During the Vietnam War, a GI helicopter pilot was killed. On his tombstone in New Hampshire his parents inscribed these words by John Stuart Mill:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks nothing is worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than his own personal safety is a miserable creature, and has no chance of being free unless he is made free and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
In his book Against the Night, Charles Colson laments the fact that our culture has deteriorated to such an extent that individualism reigns supreme. No one cares about anyone else, and no one is willing to stand up for the moral convictions that hold society together. To illustrate his point, Colson remembered this incident:
In 1978, during President Carter’s attempt to reinstate draft registration, newspapers across the country carried a photo that I have carried in my mind ever since: a young Princeton student defiantly wielding a poster emblazoned with the words, “Nothing is worth dying for.”
Someone said that a man who refuses to stand for something will sooner or later fall for anything. Because of his stand for the faith, Paul was facing the possibility of death, and he was willing to pay the supreme price if called upon to do so. In writing to the Philippian believers, he shared his concern about their willingness to stand against the pressure of persecution. He hoped that he might be with them in person to encourage them if such occurred, but he had no guarantee. So he sent them a strategy that would serve them well, even if he was not available to personally cheer them on.
Paul’s game plan for the Philippians is needed in our day too. We are in the minority, surrounded by the Enemy, and constantly being undermined by members of our own army. Many among God’s people have adopted a philosophy that gives to survival the attributes of victory. But in our day, as in Paul’s, anything short of victory is just the postponement of defeat!
Like a coach presenting his game plan to the players, Paul sent to his friends in Philippi his four priorities for success.
PRIORITY ONE: CONDUCT
While it was never intended in the original language, Paul’s first word of instruction is a play on words. When he said, “Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel,” he used a Greek word, politeuo, which means “citizenship.” Politeuo is derived from the noun polis, which means “city.” We have carried this word over into the names of some of our American cities, such as Indianapolis and Minneapolis. When we speak of a metropolis or a metropolitan area, we are talking about a city. We also get our words politics and police from this same root word.
In the Greek age, the polis was the largest political unit, and the citizens belonged to the polis, or city, in exactly the same way that we belong to our country. So the word as it is used in this verse refers to the public duties of good citizens.
The Philippians would have better understood Paul’s comments than we do today. Their city had become a Roman colony through a series of events that included a civil war between Octavian and Anthony. After the war, a number of soldiers who had been favorable toward Anthony settled in Philippi; for that reason, it was declared a Roman colony, a miniature Rome. As such, it was given special privileges; although it was eight hundred miles from Rome, Philippi was Italian soil and the citizens of the city had their names on the rolls in Rome and considered themselves Romans.
The Philippians were very proud of their Roman citizenship. They believed they were Rome’s representatives to a culture that was predominantly Greek. So when Paul wrote to the Philippians that he wished them to conduct themselves as good citizens, he was using an aspect of their culture to encourage them to be good citizens of another kingdom to which they also now belonged.
He came right out and said it in Philippians 3:20: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” James Moffatt translated it, “We are a colony of heaven.” These believers were “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).
Now, as he wrote to them about their heavenly citizenship, he exhorted them to allow their allegiance to control their conduct. Just as they were to live by the laws of their native land, so they were now expected to live by heaven’s laws and extend heaven’s influence into their pagan culture.
Jeremiah, David. 2016. Count It All Joy: Discover a Happiness That Circumstances Cannot Change. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.
Check out our Bible Study on the book of Philippians, using David’s Jeremiah’s book, Count It All Joy as a guide. It is on Amazon as well as part of the Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.