A weekend of milestones. A year ago tomorrow, Russell and Carole began their 50th year of ministry, a year of jubilee. (Though he would continue to preach for another 1.5 months.) Yesterday’s celebration of their five decades of ministry was fun and inspiring for all of us. Russell’s summary of his various ministries was somehow entertaining and moving at the same time. The lesson I took away is that serving Christ makes for a meaningful life.
Also, a year ago tomorrow, SBC called me as their 7th pastor, though we wouldn’t arrive for another 1.5 months. We thank you for your kindness to us these past months, inviting us into your homes, patience with me and – as you get to know me – a newfound sympathy for Tonia.
Well, our passage is perfect for marking these ministry milestones because it brings us up to an important, big-picture question: It’s kinda: What are we doing at SBC? But a little more objective than that. Not what do we think we’re doing, but what would those on the outside looking on say that we’re doing? What is Somers Baptist Church’s reputation in the community? in the surrounding Christian community? in the broader church? If the church is known at all, what is it known for?
After the lengthy introduction, that’s the first concern of the Spirit in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Please turn to chapter 1, verse 27. We’ll get through only that one verse this morning, which is too bad, because the thought continues into the next verse:
27 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…
The first word is only, and it introduces the first imperative from Paul to the Philippians.
Thus far in the letter there’s been no direct instruction, though we’ve been learning from Paul’s example. Paul’s been disclosing his mindset about the Philippians and his incarceration and his future. Importantly, all of those matters Paul evaluates in light of the gospel.
The gospel – the announcement of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and what all that was for, that has at its heart a fellowship with Christ – shaped Paul’s priorities and appraisals in holy ways. The gospel changed him, set him apart from the liberal world and conservative world, from the Roman world and the Jewish world.
One of the ways the gospel had changed Paul is that it set him on a mission, it made him into a cross-country traveler, including bringing him all the way to Europe, to Greece, to Philippi. And there he announced the gospel of the crucified and risen Lord, and some in Philippi who heard this news, believed.
These new believers themselves started to be shaped by the gospel, and they began to partner with Paul in this mission of 1) understanding and believing the gospel more deeply themselves, and 2) spreading more widely the report of the Lord’s death for our sins and rising from the dead.
And so the church spreads throughout her 2000 year history: hearing the gospel, believing the gospel, partnering in the gospel…
Which brings us back to only, which means something like Just one thing. Whatever else happens, here’s what I want you Philippians to focus on. This should be your overarching principle:
Let your corporate, public life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. The Greek word behind manner of life is politeuomai – – you can hear our word politics in there. Quoting a commentator who is quoting another commentator: “Politeuomai is about life in relation to the city, and this in contradistinction to idioteuo, ‘to live as a private individual’…Paul was calling the Philippians to ‘consider oneself in all of one’s actions as a member of a social body…’” (Bird/Gupta/ quoting Spicq).
So, this is not an exhortation for individual Christians but for the Church as a corporation. And Paul is exhorting the church to take their reputation before outsiders – the city or the community – seriously.
And specifically, the church is to reflect the gospel in their corporate, public life. Your public life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. He’s not saying we’re supposed to become worthy of being saved. Rather, after God has brought us back to Himself, as a Church we’re to reflect the truths of the gospel publicly – in our stances and priorities and behavior.
And Church, don’t be content with just telling yourselves you’re living according to the gospel. This gospel-centered culture should be an empirical, observable reality – so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you. It’s easy, cheap a) to theorize about living in line with the gospel or b) to want to live in line with the gospel.
But Church, let your public life truly reflect a deep belief in the gospel.
OK, so what would that look like? You are standing firm in one spirit. Along with many commentators I think Spirit should be capitalized. So, for your public life to be worthy of the gospel means that we are standing firm. Not giving ground to external pressure or internal pressure.
Instead of giving ground we’re standing firm in one Spirit. We are united in the Holy Spirit. In the one Spirit sent out from Christ and the Father. We’re not going away from that Spirit. We’re sticking with Him. Standing firm in one Spirit.
OK, what does that look like? Here’s a big chunk of it: The gospel is not a once upon a timemessage. The gospel happened in a time and place. And the Spirit of Christ testified to these historical events through the Apostles who witnessed these events and were taught by the Spirit what those events meant.
Guided by the Spirit, those Apostles wrote down all that needed to be said about this Christ: what He did, what it meant, what led up to Him, what He will do in the future, and what it means to respond trustingly to Christ and what it looks like to oppose Him. We have those writings in our hands: the Holy Bible.
To stand firm in one Spirit, then, is to be marked by our persistence in believing the gospel as it is presented to us in the Bible written by the apostles and prophets through the Spirit.
Saying that shortly: to keep believing the Bible.
Walk worthy of the gospel ® Stand firm in one Spirit ® Keep holding onto the Bible. The Bible the Spirit presented to us in which we encounter the gospel of Christ and the Christ of the gospel.
Somers Baptist Church: Keep believing the one Bible from God’s one Holy Spirit, even when the prevailing mood is: the Bible is boring or the Bible is intolerant or the Bible isn’t coherent.
There’s external pressure to subtract from the Bible or to add to the Bible. To change the Bible to reflect the current mood. Otherwise, you’ll be marked as a fuddy-duddy, intolerant.
To bring up the prime example of a current external pressure: the Scriptures in both the older and new covenants clearly name homosexual acts as sin. Well, but what it meant…or let me throw a hundred qualifications or caveats.
No, Church, stand your ground and keep it simple. Homosexual acts, homosexual desires… AND ALSO greed, self-righteousness, pettiness, taking stuff from your kids, stealing from your parents, putting your sister in a bad light – all are sins, all these condemn us, all render us in need of atonement, and all are atoned for in the gospel.
Start undermining the Scripture’s stance on sin, and you begin to lose reasons for the gospel. For many reasons we can’t give ground on any part of Scripture, especially because eventually the gospel itself leaks away!
In addition to external pressure, there’s also internal pressure to not stand firm in one Spirit, to cave on believing the Spirit-produced Scriptures that bring the gospel to us. Internal pressure: mainly sloth. Or, let’s call it sloth + distraction. We get bored by the Bible. We stop reading it. Or we gradually allow our mind to wander more and more as we read. Or we stop pursuing answers to questions that arise in our reading. We stop working hard to get ourselves in front of Bible teaching.
It can’t be. Don’t give any ground. Don’t grow lax in your private reading or your public hearing. Stand firm in one Spirit – against external and internal opposition to the gospel.
SBC, be known for being bound – not just in theory but also in practice – bound to the Spirit-produced Scriptures. Be known for – let this be so obvious about you – whether I come see it for myself or have to content myself with just hearing about it – you’re united in a vigilant adherence to the Spirit produced Scripture.
Finally, he’ll describe with another phrase what this standing firm looks like: with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
So, not departing in any way from the Word…the data…that the one Spirit has given to the Church throughout the ages. Stand your ground. But also, DO SOMETHING WITH THIS INFORMATION: with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
Notice the requirement of unity: one mind…side by side. We are worthy of the gospel, we live up to the gospel when we are unified, because after all, the gospel is a message of reconciliation. Through Christ’s life and death and burial and resurrection, God reconciled the world to himself. The gospel is a message of reconciliation. Church, in your public, corporate life, reflect that gospel of reconciliation in your relationships with each other. One mind…side by side.
May Somers Baptist Church be known for its unity. When missionaries come through, may they sense a camaraderie. When people think of us, even if they oppose our message, may they have to concede that there is this remarkable unity among people who normally might be antagonistic to each other or at least not have anything to do with each other.
Wow, teenagers are having conversations at length with mid-career folks. Hmm, this bigshot businessperson comes every week, and no one pays any attention to his awesome job – everyone treats him with the same love and interest as anyone else. The older teenagers are reaching out to junior highers – what!? White collars sit next to farmers, and they don’t just sit next to each other, but they know each other’s names and the names of their kids and where they’re from…and over time what makes them tick and why they’re frustrated…
Man, I’ve just painted a beautiful scene. It’s lovely for brothers to dwell together in unity. But it doesn’t just happen.
How does UNITY happen? First, did you see that word striving? Here we go with Greek again: sunathleo – sun is together. Athleo – that sounds a lot like athletics. And this word brings us out to the football field in the middle of August, and the team is standing on the endzone line in full gear under a blazing sun, and the coach is at the 20-yard line, and he blows the whistle and they sprint to him. Then jog back to the endline, and then the coach moves five yards back, and blows the whistle again….
Do you know how much brotherhood is forged in that shared labor, shared suffering?
So, a gospel unity comes through working alongside each other. And then here’s another point: Striving side by side: The Church won’t be unified as we look toward each other and marvel at each other’s outstanding qualities. (That’s probably a way toward despising each other.) You see what the Spirit says to us: Side by side, looking away from each other, looking out.
Not looking at each other. The unity that we’re called to is not a result of finding similarities in each other. It’s not that you all like a certain style of music. Or that you’ve known each other for a long time and have shared memories going back to high school. Or that you all have come together to stamp out poverty. Or that you all agree that Biden needs to go.
No, you’re looking away from each other, looking out.
And you’re looking out to where? Striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Or let’s give the complete phrase: with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. We are unified as we focus on the gospel.
That striving together for the faith of the gospel is what keeps us harmonious. Meaning two main things: a) you are working hard together in understanding what this gospel is and all that it entails. And b) you are working hard together in broadcasting this gospel.
Summary: Rather than giving ground to pressures from without and within, the Church is to work toward a reputation of holding onto what the Spirit has given to them in holy Scripture. But not just holding onto it, doing something with it, working together at the faith of the gospel – believing the gospel better and proclaiming it. Again, this should be their public face, people shouldn’t have to squint to see this: they are true to the Spirit, Bible centered. They work hard at faith, gospel centered.
So that’s the verse. Now, especially at this weekend’s milestones, to apply our verse specifically to our situation here at Somers Baptist Church.
Church, let your public life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. This phrase assumes that individual believers don’t think of themselves merely as individual believers but as members of the body of Christ, specifically among some local congregation that has a corporate, public reputation.
This phrase assumes that you are invested not just in your reputation or your family’s good name, but also in your church’s public standing.
And yet some of you are holding off from being a member, you’re delaying officially associating yourself with a particular church.
I’d appreciate the opportunity to talk you out of that un-committed position. Because in our verse, as in many places in the New Testament, there is an assumption that believers are bound together committed membership. That part of a believer’s identity and reputation is wrapped up in his local church. He’s certainly not trying to distance himself from it!
Next: striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Meaning first: we’re working hard together to further understand this gospel: the events and the events around it, the meaning of those events, what it looks like to believe, what are the obstacles to really believing. Maturing in this shared life in Christ. Understanding how it impinges on our family life, our entertainment decisions, our stewardship of time and finances etc etc.
What are we doing together in this cause of learning the gospel? Well, one big answer is that Sunday mornings at 10:30 we gather to work at this faith of the gospel. We sing to one another; we hear the Word.
Are you committed to that weekly gathering? Or, as is happening in many parts of the USA, but at an especially rapid pace in New England, are you lackadaisical in your Sunday morning worship attendance? Living for the weekend when you can get away into the mountains or the beach?
In my estimation, as an almost 50-year-old who has served four congregations as pastor, two as senior pastor, and raised five children, here’s how it should be: vacation away from the gatherings 4-7 Sundays/ year. It’s good to get away. While you’re away, make plans and take pains to gather with another Christian congregation (doesn’t have to be Baptist). And also, take pains to listen or watch the sermon you missed at your home congregation so you can keep up with what the rest of your church is learning.
In your decisions and goals, don’t aim for a lifestyle that will settle you beyond the local congregation. For example, from our time in Boston, we learned that it was common to have a life’s aim to build a cabin in Maine or New Hampshire, which then became our May-September escape every weekend. We work hard so we can play hard. And if you work hard, by the time you reached your late 40s you could build that cabin. Also, by your late 40s you’ve accrued 5-6 weeks of vacation at your work. Plus holidays.
So what does all that mean? You’ll end up being away from your local congregation approx. 25 Sundays/year. And that, just as you arrive to the stage in your life when you’ve raised kids and worked hard and learned a bunch of lessons in following the Lord in real life. All that wisdom could be brought to bear for the good of your local church. And yet you’re constantly away from them. And as you return, the conversations always have to start and perhaps never move on from: how was your latest trip?
What message are we sending? What is our public religious life? What are we transmitting to our kids? Kids, grandkids, the body of Christ is important, so is the gospel, but my life is just a little bit expansive than these.
But more: striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, in the sense of learning this gospel and how it’s played out in our milieu, can we really accomplish all we need to in one weekly 75-minute gathering?
I think I can safely say no. Because the practice of the early church was to gather daily to think through this faith of the gospel. And the author of Hebrews told his readers to gather more and more as you see the Day drawing closer. At least since the early 90s the evangelical church has responded to this example and directive by cutting services. Abandoning meetings does seem to be against the grain of the New Testament’s description of the shared life in Christ.
Beside the Sunday worship service, we do have a Sunday School, but attendance is slight. We had a midweek meeting… the average attendance in the last few weeks was around 6.
I’ve told you before about through the years in Boston driving through Woodstock, VT a few times on Sunday late afternoon and seeing many folks filing into the Congregational church with Bibles in their hands. Their reputation to outsiders – to me, at least – is that the gospel is so important and deep that the entire Lord’s Day can be dedicated to meeting together and learning it. These folks were striving. I hope they still are.
My son, Paul, is working this summer as an intern at a church in Indianapolis. On a Weds night prayer service a few weeks he taught from Psalm 46…and 300+ people were there.
Citing these examples to make the point: it is possible to meet more.
Brothers and sisters, we’re living in a post-Christian society. Which means, without trying, we’re saturated in secularism – it’s the air we breathe. Many of us go after more secularism in watching movies and TV series. We might spend 4 hours a week – more even? – being entertained by imagined worlds where God is not present or at least unimportant.
And then at all this secularism we’ll throw a somewhat regular weekly attendance at a 75-minute service. Ok. But let’s not say that this has much to do with Paul’s Just one thing, in your public life play the part of striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
In one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel has another component: working hard together to broadcast the message of the gospel. It’s a true gospel, it’s a great gospel. All other narratives will fade away but the word of Christ ruling and God reclaiming the creation through his death and resurrection – that’s the lasting story. Now… how can we get more people to hear it?
In the name of in one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, we need to clear out a path for people to move from no exposure to the gospel to growing in the basics of the Christian faith. I only have time to list what should happen. No Exposure
- Advertisements in the paper
- Critical look at the website
- Taking advantage of Christmas and Easter-tide
- Inviting folks to Grounded in the Gospel. Which involves knowing when those are upcoming. Having invitations at hand.
- Being trained in participating in and then leading Christian mission.
When People Come
- Children’s Church
- An aware, friendly, though tactful congregation
- A follow-up letter (having received their email address)
When People Return
- Pastor makes plans to go out with them. In that get-together I inquire into their understanding of the gospel. From there, either invite them to GIG or to hang around until next Exploring SBC
- Someone in the congregation asks them to a meal to occur sometime that week. During that meal S/he provides his phone number to answer any questions.
Post- Baptism/ Membership
- 1-1 Mentoring Discipleship
- A how you can serve this body meeting with the pastor
- And continued hospitality toward each other. A sharing of our life, which is the life of Christ.
It is also time to revamp our missions work – our partnership in the gospel with ministers who are going to those outside our setting.
This will take some administration; we’ll need a small council to meet monthly to ensure we’re staying on track. We’ll need volunteers to host visitors and to run the children’s church. We’ll all need to invite and pray.
Brothers and sisters, one of the crises of our time is loneliness. That’s a gospel issue! The gospel is an announcement of reconciliation. Man and the non-human creation reconciled to God, taken away from judgment and death. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ we are brought into a community.
In our church life we are to reflect this message of reconciliation through more-than-surface friendship with each other as we look to Christ and the gospel. And through extending ourselves in friendship to those who are outsiders to the Church and to Christ.
So, at these milestones, let’s re-dedicate ourselves to walking worthy of the gospel of Jesus. Let’s re-dedicate ourselves to reflecting that shared life in Christ.
It’ll take work. The leaders of the church will have to lead in the work and make clear paths so that folks can join in the work. Those paths aren’t yet cleared out but at least the Spirit has told us what direction we need to head.
Thank God for the awesome, eternally significant opportunity of working together in the faith of the Gospel. May we be known for that.