Paul uses military language when he addresses believers in their waging war against the enemy. He talks about “standing firm” in one spirit which is a reference to addressing the front line of soldiers facing the enemy. He 94 unityuses the phrase “striving side by side” which is a reference to the Greek phalanx of soldiers locking arms and bracing themselves for the onslaught of the enemy. Then in Philippians 1:28 he adds, “…and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” The Greek word for “frightened” here is not really “fear” but rather “startled.” Alexander the Great used this word for horses that got spooked; he tested horses to make sure they wouldn’t panic in battle. It seems that Paul is saying “don’t panic.” There will be those who rise up among you who will cause division and want to destroy the unity. When you come face to face with them, don’t get spooked.

Who exactly these “opponents” were has been subject to much debate. Most commentators seem to focus on the same forces that arrested Paul and Silas and threw them in prison. To them it’s the forces of persecution from the pagan world around them. But there is another war being waged in the church at Philippi. It’s in the church itself and it’s this war that Paul is most concerned with. Paul is consumed with his concern over the divisions that have raised their ugly heads within all the churches he has planted. In nearly every letter (if not every letter!), Paul focuses attention on unity and agreement within the community and always speaks against division and strife. In 1 Corinthians, Paul begins his letter with a plea, “I appeal to you by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Of the seven things that God hates in the book of Proverbs, only one of them is a person; “one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:19).

Then Paul adds in verse 29, “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” Paul is saying do not get “spooked” or “intimated” by anyone or anything that will arise to threaten the harmony and unity of the church. These attacks can come from within or from without, but the threat is the same. Ultimately it’s an attack on the joy of a fellowship of believers. Division and strife is not from God. That’s why they always make our lives miserable. They rob us of joy! Love, living sacrificially in community with others, always brings joy. This is true in a marriage, in a family, or in a church. Joyful relationships are a victory from God. Anyone who ever boxed or wrestled knows that from the moment you enter the ring you must do your best to look cool and unintimidated. One boxing coach said many fights are won or lost in the minute we face our opponent before any bell rings. To maintain our joy in Christ we must stand strong, linked together, unintimidated against forces of division.

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