Now turn with me again to Philippians chapter 1 - I do want, if possible, to finish these verses off today, but we're not going to rush through them because I feel there's so much important truth found in these verses for the local church and for those who would class themselves as members or attenders of any local church, not just this church but any local assembly in the New Testament sense. That's why we've been pondering for a while over these verses, to just decipher and taste the truths that are so important in this day and age, of what it means to have the marks of a spiritual or a good church - that really comes down to the people, because it's the people that make up the church. It's very difficult to read these verses without realising that Paul is inciting the church, if you like, into warfare because there is a war on, and there's something at stake in the war that we are fighting for - and of course we found out in the weeks that have gone by that that fight, that war, is for the faith of the gospel.
Paul has also told us how to fight that great battle of faith, it's to be fought on the battleground of our conversation - in other words, our way of life and our citizenship which is in heaven, but which is meant to be lived out on the earth. So we're meant to live as heavenly citizens, but upon the earth. If there's ever a heaven on earth, it ought to be the church of Jesus Christ in the way that they behave in their citizenship upon the earth - but he specifies that by saying that it is seen primarily in the way that our lives become the gospel of Christ, verse 27: "Let your conversation", your citizenship, "be as it becometh the gospel of Christ". Our lives are to enhance the gospel, rather than detract from the gospel.
Paul knew that this was so important, because he knew that the testimony of the church - and indeed, the testimony of individual believers - was going abroad. For that reason he said: 'I want to hear that your conversation becometh the gospel of Christ: and whether I come and see you, or whether I hear of you, I want to hear this - for this is what is so important. You've got to realise that your testimony is going abroad...that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs'. And here were the three specific marks that we began to look at last Lord's Day and want to conclude, God willing, today - three marks of a spiritual or a good church. One: that ye stand fast in one spirit, and in one mind; here's the second mark: striving together for the faith of the gospel and in nothing terrified by your adversaries. Verse 29: 'For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake'.
Now I've broken them down into three marks of a spiritual church. One: to stand together, stand fast, or stand firm together in one spirit and with one soul - you remember that we defined that last week as one soul, one will, executing God's will that we find within our spirits. This week we're going to look at how the second mark is to strive together, not just to stand fast together as the church, but to strive together. We will see what we ought to strive together for, and then finally his, perhaps in the day and age in which he was living, the most characteristic mark of the church of Jesus Christ - which certainly in the West today is the least characteristic mark of the church, and it's this: to suffer together for the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now we're not going to take time to recap, we don't have time to do that, on what it was to stand together in the gospel - but we just saw that we need to be, as the church of Jesus Christ, of one spirit: and that has to be the deciphering of the spirit and will of God in our spirits as the church, that filters from God's Holy Spirit into the oversight, from the oversight into the deacons, from the deacons into the members, and right down that whole tier of responsibility within the church, so that the will of God is diffused right across the local church of God, and God's will is done in one spirit. Then in one mind, or the word is one soul, and it is that executing seat of the will within our hearts that decides to do what God's will is, to execute God's will - not just to know it, but to do it. We see how important that is, and we were challenging all sorts of saints last Lord's day morning, no matter how long you are the road, to ask: how is it with you in standing firm and standing fast together in one spirit and one mind within the church of Jesus Christ?
Let's look at this second point of a spiritual church: striving together, verse 27 near the end: '...stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries'. Now just look down at the word 'strive' for one moment, because of course you know that the original scriptures were not written in English - some people think that God gave the Bible down in the Authorised Version from heaven, that is incorrect, of course it was in the original Greek. As much as we love our Authorised Version, the original Greek is the original scriptures in one sense, and we have to go back to them at times to find the real depth of the meaning to some of these words. When we look at this word 'strive' in the Greek language we find that it's the word 'sunathleo', and it means literally 'to contend', to contend or to fight - now not specifically in the battle sense that we were thinking of last week, when it says 'standing fast together' we thought of a Roman army, as it were, shoulder to shoulder working together as one whole body. As you look at that Roman army it would seem as if they were one person, working together with one spirit and one mind.
But Paul is now using a different illustration, he's going into the world of athletics, and the reason why I know that is that if you break this word down 'sunathleo', you see that the second part of the word 'athleo' is the word that we get athletics from - 'athleo', 'athletics'. The word 'sun' simply means 'with' - so he's saying 'with athletics'. You're to contend together, strive together, if you like, Paul is saying, with the energies as if you're taking part in some kind of athletic race or feat. This is so important, to see the great imagery that Paul is using. Now listen, what he's saying is: 'The marks of a spiritual or good church, they're to be like an army that stand together as one soldier, not many platoons or battalions that are split up with different battles and different inklings of fights, but they're to be like one army united together for the one cause'. Now he's using an illustration from the athletic world, and he's saying we're to be united together - and I think the point that Paul is really getting through with this is not so much the force, as we strive together, but the togetherness of it, that it's to be a striving together as a team, as a team.
Turn with me to chapter 4 of Philippians, because we have a little window on this whole matter in verse 3. Paul says: 'I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life'. Be encouraged, ladies, these were women who were labouring with the apostle Paul in the gospel, with Clement also - 'fellowlabourers', he calls them, he doesn't call them 'people who were under me', 'people who did what I said', 'my disciples', but they were fellow workers with the apostle Paul, because ultimately they were fellow labourers with God. But what I want you to see is what made this little church a great church, and what brought the apostle Paul great joy as he was locked up in prison for the gospel, something that marked them was not only that they stood fast together, but they strove together in the work of God.
So if standing fast is like a position, standing and not being moved, striving together is a little different - it's not giving in in any extent, it is moving forward; not just standing in a position, but it's action, it's overt, it's opposition, it's going into the attack - not standing together this time, but attacking together! They had some within the church who did this, and I really believe that the idea here, if we can ponder it for just a moment, is the picture of cooperation. 'Sunathleo', not so much an athletic event where there is a sprinter, or a man with a javelin - and they're all individuals trying to beat other individuals - but the picture that Paul is really trying to paint here is of a team together, like a football team or a rugby team, or some other kind of sporting team that depend upon one another and will never win the battle, or win the game if you like, unless they work together for the one specific goal.
What Paul is talking about is teamwork. Of course, on the greater scale there is Satan's team against God's team if I can use that phraseology - and I don't think it's irreverent because this is what Paul is pointing to. We are not individuals, John Dunn, the great poet, said: 'No man is an island' - and no matter how exclusive and isolated you want to be as a child of God, it is against the plan of God and the will of God, because we are all to be together in this battle, fighting and working together and striving together against the forces of darkness. We are to be pulling together, and the point is that as we pull together, strive together, and work together, we're all doing it - or meant to be doing it - for the one self-same goal. Everyone is looking for the goal.
Now if you go a verse before verse 3 of chapter 4 you will see the exact opposite that also existed within the church at Philippi. He says: 'I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord'. What a picture of a general church this really is, we could pick out any church within our whole land and you would find within it people who work together and strive with one another, and then there are others who strive against one another. You almost would think that we're in two different teams, fighting against one another, trying to win our own little battle against the Lord's people that don't think the same way as we do. Now I'm not saying that we've all to be like robots and have the same opinions, and you would have a hard job having some of the same opinions as me - I'm sure you would agree on that one! But friends, with regards to the gospel, we are meant to strive together - and there are not meant to be any divisions among us. Perhaps one of the greatest indictments that there is against the church of Jesus Christ today is the fact that a football team seems to be able to do this, but the church or Jesus Christ cannot!
No wonder the Lord said that the children of this world, at times, are wiser than the children of light. Let me just run this by you for one moment: just think if this assembly - just taking this assembly for instance, because I don't know any other as well as this one - if just for one month in the year we were to work together, just the level of unity that you find in a football team, that's all. Just the level of unity that you would find, working together and training, in a football team - you might say: 'Oh, you're really demeaning spiritual things today' - but I ask you the question: are we even doing that? If I'm demeaning spiritual things, are we doing this already?
The fact of what Paul is trying to get at is this: you need to start working more like a football team, or some kind of athletic team or organisation, to work together and strive together for the one goal if you're going to win this battle! Sometimes we get so caught up in our pompous piety that is only hypocritical, that we can't see past these things to see that at times the world could organise a teddy bear's picnic better than we can! Now friends, let's really be honest today: is there anything, and we've touched on this because it's very heavy on my heart in these days, is there any thing in our contemporary situation today that is more hindering to the gospel of Christ than division within His church? I don't think there is. I don't have to answer for any other church in this land, but I want to ask people here: do you know where you are? Is your little quarrel more important than the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is it? Because until it is, you've got no right to stand aloof and not strive with us in the gospel. Until it's more important, and means more, could it be that you seem not to be able to subordinate your little inkling problem and gripe and bitterness to the gospel? Well, I want to pronounce to you this morning, upon the word of God, that if that is your mentality and that is your spiritual position of stagnation, no church has any use for you - but worse than that, God has no use for you!
I wouldn't be too worried about churches having use for you, but the biggest thing that ever worries me as a preacher of God's word, and even just as a Christian, is that a day should come when God would not be able to use me. I fear, you know, that that's where some people are. I fear that for some it's not just outright rebellion or stubbornness, or an unwillingness to do things for the Lord, but it's found in this little phrase at the beginning of verse 28: 'In nothing terrified by your adversaries'. There are some people who are terrified of taking this final step of commitment, if you like, and striving together - oh, they'll stand fast for the things that they believe in, they'll fight a battle for principles, but when it comes to really going forward and moving together as a team they are afraid!
That's why Paul is calling for boldness and fearlessness and courage, and I'll tell you Paul was a man who could call for that, wasn't he? He's locked up in prison, shackled to a Roman guard, doesn't know how long he's going to be there - at the beginning he doesn't even know if he's ever going to get out of it. My friend, he had a right to tell people not to be afraid, but John could also say it, 1 John chapter 4 and verse 4 - the reason why we ought not to be afraid as we seek to go forward with the gospel is because He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world! We're not to be afraid of our adversaries in the world, because Christ is in us, the hope of glory.
Now there's a very important little Greek word in verse 28 that I want you to look at: 'in nothing terrified'. That word 'terrified' literally could be translated 'scared', 'in nothing scared'. Now we're back to the battle imagery here, and do you know what the imagery is? It is literally of a horse that is just about to charge into battle, but it shies back with sudden fear - perhaps it's the loud sounds of cannon fire in battle, or gunfire, I don't know what it is, maybe it's the smell of blood or the stench of the smog of the gunpowder or of the dampness of the battlefield - but for some reason that horse is shattered, and shuddering with fear and pain and nervousness, and just steps back from the fight. What a graphic picture! I'm not naive enough, I hope, or green behind the ears to think that everybody who doesn't stand fast with the church in the local assembly, and everybody who doesn't strive together for the gospel within the assembly, is rebellious or terribly sinful. I believe it is disobedience, but I believe at times, at the bottom of at all, there is a hurt, there's a wound, there's a fear. So many people, I know, in this assembly have been hurt from leaving other assemblies and circumstances of those, and I don't need to go into those, neither do I want to know anything about them in one sense - but sometimes that can damage you. It's just like some experiences that you have in your childhood that can damage you for the rest of your days in your life if you don't get them sorted out, well sometimes you can get hurt in an assembly, or in this assembly - and because of that you just close in on yourself, and you say: 'Well, I'm never going to make myself vulnerable again, I'm not going to open myself up and give my life for these people, for them to put the knife in when I open up my heart - never again!'.
Because of that you're like that horse that hears the great shouts and sounds, and scents and smells of battle, and shies away - you're frightened, frightened of commitment, frightened of hurt, frightened of accountability. My friend, I want you to hear very clearly the word of the Lord to you: 'in nothing scared by you adversaries'. It's alright applying these things to personal circumstances within the church, but it's very hard in the day and age in which we live in Northern Ireland to apply them to our own lives, isn't it? Because we don't really have to be scared, in an outside sense, for holding our faith. But I'll tell you, the way things are going in this day and age, things are going to get scary in the workplace, on the street corner, in the shopping centres, in the centre of our own towns when we seek to witness for Christ and preach the gospel - it's going to get more and more difficult in the age of pluralism and polytheism that we live. I'll tell you this: there have been times that I have been preaching on how important is to witness in your workplace, and dear brethren have testified to me that it's now not allowed for you to testify for the Lord in the workplace here in Ulster - that you can get reprimanded for doing it!
These are the days that we are living in, but my friend I feel in the depths of my heart that the call of the apostle Paul to us is: 'Don't be afraid of any of them!'. You say: 'That's alright, it's alright for you, what if you're going to lose your job? What if you're going to get in trouble? What if you're going to get hurt again the way I got hurt in the past in a local assembly or in a church?'. Listen my friend: I think that we are living in a day when it's calling for this kind of persecution and suffering for the Lord Jesus, for us to take it.
Turn with me to the Acts of the Apostles, we must spend time on this, it's so important - we mightn't get through it again today, but chapter 4 and verse 18. Now look what happened to the Apostles, and we can't divorce the Apostles, though how great men they were, from our own conduct in the day and age in which we live - and I'm going to pay a price for this one day from this pulpit, because there's going to be a day when you'll not be able to preach against certain sins. I think there's going to be a day when people in the pew, literally, and you might think I'm ridiculous, they could take a lawsuit on you for telling them that their way is not the way to God! I do believe that that's going to come one day if there is not an awakening of the Lord and His Spirit before it. For you to tell people that they're wrong, that their culture is wrong, their religion is wrong, that it will never get them to heaven but lead them to hell, and Jesus is the only way - I believe you'll get into trouble.
But look what the behaviour of the Apostles was - verse 18. They were told not to preach or teach in the name of the Lord Jesus: 'And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard' - and I think there is the difference! They couldn't but speak, no-one could shut them up! We're shut up very easy today, aren't we? Chapter 5, look at them again, verse 40 - they are told again not to do it, and Gamaliel has given these high priests and religious leaders advice that if this is of God there is nothing they can do about it, and so they agreed to him - verse 40: 'And when they had called the apostles, and beaten them', they've just given them a hiding, for good charity or whatever, 'they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ'.
Now, I don't need to ask you the question: how different is this from the church today? They rejoiced! Do you know why? Because if you look back at Philippians, the verses that we are so ardently studying these Lord's Day mornings, Paul said that this very thing was proof of your salvation - the fact that you were striving for the gospel and willing to suffer for it - and it was also proof of the perdition of your enemies. You see, they had in their minds that there was something at stake as to whether they strove for the gospel or not, and whether they were willing to suffer for the gospel or not, and it was this: they felt it had a reflection on their own salvation! Now I'm not saying that they were trying to prove their salvation and win their salvation and earn their salvation, nothing like that, they were sure they were saved - but they felt that if they were truly saved they would strive for the gospel, and the men who were not saved would oppose the gospel, and their opposition of the gospel was a proof that they weren't saved, and their standing and striving was a proof that they were saved.
Well, if that was the ground and evidence of our condemnation or our acquittal in a court of law today, how many of us would be set free? Oh, my friends, 1 Peter 4 and verse 12, read these words very carefully: 'Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified'.
Do we strive together for the gospel, and does that striving together cause us to suffer together? Listen, the Philippians knew the suffering that Paul the apostle had gone through, you only need to read Acts chapter 16 of when Paul was in Philippi, and when he suffered a riot and a beating because of his preaching, and then he was put into prison - you know the story of the Philippian jailer - well, that was all in Philippi! The suffering that the apostle was going through, and they had witnessed how he stood fast for the gospel, and strove for the gospel, and suffered for the gospel, and that's why he says to them in verse 30: 'Having the same conflict which ye saw in me' - 'This is what I suffered!'.
Do you know what that word in the Greek for 'conflict' is? 'Agon', it's the word that we get our English word 'agony' from. It's a word that can signify an assembly, a theatre if you like, where the Greek Olympic Games were played. Paul is saying: 'You have witnessed, like a theatre, my suffering, my agony, my conflicts, my turmoil'. It's like a contest of athletics between the powers of darkness, it's the sense of the word in 1 Timothy 6, fighting a good fight, running a great race, Hebrews 12. But specifically it speaks of an inward conflict of the soul that often results from an outward conflict of forces, and it implies a contest, this battle, this sport if you like, between our spiritual foes and the forces of God and good. I'll tell you better than that: this word 'agon' is the word that is used in Luke chapter 22 of our Lord Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, and it says this of Him: 'Being in agony He prayed all the more earnestly: sweating as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground'.
Now listen: none of us can ever enter into the sufferings of Gethsemane, neither can we enter into the expiation of Calvary, but that is not the meaning here. What Paul is saying is that we are called to suffer on the behalf, on the behalf of Christ. Let's ask this question, we've got by whether we're standing together or whether we're striving together, here's the issue now: are we suffering together at the hands of men for the sake of our Lord Jesus? Remember what Paul was told at the very point of his conversion: 'For I will show him how great things he must agon' - suffer - 'for my sake'! What are we suffering for Him? I'll tell you this, this has really taken hold upon my heart because the church today seems to, at times, the opposite - I'm talking about the West now - of everything that we find entailed here in a suffering church. It's not a mark of us, we're comfortable, we're snug and smug in the pew, we're away from the harsh painful realities of the outside sinful world. But Paul says, as a church, and as a Christian, you'll really know how you're serving Christ and what your conversation for Christ is like, by how you're suffering for the Lord! And I tell you, the devil will make you suffer!
I'm not talking about a sore ingrown toenail, or the gastric flu, those aren't for Christ - I'm talking about suffering for righteousness' sake. What did Paul say to Timothy? 'Those, all of them, who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution' - all of them! I love John Wesley, John Wesley used to go on horse back around the little villages not only of England but of Ireland on occasion, and then into the Americas. But on one occasion he was riding along the road and he had been three days riding, and he realised that he also been three days without any persecution whatsoever. He was so horrified at this that he got off his horse, and he stood by the side of his horse and thought: 'What has happened to me? Three days without persecution! Have I backslidden? Have I some secret sin that I'm ignorant of?'. He fell to his knees and said: 'Lord, if there's anything that I've done against You that's the reason for the absence of my persecution, I confess them to you and I pray that You'll bring it back to me again'. There was a rough man at the other side of the hedge, and he'd heard him praying this, and he said: 'I'll fix that Methodist preacher', and he tossed half a brick over the hedge, and it hit John Wesley! He leapt to his feet with joy and he said: 'Thank You Lord, it's alright I still have Thy presence!'.
Three days without suffering for righteousness' sake - how long has it been for us? You know what's amazing about these disciples and early Apostles was: they counted it a privilege! We heard this morning around the Table of the Lord: 'Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ', how do we think of the grace of the Lord? Oh, we think of forgiveness, we think of eternal life, we think of communion with the Lord - do you know that wrapped up within the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is the privilege of suffering for His name?
The church at Smyrna was told by our Lord: 'Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: but be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life'. You may never have shed blood for your faith, but I'll tell you this: if you have never suffered in some way for your faith, in some way, it is a very empty confession. Caesar said: 'We'll root up this Christianity, off with their heads'. Different governors hastened one after the other, running after disciples to bring them to death, but the more they persecuted them the more they multiplied - why? Because they suffered together, they strove together, they stood together. The proconsuls ordered to destroy every single Christian, and the more they hunted them the more Christians there were, until at last - think of this - men actually pressed themselves against the judgement seat and asked permission to die for Christ! They were tormented, and they even invented torments, they dragged saints at the heels of horses, they laid them upon red hot gridirons, they pulled off their skin from their flesh piece by piece, they were sawn asunder, they were wrapped up in skins and dogged with pitch, and set in Nero's gardens at night to burn as torches. They were left to rot in dungeons, they were made a spectacle to all men in the amphitheatres, the bears hugged them to death, the lions tore them to pieces, the wild bulls tossed them upon their horns - and yet Christianity spread, for the weakness of God is mightier than the power of men.
Can I just say to you as I close today, to a church and individual people - now don't miss this, listen carefully: God cannot get depth out of shallow lives. We must stand fast together in one spirit and one mind, striving together for the gospel of Christ, suffering together for doing both of those - and when we do that, we will have the marks of a good church.
Our Father, we think at this moment of those brothers and sisters in Vietnam, Korea, China, India, states in Africa and South America, Eastern Europe - where they are, as we speak and preach, suffering on the behalf of Christ. Lord, give them grace to be happy in it, and help us if the time comes - and Lord, if the time is now, in the sense that if we're not even suffering for Him now, how will we have the strength to do it then, when we may be asked in a day yet to be to lay our life down for the Master? Give us the grace to suffer for righteousness' sake, help us to strive together for the gospel, help us to stand together with one spirit and one mind in the truth. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tenth tape in his Philippians series, titled "The Marks Of A Spiritual Church Part 3" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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