Live in a way that is in keeping with your citizenship
During the American Civil War, some of the border towns shifted their allegiance back and forth. When Southern troops marched into town the citizens would put up Confederate flags and cheer the Confederate soldiers. But when the Northern troops arrived, the citizens would pull down the Confederate flags and replace them with Union flags, and the townspeople would cheer now for the Union soldiers.
Though these border towns tried to placate both armies, neither side trusted them, respected them, or liked them. Neither army defended them. As it turned out, those cities ended up being taken advantage of by both armies.
The apostle Paul recognized that the Christians in Philippi faced a similar dilemma.
Here’s some background: Philippi was situated at a pass in a range of hills at the eastern edge of Greece and Europe, along the overland trade route from Rome to Asia. following the assassination of Julius Caesar, the decisive battle to determine the fate of the Roman Empire was fought on the plain to the west of Philippi. following his victory, Octavian (later known as Caesar Augustus) made Philippi a Roman colony. As such, Philippi was considered a “little Rome” 700 to 1200 miles away from the actual city of Rome (depending on which route was taken).
the people who lived in the Roman colony always kept in mind that they were citizens of Rome, though their address was on the far edge of Europe. The citizens spoke Latin. They wore the Latin style of clothing. They kept up the Roman customs. They lived in that city as though they were living in Rome itself.
In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi (in Philippians 1:27), he uses a word that was common in the vocabulary of their culture. He tells them to politeuesthe, to conduct themselves in a manner that is in keeping with (or congruent with) their citizenship (polites).
Up to this point, the Philippians had always heard this word applied to their citizenship as Roman citizens far away from the actual city of Rome, but Paul applies it to their citizenship in the kingdom of God far away from heaven. He tells the Christians of Philippi to live in their community in a way that is in keeping with (or congruent with) their identity as God’s citizens—even as God’s own children.
Steve Brown shares, “It was said that in ancient times there lived a very wise tutor called upon to teach the son of a great king. The tutor had a terrible time with this prince. The young man was a difficult child. To be more accurate, the prince was a spoiled brat. The tutor had tried everything to get him to grow, to come to maturity. He tried cajoling, pushing and shoving. Nothing worked. Finally, the tutor came across an idea. He cut a strip of royal purple and pinned it to the young man’s coat. The prince said, ‘What are you doing that for?’
“The tutor answered, ‘Because every time you look at that strip of purple you’ll remember that you’re the king’s son.’”
That’s what Paul is calling the Philippians to do—and what God is calling us to do. Everywhere we are and in everything we do, conduct ourselves in a manner that is in keeping with (or congruent with) who we are as citizens of God’s kingdom and as children of the good and loving God!
Uwe Holmer understood the challenge of living as a citizen of God’s kingdom in a country far away from heaven. While serving as a Lutheran pastor in communist and atheist East Germany, Holmer and his family were persecuted because of his job and his faith. Amidst it all, Holmer and his family maintained their loyalty to a higher kingdom.
When the East German government collapsed, Erich Honecker (the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party, the head of the East German government) and his wife Margot were thrown out of their luxurious home and faced the wrath of the nation. Honecker was put on trial for crimes against his country. Surprisingly Uwe Holmer and his wife opened their home to their former persecutor. For doing so, the Holmers faced the scorn of many of their neighbors, but they saw their action as what was in keeping with their allegiance to a higher kingdom. They remembered that their King is One who commands us to forgive our enemies.
In everything we do, may we live in a manner that is in keeping with our citizenship in heaven and our identity as God’s own children.