David Jeremiah - The Joy of Integrity
Integrity is being the same. Someone once defined integrity for me as "keeping your commitments after the circumstances under which your commitments were made have changed". That's integrity. Well, because of his stand for the faith, Paul was facing the possibility of death. You remember this book we're studying, the book of Philippians, was written by Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome. So in writing to the Philippian believers, he shared his concern. He knew that what had happened to him, what was coming to him, would soon be coming to them. They too would face responsibility. They too would face pressure. And he wanted to be certain that they would be ready for it when it came.
And we're so thankful that he had those thoughts because, as he helped the Philippian believers prepare themselves for persecution or harassment or whatever else you wanna call it, by helping them, he's helped us. He's given us what we need to know to face the challenges in our lives. And, men and women, these challenges for us who name the name of Christ in faith, have never been greater in the years that I've been alive in this country. It's more unpopular to be a Christian today than it's ever been. And there is toleration for just about everything. Some things you can't believe that are tolerated, but there's almost no toleration for believers. So whether we face the ragged edge of persecution that Paul is talking about here or just what we might call harassment, we're in the game and we need to know how to win.
So, like a coach presenting his game to the players, Paul sends to his friends in Philippi four priorities that would help them endure the persecution, harassment, the problems that they would face because of their commitment to Christ. First priority that he mentions is conduct. So clearly in the first verse, verse 27: "Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ". And the word for conduct in this text is a really interesting word. It's politeuo or polis. It's the word for city. And that word is used in our English language like this: we have a place called Indianapolis, Minneapolis, a big area around a city is called the metropolitan area. It's the word from which we get the word "politics".
So let me read that verse again: "Only let your politics be worthy of the gospel of Christ". How's that for an application? Also the word "police" comes from this word. And we've carried this word over into our culture. In the Greek language, the word meant the largest political unit, the citizens that belonged to a city, and Paul was writing to the citizens of Philippi, and the Philippians would have understood this really well because of their situation.
You see, Philippi was a Roman colony surrounded by a Greek world. It was 800 miles away from Rome, and it was fully Roman but not in Rome. The citizens of Philippi were literally citizens of Rome and their names were on the rolls in the city of Rome. He says to them, "Just as you are a colony of Rome 800 miles removed, you are also citizens of another place a little further than 800 miles. You are citizens of heaven". He makes no apology for that, and on occasions in his writings, he uses the very term. In the 3rd chapter of Philippians, he says it this way: "Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ".
Now as Paul writes to the Philippian believers about their heavenly citizenship, he exhorts them to allow their allegiance to heaven to affect the way they live their lives on this earth. "Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ". Over the years, as a pastor, I have been asked so many times, "Is this okay? Can a Christian do this? What about the casinos, Pastor"? I get letters and emails and questions, so I wanna answer them all today. "Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ". Run what you wanna do through that grid and quit sending me emails. Wouldn't it be interesting if that's the way we began every day? Lord, help me to live my life today in a way that's worthy of the truth that I am a citizen of heaven. And if we were to do that, it would take a lot of complication out of how life is lived.
When we live for Christ, when we walk with him, when we process life through a mind of Christ, we are uniquely different from all the world around us, as uniquely different as were the Romans surrounded by the Greek culture. But when men and women see that, it makes an impact on them. Have you ever noticed if you work in a secular place, and most of us here in this room do, they give us grief all the time. They know we're Christians, maybe you carry your Bible to work. What a brave thing to do. Or they hear you having conversations with other Christians, and they kind of look at you, maybe they make some strange remarks, but here's what I know. When trouble comes, yours is the first door they knock on.
Why is that? Because the evidence of Christ in your life and the way you live, it's a reminder to them of something different, and we may not think we need something different when things are going well, but when things start to go south on us, we need an anchor. I've seen this happen with my children, some of whom have gone to secular colleges. I could not begin to tell you some of the things that have happened to my kids and my grandkids because they're Christians. But when those who have harassed them have gotten into a jam, the first person they call is the person whose conduct is becoming of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So Paul says what you do most of all, live in a way that honors the Lord. Number two, the second priority is consistency. I love this verse; he said, "So that whether I come and see you or I am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit". Paul said, "When I'm with you, you seem to do well. I'm not worried about that. What I'm worried about is when I'm not with you and will you do well then"? People tell me sometimes, "Dr. Jeremiah, when you're gone, things are not always quite the same as when you're here". I never know what that means and I choose not to ask. But isn't it interesting that when there's a leader or there's somebody who's in the middle of it and they're present, things are different. When they're gone, things happen to go back to being the same.
Paul was saying this: "I want your faith to be in Christ, not in me. I want it to be so that when I'm with you, or whether I'm not with you at all, you stand fast for the things you believe, that your faith is consistent, not controlled by your circumstances, not determined by your environment, but you're the same: consistency". Oh, what a tremendous tool that is in the hand of God: consistent Christians who face the troubles and the joys, the problems and the pain. They're just Christians in the midst of it all. When trouble comes, you can't let trouble make you different than you are. Best be sure who you are before trouble comes. And trouble will not make you different. It will bring out of you the courage that was latent in your life all along.
Here's the third one. The first priority is your conduct. The second is consistency. The third one is cooperation. In verse 27, he says, "Do this in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel". I have to say to you today, congregation, that the Christian life was never meant to be lived alone. So we're all here together to testify to that. We're here together because the Lord Jesus gave us the church, his great gift to the body of Christ. "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is," says the book of Hebrews. But within the church, there's even greater togetherness.
When Paul instructed these believers to strive together, he used a Greek word from which we get our word "athlete". This is a special unity of striving together, struggling side by side, like athletes against a common opponent. Paul said, as Christians, we're to stand together. We're to strive together. That our strength as believers is not in who we are individually, but in who we are collectively.
You're not gonna believe this, but I was an English major in college. We had to read a lot of things that I would not have chosen to read where I had not been an English major in college. But here's something that was written by English poet and novelist: Rudyard Kipling, penned a verse that visualizes what I'm saying. Here's what he wrote: "Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky. And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, and the wolf that shall break it must die. As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back; for the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack".
When it comes to standing for the faith of the gospel, truth in times of pressure, the law of the jungle is in force. The strength of the church is the Christian and the strength of the Christian is the church. We started a program here years ago for prayer. It was called "Triple Cord". It was based on a verse of Scripture in the book of Ecclesiastes that you may never have seen, but listen to the profundity of this verse: "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken".
Solomon in his wisdom said there's strength in numbers. We don't face the harassment of the church by ourselves. We may face it by ourselves for a few hours during the week, but the fact that there is more toleration for everything in our culture today than for Christianity is not something we have to deal with by ourselves. We deal with that as a church. We come together and we find consolation in one another. We find courage in one another, and we discover in our personal conversations, we're not the only ones who face this. And so we are strengthened to be strong in our faith. When we're trying to prove the integrity of our lives, it takes conduct that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. It takes consistency so that whatever situation we may be in, we're the same. It takes cooperation. We don't do this by ourselves, we strive together for the gospel. And finally, it takes courage.
You remember what we learned about Paul. Everywhere he went, he had two stops in every city: the synagogue and the prison. He visited all of them regularly. And here's what he tells us, and we may not need this for right now, but surely we will need it. He says: "And not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me".
Paul knew from experience that there would be many occasions for his brothers and sisters in Philippi to demonstrate strength beyond what they personally possessed. So he closes this section of his letter by exhorting the Christians to face their opponents with courage. He provided guidelines to help them accurately identify those times of harassment and draw strength from each other and from Christ. He begins by asking them to have courage to encounter persecution, "and not in any way terrified by your adversaries". That's an interesting phrase.
You know the word "terrified" is only used one time in the New Testament and it's right here, this word. And it's a word that is used of horses that are spooked into an uncontrollable stampede. Paul is saying to the believers, "Don't get spooked by those who come after you. Don't get blown off course". It's a word that describes an inward fear caused by an outward stimulus. It's very appropriate for this little group of believers living in Philippi. The courage in the face of opposition is a double-edged sword. Paul says, "It's the evidence of the believer's salvation". What does he mean by that? The Bible says: "For those who are godly in Christ Jesus," what does it say about us? "We shall suffer persecution".
So when we suffer persecution and we go around complaining about it, we're complaining about the badge of our salvation. Let me tell you something, if you're not living for Christ, they are not gonna bother you. They probably think you're one of them. But if you live for Christ, if you walk with the Lord, if you're different, if you're not trying to be like everybody else, if what you believe is being translated into how you behave, somebody's gonna come after you, and when they do, the Bible says that is an evidence of your salvation, that you have been thought worthy of harassment by those who do not know Jesus Christ, wow. It's quiet in here. And Paul knew what he was talking about.
You know, historically, this letter was written somewhere between AD 60 and 63, and it was a time when the pressure of the Roman empire was intense. Nero was in charge, and it was in July of AD 64 that he surpassed himself in cruelty and ordered his servants to set fire to the city of Rome. And one of the few eye witness historians of that day, a man by the name of Tacitus, said, "Consequently, to get rid of the report that he had ordered the fire, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, people called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate".
So what happened, after Nero, in a angry moment, burned down a city, he blamed the Christians for it and began to persecute them as enemies of Rome. I haven't the courage to tell you some of the things he did, but here's a couple of illustrations. He would take the Christians and put clothing on them that was the bare skin of animals, with the smell of the animals on it and then throw them into the Coliseum where the lions would just decimate them. On one occasion, he took some of the Christians and covered them with pitch and stationed them around the Coliseum and lit them on fire as human torches. This was what was coming down the road for some of the Philippians when Paul wrote this letter.
I read recently that one of the greatest and most serious deficits of Christian preaching today is that we refuse to get our people ready to suffer. And so when suffering comes, the people of God have no clue what to do. They respond to it just like everybody else, but we have something different going on in our behalf. We have the Word of God. We have God's encouragement to us that it may be suffering for now, but it's glory forever. And not be blown away by the difficult things that happen. It's easy for that to happen. Isn't it interesting as we look back over our shoulders to realize how many times as we see the whole totality of an event, we have been blown off course by things that should not have moved us. But they did. Paul regarded suffering for Christ as a privilege.
In fact, in these verses that we've been reading, he talks about it coming as a gift from God. He says that blessing is in suffering for him. There's no blessing in just suffering and being in pain. That's not the issue. The issue is if we're doing it because of him, if we're doing it in his behalf, if we're doing it because we've been accused of being who we are, men and women who are followers of Christ, there is a blessing in that. In fact, isn't that what Jesus said in his Beatitudes? He said, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and when they say all kinds of evil against you, rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you". And those of us who are real about life know that that's a part of who we are, whether it happens to be to the level of harassment or not, we're born with trouble. From the shedding of blood that initiates birth to the last gasp of astonishment in the face of death, we are encircled by suffering.
The biography of a human being is a history of anguish. The way we react to the suffering of life matters more in creative and human terms than the suffering itself. We become the people we are through the disadvantages and conflicts we prefer to more comfortable alternatives. In other words, he said we all have this potential and desire to push suffering and pain away from us, as far as we can get it. "Not today, Lord, not this week, and for whatever it's worth, not ever". But it is through those moments that we learn the most important lessons of life. It's when we suffer and we discover that God is enough that we have great faith in the Lord.
If we did not have those troubles, if we did not have some suffering, how would we ever know that the Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for every need? We know he's sufficient for the good times. But, ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you he's sufficient for all times. And no matter what we face and what we're going through, he is enough; and that's why Paul urges the Philippians not to be terrorized when things happen. They're about to discover that the God about whom he has taught them will be enough. Courage to encounter persecution and endure pain. Finally, to emulate Paul. Paul's saying, "If you're still having trouble with this, and you still don't know how this works and you still don't know how to make this happen in your life, listen, just watch me". He said, "Having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me".
Where's Paul? He's in prison. There's two passages in the Scripture that describe everything Paul went through. I mean, this guy suffered every kind of pain you can imagine. He talks about how many times he was whipped, how many times he was shipwrecked, they tried to kill him by stoning him. They tried to throw him off, they did everything they could to destroy this man, and he just kept continuing to be the person God called him to be. So he said, "If you don't really still get this, let me be an example for you. Just do what I've done: stand strong".
I'm not ready to say that to you all. As I said to you at the beginning, I don't know a lot about this. I know a little bit about cancer, I know a little bit about some organizational turmoil. I've had more than one or two crises in my extended family. But when you put me up against Paul, I'm not in the same universe. So I'm glad that he's told me what to say today 'cause I wouldn't know what to say if he hadn't told me what to say. He's been there and done it. And I accept it as the path forward. I'm reminded that persecution is not always bad. Harassment is not always for our destruction. Sometimes the problems we face are simply God's way of burning the dross from our lives so that the gold will rise to the top and we become the people he created us to be. So here's a tutorial for all of us when we're having a bad day and things are tough. Here's what to do according to Paul.