because they believe.

We, too, must believe that God has good things in mind for our life and for our church.  Our church has gone through some tough times recently.  The painful events that took place caused some to leave.  It is a hard experience when a family member left.  Whatever hardship we may experience in our individual lives and in the life of our church, the passage we studied is a call for us to believe in the good plans of God.  Most of the elders knew I have my share of tough times as a leader in this church.  But I am holding on because of the conviction that God has good things in mind.  I want to see it.  I want to work for it.  I want you all to stand with me and all the others here and work with us to realize God’s plan for the church.  Will you stick and stand together with us?

God is calling everyone in this church to stand together.  We have one citizenship worth living for; all of us carry in our lives the name of Christ.  Let us live worthy of our calling and stand together.  We have one cause worth fighting for; we fight for the spread of the gospel in the world.  Let us apply all our energy to achieve that goal and stand together.  We have one conviction worth holding on; we believe in the goodness of God to work every hardship toward something very good.  Let us trust in him and his plans and stand together.

Many nurses chose to leave the country and work in a foreign land because life in this country is hard.  But the woman who topped the 2008 nursing board exam has no plans of working abroad.  Aira Therese Salamanca Javier, a native of Batangas and a graduate of University of Sto. Tomas said, “I want to serve the Filipino people…[and] work as a nurse here in the Philippines.”  To become a nurse has been her dream since she was a child.  Like her, I appeal to you to stay in this church.  Please don’t leave.  Although tough times are ahead, believe in our vision to magnify Christ in all of life.  Help us spread this vision to other Christians and especially to those who do not know the Lord Jesus.  Let us dream and work together to achieve our common dream.  Will you rise up to the challenge, even when it is hard?

Life is hard.  The more it gets harder and harder, the more we need to stand together.  We can rejoice together.  We will live with a single passion to magnify the name of Christ together.  Together we will serve others and help meet their needs and help them carry their burdens.  No matter what it costs us, we will stand firm and continue fighting until the end.  No matter how hard the wind hits the bamboo it still stands.  Though its structure is really tough, one of the key is because other bamboos are standing around it.  May God give us the grace to be resilient like a bamboo and go through the hardships of the Christian life – together.

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