Live as Citizens of Christ’s Kingdom
When the apostle Paul was on trial in Acts 23, accused of being unfaithful to his nation and to his faith, Paul declared to the Jewish high council, “Up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God.” The word which the New Revised Standard Version renders simply as “lived,” is actually a more technical term. The Greek word pepoliteumai literally means “to conduct oneself as a citizen.” Paul was swearing to them that he had not been a traitor in any way toward his nation or his faith but had conducted himself faithfully as a good citizen of Israel.
In Philippians 1:27, Paul uses the same word in a challenge to the Christians in Philippi, but here his call to them (and to us) is not to conduct themselves as good citizens of Philippi or of Rome (or even of the United States), but to live as good citizens of Christ’s kingdom: “Only live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (or, most literally, “Only conduct yourselves as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ”).
What does it mean for us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom?
Paul points to two specific matters in Philippians 1:27-30:
1: A citizen of Christ’s kingdom strives toward unity with fellow believers. Paul tells the Philippian believers that he wants to know that they are “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.”
Christian unity has proven to be quite elusive throughout the history of the Christian church. Nevertheless, unity was at the heart of Jesus’ last prayer with and for his disciples before the crucifixion. In John 17:11, Jesus prayed to the Father that his disciples “may be one, as we are one.” In John 17:20-21, he expanded the breadth of his prayer: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”
In her book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Hailey Barton stresses, “For Christian people, unity is not just one good priority among many. It seemed to be all Jesus wanted as everything else fell away and he faced his death. For those of us who are leaders in Christ’s kingdom, there is nothing more important than seeking this unity with all our heart. Even when we fall short of achieving it, we believe that all things have already been reconciled through Christ and we do whatever is ours to do to be a peace with all people” (p. 186).
While becoming the first person in history to reach the top of Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary was accompanied by his trusted Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay. On their descent, Sir Edmund lost his footing and slipped down the mountain side, but Tenzing held the line taut and kept them both from falling to their deaths by digging his axe into the ice. When questioned about it later, Tenzing refused any special credit for saving Sir Edmund’s life. He considered it a routine part of the job. He explained simply, “Mountain climbers always help each other.”
If looking out for each other and helping each other is natural in the realm of climbing, how much more should it be for citizens of Christ’s kingdom!
2: A citizen of Christ’s kingdom seeks to stand firm without being spooked. Paul tells the Philippians that he wants to know that they are “standing firm…and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.”
The word translated here as “intimidated” (pturomenoi) was used in ancient Greek to describe such things as a horse being spooked by a snake. Paul is reminding us that, as Christians, we belong to the One who conquered even death, so we do not need to be spooked by anything this world throws at us.
Ernest Hemmingway defined courage as “grace under pressure.” Ambrose Redmoon suggested, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” The call to us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom is a call to us to exhibit grace under pressure while making the decision that faithfulness to Christ is more important than our fears.