Humans tend to justify their lack of faith in Christ or their obedience to God by blaming unfavorable circumstances. Sometimes, people may blame God himself. The one-talent man blamed his master for being hard and inflexible. Adam blamed Eve, whom God gave to him, and Eve blamed the serpent.
The mind works expertly to find reasons why faith isn’t viable or why obedience is too hard, complicated, or impossible.
The apostle Paul heads off this tendency when writing to the Philippians. He knows, like most good missionaries, that his absence might provide an excuse for the converts to let up on efforts to serve God.
“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that—whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent—I should hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel” Philippians 1.27.
The original word behind “only” is used here as an adverb, from the noun “one” (Greek: monos). It is sometimes translated in the sense used by HCSB: “Just one thing” or by NLT: “Above all.” These are legitimate renderings.
Another possible way to translate this one word is offered by other versions, like NIV: “Whatever happens.” This rendering takes into account the context of the verse where Paul considers his possible presence with the Philippians or absence from them. (NIrV follows the NIV with “No matter what happens.)
OEB also follows this option with the rendering: “Under all circumstances.” (See also EXB and Phillips.)
Paul appears not to know at this point whether or not he will return to Philippi. His concern is the Philippians’ faithfulness. They should be faithful whether he is present with them or absent from them. The Philippians should not use his absence as an excuse to let their efforts flag to live for Christ.
The verse and this word open a wonderful perspective to remind us that faith must be contended for and life in Christ must be lived regardless of our situation, independently of our circumstances.
In the last day, the Lord will not be interested in why we failed in our faith because of what other people did or did not do. At judgment, all excuses will be swept away. We will be judged by what we did or do not do, not by what others did or failed to do for us.
We ought to be faithful, “no matter what happens.” No matter who leaves or arrives. No matter what suffering we encounter or what blessings we receive.
The focus of our faith is not the person who taught and baptized us, not the preacher or elder or teacher who encouraged us in the congregation, not the authority figure we looked up to. Our faith is in God. “Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” 1 Peter 1.21.
Whether our circumstances be discouragement from criticism, disappointment in others’ conduct, or temptation to carnal desire, let us not be moved away from our faith, but “only” motivated by the love of God to faithfulness until that final day.
“[M]aintain yourselves in the love of God, while anticipating the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that brings eternal life” Jude 21.