Philippians 1:27-30 – What Does an American Christian Look Like?

(Sunday, September 17, 2017) 2:04 PM What does an American Christian look like? We look like any other people outwardly. We don’t normally dress much differently from unbelievers. We don’t wear our hair differently. We don’t have secret handshakes. We don’t all drive the same model car. In the grocery store you’re unlikely to be able to pick out the Christian from the non-Christian. So what’s the difference between those who are born again and those who aren’t?

One again, Paul helps us out. In Phil. 1:27-30, he’s clear that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Christians is they suffer for Christ, or at least are willing to do so. This is a “given,” writes Paul, using a construction sometimes called the divine passive. Thus “it was granted to you to suffer” could be rendered “God has granted this to you.” This has always been the case. In every generation, those with a whole-hearted allegiance to the Gospel can expect to share in the sufferings of Christ.

The idea of suffering for Christ is not an unusual one for Paul. In the book of 2 Corinthians, not once but twice he lists the sufferings and trials that came to him for being a Gospeler. Here’s one of them (2 Cor. 6:4-10). At first blush there seems to be no rhyme or reason to Paul’s list.

But a closer look reveals some interesting patterns.

In the ISV, we tried to indicate the thought units as follows (please note the punctuation):

I see that Eugene Petersen also seemed alert to some of these patterns.

Note especially the following constructions:

  • “in hard times, tough times, bad times”
  • “when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed”
  • “working hard, working late, working without eating”

Brilliant! The point is that Paul didn’t just talk about suffering for Jesus; he experienced it. And because he stood strong in spite of sometimes fanatical opposition, he can exhort the Philippians to do exactly the same thing (“Don’t be intimated by your opponents in any way”).

I once saw a bumper sticker with the words “Things Go Better with Christ” — a takeoff on a Coke commercial. That’s not always true, of course. In fact, if I understand Paul correctly here, God never intended things to “go better with Christ.” Thousands of Christians around the world (yes, in 2017) are undergoing extreme suffering for their faith. You can’t live uncompromisingly for the Gospel and not have some scars to show for it. By saying yes to Christ, we have to comparatively¬†say no to everything else, including our comforts and safety. Paul doesn’t mean that we go out and look for trouble. He’s simply saying that my love for Christ should be infinitely deeper and stronger than my love for my own life.

Once again, in Philippians we see Paul at his very best. He rejoices and give thanks in everything, including his own sufferings and hardships. What a remarkable example he is for us. May God grant us courage as we seek to live and speak the truth in love in our own communities and nations.