Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel . . .
– Philippians 1:27
In Philippians 1:27, Paul shifts from describing his own circumstances to sharing some instructions with his Philippian friends. The first instruction he shares is perhaps his most important. He writes, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The significance of this instruction is indicated by the phrase “whatever happens” which can also be translated as “only,” “just one thing,” or “above all else.” The idea behind this phrase is that this was a lesson they shouldn’t miss. But even without this opening phrase, Paul’s Philippian readers could hardly miss the significance of this instruction. It would have quite literally hit close to home.
A little background on Philippi is helpful here. Philippi was one of just a few cities in the region of Macedonia that enjoyed the status of being a Roman colony. As residents of a Roman colony, the Philippians were considered citizens of Rome. This was a point of pride for the Philippians and it gave them a number of privileges. However, it also meant that they had to fulfill certain social obligations if they were to be good Roman citizens. If they failed to participate in activities like Roman emperor worship, they could suffer the consequences.
Paul’s opening instruction in this letter would have been particularly striking for his Philippian readers because it directly confronted their identity as Roman citizens. The Greek word translated as “conduct yourselves” in Philippians 1:27 is a political term that is rarely used in Scripture. This word literally means “live as a citizen.” Paul chose to use this term because he wanted to make it clear to the Philippians that although they may be citizens of Rome, they were citizens of heaven first (Philippians 3:20). As citizens of heaven, they would enjoy privileges infinitely better than what Rome could ever offer. This would have been a source of encouragement when they suffered the consequences of refraining from pagan Roman customs like emperor worship (Philippians 1:29). But it also required that they live as citizens of heaven, or as Paul put it, “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
Paul’s challenge also stands for us today. We all pledge allegiance to something. In fact, most of us pledge allegiance to many things: country, work, a sports team, a political party, or family. It’s not wrong to value these things. It can, however, be problematic when our loyalties lead us to work, act, or speak in ways which do not reflect the gospel of Christ. Paul’s message is that our loyalty to Jesus must always come first and our manner of living should reflect this. We may live as citizens in the world, but above all else, we are citizens of heaven.
LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.