Make our voice sound like Jesus’
The city of Philippi was situated at a pass in a range of hills at the eastern edge of Greece—thus at the eastern edge of 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. When the victor, Octavian was named Roman Emperor (becoming Caesar Augustus), he reorganized the city of Philippi as a Roman colony, giving property to veteran commanders and soldiers, including veterans of the Praetorian Guard.
Philippi was considered a “little Rome.” Though it was roughly a thousand miles from the actual city of Rome, the citizens of Philippi always looked upon themselves as citizens of Rome. They lived under the municipal law of Rome and were governed by two military officers who were appointed directly from Rome. They spoke Latin. They wore the Latin style of clothing. They kept up Roman customs.
Though they resided on the far edge of Europe, the citizens of Philippi lived their lives as citizens of Rome. When Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, who resided far away from heaven, he challenged them to do the same: to live their lives as citizens of heaven—though on earth—conducting themselves in ways that were faithful to their Lord and to their true citizenship. That’s the call of the book of Philippians to us—no matter where on earth we live—to conduct ourselves in ways that are faithful to our Lord.
The early church father Jerome claimed that the apostle John, late in his life, kept repeating to people the command in John 13:34 that we are called to love one another, and John would explain, “Because it is the Lord’s commandment, and if it be fulfilled it is enough.”
To live as citizens of heaven, while residing on planet earth, we are to live as Christ lived, and that means to love one another as Christ loved us (John 13:34).
Thirty years ago, Pastor Mark Thompson of Faribault, Minnesota, suffered terrible knife wounds from an assailant in his home. One consequence of his difficult recovery was being forced to miss watching his son Chris run in the state cross-country championship. Pastor Thompson asked his brother Merv to go in his place. According to an account in the St. Paul Pioneer Press & Dispatch, Mark told his brother, “I can’t be there to see Chris run, so I want you there at the beginning of the race. Holler a lot…. Then at the end, I want you to really cheer loudly. And I want you to make your voice sound like mine.”
With his uncle’s encouragement, Chris ran a strong race, finishing in second place. Merv, who is also a pastor, recognized the theological significance of this. He explained, “That’s what Jesus wants us to do: Make your voice sound like mine.” (Leadership Journal, summer, 1989)
When Paul prayed in Philippians 1:9-11, “This is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God,” he was, in essence, praying that we make our voice sound like Jesus’ and that we make our actions look like Jesus’.