Striving Together for the Faith of the Gospel
Pastor Cornelius R. Stam
If the style of the following article seems a little different from Pastor Stam’s usual writings, it is because this is an edited transcript of one of his radio messages. We trust it will prove a blessing to our readers.
“For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
“Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil. 1:23,24).
Paul had a great desire to depart and be with Christ; not that he was tired of living, by no means. Under the protection of the Roman government, as one of their most prominent prisoners awaiting trial, he was doing a work that would excite the imagination and interest of any man of God. There was already a church established right amongst Caesar’s household, and Paul was known everywhere as a prisoner for Christ. All through the palace and all around about they knew him for this. Oh, no, Paul was by no means tired of living. But the Christ that he proclaimed came to mean so much to him that he longed to see Him and be with Him. This would be far, “far better” than his present state.
Yet, “to abide in the flesh”, as he calls it, was still necessary for the sake of the Philippians and others to whom he ministered. So he felt sure that the Lord would keep him on earth for some time to come. And he expressed the hope that he might see his beloved friends at Philippi before too long. And so it was that he wrote:
“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
“And in nothing terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake;
“Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (Phil. 1:27-30).
OUR CONDUCT AS CHRISTIANS
Did you notice that word “only” with which he opens this appeal? “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.” This is of primary importance. Be sure that this is done above everything else. All through this first chapter of Philippians the apostle adapts almost all he says—his greeting, the news about himself and his ministry, his expressed desire to go and be with Christ, but the necessity to remain here—he adapts all this to the need for true unity among the Philippian believers. In almost every paragraph, every sentence, many subtle phrases or words are employed with a special view to get them to love each other truly, and to work together. And so it is with that word rendered “conversation” in verse 27.
“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.”
We find this word again in Philippians 3:20:
“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
A MATTER OF TRANSLATION
The Revised Version never uses this word “conversation” in its translation, for the simple reason that it no longer means what it meant nearly 400 years ago when our King James Version of the Bible was translated. But the Revised Version, perhaps, has not done a great deal better than the King James. In Philippians 1:27 they have translated it: “Only let your manner of life be as it becometh the gospel of Christ,” while the RSV renders Philippians 3:20: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Now there is a great difference between a “manner of life” and “citizenship,” and beloved, most translations simply render the passage: “Let your manner of life…” or “Let your conduct be….”
What all of these translations have overlooked is that all through this epistle the apostle deals with their responsibility, not as individuals only, but as a Christian assembly, as a group. This word in the original Greek refers not so much to the way we live, as to the way we live together. So the word “conversation” in the Authorized Version is not too far off. Picture three or four men with their heads together and you know they have something in common. The Greek word is the very word from which we get our English word “politics.” It’s not merely a manner of living, but a manner of living together. How this agrees with the rest of the verse, and with the whole purpose of this letter to the divided Philippians!
“Only let the way you live together be as it becometh [or as is appropriate to] the gospel of Christ, that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you are standing together.”
There are five phrases in this one verse alone that emphasize the idea of unity.
First, “Only let your conversation, the way you live together, be as it becometh the gospel of Christ,
“…that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs that ye stand fast.” Don’t split and scatter.
Then, “stand fast in one spirit“;
“…with one mind….”
And finally, “striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
Read that verse again, and see the power of it, as he writes of these Philippians who had allowed a division to come in between them. A division that might, if they let it go, become very deep and wide, and impossible of curing:
“Only let the way you live together be as it becometh the gospel of Christ, that whether I come and see you or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
THE GOOD FIGHT OF THE FAITH
There is another word here that I should say something about. It is not a bad translation, but nearly 400 years ago the word “striving” also meant something different than it does today. The word striving is simply an old English word for fighting. It is the very same word that we would render “fight.” Paul wanted them to fight together, not fight amongst each other, but fight together against a common foe. And what were they to fight for?
Ah, many Christians do not see the importance of this; they don’t know what it is to “fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12). And by the way, when you read the phrase “the good fight of faith” in Paul’s epistles, remember that in the original the definite article is there. It should have been translated: “The good fight of the faith.” And here in Philippians 1:27 we also have the definite article: “Fighting together for the faith of the gospel.” Thus “the faith” is the doctrine, the things to be believed about the gospel of the grace of God.
Do you get Paul’s message to these Philippian believers and God’s message to believers today? What he is saying in a very tactful way is this: “Don’t fight amongst each other. This doesn’t become those who proclaim the good news of the grace of God. Rather stand together and fight together for the faith, or the doctrine, of the gospel,” for Satan is ever alert to pollute the blessed unadulterated gospel of the grace of God. And he has done this in religious circles all over the land, and all over the world, where they have adulterated and polluted God’s pure message of grace through the all-sufficient finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Such a united stand for the good news of grace is bound to arouse opposition, for Satan hates grace. You can mix in a little works, you can add confirmation, you can make baptism necessary to salvation or even add it later—anything, any work, any human work will frustrate the grace of God. In Paul’s day it was the Jewish rite of circumcision:
“Behold I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcized, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:2-4).
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom. 11:6).
In our day Satan adulterates the gospel of grace wherever it is mixed with works. Where works are even appended to it, to make believers in some way more complete, or more acceptable to God, there Satan largely leaves the situation alone. It is where the gospel of the grace of God is preached in its pure, unadulterated form that souls are saved and brought into the truth:
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith [his believing] is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).
This is the message that our adversary so bitterly hates and so relentlessly opposes. When you emphasize the fact that the believer, the simplest, most humble believer, is made “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6); and is pronounced “complete in Christ” (Col. 2:9), it is then that Satan begins to fight.
THE ADVERSARIES OF CHRIST
For this reason the apostle goes on in Philippians:
“Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God” (Phil. 1:27,28).
The enemies of the truth read their own defeat in the unity and confidence of the saints of God, and to the saints themselves this is the surest token of victory. So Paul says: “Don’t you be afraid, don’t you be frightened by our adversaries. But as you stand together for the doctrine of the gospel—for the truth of the gospel of the grace of God—the adversary will see a token of his own defeat. And to you, this will be a token of glorious victory. A victory given by God Himself.”
The world has never been able to understand why it cannot make the true Christian afraid. The Christian who relies wholly on Christ has a powerful testimony. Have you ever read that old book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs? Oh, you should read it and see how God has given His people special grace and courage in special times of need. Men, women, yes, and even young lads and maidens have been tortured, burned at the stake, thrown to the lions, and have done these things by choicerather than renounce the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some of you know that my missionary brother, John, just older than I, and his wife Betty, were beheaded by communists in China some years ago. The world would think this was a deadly blow to missionary work there; but do you know what happened? Within one month more than 200 young Christian men and women applied to go as missionaries to that very city in China where John and Betty Stam had been beheaded, and thousands of others consecrated their lives to missionary work at great missionary conferences all over Europe and America.
Years ago the Auca Indians killed five missionaries brutally, beastially, and what happened? Their wives and other missionaries went back to the Indians to win them to Christ, and they have been making significant progress since. The world can’t understand this, but it is a fact that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
THE BOLDNESS OF THE APOSTLES OF CHRIST
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake; Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (Phil. 1:29,30).
Did you notice it is given to you to suffer for Christ’s sake? It is a privilege, it is a privilege in several ways. First it is an honor to suffer for Christ because His cause is just. Do you recall how the apostles at Jerusalem were cruelly beaten for testifying to Christ’s resurrection?
“And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.
“And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:41,42).
THE APOSTLE OF GRACE
But for Paul, and for us, it is still a greater honor and privilege to suffer for Christ today. In speaking about his sufferings for Christ, the apostle says:
“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind [that which still remains] of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His Body’s sake, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24).
The meaning of this passage is not difficult. Christ was not wanted here; they crucified Him, and even after He was raised from the dead, they still would not have Him. They stood by that awful deed, and He ascended as a royal exile to Heaven. But while the world was through with Him, He was not yet through with the world. In infinite grace He left the Apostle Paul here with a wonderful message of grace and reconciliation:
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the Word of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:19).
In effect God has said, “I’ll count Christ’s death at Calvary as the payment for your sins,” and so Paul says in II Corinthians 5:
“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
“For [God] hath made Him to be sin for us, [Christ] who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:20,21).
Did you get it? “We pray you in Christ’s stead.” He as much as says: You didn’t want Christ; you wouldn’t have Him here; you crucified Him and said, “Away with Him,” but, ah, we are here. He sent us as His ambassadors, and we stand here instead of Christ to beseech you “that ye receive not the grace of God in vain” (II Cor. 6:1).
THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERINGS
But Christ is still rejected and despised today, beloved; His name is cursed and blasphemed on every street corner. And who bears the suffering for this? Not He. He is now forever glorified in Heaven. Paul says, “I am suffering; I am bearing that which still remains of the afflictions of Christ,” and furthermore he says, “I rejoice in it.”
“That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings…” (Phil. 3:10).
These are His sufferings inflicted by unbelievers who hate Him, not you, my Christian friend. The hate is really against Christ. So Paul calls it “…the fellowship of His sufferings…” and it is sweet fellowship indeed, for there are rich rewards which such sufferings will gain:
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Cor. 4:17).
Ah, little wonder the apostle encourages the saints at Philippi to work together in our passage:
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake; Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”
You ask how much we suffer for Christ today? Well, I stood one day with a group of Christians and asked that same question, and added, I’ve never even been slapped in the face for my faith in Christ, have you? And to my embarrassment one woman that was present replied: “I have.” Later the others told me how this woman’s husband had beaten her and had done everything in his power to make life difficult for her because of her faith in Christ. Well, whether you have borne this kind of suffering, or perhaps that cold icy stare, or the cold shoulder that would push you out and give you a poor position at work and give your position to someone else, or whatever—if it’s suffering for Christ, it is a privilege and an honor.
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake; Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now here to be in me” (Phil. 1:29,30).
Such suffering is sweet because it is the fellowship of His sufferings. It is filling up that which still remains of the world’s rejection of Christ, the afflictions that He would be bearing were He here.
THE RICHES OF KNOWING CHRIST
Now, my dear unsaved friend, God does not ask you to suffer to be saved. You should go to India or some other places in the world where pagan religions, and all the sad darkness of superstition prevails. You’d see poor souls torturing themselves in order to make themselves accepted of whatever gods there are. Ah, no, we don’t ask you—God does not ask you—to suffer, or to do anything to earn your salvation. God simply says:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith [believing]; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
But you say: “Oh, but I’ve been such a sinner; isn’t there something I have to pay? I should think I’d have to suffer something to be made worthy of this.”
Ah, no, Ephesians 1:6,7 says that in grace, God hath made us “accepted in the beloved [One]. In Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” And in Romans 5:20,21 Paul declares: “The law entered that the offence might abound, but where sin abounded grace did much more abound.”
My friend, I don’t care what kind of a sinner you are, or what your past has been, and God does not care, because it was all paid for at the cross, where “Christ died for our sins.” There in one stroke the great Creator bore the sins that would have sunk the world to hell, and now He offers you salvation through the merits of Christ at Calvary. Oh, believe it and be saved today. In the words of the old hymn 1 writer:
“Sinners Jesus will receive;
Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall.
“Come, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him for His word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.
“Christ receiveth sinful men,
Even me with all my sin;
Purged from every spot and stain,
Heaven with Him I enter in.
“Sing it o’er and o’er again;
Christ receiveth sinful men;
Make the message clear and plain;
Christ receiveth sinful men.”