Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verse 27)
Paul is confident that he is going to be released from prison, something that the Philippians believed would save the progress of the gospel in the world. But Paul says his imprisonment actually furthered the gospel in the world. That is, it gave him opportunity to tell people the good news who would not otherwise have had a chance to hear it. And it gave backbone to Christians that they did not have before to proclaim this good news (verses 12-18). Paul’s release will instead bring Paul the opportunity to get back to work on the progress of the gospel in the Philippians’ personal lives, the sanctifying work of the gospel (verses 19-26).
But whether he is released or not, the Philippians need to improve in their conduct. It is conduct unbecoming of a follower of Jesus who believes the gospel is all important. Instead of the gospel being their utmost priority, their disagreement has become top priority. They are not standing firm in one spirit, nor striving together as one for the faith of the gospel. They are fighting over whether they should have sent money. At one time, the two main protagonists of this argument, Euodia and Syntyche, strove together with Paul in the cause of the gospel (4:3). But now they are striving against each other and they have dragged a portion of the church, or maybe the whole church, into the fracas.
It is hard not to take sides when two of your most prominent leaders are taking sides. And when you have something at stake in the argument, you definitely want to take sides. And what is more likely to be at stake than money. And this is why Paul makes his rather unusual comments at the end of this letter about how they should think of the gift they sent.
But now it is time to strive or labor together. The term used here for striving was often used in the context of athletic competition and that would normally be a fitting metaphor for the kind of labor, sweat and skill that was needed to accomplish something together. But as we will see in the next verse, the opponents here are not characterized as a competing team but as enemies.
Hence the need to think of this instead in more military terms. The unity needed here is more like that displayed by the Spartan and Roman armies. They had worked to perfect the use of the wedge of shields all held together. When each man understood that holding his shield in unison with the man next to him and moving forward together meant he was protecting not only his life but that of his co-warrior and thus of the whole regiment, concern over whether the guy next to him believed the same thing about where he should invest his savings became irrelevant. Living was way more important.
For the sake of the gospel we cannot distract ourselves over issues between us that are not directly relevant to the gospel. We may have friendly and even passionate discussions about who is right and wrong on various doctrines or practices that are not part of the core of the gospel. But those must be put aside when it comes to facing our enemies. We are never going to reach our world with the good news if we are not militant in our unity. Do we really believe that we need all the other Christians around us in our community to reach our community?