Philippians 1:27-2:4: A Gospel-Centered Church
“I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please. Not too much—just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust. I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation. I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races—especially if they smell. I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like about three dollars worth of gospel, please.”
– D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 12-13.
The sentiment captured in this rather tongue-in-cheek portrait of Christianity sadly describes the approximate value of the gospel for many North American churches and church-goers today. We want a gospel that’s more about us than Jesus. But this is far cry from what Paul is after in the central exhortation of his letter to the Philippians: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27).
Paul’s vision for the church in Philippians takes a more instructive shape in 1:27-2:18, where we see the bulk of the letter’s explicit exhortations to the church. And all of it falls under this central call—to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus (1:27). Not that Paul is saying we can ever be worthy of what Jesus did for us; rather, he is calling us to live according to what Jesus has done for us, to center our lives on the gospel—the good news of God’s gracious plan to rescue us from our sinful rebellion and restore us to a right relationship with him through the life, death, and resurrection of his eternal Son, Jesus.
The rest of vv. 27-28 tell what a life centered on the gospel should look like, specifically in terms of community and mission. By community we mean relationship, particularly a unified relationship. Paul describes the community of faith as “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side” (1:27). But this community has a mission, a purpose: their striving is “for the faith of the gospel.” That is, it is for the sake of the gospel’s advance, even if it means sharing in the sufferings of Christ (1:29-30). A church that lives worthily of the gospel is a church that is partnered together to see more and more people turn from the lifeless, damning idols of this world to the one, true, life-giving, and merciful God of the universe—the God who has made himself known to us by his Spirit in the face of his Son, Jesus Christ.
So what will it take to be a gospel-centered church, a church living worthily of the gospel? Paul tells us in chapter 2 that is motivated by our own participation in the gospel (2:1), and manifested in unity, love, and humility—the kind of unity, love, and humility that counts others more significant than ourselves and looks not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others (2:2-4).
In other words, unless the gospel does its transforming work within the community of faith, we will have nothing to give in our mission to the world. For the greatest threat to the advance of the gospel is not the world around me, it is me. Self. The temptation to prioritize self (over against unity in our common mission) or to preserve self (over against boldness when our mission is opposed). A gospel-centered church not only partners together to advance the gospel through our witness and love, but depends utterly and entirely on the same gospel for our own growth and service. And as Paul continues on in the letter, we see that Jesus is both the pattern (2:5-11) and the power (3:7-11) for this kind of gospel-centered life. Only a joyful satisfaction in Jesus frees us to move beyond self and toward one another in joyful, humble, unified partnership for the advance of the gospel.
This Sunday (Nov. 6) is Vision Sunday for Westgate Church. We’re not only asking what a life worthy of the gospel looks like for our personal lives, but what it looks like for the future direction of Westgate Church. If you’re in the MetroWest area of Boston, I invite you to join us as we wrestle and dream together about Paul’s vision and how that might shape our vision, and as we celebrate and make much of God together as one body, gathered under God’s Word, in song, and around the Lord’s Table.
Update: For sermon text and discussion questions, click here: Phil 1.27-2.4 Westgate 11.6.11