“Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel. That way, you won’t be afraid of anything your enemies do.”
Philippians 1:27, 28a (Common English Bible)
Some years ago, a young man shared with me that years earlier he made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. However, in the time that followed, he never sought to grow in his relationship with Jesus. Now his life was moving through a crisis, and not moving through it very well. This brought uncommon insight for him. He said, “I never did anything with my faith so now my faith is not doing anything for me.” Apparently, this young man reduced the Christian faith to right beliefs. He confessed before a church that Jesus Christ is his Lord. He believed in Jesus Christ and that was that. Nothing more required. What he was now learning – in the midst of a personal crisis – is that the Christian faith is not merely right beliefs. The Christian faith is something that we do, and optimally, in community with others.
In his present tumult, what this man desired is calm. Some years ago, William George Jordan wrote, “Calmness is the rarest quality in human life. It is the poise of a great nature, in harmony with itself and its ideals. It is the moral atmosphere of a life self-reliant and self-controlled. Calmness is singleness of purpose, absolute confidence, and conscious power ready to be focused in an instant to meet any crisis.”[i] Simply, the person who is calm identifies a singleness of purpose and pursues that purpose with both a sturdy confidence and an intentional strength of resolve. This is precisely the point Paul makes in his letter to the Church in Philippi: “live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.” That is our purpose. Further, Paul asks for a steady resolve toward this regardless of external circumstances – whether Paul comes to see them or is absent from them.
A familiar song during the Christmas season has this refrain, “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me. I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Initially, the response is a chest that swells with anticipation and joy. A loved one is coming home for Christmas! However, the chest deflates when the refrain continues, “if only in my dreams.” Notice here that joy, or its absence, is dependent on something from outside of the individual – something that is beyond the grasp of the individual to control. Will a loved one be home for Christmas or not? Paul is saying that joy and a life of obedience to Jesus Christ is not dependent upon some external circumstance; not dependent upon whether Paul comes to be with them or is absent from them. Calm is available either way once a mind is focused upon a great purpose.
These few sentences of Paul conclude with the promise that fear and uncertainty will not fill the heart if the mind is set upon the single purpose of living for Christ’s gospel. If we hand authority to external circumstances for our well-being, we confess our inferiority to them. We grant them the power to dominate us. It is then that worries of every measure stir us to unease, wear upon us, and eventually, we wear down to surrender. Calm dissipates. Paul announces it does not have to come to that. “Live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.” Do that and the natural result is that you will not be afraid of anything your enemies do. Malice and slander, difficulties and hardships, disappointments and failures may assail you. Calmness will remain.
[i]Earl Nightingale, “Managing Your Inner World,” Transformational Living: Positivity, Mindset, and Persistence(Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 39.