Is there such a thing as fair-weather faith? What does it look like to follow Christ when things are tough, when the dominant culture doesn’t support it, when your have to suffer for it?
In today’s passage, Paul challenges his readers to faithfulness to Christ in “whatever happens.”
Phil. 1:27-30 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 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. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
This opening phrase “whatever happens” connects us to the context of the letter - Paul is facing trial in prison; he does not know whether he will be released soon or stay under arrest. And of course, they are aware that Rome routinely uses capital punishment to maintain control. So, while Paul has expressed confidence that it will all turn out well, he admits here that he does not know what will happen.
In much of global Christianity, suffering is not seen as antithetical to faith; in fact, suffering is expected. So, when hard things happen to people of faith, they are not easily thrown off. Here, Paul is building for this church a proper theology of suffering, essentially saying, “What happens to me should not effect the way you run your race.” Specifically, he says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Citizenship meant a great deal in the Roman world, to be a Roman citizen afforded one great freedom, protection and status. But, there were also high standards for Roman citizens—you represented Rome, so there were certain standards, mores, and values that you were to live up to. Paul is not asking the Philippians to think about their citizenship to Rome; but their citizenship to another Kingdom—the Kingdom of God. As such, he is asking them to think about how citizens of heaven should behave.
Paul says our conduct as kingdom citizens should be “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Paul wants them to remember what the gospel of Jesus Christ did for them and the high cost he paid. His hope was that they would not live in ways that demeaned, defamed, or denigrated the gospel but instead would live in ways that reflected the beauty and power of it. In response to Christ’s action and as an act of our own free will, we choose, to live up to the high calling of the gospel, not for merit’s sake, but out of love and conviction.