Only let your conversation be as it becomes the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent…
The meaning is, Play the citizen in a manner worthy of the gospel. Paul does not mean, of course, Discharge your civic duties as Christian men, though some Christian Englishmen need that reminder; but their city was the heavenly Jerusalem.
I. KEEP FRESH THE SENSE OF BELONGING TO THE MOTHER CITY. Paul was writing from Rome, where he might see how the consciousness of being a Roman gave dignity to a man. He would kindle a similar feeling in Christians.
1. We belong to another polity than that with which we are connected by the bonds of sense.
2. Therefore it is a great part of Christian discipline to keep a vivid consciousness that there is an unseen order of things. The future life is present to an innumerable company.
3. There is a present connection between all Christians and the heavenly city. The life of Christian men on earth and in heaven is fundamentally the same; in principle, motive, taste, aim, etc. As Philippi was to Rome, so is earth to heaven, a colony on the outskirts of the empire, ringed round by barbarians, and separated by seas, but keeping open its communications, and one in citizenship.
4. Our true habitat is elsewhere; so let us set our affections on things above. The descendants of the original settlers in our colonies talk still of coming to England as going "home," though they were born in Australia and have lived there all their lives.
5. How need that feeling of detachment from the present sadden our spirits or weaken our interest in things around us? To recognize our separation from the order of things in which we "move" because we "have our being" in that majestic unseen order makes life great, not small.
II. LIVE BY THE LAWS OF THE CITY.
1. The Philippian colonists were governed by the code of Rome. They owed no obedience to the law of the province of Macedonia. So Christian men are not to be governed by maxims and rules of conduct which prevail in the province, but from the capital.
2. The gospel is not merely to be believed, but to be obeyed. Like some of the ancient municipal charters, the grant of privileges and proclamation of freedom is also the sovereign code which imposes duties and shapes life. A gospel of laziness and mere exemption from hell is not Paul's gospel.
3. That law is all-sufficient. In Christ we have the realized ideal, the flawless example, and instead of a thousand precepts, all duty is resolved into one — be like Christ.
4. Live worthy of the gospel, then. How grand the unity and simplicity thus breathed into our duties.
5. Such an all-comprehensive precept is not a mere toothless generality. Let a man try honestly to shape his life by it, and he will find soon enough how close it grips him. The tiny round of the dewdrop is shaped by the same laws which mould the giant planet.
6. It is an exclusive commandment, shutting out obedience to other codes, however common or fashionable. We are governed from home, and give no submission to provincial authorities. Never mind what people say about you, or what may be their maxims or ways. The censures or praises of men need not move us. We report to headquarters, and subordinate estimates need be nothing to us. We appeal unto Caesar.
III. FIGHT FOR THE ADVANCE OF THE DOMINIONS OF THE CITY.
1. Like the armed colonies which Rome had on her frontier, who received their bits of land on condition of holding the border against the enemy, and pushing it forward a league or two, so Christian soldiers are set down to be "wardens of the marches," and to(1) stand fast — maintaining our ground and repelling all assaults.
(2) This successful resistance is to be in one spirit, inasmuch as all resistance depends on our spirits being rooted in God's Spirit, in vital union with whom we may be knit together in a unity which shall oppose a granite breakwater to the inrushing tide of opposition.
(3) We are to carry the war onwards, striving together for the faith of the gospel.
(4) There is to be discipline and compact organization like that of the Praetorian guards.
(5) The cause for which we are to fight is the faith of the gospel — either its sum and substance or the subjective act of trust in it — to unitedly contend for its growing power in our own heart and the hearts of others.
2. Such work is ever needed, and never more than now, when a wave of unbelief seems passing over us, and when material comfort is so attractive. Close your ranks for the fight.
IV. BE SURE OF VICTORY.
1. "Terrified" refers to a horse shying or plunging at some object. It is generally things half-seen, and mistaken for something dreadful, that makes horses shy; it is usually a half-look at adversaries and a mistaken estimate of their strength that makes Christians afraid. Go up to your fears and speak to them, and, as ghosts are said to do, they will generally fade away.
2. Such courage is based on a sure hope. "Our citizenship is in heaven." The outlying colony knows that the Emperor is marching to its relief.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
WEB: Only let your way of life be worthy of the Good News of Christ, that, whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your state, that you stand firm in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the Good News;