There was a time when believers often spoke of the Christian faith using military language. “Onward Christian Soldiers” may sound antiquated now, but not long ago it was known and loved. Yet martial language is quite common in the New Testament, and Paul relies on it to communicate key realities. He describes Christians as being like soldiers in a battle. Their heavenly nation is under attack and they, as its citizens, must rise up to protect it. Wave after wave of enemies is coming toward them and they must resist. They must stand firm. In the opening chapter of Philippians, he tells these Christian soldiers there are three things they must do if they are to remain undefeated in this great spiritual battle.
Stand Firm in One Spirit
First, they must stand firm in one spirit. We don’t know the exact circumstances at the time of this letter, but we do know that this church faced regular opposition from opponents of the Christian faith. In fact, Christians across the Roman Empire were often under persecution from the local governors and even from the Emperor himself. Perhaps some of the members of this church have been hauled off to prison and some have been killed. Perhaps they are all beginning to see their freedom curtailed. One way or another, they are suffering because of their faith.
So what are the Christians to do under these ongoing waves of attack? Paul says to “stand firm in one spirit.” Stand firm pictures a group of soldiers who will not budge, who are not going to give an inch of ground. They’re going to stand firm in the spirit of unity. It might be clarifying to capitalize the “s” in Spirit so we see that he’s talking about the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who brings unity to Christians. As Christians, each of us is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. It’s not some abstract idea that binds us all together as Christians; it’s not a common interest or hobby; ultimately, it’s a person. The Spirit is our unity. So what Paul is telling these people is to remember that they share a common bond with one another. The Holy Spirit of God indwells each of them, giving them the deepest possible kind of unity.
Stand Boldly For One Faith
Second, Paul tells them to stand boldly for one faith. Verse 27 says, “with one mind strive side by side for the faith of the gospel”. “Striving” is another fighting word. It’s a word that pictures soldiers fighting for victory together. These soldiers are united in a common cause, and working together to achieve victory. Our translation says they are of one mind, but more literally they are of “one soul.” This goes deeper than thinking the same way—they are bound together almost as one man. They are acknowledging the common bond of the Holy Spirit and now binding themselves together accordingly. They are choosing to act in ways that demonstrate that internal bond.
Soldiers are trained to perform their tasks as part of a larger body. For soldiers to be effective, they have to maintain their cohesion as a unit. Fifty soldiers standing together in proper formation is far more effective than 100 soldiers scattered about and operating independently. Paul is concerned that this church which is already being attacked from the outside, is starting to lose its cohesion from the inside. They’re facing external attacks and won’t survive it unless they can maintain internal unity. He calls on them to stand together in their common faith.
Stand Courageously Against Many Opponents
The third thing Paul calls for is in verse 28: “not frightened in anything by your opponents.” This is a call to courage, and is the stuff of war movies. The enemy is coming and this small band of heroic soldiers is waiting for them. They’ve been called to fight this war as loyal citizens of their nation and now it’s up to them to resist. The captain goes from man to man and says, “Take courage. Be strong. Don’t waver. The enemy is coming, but if we stay strong as a unit, we will persevere.”
Obviously it must be intimidating for these Christians in Philippi to face foes and to endure persecution. Obviously they will be fearful when their peace, their freedom, or even their lives are endangered. So of course they will be concerned. But Paul wants them to stand firm despite that. He acknowledges that it’s a temptation for Christians as they face the prospect of suffering to get spooked, to run away. But as they stand together, bound together by the Holy Spirit, and as they stand together united in a common cause, they will gain courage and remain steadfast. They will endure. They will remain undefeated.
And so, Paul’s call to the Christian “soldiers” in Philippi, and thus to you and me, is to stand firm in one spirit, to stand boldly for one faith, and to stand courageously against many opponents. As we do that, we will fight and win the great spiritual battle we’ve been called to.