I have written before of Paul’s experiences being chained to his jailers, which he regards as a huge advantage, and his circumstances as being the “lumberjacks" clear cutting a path for the advance of gospel. This time I’d like to return to that same letter to the Philippians where he explains what is expected of them as “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20).
Phil. 1:27-28, “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.” [NIV emphasis mine]
The translation I have underlined above in Greek — "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy" — is from a word which has been transliterated into English as “politics!” It means the philosophy, customs, and traditions of a culture.
Philippi - (Φίλιπποι, Philippoi) was a far-flung colony of Rome. Geographically it was not anywhere near the center of Roman culture which was obviously in Rome. Today we might say it was “out in the boonies.” It was a major Greek city northwest of the nearby island of Thasos. Its original name was Crenides (or City of Fountains) but it was renamed by Philip II of Macedon in 356 BC. It was an important possession of Rome because of the gold mines which were situated in the vicinity. Before being conquered by Rome its history and culture and politics was very definitely Greek, not Roman. You could think of it as being a Roman island in an immense sea of Greekness.
But if you were a Roman Citizen in Philippi, then you were expected to act and think according to the politics of Rome, not Thrace or Macedonia. That is, in every way you were expected to adhere to the traditions, laws and customs of Rome, not according to the traditions, philosophy and world-view of the surrounding area, however established, ancient or Greek they may be!
So when Paul admonishes the Philippian Christians to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ," they would understand that in the same way as their city was a colony of Rome and subject to its values and customs, they were a colony of heaven (c.f. Philippians 3:20) and subject to the values and customs of the higher law of Christ. Paul tells them that, one way or another, he will get to know if they are doing so whether he comes to visit them in person (he was never able to do so again), or by word of mouth as the news trickled back to him. He wants them to “stand firm” — a military term meaning to be ready to hold your ground — united in the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s advice to those first century Christians applies equally to us today. Increasingly we find ourselves as an isolated colony of heaven surrounded by the politics of a very secular world. As Paul says, this could be very frightening were it not for the fact that we are being saved by God!
As I am fond of saying, I have read the end of the book — and we Christians win!
Jesus warned us this would be the case, so let us not worry that our present situation is a surprise to God! Let’s think, act and behave according to our citizenship in heaven. Let’s be salt and light, disinfecting and preserving all that is good and true and valuable in this world for the sake of Christ who died to redeem it. I pray it may be so!