Being A Christian in a Non-Christian World

Series: Preacher: Date: October 29, 2000 Scripture Reference: Philippians 1:27-30

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 one spirit, contending as one man 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 on 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.

I think one of the most moving films that I’ve seen in recent years is Saving Private Ryan. Sue and I had heard that it was very intense-especially the opening scene-so instead of viewing it in a dark theater we waited for it to come out on video and then watched it at home on a Thursday afternoon. And, it was one of those rare movies that impacts your entire day. I mean we just kind of walked around numb for hours reviewing what we had witnessed-replaying the main scenes in our minds over and over again.

If you’ve watched this movie then you know that it is at least partially based on the true story of a family named Ryan in which there were four sons. The father is dead and all four boys go off to fight in WW II, leaving their mother alone and when the war department discovers that three of the four have been killed in action, they enlist the help of a Captain John Miller, played by Tom Hanks, to find the last surviving son and bring him home so his mother will have at least one child left-one son to carry on the family name. Well, Capt. Miller puts together a unit of “volunteers” and they go in search of this Private Ryan. And as they scour the countryside, traveling from unit to unit looking for this one soldier, they engage in several battles with the Germans. They literally fight their way to this guy. When they eventually do find Ryan, he refuses to leave his unit until reinforcements arrive and before that happens they are attacked by a superior force of the enemy.

There’s a fierce battle. In the end, combat is literally hand to hand. Captain Miller and his fellow GI’s are victorious but most of them are killed or wounded.

And, the scene that stands out in my memory, perhaps even more than their shocking but realistic portrayal of the D-day invasion, is this scene at the end of the movie as Captain Miller sits on the ground, propped up against a jeep, dying of wounds sustained trying to protect Ryan and with his last breath he pulls the young private close and whispers, “EARN IT! EARN IT!” In other words, “Listen…many wonderful men-good men-gave their lives to save yours. Live in such a way that you deserve their sacrifice!” At this point, the movie flashes fifty years into the future…as Private Ryan, now an elderly man, is touring a memorial cemetery in France with his wife and grown children. He wanders through the graveyard searching until he finds the grave of the captain who had led the unit that found him and brought him home so many decades ago and then he begins to stagger and he falls to his knees weeping. His wife rushes over to help, thinking he’s had a heart attack or something and midst tears of anguish he says to her, “Tell me I’ve lived a good life….tell me I’m a good man!” She assures him that he has indeed…that he has been a wonderful husband and father and he seems somewhat relieved because all his life he has lived with this burden-this knowledge that several brave men died so that he could live. Remembering their sacrifice on his behalf made him live every moment of his life differently…more honorably.

Today, as we continue our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians we come upon a passage where Paul reminds them-and you and me as well-that Someone…has died on our behalf. And, this Someone was not just a good man; he was the only PERFECT MAN to ever live for He was God’s own Son-His ONLY Son. And, to me, at this point in his letter it’s almost as if Paul is breathing his last and as he does he sort of mentally reaches out to draw all Christians close and whispers, “EARN IT! EARN IT! Remember Who has died…so that you might live!” Look again at verse 27 and you’ll see what I mean. Paul says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner WORTHY of the gospel of Christ!”

Now don’t misunderstand me. In this verse Paul was NOT saying that we could ever DO anything that would make us DESERVE Christ’s death on our behalf. He wasn’t inferring that it would be possible for us to live in such a way that we could somehow EARN eternal life. No, if there was anyone who understood the doctrine of GRACE, it was Paul. He knew and repeatedly taught that we can never EARN or DESERVE Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Remember what Paul wrote to the Ephesians? “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves-it is the gift of God…not by works, so that no one can boast.”

We CAN never be worthy of Jesus’ death for us…BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT WE SHOULDN’T TRY!!! In this verse Paul is saying that, knowing Jesus DIED for us should impact how we LIVE. We should attempt to conduct ourselves in a manner WORTHY of Jesus’ sacrifice. As he wrote in II Corinthians 5:15, “…those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him Who died for them and was raised again.”

Now, if you and I are at all like PRIVATE RYAN, then I think we would WANT to live our lives in a way that is befitting of Jesus’ death for us. I mean if we truly understood what Jesus endured for us, then OF COURSE we would want to try and do something-anything-to please Him. Bruce Marshiano, who portrayed Jesus in the VISUAL BIBLE presentation of the Gospel of Matthew said, “I believe every Christian should hang on a cross for at least thirty seconds. Their lives will never be the same.” If we did that or anything to help us understand what Jesus’ has done for us surely we would want to live in ways that make Him proud.

Well, in today’s text Paul says that one thing we can do — one way we could conduct our lives if we were TRYING to be worthy of Jesus can be found in the way we respond to suffering. For when we react to tough times in a godly way, we give irrefutable evidence that we are followers of Christ. As he says in verse 28, this “…is a sign that we are indeed saved-and that by God.” When Christians are persecuted-when they face times of suffering and still continue to follow Christ faithfully, people notice. They see that we have something special and they hunger to know what our secret is…and this DOES please our Lord.

If you are our guest this morning let me get you up to speed by telling you that this is the third in a series of sermons based on Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi. Up until this point in his letter Paul has been talking about his own suffering: his arrest on false charges, his imprisonment in Rome. But Paul knew that as he was writing this letter, the Philippians were suffering for their faith as well. The book of Acts records that he had left Philippi after a storm of persecution and that persecution was inherited by the Philippian church. In verse 30 he alludes to this when he says, “…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.”

Now, you may be sitting there in that comfortable chair this morning and think, “Well, this doesn’t really apply to me. I don’t suffer for my faith like those Philippians did. I don’t face persecution as a Christian.” And, I don’t want to offend you but if that is indeed true; if you aren’t hurting in some way because of your Christian faith then you must not be posing much of a threat to Satan and his purposes. For, anyone living like a Christian in a NON-Christian world will face persecution of some sort. You see, suffering is not optional for the Christian who wants to conduct themselves in ways that please our Savior. Persecution is not something you could pass by on the “buffet table of discipleship” and opt not to put on the plate of your life. No — if you are a Christian, suffering is inevitable. II Timothy 3:12 says, “…EVERYONE who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” A reporter once asked Roger Staubach, former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, about football injuries. He asked, “How do you keep on keeping on if you’re playing professional football?” Roger replied, “If you’re not playing hurt, you’re not playing football.”

Understand, we don’t suffer because Jesus wants us to. Our Lord is not some cruel drill Sergeant who delights in making life tough for His recruits. No, suffering is unavoidable for Christians because we live in an imperfect world that is hostile to the One we follow. Joe Stowell, President of Moody Bible Institute writes, “Jesus’ rejection, alienation, and ultimately His crucifixion were the direct result of the fact that Christ came to do His work in alien territory that was dead set against His success.” You see, every aspect of Christ-His character, His teaching, His attitudes and responses to life-all of this-is a threat to the reign and realm of the god of this age. And if we follow Jesus-if we pattern our lives after Him-we will face suffering for the same reason. This shouldn’t surprise us for Jesus warned us of this. In John 15, He said,

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” Well, in our text for this morning Paul cites two ways that we should respond to suffering-two characteristics that all disciples should embrace if they are seeking to live worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice.

1. First of all he says that when suffering comes, we have to STAND FIRM.

Look at verses 27 and 28 where Paul says, “One way I will know you are living worthily is when you STAND FIRM…without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” The phrase that is translated “standing firm” is the Greek word, “stekete” and it means tenacity or perseverance, so in this verse it refers to hanging in there…being consistently loyal to Christ no matter what happens-following Jesus just as closely when suffering comes as when it is absent.

I think it’s the same word Paul uses in Hebrews 12:1 when he says, “…let us run with PERSEVERANCE the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith.” Paul is saying that we have to keep on keeping on, following Christ, living according to His written word in good times and in bad.

This reminds me of the story of a 104 year old man who was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter. The reporter asked, “How did you do it? How have you lived SO LONG?” The centenarian answered, “I ate the right food, got plenty of sleep each night, didn’t fool around, and never indulged in alcohol, smokes, or chewin’ tobacco.” The reporter replied, “I had an uncle who lived like that but HE died at fifty-five. Can you explain that?” “Sure,” the old man replied, “he just didn’t keep it up LONG enough.” Well, many times as Christians we don’t keep living for Christ up long enough. We’re on fire for God for a while. Initially we try to live worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice but before long we revert to our old ways. Tough times come and we fall away. We don’t persevere. We aren’t consistent.

And this has a devastating effect on our attempts to lead people to Christ. I mean, think about it. What’s the typical reaction of a non-Christian when they hear of a dramatic conversion to Jesus Christ in the life of a friend of co-worker? Do they say, “Oh, that’s wonderful! Tell me all about it? How can that happen to me?” No…unfortunately, this usually is not their response. Most of the time they say things like, “Born-again? Didn’t Bob Dylan do that for a couple of months? Didn’t John DeLorean claim that when he got indicted? Why I heard John Lennon even tried that for a while.” Almost every non-Christian we know could give you the names of people who CLAIMED to have a genuine religious experience of some sort only to revert back to normal behavior in a month or two.

Bill Hybels writes, “Most non-Christians who learn of someone who suddenly professes to be a Christian will view the announcement with the same level of cynicism as they would…if someone told them they were going to go on a diet or stop drinking.” And in this text Paul is saying, “Listen, do you want to point some people to Jesus Christ? Do you want to prove to them that you have indeed been saved? Then live consistently before them. Live for Jesus Christ day in and day out. Live for Christ when the charts are going down as well as when the charts are going up. Live for Christ when you get passed over for the promotion. Live for Christ when unexpected tragedy takes your breath away. Live for Christ when living for Christ costs you something and you’ve got to pay. Live for Christ when living for Christ sets you up for ridicule and scorn. Live for Christ for the long haul.” The consistency of your everyday life will have a profound influence on people whose lives you’re trying to impact. Therefore Paul says to the believers at Philippi, “Are you leading STEADFAST lives? Are you showing the kind of consistency to the people you’re trying to impact? Are you hanging in there even when times are tough?”

In his book, Living Above the Level of Mediorcrity, Charles Swindoll shares the story of an evangelist who loved to hunt. The man bought two pups that were topnotch bird dogs…two big Setters. He kept them in his large backyard, where he trained them. One morning, an ornery little vicious-looking bulldog came shuffling and snorting down the alley. He crawled under the fence into the backyard where the setters spent their days. It was easy to see he meant business. The evangelist’s first impulse was to take his setters and lock them in the basement so they wouldn’t tear up that little bulldog. But he decided he would just let the creature learn a lesson he would never forget. Naturally, they got into a scuffle in the backyard and those two setters and that bulldog went round and round and round! There were growls and yipes as bulldog hair flew everywhere. The little critter finally had enough, so he squeezed under the fence and took off.

All the rest of that day he whined and licked his sores. Interestingly, the next day at about the same time, here came that same ornery little bulldog…back under the fence and after those setters.

Once again those two bird dogs beat the stuffing out of that bowlegged animal and would have chewed him up if he hadn’t retreated down the alley. But, the very next day he was back! Same time, same station, same results. Once again after the bulldog had had all he could take he crawled back under the fence and found his way home to lick his wounds. The evangelist had to leave for a series of revival meetings and was gone for several weeks. When he came back he asked his wife what had happened. She said, “Honey, you just won’t believe what has happened. Every day, at the same time every morning, that little bulldog came back in the backyard and fought with our two setters. He never missed a day. And I want you to know it has come to the point that when our setters simply hear that bulldog snorting down the alley and spot him squeezing under the fence, they immediately start whining and run down into our basement. That little old bulldog struts around our backyard now just like he owns it.”

Now, that’s persistence. Staying at it. Hanging tough with “dogged” determination. People will notice when we do this-when we consistently follow Christ no matter how difficult it is to do so.

Paul advised young Timothy, “…be prepared [to live for Christ] in season and out of season…Watch your life and doctrine closely. PERSEVERE in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”(I Timothy 4:16, II Timothy 4:2 ) What about you? Are you as on fire for Christ as you once were? Was there a time when you really radiated Christ…but now you’re back to “normal?” If you really want your peers to see the difference Christ can make then be consistent over the long haul. Hal Sherbeck writes, “Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. TALENT will not; Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. GENIUS will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. EDUCATION will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. PERSISTENCE and DETERMINATION alone are important.”

2. And then the second quality that Paul urges all Christians who are enduring suffering to display is UNITY.

Look at verse 27. Paul says that we are to, “stand firm IN ONE SPIRIT, contending as ONE man for the faith of the gospel.” Now, this is something Christians have always had difficulty doing. We tend to divide rather than unite and work together. Yet this was Jesus’ last prayer before His arrest and crucifixion. Remember His words? Referring to the twelve He said, “My prayer is not for them alone…I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message. [THAT’S US!] [I pray] that all of them may be ONE Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”

In his book God’s Dream Team, Tommy Tenney writes that this is the only prayer that the Church has the ability to answer. And I think Jesus is still waiting for us to answer this prayer. I say this because there are 28,000 different Christian denominations in the US! And most of them tend to work independently-not AS ONE. I don’t think we will ever fulfill the great commission until this changes and all of us become more inter-denominationally related. Many times even within individual churches Christians don’t value UNITY. They engage in conflict with one another over trivial issues and in so doing they waste precious time and energy. Ministry is hampered because they spend more time ARGUING in business meetings than they do actually DOING God’s business.

But the worst affect of this trend toward DIS-unity is that it costs us our credibility with a lost world. You see, there’s no reason for the world to believe Christians are from God if they act like the devil when they are together. My own sister left the church nearly 22 years ago, after a business meeting in which people attacked the pastor, my father, and she has never been back. Disunity can be that damaging. I think Paul Billheimer is right when he says, “The continuous and widespread fragmentation of the Church has been the scandal of the ages. It has been Satan’s master strategy. The sin of disunity probably has caused more souls to be lost than all other sins combined.”

You see, people outside the family of God observe political infighting and ugly power struggles all the time. They see it in governmental affairs, in business sectors, in institutions, and in organizations; and it sickens them. These days, more and more people have come out of families that fought and bickered and battled to the point where they are emotionally bruised and they wonder, “Will I ever be able to find a group or a community that I can belong to where people come together and relate authentically? Will I ever be able to be a part of a community where people will shoot straight with one another, where they will resolve conflict by coming to one another and sitting down, trying to work it out?!” People are crying out for a community of unified people who are doing something worthwhile together. And Christians can and NEED to be that kind of community.

Now, understand, for believers, unity is not uniformity. It’s not saying everyone must be exactly alike. That is called, “cookie cutter Christianity” and it borders on cultism. I remember once seeing an ad in a newspaper for a hyper-conservative Bible college in Indiana. It showed pictures of it’s students…all male…all with the same butch haircut…all wearing short-sleeved white shirts with thin black neck-ties. The caption below proudly read, “Our students look like this!” To them unity was uniformity…but they were wrong because the Bible teaches that UNITY is a one-ness of purpose found in a group of DIFFERENT Christians-UNIQUE believers who are mature enough to bond together and enjoy fellowship around the 90% of the things that they agree about rather than argue about the 10% that they don’t agree on. They derive their unity from their essential beliefs and don’t risk damaging their unity over irrelevant non-essentials.

And you know, unity really is a GRACE-driven thing. It begins not in demanding that others change to be like us but in admitting that we aren’t so perfect ourselves. Unity is the result of three scripturally-based observations. It begins with first, seeing that as Mark 2:7 says, ONLY GOD CAN FORGIVE OUR GODLESSNESS. Then, secondly, as Romans 14:4 says, only God can judge our neighbors for their sins And thirdly, it comes from an obedience to God’s command in Romans 15:7 where we are told that we must accept who God accepts. In short, it is an understanding that God loves me and makes me His child. God loves my neighbor and makes him my brother. My privilege is to obediently complete the triangle, to close the circuit by loving who God loves. When we understand these basic scriptural principles, we become one. And we can then work together with a single-mindedness that is truly miraculous. We make it possible for God to work through us like the various parts of a human body obeying the instructions of its head.

As Christians we must realize how important it is for us to learn to relate in such a way that we can say to the people around us, “Join us. We don’t claim to be perfect, but we strive to be authentic. We don’t claim to see eye to eye on everything in this church but we disagree with dignity and grace. We don’t claim to be without friction and misunderstandings, but we are committed to unity. We try to love one another here…to be humble…to genuinely seek to restore wounded relationships. Join us if you want to play a critical role on a team that is pursuing the most important work in the world!” We must show people outside the family of God that the church is the only hope for a high-integrity, relational community that really loves.

This is why Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:3, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

By the way, the Greek word Paul uses here for “striving together” is “sunathlountes.” It’s a word from the field of athletics and literally means to wrestle together or to wrestle in harmony.

A comparable picture today is eleven men on a football team working together to move the ball toward the goal line. Eleven different men…some slow but strong…others small but fast…all UNIFIED around the same purpose, doing things TOGETHER that they could not do ALONE.

Many years ago JIMMY DURANTE was asked to be a part of a show for some WWII veterans.

Although his schedule was busy, he agreed to do a SHORT monologue after which he would have to leave immediately for his next appointment. When Durante went on stage that night, he finished his short monologue and then started another. The applause grew louder and louder as he did monologue after monologue. Finally, after a long performance, he took his last bow and left the stage. Someone stopped him backstage and said, “I thought you had to go after a few minutes. What happened?” Durante answered, “I DID have to go, but I can show you the reason I stayed.” He pointed to the front row where two men were seated next to each other, each of whom had lost an arm in the war. One had lost his right arm and the other had lost his left. But together, they were able to clap, and that’s exactly what they were doing. Loudly and cheerfully. This is what UNITY means: combining our strengths to accomplish the same purpose and when we do, especially in the face of suffering…the world notices as Durante did.

What does this portion of Paul’s letter say to you this morning? Are you living a consistent Christian life? Do you walk the talk? At home? On the beltway when you are behind the wheel in heavy rush hour traffic? At the grocery store when the checkout line is a mile long?

What about the second characteristic Paul listed? Are you doing all you can to protect the UNITY of the church? You know Mark Twain once said, “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” Are you like all those Christians who talk about unity but do nothing about it?

I think this text should motivate all of us to stand firm…to preserve the unity of the church…to ask ourselves whether or not we are living in such a way as to be WORTHY of what Christ has done for us. You may be here this morning and as we have worshiped you have understood just how much God has sacrificed to save you. And perhaps this realization has led you to want to give your life to Him…to follow Him as Savior and Lord, saying to Jesus, “You DIED for me…I want to LIVE for You!” Others of you here this morning who are already Christians may feel led by God to join this church — to become a vital part of this local BODY of believers. It is much easier to STAND FIRM in our culture with the help of other Christians and we would love to have you become ONE with us united in the purpose God gives. Whatever decisions you feel led to make public this morning, we invite you to do so now by walking an aisle and sharing them with me or Steve as we stand together now and sing.

Website design and development by Red Letter Design.