Date: 4/4/04
Text: Philippians 1:27-30
Title: Living as Citizens of Heavenly Kingdom
Theme: Unity and harmony is the hallmark of Christian living in a world full of troubles and conflicts.

A pastor friend called, "I am very tired of handling this conflict in the church. It has been going on for almost two months. I am sick and my back is hurting. I wish I could just run away." You may not be a minister, but you probably have similar experiences. You have come to this or other churches or fellowship groups for worship, fellowship and the word. Instead you find yourself in the midst of a conflict not over truth, but over personality issues. What would you do?
Like many other epistles, Paul wrote to the Philippians to address some of their problems. For the last few weeks, we have been studying Paul's letter to the Philippian church. After a brief greeting, he expressed his wish for their well being. Then he shared with them some of his personal perspectives while in prison. Beginning with vs.27, is the main body of his letter. This is the beginning of his instruction to the Philippian church.
I. As citizens of God's kingdom, we're to recognize the reality of problems and conflicts facing the church of Jesus Christ.

In 1978, Scott Peck wrote a best-selling book, "The Road Less Traveled". In the beginning paragraph is a simple statement, "Life is difficult" He said that if we understand and accept this fact, then half of the patients in the hospital will be released. Very often our anger and frustration are result of the fact that we either do not know or would not accept that "Life is Difficult". Once we recognize that life is difficult, then we'll begin to learn to accept the challenge of how to be a stronger person in the midst of adversity.
Isn't this also true with the Christian church? Let's take a closer look at the situation in the Philippian church. In vs.27, "…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." Paul wanted them to be in One spirit, one mind. This implies there are some conflicts, some disunity among them. Later in chapter in chapter 4, Paul specifically named the two individuals who were not getting along. In Chapter 2, it is apparent that there were also others who were acting selfishly, leading to conflicts in the church
In vs. 28-30, are the words, "opponents…suffer….conflict" The church was facing oppositions. Then in 3:2, Paul wrote that there were individuals who taught false doctrines, whose intent was to pull the church away from Jesus Christ. Paul called them "dogs", wild dogs.
I would like to make 2observations here. First, the church at Philippi was under attack. It was facing opposition from outside the church. There could be some persecutions, and there were also false teachings. Secondly, there was another form of attack. It came from within the church. How so? Some of its members were not living in harmony; they were at odds with each other. When Paul saw disharmony among the believers, it was not just how different the two were, but the devil was using their conflict as a means to attack the church.
In short, there were external and internal forces in the Philippian church, trying to make her disloyal and move away from the gospel truth.
What do we learn from this? That the community of the redeemed, the church is not exempt from problems. As long as we live in this broken and sinful world, the church will experience oppositions, suffering and conflicts. And once we accept its existence, we are in a position to learn how to be strong in the midst of problems.
For the last 2000 years, the church of Jesus Christ had been encountering oppositions, suffering and conflicts. There had been enemies from within and without.
In some countries, Christians in their discipleship class have to learn "how to survive in prison." In US, the government/society pretty much leaves the churches alone. It's a peaceful coexistence. Even though there may not be an outright attack, yet in a very subtle way, the culture is exerting its influence on the church. If you are a business person, you will want the church to be organized and run like a company. If you are an academia, you want the church to be run like a school or university. It is so easy to treat people as objects to help this church grow and not real people whom we serve. There are other influences creeping into the church: such as big is better; accomplishment equals success; self gratification versus self sacrifice; and there is no objective absolute truth but only personal opinions. The attack from outside sometimes is easy to discern.
However, there is another, much more subtle attack on the church. It comes from within. I think of our diverse educational and cultural background; different political convictions and personality preferences. You see, diversity in itself is good and biblical. It can enrich our lives and we can learn so much from those who are different from us. A Driver person can learn how to care and listen from a Relational person. An Extrovert can learn from an Introvert how to deepen one's life. Our different way of doing things can complement each other. However, because of our sinfulness, our pride, our strength turns into weakness. Our diversity becomes our enemy from within. When we see believers not living in harmony; when we harbor resentment and bitterness towards others; its not just personality differences, but our enemy, the devil is using that to attack the church of Jesus Christ.
We are constantly in a spiritual warfare. O enemy, the devil is using all kind of tactics to attack us. The external and internal conflict we experience is a part of the promise God gave to Adam and Eve and Satan, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring;…" (Genesis 3:15) Sometimes it can be very discouraging. So, how shall we live in such troubled times?
II. As citizens of God's kingdom, we're to recognize our lives must be consistent with the gospel teaching in the midst of problems and conflicts

Vs.27, "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ… "How shall we live in troubled times, facing enemies from without and within? Our manner of life (some translation: conversation) is to be worthy of the gospel of Christ. That is, how we talk and walk is consistent with the teaching of the gospel. This has special meaning to the Philippian Christians.
In US, every year there are 1.5 millions of individuals becoming citizens. If you are born here, you may think it is no big deal. Yet, for many, they would do anything to become a US citizen.
Philippi was a Roman colony. Its residents were Roman citizens. They were very proud of their Roman citizen status. In the 1st century, it was a high honor to be a Roman citizen. As Roman citizens, they were expected to keep the Roman laws and regulations. Their manner of life was to be consistent with the Roman laws. Their manner of life was worthy of the Roman citizenship.
Paul reminded the believers at Philippi and us that we belong to a much nobler kingdom. We are citizens of the heavenly kingdom. What are we supposed to do in the midst of conflicts from without and within? Don't yield to the enemies, don't fall apart and do things that are contradictory to the gospel teaching. We are to make sure that even in the midst of difficulties, our talk and walk should be consistent with the teaching of the gospel.
Its easy to be kind, humble and gentle like Jesus when things are under our control, when others agree with us, when things are going our way. But when people and circumstances are out of our control, when individuals feel strongly against our preferences, its hard to be kind and gentle, right?
The scripture teaches us that no matter what kind of difficulties we find ourselves in, our manner of life is to be consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ. I constantly remind myself that it is in adverse situations, my true color and character will surface. More and more I appreciate the proverb, "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. " (Proverbs 24:10). As long as we live in this sinful world, as long as we live with sinful persons like ourselves, there will be problems and conflicts in the church of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we may have a common external enemy, other times, our enemies could be ourselves. The scripture reminds us that since we are citizens of God's heavenly kingdom, therefore in the midst of adversities, our walk and talk must be consistent to the Lord whom we belong and follow.
Paul continues on to explain what this manner of life is.
III. As citizens of God's kingdom, we're to maintain unity in the midst of problems and conflicts.

What kind of life is consistent with, worthy the gospel? Vs.27, "… spirit,…with one mind …." That is, unity. The enemy will use the culture, our external world, and use our differences to attack and pull us away from the truth. What do we do when under attack? Paul tells the Philippian church and us: be United. Unity implies harmony.
From Genesis through Psalms and Proverbs, to Revelation, unity, harmony is a major biblical theme. There is perfect unity and harmony within the triune God. Therefore when men were created in his image, there was unity, harmony, between man and himself, between man and woman, between men and the natural world, and there is unity and harmony between men and God. However, because Adam and Eve deliberately disobeyed God, this unity was broken. Barriers were erected between men and himself, between men and men, between men and their environment and between men and God. In our study of the book of Ephesians 2, we learned that when Christ came and died on the cross, he broke down such barriers of hostility. Now, as we put our faith in God, we can experience oneness, unity with God and with others. Christ came to restore this unity and harmony that was lost because of human disobedience. The full restoration will occur at Christ's second coming.
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we become members of his body. We are one, we are united. There is nothing we can do to bring about or to create this unity. However, because of our sinful nature, very often the manifestation of this unity is disrupted. Therefore, being a member of Christ's body, we are to make every effort to maintain and manifest this unity. This is the focal point of the devil's attack, to destroy this unity, harmony between men and God and between men and men. And this is also the reason shortly before Jesus' arrest, in his priestly prayer, he prayed to the Father that he would keep the believers one, protect their unity. And for this reason, shortly before Jesus'' death on the cross, he prayed to the heavenly Father to protect the unity among his followers.
In the war in Iraq, we learn the importance and strength of unity among the 50 or so coalition countries. So what is the terrorist doing now? To break this unity by bombings in Spain and Uzbekistan, and threats of bombing in other countries. They know that if the unity is broken, then the will to fight will disappear. This is the tactic our enemy, the devil, uses to attack the Christian church. So, when we see believers not living in harmony with one another; when we see resentment, bitterness and hostility among the Christians, it is more than just difference of opinions or personality clashes (it is true), it is also the devil attacking the church.
When we study church history, we learn a very valuable lesson. When the church was under attack from an external enemy, it often responded with unity. It came out with flying colors. The church had its fastest growth when persecuted. However, when the enemy is from within, when our pride does not allow us to listen and be submissive to others, the church often fails miserably.
So, what is the challenge before us? With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to put down our pride, to maintain the unity we have in Jesus Christ. Later on in Chapter 2, Paul will go into greater detail on how we can maintain this unity. When there is unity and harmony among us, we are being consistent to God's word. How is this unity expressed?
1. Standing firm.
27, "Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel." united we are to stand firm. That is, in the midst of attacks and conflicts, we are to remain loyal to the gospel, to God's word.
Our world has rejected God, therefore absolute truth and any moral authority. The church is to affirm there is a God and he has revealed to us his truth in the scriptures. Therefore by reading the scripture, we know what is right and wrong. The scripture is the basis for our position on issues such as abortion, homosexual practices and gay marriages.
Our world tends to look at people as objects to be used for personal or institutional advancement. However, the church of Jesus Christ is to affirm the dignity of each person and is to treat one another with respect and love. To the world, leadership often equates with power. But the church is to see leadership as servant-hood.
We are to encourage one another to stand firm in the midst of oppositions. When our enemy is taking advantage of our diversity and personality differences to fragment the church, we the believers are to continue to love one another and be kind and gentle to each other as Jesus was. We stand firmly side by side to fight our enemy and not each other.
2. Be Courageous.
Vs.28, "Do not be frightened by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God." don't be afraid, be bold and courageous. Why? The fact that they are attacking you, is evident that they belong to the devil and you belong to God. The fact that they are opposing you, tells us that to follow Christ and to suffer for Christ goes hand in hand (vs.29). Not only that, when you suffer, when you are under attack, it also shows that you are part of the community of sufferers (vs.30).
There are times when I see churches facing its internal enemies, conflicts arise because of pride, personality issues, I also remind myself that it is also an evidence that God is working among us. You see, the more God is at work among us, the more intense will Satan's attack be. He'll pull out all stops, he will use our diversity, our personality, cultural and political differences to pull us away from God.
Therefore the scripture tells us, don't be afraid. Be courageous. United we can stand firm and be bold, and remain loyal to the gospel.
Sometimes it is hard to accept problems in the church, isn’t it? To us pastors, there was a time when we thought as long as we preach and teach the word, then everyone will love one another and the church will begin to grow bigger and bigger. This is quite different from reality, isn't it. I think you the congregation know better than we do ?.
You see, in the real world, the church is constantly under attack. Sometimes our enemy will use brute force to cause us to give up the gospel. Other times he would subtly entice us to be assimilated to the surrounding culture. Then there are times, when he would attack the church from within. He would take advantage of our diversity and personality differences, plus our sinful nature, and turn us against one another. Because of our pride, often we refuse to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Other times, because of our hurt we refuse to forgive. Thus, cultivating resentment, bitterness and hostility towards our brothers and sisters. This is how he attacks the church.
But the scripture's teaching is also clear, even when we are under attack, when we may be at odds with each others, our manner of life must be consistent to the gospel of Christ. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to put down our pride and do our best to maintain and express the unity among us. Being united and living in harmony with each other is the most effective way of telling the world that we belong to Jesus Christ, we are, after all, citizens of the heavenly kingdom.