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)
It is easy to look at circumstances and even at other people and use them as a reason for why we have chosen to act in certain ways. However, Paul says that ‘whatever happens’ I am the one responsible for the way that I act. As tempting as it may be at times to look for reasons to excuse my misconduct, my conduct is my responsibility.
When my boys have an argument and I step in to try and resolve it, inevitably the conversation proceeds like this: child 1, “you did this…” child 2, “…but you did this…”. And I am no different as an adult! My kneejerk response is to blame someone or something (circumstance) for my actions. And Paul simply won’t let me get away with that kind of thinking.
Most of the time we do not have the ability to control the way that other people act or the circumstances around our lives. Unexpected things happen in our work, political, social and spiritual worlds. The only thing you can control is you.
Conduct yourself in a manner worthy…
It is said that the only Bible that some people may read is your life. The only contact that some people may have with Christianity is you. That is a mind-blowing thought! Your actions and your life speak much louder about your relationship with God than your words do. Your actions betray what is really in your heart, even though you may try to hide it sometimes.
As Christians we have received the amazing privilege of being children of God and citizens of heaven. But those privileges come with certain responsibilities. Our way of life must be “in a manner worthy of the gospel” – that is according to the message of God’s saving grace in Christ and the change that He brings to your life. The Bible has other ways of impressing this necessity on us. We are called to be ambassadors – representatives for Christ (2Cor 5:20). We are told we are saints – set apart from the world unto God (1Cor 1:2). We are servants – just as Christ came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Even the name ‘Christian’ means ‘little Christ’.
Then whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence…
The Philippians were not just to act in the right way because they thought that Paul was coming to visit them, or even that he was going to hear about their conduct on the church grapevine. We are not to be like the schoolboy who tucks in his shirt because the principal is coming down the corridor! Paul can only be in one place at one time and perhaps receive a couple of reports from fellow Christians. On the other hand, the writer of Hebrews will tell us that “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrew 4:13). How different our lives might be if we thought of God as seeing and perceiving all!
Paul says their conduct should not be on account of him, but on account of the love they have for God and out of thankfulness to Him. Paul doesn’t want them to be on their best behaviour because they fear him but rather because they have a healthy respect (fear) for God and a desire to please Him. He directs them and he encourages them with what he has already seen in them thus far:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.(Philippians 2:12-13) In the end, Paul’s confidence (and ours) should be in God. He is the one who works in us as we strive to work out our own salvation in all the different areas of our lives.