Last month we learned from Philippians the importance of maintaining an attitude of joy as a good witness to the gospel. Joy isn’t something we just drum up by sheer determination of the will. It is found “in the Lord,” and requires keeping our focus upon Him and following His example. But our joy often faces obstacles.
Imagine two of your classmates come to faith in Christ. You have high hopes for them. You think they will influence others in their circle of friends. But instead, their “friends” begin to exert heavy pressure on them—and on you. It starts with some laughing and smirking. Then some targeted in-class embarrassment. Then some more intense, threatening interactions outside of class. Their own families sense their stress and encourage them to give up on church for now; they seemed so much happier before they got religious, they say. Their spiritual progress grinds to a halt, and maybe you feel like giving up on them.
Do you know how the gospel began to flourish in ancient Philippi? Right in the middle of persecution. Not before the persecution, and not after it died down, but right in the middle of it. The gospel preachers were beaten and thrown in jail (Act 16:16-24). As a result, God saved another family (Act 16:25-34). Persecutors continued to make life hard on the Christians in that region (2Co 7:5; 8:1-2), yet the church in Philippi continued on for Christ. And when Paul writes to them ten years after first suffering for the gospel among them, he knows there are opponents still at work to destroy their witness to Christ. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ … standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents … 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” (Php 1:27-29 ESV).
Blatant opposition to the gospel from the world around us is to be expected. The Lord Jesus said, “because you are not of the world … the world hates you” (Joh 15:19 ESV). We should be honest with people that there is a cost to following Christ. We should also make clear to people that it is more than worth it. Historically, it has been common for the gospel to thrive when persecution increases. An unbelieving world sees the reality of our faith. And suffering can draw the church close together.
That’s exactly what Paul urges the Christians in Philippi to do, and it’s what you need to do with persecuted and pressured Christian friends – stick together. Stand shoulder to shoulder for Christ and the gospel. As the world outside becomes more antagonistic to the gospel, it is all the more important that Christians support one another. And as the world gets darker, it is all the more an opportunity to be “children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Php 2:15-16 NKJV).