What is Worthy Conduct? (Philippians 1:27-2:5)

Whatever happens… whatever happens… “Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27)

What does it mean to live as citizens of heaven in a manner worthy of the gospel?

Just twenty years ago, in 1988 a young Irish physician found himself in the infamous Luwera Triangle, witnessing the devastation of two civil wars, surrounded by evidence of genocide and the despair of people robbed of the means of rebuilding their lives. The land was rich in fertility but the people poor and weak. Challenged by what he had seen, Dr. Ian Clarke resigned from his medical practice near Belfast and returned to Uganda to become the only doctor to tens of thousands of people in an area the size of greater London. He began with a clinic under a tree – but the seed was soon to grow and gradually, with the help of Christian friends from Northern Ireland, a modern hospital took shape and with it a whole community recovered hope and the means of survival. Regular outreach clinics are held, including an AIDS support programme in the community.

Whatever happens… “Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27).

Kiwoko hospital is built on a strong Christian foundation, with evangelism and medical help going hand in hand. The Kiwoko Mission Team is led by Shadrach Lugwago, the hospital pharmacist, and made up of about 40 other hospital staff. They lead missions and plant churches in the surrounding villages. But when they visit outlying villages and preach the gospel and plant churches they also come across AIDs orphans. So Shadrach offers to give them a home. He and his young wife Nora have two children of their own and have so far adopted 28 more children. We had supper together one night. They struggle financially but they share what they have.

Whatever happens… “Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27).

Jay and Vicki Dangers arrived in the Luwera Triangle at the same time as Dr Ian Clarke. They did not stop with adopting 28 children. In the last twenty years they have provided a family home to over 1000 orphaned and abandoned children. Who are Jay and Vicki? Just a sweet homely American couple, with their own educationally challenged Downs Syndrome daughter, who knew they had to do something. They are simply trying to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ. At the New Hope Christian Centre these children receive love and care, education and training for adulthood, independence and self sufficiency from godly staff.

“Whatever happens” says the Apostle Paul, “Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27).
How can we too learn to live as citizens of heaven in a manner worthy of the gospel? I have to confess that I often feel very unworthy of the gospel of Christ. For myself then as much as for you, I want to draw out 3 simple steps from Philippians 2 that will help each one of us live more effectively as citizens of heaven – this week – in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

In our relationship with God – treasure unity (Phil. 2:1-2)
In our attitude to ourselves – learn humility (Phil. 2:3)
In our relationships with others – serve willingly (Phil. 2:4-5)

  1. In our relationship with God – treasure unity“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2)

Notice Paul begins with and repeats the word “if” four times. Another way of saying it would be “In view of the following four facts that are true of you because of what Christ has done for you…” Notice how we are described. “United with Christ”. This is how a Christian is defined.  
Paul is saying “If you have been united with Christ and if the Holy Spirit of God indwells you, then… have the same love, being one in Spirit and of one mind.”

Living a life in a manner worthy of the gospel begins by reflecting on our position as citizens of heaven and being united with Christ. The Philippians laid great store by being Roman citizens. They enjoyed Roman law, Roman culture, Roman holidays, Roman tax allowances. Roman citizenship was very costly and highly prized within an Empire dominated by slaves.

So Paul plays on this theme and begins by reminding them who they are in Christ. Citizens of Heaven. If this is who you are, says Paul, if you are united with Christ, start behaving like it. For some this may mean a radical change of attitude. To change your life, we must change the way we think. Behind everything we do is a thought. Every behaviour is motivated by a belief, and every action is prompted by an attitude. God revealed this thousands of years before psychologists understood it:

“Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.” (Proverbs 4:23). 
Imagine riding in a speedboat on a lake with an automatic pilot set to go east. If you decide to reverse and head west, you have two possible ways to change the boat’s direction. One way is to grab the steering wheel and physically force it to head in the opposite direction from where the autopilot is programmed to go. By sheer willpower you could overcome the autopilot, but you would feel constant resistance. Your arms would eventually tire of the stress, you’d let go of the steering wheel, and the boat would instantly head back east, the way it was internally programmed. This is what happens when you try to change your life with willpower: You say, “I’ll force myself to eat less … exercise more… quit being disorganized and late.” Yes, willpower can produce short-term change, but it creates constant internal stress because you haven’t dealt with the root cause. The change doesn’t feel natural, so eventually you give up, go off your diet, and quit exercising. You quickly revert to your old patterns.

We become whatever we are committed to. There is a better and easier way: Change your autopilot – the way you think. Dwell on the reality of who you are – a citizen of heaven. How will that impact your attitudes and behaviour?

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2)

In these verses Paul says become ‘like-minded’ with other Christians because you are united with Christ. Our first step therefore may involve changing the way we think. Change always starts first in our mind. The way we think determines the way we feel, and the way we feel influences the way we act. To be like Christ we must develop the mind of Christ. 
We do this we must daily meditate on God’s word. We must study God’s word, memorise it and apply it personally.

That is why our Bible Study Groups are so essential to personal growth – why they are central to our mission as a church. That is why our membership covenant, and our Vision and Five Year Plan are so important. They enable us to be one in Spirit and of one mind.
In my experience, most tensions and disagreements in church life stem from a failure to agree, accept or live by our common purpose. At Easter we will be inviting you to renew your commitment to our Membership Covenant, for the year ahead and commit ourselves to realize our Church Vision and Five Year Plan.

This is the basis for being one in spirit and of one mind. How do we live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ? In our relationship with God – we must treasure unity.

2. In our attitude toward ourselves – learn humility

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3)

Selfish ambition and vain conceit are the mortal enemies of unity and harmony in the church. Having a right attitude toward ourselves does not mean we must treat others as superior or more talented. But we will see others as worthy of preferential treatment. At the Kiwoko CE conference there was a team of helpers who would meet us at the entrance and offer to carry our bag to our seats. It was tempting to not only accept it but begin to expect it. One day a fellow pastor offered to carry my Bible to the lectern as I was about to speak. I would not let him. I said, “Only if I can carry yours as well.” Selfish ambition or vain conceit is a constant temptation.

We must therefore be ruthless and when we sense its presence, repent. To repent literally means “to change your mind.” We repent whenever we change the way we think and take on Christ’s outlook and perspective. We are commanded to “have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had.” (Philippians 2:5) This means we must stop thinking immature thoughts, which are self-centered and self-seeking, and focus on the needs of others.
The Bible says, “Stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” (1 Corinthians 14:20).  Babies by nature are selfish. They think only their own needs. They are incapable of giving; they can only receive. What may be natural in a baby, is immature in an adult. That is why we need to learn humility. How do we live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ?
First: in our relationship with God – treasure unity. 
Second: in our attitude toward ourselves – learn humility.

3. In our relationships with others – serve willingly

“Not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had.” (Philippians 2:4-5)

In spite of all that is unique and radically different about the Lord Jesus Christ, we are commanded to have the same attitude. Specifically his self sacrificing humility and love for others. In his book, A Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes,

“As the cross is the sign of submission, so the towel is the sign of service. When Jesus gathered His disciples for the Last Supper they were having trouble who was the greatest… Whenever there is trouble over who is the greatest there is trouble over who is the least. That is the crux of the matter for us, isn’t it? Most of us know that we will never be the greatest; just don’t let us be the least. Gathered at the Passover feast the disciples were keenly aware that someone needed to wash the other’s feet. The problem was that the only people who washed feet were the least. So there they sat, feet caked with dirt. It was such a sore point that they were not even going to talk about it. No one wanted to be considered the least. Then Jesus took a towel and a basin and so redefined greatness.”

Some Christians assume that spiritual maturity is measured either by your knowledge of biblical doctrine or by the spiritual experiences you have had. While knowledge and experiences are two ways to measure maturity, that isn’t the whole story. The Christian life is about far more than creeds and crisis; its also about conduct and character. Our deeds must be consistent with our creeds, and our beliefs backed up with Christ-like behaviour.

The Bible says, “We should all please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself.” (Romans 15:2-3).

Think about it. What will leave the most lasting impression on our non-Christian friends?
The strength of our arguments? The force of our logic?
The clarity of our reasoning? Or, will it be our gentleness, our respect, our interest in their welfare?

The apostle Peter instructs us: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15).

And the apostle James ensures we don’t spiritualise gospel ministry and divorce it from our life style or attitude to the poor.

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:26-27)

So how will you live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ this week? How did Ian found a hospital? With his medical bag under a tree, one patient at a time. How did Shadrach and Nora end up with 30 children? By welcoming one orphan at a time. How do we live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ? One step at a time.

We have considered three to begin with from Philippians 2.

In our relationship with God – treasure unity (Phil. 2:1-2)
In our attitude to ourselves – learn humility (Phil. 2:3)
In our relationships with others – serve willingly (Phil. 2:4-5)

A servant heart and concern for others is the way to Christ-likeness and the best evidence of spiritual growth. This kind of thinking may be unnatural, it may be counter-cultural and it may indeed be rare but with God’s strength it can be a reality for you and me. For we are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling knowing, as we see in more detail next week, that “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13).

Lets pray.
This sermon is adapted from Chapter 23 of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan), “How we Grow”, pp.179-183. I am also grateful to Alec Motyer for his very helpful commentary, The Message of Philippians (IVP), and Bill Hybel’s “Run the Race” Bible studies in Philippians.

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