Phil1v27to29 TEAM SPIRIT

(A) Introduction

The expression, 'contending as one man,' in verse 27 is a sporting term in the original Greek. It is used of the united efforts of a wrestling team in the arena to overcome their opponents. Paul is urging the Philippians to show some team spirit as they struggle to win the hearts of men for Christ in the face of bitter opposition from the enemies of the gospel. I am going to try and draw some lessons from this passage from my experience of playing team games for over 50 years.

(B) The Team's goal or aim.

Paul is confident that the Christians at Philippi will stand firm in one spirit.... for the faith of the gospel. v27.

Now the objectives of a cricket club are to recruit and retain members, play the game and overcome the opposition. Of these the most important is to play the game because that is the way to recruit and retain members and to defeat your opponents.

Paul, writing as he is to a local church, emphasises the importance of :

    (a) Recruiting and retaining Christians. It is the churches responsibility to bring people to faith and to maintain faith in the gospel. Wiersbe comments: 'Each local church is one generation short of potential extinction.' I think this is something of an exaggeration. I would say from my own experience of a declining fellowship that a church can survive without converts for two generations. It cannot carry on beyond about sixty years without recruiting fresh members.

    (b) Winning. Christians have to overcome opposition to the gospel. There is a battle to be fought and a victory to be won. Satan will do everything in his power to weaken a church's witness to the gospel and an individual's belief in the gospel. In Britain there are lively, growing, churches in several of our towns. It is easy for members of these causes to have an over optimistic view of the state of the church in this country. In my own county of Suffolk hundreds of nonconformist churches in rural areas have closed during the last fifty years. Satan loves to see a church close and a community left without a Christian witness. We are losing the battle as fewer and fewer children attend Sunday school and more and more enter adulthood with no knowledge of the Word of God.

    (c) Playing the game. Christians must live as though they believed the gospel. Paul tells the Philippians later in his epistle to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Phil2v12. We must live out the gospel; live in a manner worthy of the gospel of life, liberty and love. This is the best way to win others for Christ and to encourage fellow believers to stand firm for Jesus.

(C) A team talk.

It is sometimes necessary when morale is low and players are under performing for the manager to give a team talk. He may need to remind the players what makes for team success. This is what Paul is doing in his letter to the Philippians. So let us look at what makes for a good team performance:

    (a)The rules and basic skills.
    Team members must know the rules of the game and possess its basic skills. The skills of the game can be discovered through coaching, watching an accomplished player or by reading. I learned all the approved batting strokes used to play cricket from a book when I was a lad. However to really acquire the skills it is vital to practice. So it is with the Christian. We can find out how to live by being formally taught, studying the Bible for ourselves or observing the life of a true saint of God. We will only live a holy life if we practice; if our conduct is worthy of the gospel of Christ. We need to take Jesus' teaching seriously and begin to implement it. We shall not succeed all at once. Perhaps we shall at best remain only very average performers. Practice doesn't always make perfect but it undoubtedly makes a huge difference.

    (b) Loyalty
    Stand firm says Paul, contend as one man urges Paul - stay loyal. Absenteeism, desertion and betrayal are dreadful for team morale. See The football match. I used to manage the Under 14 football side at Debenham High School. One year I had a particularly feckless group of boys to organise. They were quite good at the game although nowhere near as talented as they thought. It is amazing how adolescent boys over rate themselves as footballers. These lads didn't care whether they played for the school team or not. I ended up going into a match without six of the best footballers and losing to average opposition by 20 goals to nil. The boys who did play were totally dispirited by the disloyalty of the better players.

    It is like this in the local church. So many Christians absent themselves from the services for no very good reason. Attendance of the Sunday evening service declines and the few who still keep going begin to get miserable about the poor turn out. They almost seem resentful that they have put in an appearance; perhaps, even the reluctant loyalists hanker after an evening before the TV screen or a day out with friends. It is even harder for the minister who, every Sunday evening, has to put up with the mass desertion of young people to a neighbouring, livelier, church awash with teenagers. It is hardly a vote of confidence in his leadership. Of course it can still get worse; struggling, aging, fellowships may lose altogether the few young families that they have to churches with more to offer. Paul's advice to stand firm and contend as one man for the gospel is unheeded by many worldly Christians who are more concerned for their own happiness than they are for the health and vitality of the local church.

    (c) The team comes first
    Paul challenges the Philippians to contend as ONE man for the faith of the gospel. Members of a team need to realise that the success of the team is more important than individual success or personal fulfilment. Selfish players and glory hunters undermine team spirit. It is possible in a cricket team for fathers and their sons to play together. Sometimes fathers want to use the team to develop their sons as cricketers. An ambitious father can be more concerned for his son's progress and performance than the well being of the team. This undermines team spirit. The great team players bring the best out of others - help others to play. This is a quality that was attributed to the great Scottish footballer, Danny Dagleish and wonderfully tenacious mid-field player for England, Nobby Styles.

    It is vitally important in a church to put the interests of the church as a whole before the interests of the individual. Sadly this doesn't happen. Christians are rarely prepared to accept that there is someone in the fellowship who can do the job they are doing better than they can. So an organist is not prepared to give way to a younger person who has more talent. A pastor is reluctant to share the preaching ministry with a member who has a particular aptitude for it. A church secretary is unwilling to relinquish his duties to someone who is more energetic, efficient and enterprising. Sometimes, of course, an older Christian who is doing an excellent job is made to give way to someone younger and less competent. There are leaders in the church who value youth above experience! We are so obsessed with ourselves and our own interests that we can easily lose sight of the fact that we have to fight the good fight of faith together!

    (d) Give 100%
    One of the things that used to greatly annoy me when I managed a schoolboy football side was that some of the boys walked off at the end of a match without ever raising a sweat. I could never understand it. I still play hockey and cricket at the grand old age of 60 and within my physical limitations give the games my all. When I was young I would run until I dropped. I would be soaked in sweat as a contest ended.

    Some Christians never raise a sweat in Christian service. They do not allow their commitment to Jesus and his church to inconvenience them. Their life style is sacrosanct and not to be compromised under any circumstances. Their sole contribution to the faith of the gospel is to attend church once on a Sunday. They have never proved experimentally that it is more blessed to give than receive.

    (e) Take the opposition seriously
    It is advisable in a team sport never to underestimate the opposition. So many sides have come to grief because they have expected to stroll to victory. It is very dangerous to go cock sure and arrogant into any contest. I played cricket for many years with the Brockley village blacksmith, Lenny Pawsey. We were both temperamental cricketers and we did not always share the same opinion as Len was a bowler and I was a batsman but we were absolutely united in our determination to win. We played for a small village side and knew we would always have to be at our best to get the victory.

    Christians are faced by mighty foes: the world, the flesh and the devil. Do we take them seriously? I think that if we did we would at least be members of our churches. In most churches there are believers who have never joined the church they attend. It is vital to be united, to stand firm in one spirit, to contend against the enemies of the Christian faith. This country prevailed against a powerful enemy during the last World War by being united. There was no doubt that we took the threat posed by the Nazis seriously. As soldiers of the cross we should not neglect the Christian disciplines of prayer, Bible reading and church attendance. Paul encourages us to put on the whole armour of God so that we can stand against the devil's schemes; so that when the day of evil comes we may be able to stand our ground; to hold high that mighty shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one; and to wield the the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. See Eph6vs10to18.

    (f) Don't bottle out
    Paul expects the Philippians to contend for the gospel without being frightened in anyway by those who oppose you. v28. The word Paul uses for, 'frightened,' is the word used of a warhorse that shies and bolts in battle. Christians should not be panicked by the opposition or hide when the going is tough.

    Resilience is a very important quality when confronted by fierce and powerful opposition. There are some team players who are great when things are going well and the team is winning against feeble opponents. These same players are hopeless when the going gets tough. Their heads drop, they under perform, they show no fighting spirit and they cannot wait to get off the pitch. They've got no bottle.

    The church contains Christians who wilt in adversity. Jesus recognised this in the parable of the sower. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word he quickly falls away. Mt13vs20and21. Some Christians can only be associated with success. When a church falls on hard times and begins to decline they decamp to pastures new. Their faith is so weak that it has to be bolstered by a well-supported and growing fellowship.

    I can remember many years ago speaking at a United Carol Service. At Christmas our Baptist church and the Anglicans joined together to celebrate the incarnation. The vicar did not much enjoy my message and squirmed in his seat at what was a very orthodox presentation of the gospel. Our organist was very, very, distressed at this show of disapproval. She so much wanted the approbation of the vicar. She wanted him to warmly accept we chapel folk. That was more important to her than the truth of the message! The opposition of a liberal clergyman should not have had such an adverse affect upon her. She should have rejoiced that the gospel was preached! However she was a stalwart Christian in most respects and a loyal supporter of the cause. We can worry too much what people think of us and let it rob us of our confidence and staying power.

(E) What about the manager?

Most successful professional teams have a good manager or, in the case of amateur sport, an effective captain. Many Christians would claim that the success of a local church depends upon good leadership. Now I would not argue against the importance of high quality leadership but I do think that Christians in the Free Churches tradition confuse acquiring a sound leader with getting a star player. A good captain is not always a star player and a skilled manager is not usually a player at all. The Free Churches are often so desperate for a star player that they will go into the transfer market and lure a popular preacher away from another church. They dress this up as, 'God's call.' It is often little better than poaching.

The fact is that a star player - an eloquent teacher or talented Bible teacher - may not have any leadership qualities at all. A good captain, manager or church leader have much in common. They all try and get the very best out of the players at their disposal for the benefit of the team as a whole. They do this by:

    (a) Recognising what each can best contribute to the team. A good cricket captain might even neglect his own gifts to concentrate on developing the gifts of others. It is possible for a pastor and leader of a church, who is also a gifted preacher, to be so concerned about his preaching ministry that he fails to recognise the abilities of others. The church becomes virtually a one-man band and when that pastor leaves the fellowship falls apart. The church hasn't been a real team at all but a star performer surrounded by a group of admirers. It is very significant that in the early churches there was a plurality of elders. Leadership was shared. It is very unlikely that in those churches there was one top man! That is what Christians today seem happiest with - a top man or woman - someone in overall charge - but that is because the church has been infected by the world.

    (b) Being able to motivate by either encouragement or confrontation. A good manager does both. Footballers need to receive credit when they excel. However too much adulation leads to complacency and slack performances.

    A good pastor will praise steadfast, efficient, effective, loving service to motivate individual church members but he will also have the courage to take Christians to task who are slacking. This does not happen very often because piqued church members are inclined to walk out and look for another team to join!

    (c) Diffusing tension and reconciling differences. A good manager or captain will keep the peace among team members. He or she will work to bring harmony and concord to the team. All the Brockley Cricket Captains that I have played for have been very good at keeping the peace in a team with more than its fair share of temperamental individuals. They themselves have not been abrasive and have been slow to take umbrage! They were not necessarily the best players but they certainly fostered team spirit.

    I wonder if church leaders are good at man and women management and maintaining unity in their fellowships. A great preacher or inspirational teacher may be something of a prima donna and not necessarily the best person to pastor the church. The ability to diffuse tension and reconcile differences between Christians has very little to do with the gift of preaching or teaching. It is however a pastoral duty.

It is a sad fact but I think that my cricket club has been much better at getting the best out of me than my church. The cricket club recognised my ability and got my all - as far as cricket was concerned. My church has under valued my ability as a teacher. I have for many years been relegated to the reserves. I am now, by default, the leader of the church - a role that I am not suited to because I lack the qualities outlined above. It is a rare but happy church where everyone's gifts are recognised and all are working to their full potential for the well being of the entire fellowship. Such a church will have the right leadership!


I suppose I think rather too much is made of leadership in the local church - rather more than in the New Testament. We do have a leader after all: the captain of our salvation. He is the Head of the Church. We are enjoined to pull together with, or without, star players or even very good leaders. It is surprising what a group of individuals can achieve if they contend as one man, particularly, if what they contend for is the faith of the gospel.