Living Life with God's Irrepressible Joy
As citizens of the United States of America, we have certain privileges and freedoms we enjoy. However, we also have duties and a reputation to uphold. We must act as Americans, not dishonoring or defaming our country by our conduct.
Likewise, we have a reputation to uphold as citizens of God’s eternal kingdom. We carry the name of Christ, and therefore, must act accordingly. As Paul urges the Philippians:
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
The phrase “manner of life” that Paul uses here literally means “to behave as a citizen.” This would have spoken deeply to the Philippian Christians, for the city of Philippi was granted citizenship as a Roman colony. This was highly unusual for towns outside of Italy.
But what’s the big deal about being a citizen of the Roman Empire? Didn’t they rule the world at that time? Therefore, wasn’t everyone part of their nation?
Yes, just about every person living in the first century world was a subject of the Roman Empire. However, being a subject is quite different than being a citizen. Subjects have no say in the government and have no rights except those given to them by the government. However, citizens get to reap the benefits of the country. They have a voice in how things are run and certain rights that the government can’t take away from them.
These differences were especially obvious in the Roman world. Roman citizens were given special privileges and rights that put them much higher above all the other peoples. They were privileges and rights that could not be taken away from them. Many first-century peoples wanted and coveted Roman citizenship. But few could make enough money to buy it and even less were given it. So this put the Philippians in a unique place.
Their citizenship came as a gift. Rome made Philippi a colony and therefore, gifted them citizenship. So when Paul correlates living for Christ to behaving as a citizen, the Philippians immediately knew what he was talking about. Philippians 1:27 could easily be reworded as “Let your behavior as a citizen be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” In other words, just as the Philippians knew what a privilege and honor it was to be citizens of Rome and how to appropriately act as citizens, so also they needed to live their lives in ways that were appropriate and well representing of the gospel they believed and proclaimed.
Now bringing it all around, as citizens of the United States of America we know what appropriate behavior as a citizen is. However, are we better citizens of our temporary, earthly country or our eternal one? Is our behavior as a citizen of the kingdom that never ends worthy of the gospel?
This is a constant struggle and one that we need God’s help in. However, by the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, we can succeed. Therefore, let’s take to heart this exhortation and let our behavior as God’s citizens be worthy of the gospel.
“We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”
~I Thessalonians 2:12