Summary: The church faced difficulty within a culture loyal to Rome. While they were subject to Roman authority, their primary responsibility was to the Sovereign Lord. We are citizens of two worlds, and our allegiance belongs to Christ. We must always honor Him.
Behavior becoming of Citizens
Philippians 1: 27-30
As Paul sought to conclude the first thoughts of his gracious letter, apparently he was reminded of the intense struggle the church in Philippi faced. Bear in mind that he and Silas had been beaten and imprisoned there. Philippi being a Roman colony was fiercely loyal to Rome and intolerant of any activity that bore the appearance of insurrection or disloyalty. Such a culture created a difficult environment for the devout believers. While they were subject to Roman authority, their loyalty was devoted to Christ alone. They were literally citizens of another country.
The Philippian Christians were citizens of two worlds. They were citizens of the Roman world and they were citizens of the world that ruled Paul's desires. The two worlds were at war. The Christians' heavenly citizenship had to take priority over their human citizenship, as the powers that be soon came to understand. The caesars could not tolerate this priority even though the Christians' heavenly citizenship made them better human citizens, better neighbors, better workers, better soldiers, better teachers, better parents, better children. At the height of the Neronic and other persecutions, the line between the two worlds was so clearly drawn that Christians refused to offer even a merely symbolic pinch of salt on a pagan altar. (i)
While our struggles are different, we too are forced to deal with this dilemma. Although I am thankful and proud to be an American citizen, my loyalties to Christ exceed my loyalty to America. Every believer is a citizen of another country, and our citizenship creates responsibilities to our Sovereign. As we examine the characteristics Paul discussed, I want to consider: Behavior becoming of Citizens.
I. A Word about Christian Conduct (27) – Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. As we consider this powerful statement, we must understand that their conversation doesn’t refer simply to their words or manner of speaking. This speaks of “their citizenship and manner of conduct according to the laws and customs of a state.” Keep that in mind as we consider this verse. Notice first:
A. The Exhortation (27a) – Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ. As Paul refers to their manner of conduct as citizens, he exhorts them to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner, worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Their thoughts and behaviors were not limited to, or dictated by what was acceptable in Philippi. They had a much higher and holier responsibility. Their actions were always expected to honor Christ and the Gospel.
The western church needs to understand and embrace this biblical principle. There is much that is acceptable within society and according to the laws of the land, but they are contrary to the Word of God and certainly do not honor Christ. This must be the litmus test for every action and deed for the believer – does it honor Christ? If not, we must refrain from such activity.
B. The Expectation (27b) – Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs. While he longed to be present with them, Paul was currently hindered, and he had no way of knowing when he would see them again. Regardless of his physical presence in Philippi, he expected to hear of their faithfulness to the Lord and continued righteous living. Whether in his presence, or in his absence, he still expected the church to live in a way that brought honor to the Lord. There should never have been a question regarding their faith or loyalty to Christ.
This expectation remains for every believer today. Paul has since gone on to be with the Lord, but the principle remains. Our lives should not be lived any differently within society than they are in the presence of those within the church. Our loyalty and devotion to Christ should be such that it dictates our actions and attitudes regardless of the cultural setting. We must bear in mind that the Spirit is with us wherever we are and observes every action, while knowing every thought. I pray we will always live in a way that honors Christ, regardless of those we are with.
C. The Determination (27b) – Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit. Paul also exhorted them to stand fast in one spirit, possessing an unshakeable faith and resolve for the Lord. This would not be easy while facing increased opposition and mounting pressure to conform to the standards adopted by society, but they were expected to remain determined in the faith. They could not straddle the fence. Their undivided loyalty belonged to Christ. In fact, some within the church may have been tempted to stray or compromise, but Paul urged them to remain committed to the Lord and the Gospel. Compromise was not an option for those who sought to serve the Lord.