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 one spirit, contending as one man 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.
A day set aside by our nation to honor those men and women who have died serving our country.
This Memorial Day Weekend takes on an added significance. We currently have soldiers in Iraq. The last count I saw…says 192 coalition soldiers…Have lost their lives fighting for freedom in Iraq.
I remember watching the movie “Saving Private Ryan”? The film is set in France during World War II. The defense department receives notice that a family currently has four sons serving in the war. Three of those brothers have been killed. Their 4th son is somewhere in France. The Army decides no mother should suffer the tragedy of losing four sons to war. So they sent a team after this last son: Private Ryan. The team must overcome countless obstacles, not to mention the enemy, in their search for Private Ryan.
Along the way, members of their team are wounded and killed. They begin to ask: “Why is the life of this one private more important than the lives being sacrificed to bring him home? Why is his life more important than theirs? Tom Hanks is the leader of the outfit in search of Ryan. He does his best to maintain the focus of his men. He tells them it’s not their place to question but rather to accept their mission and carry out their orders.
Their duty is to their country. And their government has asked them to “SAVE” Private Ryan. Finally, they locate Ryan. They tell him that they have orders to get him home. But Private Ryan doesn’t want to leave his unit. Ryan’s unit has orders! They must keep a group of German tanks from crossing a bridge until adequate air support can arrive. They must blow up the bridge if they can’t hold the tanks off. Private Ryan’s honor and sense of duty to his unit would not allow him to leave a battle that could cost his Army buddies their lives. He didn’t feel justified in leaving for freedom and safety and leaving them to fight.
Private Ryan convinces Hanks and his outfit to stay and fight. He promises to leave with them after the battle. Well, Hanks agrees, but only if Ryan stays out of harm’s way so he can return home. A bloody battle follows in which many lives are lost. Hanks’ entire outfit is killed. But they save Private Ryan. There’s a touching scene at the end. Tom Hanks is dying. Private Ryan comes to help. But Hanks tells him to go on.
And then he says to Private Ryan, “Earn this.” In other words, go home and live in such a way… That you deserve the lives sacrificed to save you! It makes me reflect on the Scripture I wrote above. Paul is writing to the Philippian Christians and tells them, “Earn this:” Live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let’s think about that for a moment! Living a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do we do that? And what exactly does it mean to live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Well, that is the lesson from today’s Bible text.
It means to stand firm in one spirit. One of the more difficult things for any group is to stand united in one spirit. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a political group, an athletic team, a school board, or a church. Standing united in one spirit is difficult! WHY? Because it means putting aside one’s self for the sake of the group, for the sake of the unifying spirit.
Paul’s request of the Philippian Christians is that they stand firm within the spirit of Jesus Christ. Guess what? The message for us today is the same! Stand firm in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Yes, Christians are going to disagree. Members of the same church are going to disagree. However, Christians are supposed to ask, “Jesus, what do you want us to do?”
Standing firm in one spirit means putting aside personal preferences and agendas to discover the Lord’s leadership truly. The spirit that enabled the men to save Private Ryan was the spirit of standing firm in their service to the United States. Like many men and women who served in our military, they never saw the completion of the mission. But they served faithfully because of their commitment to duty. This happens because the military places great emphasis on the chain of command and the carrying out of orders. The chain of command is essential! Because if the chain of command is broken in the heat of battle, communication is lost, and chaos is the result.
The same can be said for Christians and the Church. Our chain of command is important! We must obediently carry out missions from Jesus. His orders are found in the Bible. Much like the military, when we insert personal preferences and agendas, the chain of command is broken, and chaos results – our responsibility as individuals and as a church is to stand firm in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Our missions and ministries are more successful and meaningful when we agree to follow the chain of command. Much like those who died serving in the military, we may never ultimately see the completion of our mission. But we must remain faithful! We must be dedicated to the cause of Jesus Christ! We must stand firm in one spirit.
What exactly does it mean to live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
It means to strive together side by side with one mind. Once we stand firm, establishing our ground within one Spirit, we are empowered to move forward, side by side with one mind. In the military, there are times when you remain united, stand firm, and hold your ground.
Battle strategy dictates that you stay put and protect what you’ve got. But there are also times when you have to move forward. There are times when you fight together…side by side. The only way Tom Hanks could successfully carry out his mission to save Private Ryan was to keep his men striving forward side by side. They would not have completed their mission if they had not been united.
The same truth applies to the Christian life. Jesus never intended for his people to get down in foxholes to hold their ground and stay in one place. Jesus told the disciples to go.
He told them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.
And what did those disciples do? Well, listen to Mark 16:20. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Jesus told His soldiers of the cross, “GO! GO! GO!
That doesn’t mean buying a church building… opening the doors, and saying, “Come on in.” It means going out and doing it! It means striving side by side with one mind. Don’t be ashamed of your Christian faith! Don’t retreat whenever you suffer a setback! Be committed to the mission and each other. When it comes to living a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s all about “we” and not just the “we” gathered in this place. It’s about rescuing others so they can become “we.”
It’s about the privilege of suffering for Him. The Apostle Paul often speaks of his present suffering. He also says it is a privilege to suffer for Jesus Christ. Some of you may wonder what the significant benefit is in suffering. Pain and suffering are not aspects of life that we willingly volunteer for. In my life, I have experienced pain, both physical and emotional. Physical pain that comes from injuries and being hurt. Emotional pain that comes from disappointment. But I don’t know that I have indeed suffered. But some of you have. Paul says it’s a privilege to suffer for Christ. Paul wrote this letter from a Roman prison. Paul is speaking of having pride in suffering. It’s knowing you’re suffering for something bigger and better than yourself.
Veterans often express their pride in wearing the uniform and serving their country. It’s not a “Look at me, I did this,” but pride in being part of a unified force that stood firm in one spirit, fought side by side with one mind, knowing that the man beside you would be there for you. They considered it a privilege to sacrifice and suffer for the cause because it was bigger and better than they were. Paul intended to encourage the Philippian Christians in the face of persecution. They were suffering because of their faith in Jesus Christ. And that’s where the privilege lies.
When we profess our faith…
When we state our belief with integrity, ridicule, pain, and suffering may come our way. But the privilege comes in knowing that we stood firm… We fought side by side with one mind for something bigger and better than ourselves. Parents, how often have you seen your sick child and said, “I wish it were me”? Your love is so deep that you willingly accept your child’s suffering for yourself. That’s what Jesus Christ did!
And that’s the commitment and the privilege that comes with suffering. “Saving Private Ryan” ends by flashing forward about 50 years. Private Ryan is now an older man. He is standing with his family among thousands of white crosses in a cemetery for those killed in WW II. He’s standing at the graveside of Hanks’ character, remembering those events in France. And with tears running down his face… He turns to his wife and asks, “Did I earn it?”
From the battlefields of Bunker Hill, Yorktown, and many others of the American Revolution;
From the battlefield down in Chalmette, LA, and the Battle of New Orleans from the War of 1812 with Britain;
From the Halls of Montezuma representing the Mexican War:
From the fields of Gettysburg, Shiloh, and countless others of the Civil War;
From that little place down in Cuba called San Juan Hill of the Spanish-American War;
From the trenches of Verdun and Belleau Wood of WWI;
From the beaches of Normandy, the city of Bastogne, the fields of Europe, and the jungles of the islands of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and so many more of WWII;
From the battlefields at Inchon and the Frozen Chozen Reservoir of Korea
From the Base Camp of An Khe and Hamburger Hill to the Mekong Delta of Vietnam;
From the more minor battles of Granada, Panama and numerous military insurgencies;
From the dunes of Kuwait and Iraq of Desert Storm;
From Kosovo, Somalia, Iran, Saudia Arabia,
From the mountains of Afghanistan,
Again, from the dunes of Iraq
Americans have paid, and will continue to pay, the price for your freedom and safety.