Although it is hard to pin down any one reason Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, there may have been disunity in that congregation that the apostle had to address. Philippians 1:27 is the first indication of this. Moving on into the body of his epistle, the apostle exhorts the church at Philippi to be of “one mind” and “one spirit,” perhaps because he had received news of some disagreements in the church there.
The degree of the Philippians’ problems is unknown to us, but today’s passage demonstrates that the gospel of Jesus Christ has a clear ethical content. God saves us from disobedience unto obedience, and there is a certain manner of life that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. As one commentator has said, the gospel is the organizing norm of the Christian church, and we falsely profess the name of Christ Jesus if we do not live out the implications of the gospel message.
There is one gospel of God (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:6–9) — one body of saving truth that is the foundation of our lives and the basis for our heavenly citizenship. This gospel — this truth from our Lord Himself — is our only hope in life and death, and this same gospel calls us to strive valiantly for its defense and proclamation (Phil. 1:27). Believers in first-century Philippi had a particular need to be reminded of this fact because of the pride they had in their status as a Roman colony. The great Caesar Augustus established Philippi as a colony, and its citizens were therefore especially tempted to put their hope in Roman citizenship even when the caesar’s demands conflicted with the gospel. They needed again and again to realize the importance of submitting to Christ as their ultimate Lord and Savior, not the emperor upon whom the Roman senate bestowed the same titles. This would mean striving for the gospel when Rome demanded the Philippians’ final allegiance.
Yet the Philippian Christians could not effectively contend for the gospel as lone rangers. They needed to work together, being of one mind and purpose, refusing to grieve the one Spirit who knits us together in love, unity, and truth (Phil. 1:27). Today we must likewise work hand in hand to defend the truth, striving for unity in love and truth by the Spirit if we are to make a case for the gospel.