How can those professing Christ impact a culture that marginalizes them or fights against Christian ways? A survey of history as well as current world events reveals this is a familiar question. Writing to a church in the midst of suffering, Paul’s words suggest at least three ways for moving forward.
Starting with Paul’s missionary activity in Philippi and then evident again more than a decade later when Paul wrote Philippians, opposition against Christians had broken out in that patriotic Roman colony. We learn about Paul’s beatings and imprisonment in Acts 16. From Philippians we gain glimpses into their ordeal, “not being intimidated in any way by those who oppose you” (Philippians 1:28) and “it has been granted to you … to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29).
When a culture stands opposed to God’s message and his people, how can Christians make a difference? Three Pauline teachings point a way forward.
First, don’t retreat. Contend for the gospel.
Using military language recalling the military invention of Philippi’s namesake, Philip of Macedon, Paul exhorted the church to exemplify “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). Just as soldiers unified in a phalanx stand shoulder to shoulder focused upon a single objective, so too Christians are to work together as a united force for the gospel. This is the work of all, not just a few.
Second, don’t blur the gospel. Live out the Christian life.
No one would take the Christian message seriously if their words were at odds with their message. Accordingly, Paul addressed the Philippian church’s internal tensions, so that their life testimony would shine like lights in a dark place.
Christians are to present the gospel by the way they live as well as by the words they speak. “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-15).
Third, don’t depend upon yourself. Rely on God to work.
The Christian’s role involves following God’s marching orders. Just as Christ obeyed the Father in exemplifying selflessness and God exalted that service for his purposes (Philippians 2:5-11), so too God can work through and use the lives of obedient Christians to achieve God’s purposes.
“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).
Even when God’s people find themselves within an antagonistic context, their lives and message can impact that culture. God’s power can be at work even in those situations to achieve his purposes.