I don’t like scary movies. Never have. When I was a kid, I went to the movies with a friend and his mother took us to see Poltergeist (Not cool!). I’ve been afraid of scary movies—and clowns—ever since. I am, however, fascinated by zombies. I’ve written about this fascination before. It started with The Walking Dead (a TV show) and progressed to World War Z (a book and soon to be released movie starring Brad Pitt).
Here’s the thing about The Walking Dead: it’s not about the zombies. You start watching for the zombies, but they’re not why you keep watching. The Walking Dead is really about the survivors.
It’s the story of a group of people…living in a world gone mad…surrounded by mindless creatures…whose sole purpose is to consume everything in sight.
Are we still talking about a TV show?
One of most important lessons from The Walking Dead, besides never go walking in the woods without a machete, is that you cannot survive the Zombie Apocalypse by yourself. Survivors have to stick together. This is not always easy, because the only thing most survivors have in common is they’re not zombies.
They have to overcome tremendous racial, cultural and intellectual diversity in order to stay together. But they learn to do it, because they live in a world that will eat them alive if they don’t.
Which brings me back to what Paul says to his friends in Philippi who are facing external opposition, while also struggling to get along with each other.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:27–30, NIV)
He instructs them to live in “a manner worthy of the gospel.” Remember, Paul is obsessed with the progress of the gospel. He knows nothing can frustrate the progress of the gospel more than when followers of Jesus don’t get along with each other or when they treat each other in unloving ways.
In John 13:35, Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The opposite is also true. When Christians fail to love each other, outsiders to the faith have a hard time connecting the dots between Jesus and his followers.
In his commentary on Philippians, Gordon Fee says, “The gospel is all about reconciliation, and unreconciled people do not advertise it well.”
Paul describes conduct in a manner worthy of the gospel as standing firm, together, as one. He encourages them to function as one unit in the midst of a contest or battle.
His language brings to mind the images of a Greek Phalanx or Roman Testudo, both tightly grouped military formations in which soldiers moved together as one man. The Spartans used the Phalanx with great success in 300 and the Uruk-hai employed the Testudo to storm the gate of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers.
While I can’t prove this is the image Paul had in mind when he wrote this passage, it’s not a stretch to assume that since Philippi was a military colony in Macedonia, where the Phalanx was made famous, the Philippians might make this connection.
These formations were only as strong as the soldier’s ability to stick together. As Ben Franklin said in a different context, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
In verse 28, Paul says that standing together as one is a sign to your opponents that you will be saved, and that your opponents will be destroyed. They are on the wrong side of history. This kind of language makes me uncomfortable. It challenges my inclusive sensibilities. It also reminds me that when Paul wrote this letter, he and his friends in Philippi belonged to a minority suffering at the hands of a powerful majority.
The greatest power they had at their disposal was unwavering courage and unity in the face of opposition. When Christ-followers stand together as one, we put the truth of the gospel on display for our neighbors.
One writer describes the church as God’s shop window. What outsiders, skeptics, and seekers see the church doing in the window, helps them decide if they will come into God’s shop and take a closer look at the gospel.
One of the most compelling arguments for the truth of the gospel is a group of people treating each other as if they believe it’s true. Which is just another way of saying: Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel, by standing together as one.
The progress of the gospel depends on it.
So does our survival.