Shakespeare’s several plays involving King Henry V begin with young Prince Henry as a vain, dissolute young man who spends his time drinking and carousing with old John Falstaff. But when Henry’s father, the king, dies, Henry changes. Prince Henry realizes his unworthiness and that the crown will be his through no virtue of his own. So he confesses to his dying father; “You won it, kept it, gave it to me.” Then upon the crown being given to him, Henry vows to live a worth life:
The tide of blood in me
Hath proudly flowed in vanity till now.
Now doth it run and ebb back to the sea,
Where it shall mingle with the state of floods,
And flow henceforth in formal majesty.
From then on Henry V becomes one of the worthiest and noblest kings of England – his noble heritage flowed from him with majesty.
There is something similar to this in the opening lines of the scriptures we are going to study today.
In Philippians, (where we have been all summer) chapter one Paul moves beyond the greetings and begins to deal with how these folk should live and die. Now he calls them to live a worthy life. He calls them to live like citizens of a heavenly kingdom.
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself.
For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it. Philippians 1:27-30
Citizens of another world!
I pledge allegiance. . .what do you pledge allegiance to? I want you to look at a picture. I see this a lot around our country and I find it very interesting. It is fascinating to see a flag pole with the American flag at the top and the smaller Christian flag below it. Do you see the symbolism in that arrangement? Do you see a problem with that arrangement? Now I know that the Christian flag doesn’t mean anything and didn’t come into being until the late 1800’s and was made for a Sunday School lesson but symbolically it is as though we are saying my allegiance to America is greater than my allegiance to God. I know that the American flag by law has to be flown on top and be greater in size but the symbolism still irks me.
We pledge allegiance to our country here in America and for now that may be well and good. However things could easily change in the future. For the last forty years or so we have been on an intentional journey in our nation. It is one of moving away from a focus on God and His word and one of moral decline and excess.
Paul could not have more carefully been chosen and crafted his words to impress and encourage his Philippian brothers and sisters as they struggled in that self-consciously prideful, elitist little Roman colony that was so preoccupied with the coveted citizenship of Rome. Paul is challenging them to operate and live their lives with a “counter-citizenship whose capital and seat of power are not earthly but heavenly whose guarantor is not Nero but Christ.”
The city of Philippi was enjoying the personal patronage and benefactions of Caesar (who operated as Lord) but they were subjects of the One who alone is Lord and to whom every knee will someday bow. (Including Caesar)
Being a citizen of God’s kingdom means some things will reprioritize in our lives. Our focus and emphasis will not match that of those around us who don’t follow Christ. In fact, our focus an emphasis may not match that of many who attend church but don’t fully follow Christ.
For Paul the gospel or the Good News of Jesus Christ was first in his life. Everything he experienced was run through the lens and perspective of living a life worthy of the Good News. His joy at being in prison was grounded in the fact that Roman soldiers were hearing the gospel message because of it.
You might say Paul had a “gospel first” ethic that he lived by. He chooses the metaphor of citizenship to describe how we should live.
Three ways to test your citizenship. . .
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.
The Philippians commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord was a threat to the civic-minded patriotic Romans who ran Philippi. The Philippians’ allegiance to another “Lord” than Caesar bordered on treason as it challenged the political establishment. Do you know that in Paul’s day there were times that Christians were called “atheist” because their loyalty to Christ challenged the divinity of Caesar?
The Roman citizens of Philippi, who honored Caesar at every public gathering pressured the church to conform. Many times they were thought to be “un-roman” because of their allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Have you ever noticed that there will always be pressure on you to conform if you take a different path than others or the majority? This happens anywhere a crowd is gathered or organized.
In Philippi this translated into widespread persecution as well throughout the other churches in Macedonia. In other books of the Bible we pick up little sound bites that describe the churches and their persecution.
“a severe test of affliction. . .extreme poverty” 2 Corinthians 8:2
“in much affliction” 1 Thes. 1:6
“your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.” 2 Thes. 1:4
Living worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ is costly and demanding.
What should our conduct look like?
From the Old Testament law first given to Moses to the teaching of Jesus Christ when He walked this earth the conduct code has always been the same.
“Love the Lord with are your heart, your mind, your soul and your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Do you realize how many problems in your life and mine could be solved if we really embrace that and lived it out?
Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News
The ability to be in community with others and stand fast together through the ebb and flow of life is not necessarily a natural act. It is a supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s work in you and the group of people around you.
As a community they were asked to
Again Christfollowers are expected to stand firm against evil in their world. This is not a “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps” kind of thing. They were not being asked to reach down into their inner selves and pull themselves together. Their resounding “NO!” to the Roman culture’s demand to compromise the gospel rested in what God had accomplished in their lives. The immediate effect of standing together produced the language of teamwork.
Work together as a team
One translation of Paul’s letter says, “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” It is the language of athletes and soldiers. In his book Comrades, Stephen Ambrose tells the story of Lewis and Clark and the secret of their epic accomplishments. “What Lewis and Clark had done, first of all, was to demonstrate that there is nothing that men cannot do if they get themselves together and act as a team.”
Yesterday we set up three tents in our backyard to prepare for a meeting this evening with the organizers and their families of the Operation Gear Up Outreach. Around forty people will be there and we put up tents to shelter them from the sun. Lenore and I went to church at Real Life and while we were there it rained really hard for a few minutes. As we drove down our street on the way home we began to notice limbs down and leave all over the place. The 10 x 20 tents had been picked up and thrown as if they were little toys. Poles were bent and in one case it was demolished. Another tent was upside down and filled with water. I made three phone calls as darkness was closing in and three men showed up to help in the matter of a few minutes. We worked like a team and put things back into place as best we could. The challenge of that and the responsibility of the wreckage were overwhelming to handle on my own but the presence of these three men made it all okay. We worked as a team.
Stand together without fear
Living as citizens worthy of the gospel first requires that we stand together, grounded immovably in the work of the Holy Spirit and then we strive together side by side like athletes determined to win the game.
Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself.
It’s what football teams do from high school to the NFL. The players will do whatever it takes to try to intimidate the other team or to make sure the other team knows they are not intimidated by them.
In Philippi it was not a mere game. This was a life and death struggle. The opponents came from the ranks of the Roman establishment who despised the believers’ un-Roma-nness and from those who found the lives of the Philippians to be living rebukes to their pagan way of life.
For them the threat of violence was always there and sometimes it was activated.
In 1984 Mehdi Dibaj was imprisoned by the government of Iran on charges of “apostasy” for converting from Islam to Christianity. He languished in prison for ten years until his case was tried in 1994. Some of the last lines of his written defense read:
Jesus Christ is our Savior and He is the Son of God. To know Him means to know eternal life. I, a useless sinner, have believed in His beloved person and all His works and miracles recorded in the Gospels, and I have committed my life into His hands. Life for me is an opportunity to serve Him, and death is a better opportunity to be with Christ. Therefore I am not only satisfied to be in prison for the honor of His Holy Name, but am ready to give my life for the sake of Jesus my Lord.”
Mehdi Dibaj was sentenced to execution but was released under pressure from the U.S. State Department – only to be found dead in a Tehran Park. He was the third Christian murdered in Iran after release from prison. Dibaj’s measured conduct as he calmly stood his ground for the gospel was a sure sign of his enemies’ coming judgment and his salvation.
For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it
The proofs that the Philippians’ courageous stand was a sign of their salvation were the twin facts that they were graced with salvation and with suffering.
Karl Barth wrote: “The grace of being permitted to believe in Christ is surpassed by the grace of being permitted to suffer for Him, of being permitted to walk the way of Christ with Christ himself to the perfection of fellowship with Him.”
The role of suffering moves the believer from the beneficiary of Christ’s death to a sharer in His sufferings.
A Mr. Duffy said, “MY SON David enlisted in the Marine Corps and was sent to San Diego. At the base, he was greeted by a poster of a ferocious-looking drill sergeant, placed on a wall where no recruit could possibly miss it.
“As the DI glared out of the picture, the caption read: ‘We never promised you a rose garden.’ Halfway through boot camp, David again passed the poster and noticed that under the caption was added: ‘Yes, but you never told us about the fertilizer!’”
Please remember this and write it down if you have to. Instill it deep in your hearts and heads. The suffering that comes to a Christ follower is not a sign of God’s neglect but rather a proof that grace is at work in his or her life.
Listen to what Paul would write to his son in the faith Timothy: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)
Later in this very letter to the Philippians he writes, “That I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.” (Philippi