Don’t Be Frightened

Philippians 1: 27-30

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, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 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, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. 

Whatever else you do: in your public life stand firm in one Spirit.  Be obviously committed to a unity around God’s Holy Spirit.  Don’t yield in your united allegiance to the Spirit’s testimony in Holy Scripture.  Be known for being Bible-centered.   

This involves not just an intellectual adherence to the Spirit produced Scripture, but in one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.  Work…work together at deepening your understanding of what the Spirit has wrought through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Work together at your public witness to the faith.  And the proclamation of the gospel to those who haven’t yet heard or believed.   

This unwavering Spiritual unity requires you to not be frightened in anything by your opponents.  A church committed to walking in step with the Spirit will encounter resistance.  If when Messiah came the world did not love Him, but crucified Him, and you become a servant of this Messiah, you too will have trouble in the world.  

 I recall a few years ago teaching through the Gospel in Mark, and something dawned on me that maybe you’ve understood already for some time.  I used to think that when the world resents or opposed the Church, it’s because the Church has directly or indirectly exposed some flaw in the world.  Some injustice.  Some sin.  And so because it’s been called out the world lashes out because they know they’re in the wrong.  Those do-gooders are making us look bad!  And this conviction of sin is what’s probably what’s going on in the depths. 

But in a pre-Christian or post-Christian society, at least superficially, the world opposes the Church, not because it thinks its guilty, but because it believes the Church herself is immoral…evil.  You’re not do-gooders, you’re cruel.  We’re not safe with you around.  

On the whole, the world don’t think that Christians are enlightened, spiritually sensitive, on the side of angels.  But rather considers them to be people who have fallen victim to cult thinking.  Who are altogether too specific and rigid in their thinking.  Part of a structure that has for hundreds of years turned this world gray and scary and needs to be shoved way to the margins if we’re going to have a loving society…progress.   

There it is: In the world’s mind, Christians stand between the painful past and progress.   This is unsettling.  We might be ok with being persecuted because we’re the good guys.  But to be the recipient of people’s moral outrage!  To be painted as the bad guys, the oppressors of the downtrodden, the dupes.     

I should hasten to say that these charges against Christianity aren’t true.  If we are following Jesus Christ faithfully: 

  • …we’re not into being restrictive for restriction’s sake.  We trust Christ and find Him to be trustworthy in His pronouncements about sin and righteousness, good and evil, life and death.  What He calls sin we have come to believe are the very things opposed to life and flourishing.  So, we don’t follow our Lord in labeling things as sin and then resisting those sins because we’re sour, but because we are on the side of life.  
  • …we’re not against people.  Generally speaking, while hating the sin we love the sinner.
  • We believe that every human being – no matter how disheveled or depraved – is made in the image of God, worthy of dignity, might possibly be redeemed and sanctified and glorified.  
  • …we’re not blind to the possibility of hypocrisy.  In Christ, we live under a tradition of suspicion of our own hearts, and under a tradition that trains the spotlight on religious hypocrisy and corruption.  In short, we have been taught over and over to be vigilant against self-righteousness.  The biggest sinner I know is me.  (Some of you say, you’re the biggest sinner I know too.)
  • …we’re not primarily pessimistic.  The message we carry is that of life out of death, salvation out of judgment.  God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  We speak of Hell and judgment and wrath to present the backdrop of this gospel: Your sins are forgiven.  The world has been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.  God has condemned the sin of the world…in the flesh of Jesus.  The Day of Judgment has arrived, and the Second Adam took all that upon Himself…and then God raised Him up.  God has not abandoned the world – the people or the non-human Creation but has – in principle – defeated the powers that opposed it.  

 Yet even though we mean well and – in Christ – are in the right, we still face opposition.   

So, Paul says, don’t be frightened in anything by your opponents.  Be prepared for opposition and don’t be frightened.  That’s important.  That face of courage and confidence needs to be part of SBC reputation. That’s part of your standing firm in the one Spirit.   

Now what might it look like to be frightened?  For the individual Christian, the obvious answer would be to throw in the towel on your following Christ.  Too hard, too unpopular, getting dismayed looks from my family or friends too often – I give up.  A farewell speech comes easily to mind: I’ll always appreciate the exposure I’ve had to the Church, and I know now they’re not the monsters as they’re sometimes presented.  But it’s not for me.  Looking back, I think I was just going through a stage…. 

Besides quitting, there are at least two other presentations of a church’s being frightened, of losing your nerve: 

  1. Out of fear, a church could back down from or even alter some part of the Spirit-produced Scripture to be aligned with the current mood of the moment.  We want to look more presentable to outsiders, so we backpedal from various sections of Scripture.  We tamper with the Word claiming that it’s not necessarily that we want the world to like us; rather we want to build bridges of commonality so that we can connect better with them.  But at the root we’re afraid that the Word of God as the Spirit presents it to us is someway ineffective or even defective.  It’ll put us to shame.    

 But listen to the prayer of Christ in John 17: 20, 21 – “I do not ask for these [12 disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…” 

The basis of our unity and our witness to the world is that we hold tightly to the Spirit -produced Scripture written down the by Apostles!  In certain periods some of those passages won’t be popular, but the Scriptures endure and are alive and powerful.   

  • A Church that has been intimidated has stopped working.  At least it’s avoiding certain work.  “The lazy man says, ‘there’s a lion in the streets’” (Proverbs 26:13).  There’s sometimes a link between fear…and avoiding work.  We might be good at the work of sermonizing or talking spiritual or eating meals together – because those are in our comfort zone.  Meanwhile, though, out of timidity and sloth, we’ve stopped thinking missionally, attempting to advance the gospel.  We avoid the awkwardness of announcing the gospel to our friends.  We avoid the tedium of getting the details right in supporting missions etc.  We’re only preaching to the choir.  And so everything turns inward – the ingrown Church, they call it.  All the resources and prayers are directed within.  The ingrown Church is a scared Church.  

 Related: Out from this fear of the work of adding disciples, a Church can go on the hunt for other causes that are “Christian adjacent” to become embroiled in, instead of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ok, so we’re no longer going to try to get the gospel out there.  Let’s look for some other pressing causes…something that everyone’s talking about.  We’ll be taken more seriously!  

For instance, brothers and sisters, SBC as a Body could get entangled with, expend most of our psychic energy on conservatism, and make that SBC’s public identity: countering LGBTQ+, against wokeness, railing against the public schools or Target.  That might buy us some cred, and we might look active, yet we’d be in the process of losing the main mission.     

Embarrassment of the Scripture.  Avoiding the hard and awkward work of gospel advance and looking around for other, trendier causes.  And because it’s treated at length later in this letter, today I’ll only mention one other key category of how fear presents: our joy disappears.  Moroseness and fear are twins.    

Bottom line: It’s easy for a Church to become overly concerned with people pleasing and to be intimidated away from Christ-centered, Scripture centered, gospel-centered ministry with joy.  To encourage the Philippians as they face opposition, Paul says three things: 

  1. The opposition and attendant hardship aren’t weird, but signposts on the path to salvation.  This [opposition] is a clear sign…of your salvation

 Rather than being the signs that something is off, encountering opposition and suffering assures you that you’re on the right path.   

Almost 23 years ago, I remember walking around my brother’s neighborhood in Virginia Beach with Tonia.  Every few minutes she’d bend over and grab her side and moan a few moans.  (I looked on caringly, wishing I could take her pain.)  The pain was terrible (at least she claims), it was real…and it was a sign that life was on the way.  Benjamin Patrick Landry! 

And that’s exactly the right analogy of Paul’s point:  A new life, a new creation is coming into the old, sin-cursed cosmos under the power of the evil one.  So, expect labor pains!  But that opposition and suffering is always productive.  You’re on the right path.   

You know you’re going the wrong direction if you’re moving from fun to fun, always concerned with bucket lists and vacations and latest movies and cool music and experiences.  Avoiding the battleground where the gospel confronts the sinner.   

Path to salvation: trouble, many tribulations, perplexity…with Christ.  Keep moving toward the struggle, Church! 

  • Suffering for the sake of Christ is a gift.  It has been granted to you…

 Your suffering, as well as your belief, is a grant from Heaven.  It’s a good.   

Now we could say cynically: Ok, we got a euphemism on our hands.  Last year, it wasn’t that I couldn’t find a job.  I was considering my options.  And…suffering for Christ has been… granted to me.  Sure, it’s a gift – call it whatever you want.  

But this isn’t just a positive expression thrown at something nasty.  Suffering for Christ is a good thing.  Many arguments could be made to support that.  The strongest one: in suffering for Christ, we come to know Christ.  And as I said a few weeks ago, I’ll again say – hopefully without a whiff of piety or romanticism or idealism – to know Christ is the highest good in life, so much so that it can be said that to know Christ is life.   

And in this epoch, we won’t know Him without suffering.  Don’t shrink back, Church!  Let us move toward the reputation of being the Church that’s advancing the gospel.   

Thoughtfully?  Yes.  Tactfully?  Yes.  Alongside a desire to not just cram some information down someone’s throat but befriend their whole person?  Yes.   

But no matter how graciously we advance the gospel, it will involve us in some kind of hostility.  In that space of hostility there is a unique grace to be had. 

  • This suffering fits in with what you learned about Christianity from the very start  …engaged in the same conflict you saw I had and now hear I still have

 Paul is heading off a possible thought of the Philippians: Paul, you told us of this gospel – victory, grace, Heaven – and then you tricked us.  Because now we’re suffering.   

Paul gently reminds them that from his first visit to Philippi, in him they were presented with a suffering apostle.  Who, by the way, preached a crucified Christ.   

From their first exposure even to what they heard from Paul now, they should absolutely buy into the fact that Christianity involves suffering.  There was never the suggestion or illusion that following Christ makes life easier or yourselves popular.   

When I go through Grounded in the Gospel with folks, I spend time (Tonia says too much time) emphasizing that following Christ entails extra suffering.  Yes, there are plenty of perks (and Paul assumes those in his next words) but after you’re baptized get ready to experience to a new degree the fury and stratagems of hell and the dismay and disgust of the world.   

Are you sure about this?  Because you’re signing up for hardship.  I’ve read that Ernest Shackleton, before he began his expedition into the Antarctic Circle, might have circulated this advertisement: Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success. 


Brothers and sisters:Stand fast in the one Holy Spirit           

 -In one mind strive for the faith of the gospel

-Don’t be frightened.  Don’t be intimidated.  Don’t run away or start gradually backing away.   

In preparing this sermon, I asked a few friends of mine what it looks like for a Church to be frightened.  Tim responded, I don’t really know but God doesn’t seem to like cowards.  Revelation 21:8 

Taking his cue, I’ll read v. 5-8 too: 

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” 

On the path heading to the new creation is hardship, and the only churches who will stay on that path, and who are able to bring lost men and women onto that glorious path, are the ones with courage, not frightened in anything.           

One thought on “Don’t Be Frightened

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  1. I love this! Who wrote it? I grew up in Somers. I am proud of you in Somers standing for the gospel. I now live in Nebraska but return to Somers every couple years as I have family there. Bless you! Stand strong. You live in a difficult area of USA. I now live in a conservative state but we still have all the same issues around us here. Pam Rush Albano

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