Philippians: How God Calls Us to Live—Striving Together: A Call to Unity

Paul exhorted the Philippian believers to do this. “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” (Php 1:27 ESV).The desire of God for all His people is that we be united in the advancement of the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ. We may not agree on every detail of every issue, but we need to set aside our differences, accept our unique spheres of service, and stand together in our presentation of the glorious gospel. This unity is essential for the furtherance of His kingdom!

Philippi was a Roman colony originally named after Philipp II, father of Alexander the Great, and later honored by Julius Caesar and Augustus. Its full name was Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensis.

The Via Egnatia, an important route in Macedonia which linked the eastern provinces to Rome, ran through the north side of the city’s forum and was the main reason for Philippi’s prosperity and political prominence. Among the city’s highest honors was the Ius Italicum (Italian law), which granted its people equal rights to those of Roman citizens. Philippi was a mini-Rome, the epitome of Roman culture, where Caesar ruled and ungodliness thrived. In this city, where the power of Rome was at its height, the power of the gospel prevailed.

While Acts 16 records how the gospel came to Philippi, in his letter to the Philippians Paul reminds us that for the spread of the gospel, believers need to be united. Success in any area is dependent upon unity. On the battlefield, each soldier must fight alongside his comrade to bring down the enemy. On the sports field, each team member must work as a part of the whole to ensure the game is won. In the local church, each believer needs to be committed to harmony for the gospel, for growth and for the glory of God.

Philippians 1 highlights three requirements for unity to flourish as we strive together.

Striving together means caring deeply for other believers (1:1-11). Notice how Paul models this: I thank God for you … I pray for you … I value your partnership … I reaffirm God’s work in you … I hold you in my heart with Christ’s affection … I want you to grow in love … I desire that you be filled with the fruit of righteousness.

These words express sincere love for these saints. I challenge my heart and yours – is this how we talk to each other? This attitude toward each other can only be produced by the Holy Spirit. As we submit to Him, we recognize our mutual interests, mutual goals, and mutual enemy; this should help us to have mutual respect and care for each other.

Striving together means sincerely loving the gospel (1:12-18). For Paul, this was manifested in various ways:

Loving the gospel means putting the progress of the gospel over self-comfort (vv12-13). The story of Philippi started with the authorities beating Paul (and Silas) and then throwing them into prison for sharing the gospel. However, instead of moaning, groaning and licking their wounds, they sang praises to God. You may never end up on the wrong side of prison bars for sharing God’s Word, but you can make the gospel a priority in your life.

Loving the gospel means embracing hardship for the benefit of others (v14). Paul’s attitude was this: if my being put in prison will strengthen and embolden my brothers and sisters, then so be it! Laura Story’s song, “Blessings,” illustrates this: “What if Your blessings come through raindrops? What if Your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near? What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?”

Loving the gospel means overlooking the hurtful motives of others for the sake of peace (vv15-18). This is not easy, and it doesn’t mean you ignore the pain inside you. Some wounds go deep, and take time and work to heal. We may need to distance ourselves from hurtful believers for self-preservation, but we cannot control their actions. We are called to love them, to desire their blessing and well-being, regardless of how they may have treated us. We are to pray for them. And if they are proclaiming the gospel, then rejoice in that!

Striving together means deeply honoring our Lord Jesus Christ (1:19-30). For Paul, honoring Him was a priority, and so it should be for us.

Honoring Christ necessitates magnifying Christ; it’s a lifelong pursuit (v20). The word magnify means to enlarge. As believers, we can never enlarge who He actually is because He could be no greater. But in the eyes of sinners He is very small, and we have the honor of magnifying Him before them.

Honoring Christ entails living for Him (v21). Paul got a sight of the risen Lord on the Damascus Road, and living for Him became his central goal. There’s no greater ambition than this! We need to ask ourselves – what am I living for?

Honoring Christ means wanting to be with Christ (v23). Living for Christ is great, but being with Christ is greater. While death is an enemy, for the believer it is a victory because it means being with the Lord. This is the tug of the eternal.

This was what Helen Lemmel was getting at when she wrote these words: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

Honoring Christ is serving others as He did (vv24-26). Paul’s desire in staying on earth was for the benefit of the believers – on their account, for their progress, and for their joy in the faith. His motives in service were pure, not self-glory but the glory of Christ.

With centuries separating the Philippian believers and us, the gospel message has not changed, nor the power of working together. God loves unity because it is a characteristic of His very nature. As we move together side by side for the faith of the gospel, we reflect our God and honor the name of our Savior.