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.
Paul winds up the first chapter of this letter with an exhortation to stand firm in unity, come what may. You might notice that this is a common New Testament theme, important as it is for all of us to heed. He urges the people to conduct themselves in a way that is “worthy of the gospel”, an interesting way to approach the subject. The rest of the letter will show what this “worthiness” looks like.
The reason that Paul gives for this is also quite interesting, for it might not be what we would have expected. Notice that his concern doesn’t revolve around any legal concept, as so many teach, but rather one of testimony. Paul tells them that if they behave in this way, he will know that they are standing firm; he states this as though their manner of living were a sign of some sort. The Philippians should stand firm fearlessly, in the face of any opposition… but who would oppose good behavior?
Then, in the latter part of verse 28, Paul comes right out and tells them that the way they conduct themselves, particularly in the face of opposition, is a sign to the world that they will be destroyed, while the followers of Christ will be saved by God. Have you ever thought of behaving yourself as a sign before? Have you ever thought of it as a sign that those who don’t behave well will be destroyed? Maybe not.
When God made His covenant with Abraham, there was a sign of the covenant which was circumcision. Everyone would know that a man who had been circumcised was a covenant partner with God. When God made His covenant with Moses, there was a sign of the covenant; keeping the Sabbath. Everyone would know that the Israelites were God’s covenant people because they kept the Sabbath. The New Covenant established by Christ has a sign also, and that is that we are imitators of Jesus Christ, and this is what Paul is referring to here. Everyone who sees a person living as Christ would live knows they are seeing Christ’s covenant partner. This imitation of Christ has little to do with following a written code of rules and regulations, it has everything to do with loving others and putting others first. It also has to do with putting such a high priority on His love that we will be willing to endure hardship at the hands of those who oppose Christ.
The last part of this passage refers to suffering and enduring a struggle. Our struggle isn’t really with any person or persons, for those who oppose the gospel really don’t have a clue what is at stake. Our struggle is with the spiritual forces that are in opposition to Christ, just as Paul’s struggle was. Recall that Paul didn’t seem to hate his captors, far from it in fact, for He was there in jail, sharing Christ’s love with them, and this is exactly the kind of thing he is calling upon each of us to do.