Well the time has finally come. This proud Australian, having lived in the UK for almost 10 years, has finally come to the point of applying for British Citizenship. Last week I downloaded and filled in the forms. Sometime in the next 3-6 months I may or may not be officially welcomed as a British Citizen.
And hearing that you may well be asking yourselves 'do they just give citizenship to any old person these days?' – and that's a good question. No they don't – I will have to meet strict criteria in order to qualify. I need to be in the country legally, and to have lived here for a qualifying period – in my case, being married to a British Citizen, that's three years. I need to be able to speak English – got that one – and to have passed the 'Life in the UK' test – I've done that too.
But perhaps most importantly I need to demonstrate that I am a man of good character. That's a bit harder and the notes make clear what it means:
• not someone currently serving or about to serve time for a criminal conviction
• not someone who has deceived the UK government on issues relating to immigration
• not someone involved in war crimes, genocide, terrorism and other Non-Conducive behaviour
that's it basically… I think I'll get in.
What are the benefits of citizenship? I'll get a British Passport and be able to move freely throughout the EU… or not depending on how this whole Brexit thing works.
And why are we talking about this? Because ironically I began filling in those forms on the same day I started preparing this sermon, and the topic of this passage, and indeed of the next chapter and a bit of Philippians, is citizenship – how our behaviour follows from our citizenship in heaven as a result of the gospel.
That's the big idea in our passage so it's point one in our sermon tonight. The passage goes on to begin to flesh out what that will look like in three areas – which will be point two tonight; and to spell out why it matters in the context of opposition, so that will be point three.
1. Live as worthy citizens of heaven in keeping with the gospel of Jesus Christ
This is a bit of a mouthful, and it's a bit of jump from last week – or at least it looks like it. If you recall for the last 12 verses Paul has been talking about himself – how he is going while in prison facing possible execution. Paul has explained that his imprisonment is for the gospel of Christ, and has aided the spread of the gospel of Christ, and because of the Gospel of Christ he rejoices in it, even if he is to die he will rejoice because his hope is in Christ. In fact everything turns on the gospel – because Paul is more concerned about the spread of the gospel that about his own freedom, reputation or even life!
Now he turns from himself and his situation and talks about them in theirs – enough about me, let's talk about you.
And what he says is that just as all his thinking and acting, all his joy and hope, comes from the gospel of Christ, so it must be for them – as citizens of heaven they are to live lives worthy for the gospel.
This comes straight out of vs 27a, so look at it with me now, page 829 if you haven't got it open yet:
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."
Conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy all translates a single, complex Greek word that includes the idea of conduct befitting a citizen, it's actually built from the Greek word for city, polis. Paul comes back to this idea in 3:20 – our enemies minds are fixed on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven! So from 1.27 to 3.20 he is working out this one idea of conduct befitting a citizen.
So the conduct that Paul is referring to here is the conduct becoming a citizen. This is a particularly vivid image for the Philippian Christians because Philippi was a Roman City – when Mark Anthony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, Octavian granted the city the tremendous privilege of Roman Citizenship. That meant that the citizens of Philippi were citizens of Rome, just at a distance in Macedonia. So the city was governed by Roman law, the streets were laid out in Roman style, the buildings were styled after the Roman fashion, the coins bore Roman insignia, the people spoke Latin and fashion and everything else aped the 'mother city' at a distance.
Most of the citizens were in fact Roman soldiers, settled there in Philippi with full rights as citizens as reward for their victorious campaigns under Octavius – later known as Ceasar Augustus.
So when Paul lands in Philippi in Acts 16 do you remember he was thrown into prison – the charge against him was 'advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice' (Acts 16.20,22); and the punishment meted out to him was to be stripped and beaten – this was a Roman punishment, just as would be met with in Rome itself. But later – verse 37– after God had miraculously released Paul and Silas from Prison, Paul declares that he and Silas are in fact themselves Roman citizens, beaten and imprisoned without trial – and so now the magistrates are alarmed, because they've acted against Roman law and put themselves at jeopardy.
I'm sure you get the piont – the Philippians lived as Roman citizens, doing what was appropriate for Romans to do, under Roman law, for good or ill. Though they were located in Philippi, they belonged to Rome. They consciously tried to be good citizens, bearing the responsibility for upholding the good name of Rome (even in battle!) and enjoying the privileges that came from citizenship.
Paul takes that idea and intensifies it and dignifies it – he raises their sights to the heavenly city and says that just as they deliberately live as Romans at a distance in Philippi, in the same way they should deliberately live as citizens of heaven at a distance in Philippi. And as glorious and wonderful as it is to be Roman citizens, it is far more wonderful and far more glorious to be members of the heavenly populus, to be citizens of God's own city. And evan as they enjoy the privileges of citizenship, so they need to conform their daily behaviour to what is appropriate for that city.
So Paul says that whatever happens – to them or to him – the one thing they need to do, the one thing to aim for above all else is this: to live as worthy citizens of the heavenly city, made so by the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
This image of citizenship was particularly vivid for the Philippians, perhaps less so for us – but the reality behind it is no less real today, and no less important for us, than for the Philippians. We may not be Romans, but we are member of God's heavenly city, if we have trusted in Jesus Christ, if we have obeyed the Gospel that Paul declared, even from prison. And that means that whatever happens to us, no matter what, the one thing that we need to remember and live by is to live our lives as worthy of citizens of heaven, as worthy of the glorious gospel for which Paul gave his all.
So here's the obvious question – is that how you live? Are you living in a manner worthy of the gospel, in a manner befitting a citizen of heaven? Well are you?
Now that does raise the questions 'what will it look like to live as worthy citizens of the heavenly city through the gospel? And that is what Paul goes on to talk about, so that will be our second point:
2. United in the Gospel, Contending for the Gospel and Unafraid because of the Gospel
These are the things that Paul immediately goes onto in the rest of vs 27, so let's have a look there again:
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you."
Do you see how this works – if they are conducting themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel – that is, as worthy citizens – then Paul will know how they are conducting themselves: He will know that they stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose them.
There's three distinct, but closely related sets of behaviour here, so we'll take each of them in turn.
First they will be standing firm in one spirit – that is they will not be moved from the gospel because they will be united in a common spirit. Now this might be a way of saying that they will be united because as Christians, as citizens of heaven, they all partake of the Holy Spirit, or it might using in 'one spirit' more in the way we use it today – more a way of saying that we all feel the same way, we move together like a school of fish or a flock of birds. Either way the effect is much the same – because if we are to be united in the gospel that unity will come through the work of the Holy Spirit who God puts inside every follower of Jesus to change us progressively into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
The point is that a true and worthy citizen of heaven will not easily abandon the gospel, in fact they will not abandon the gospel at all. The body of citizens will stand firm in their united belief in the truth of the gospel, and will be united in living it out – together, each one encouraging the other so that all have courage to stand together.
Second, they will be contending for the gospel, together. This takes us forward a little from simply standing together as one man. In this image our united efforts are directed to the promotion of the truth of the gospel. This might mean correcting errors that are circulating, but it's main focus is on getting the good news to others. Paul knows that they face opposition from their neighbours and the gentile authorities – he was beaten and locked up for preaching the gospel in their streets remember – he knows how unwelcome the gospel message was when he preached it there. Nonetheless, if they are to be worthy citizens of the heavenly city they will declare it's truth, power and goodness even to people who are hostile to it, even if it costs them dearly. Their concern will be the promotion of the gospel.
Both of these images together call to mind Roman military practice. I'm sure you'll have heard how Roman troops were trained to advance together, their overlapping shields forming a protective wall ahead and above them. They advance and retreat together, they take their stand together, and their very unity gives them strength, far beyond the ability of any one individual, far beyond the sum of their individual strength in-fact. If they remain united, if they hold the line, they have great strength to meet the contest together. Not only that but each soldier knows that he is risking his life on a great project – the advance of the glory of his city, the city under whose banner he fights. If he is to lose his life in its defence or the promotion of its glory, so he will be glorious.
Paul is saying that it is similar for us, in our church, in our faith. We meet challenges together, or we fall alone. God has joined us together as one people – the members of his household, citizens of his heavenly city, partakers together of his Holy Spirit. If we are to live consistently with our identity then we will be united in standing firm in the gospel, unmoved by false teaching or persecution or any other opposition; and we will not just cling onto to that gospel, we will strive together for it's advance – declaring it boldly so that the gospel can go forward, even if we pay a heavy price for it.
Finally we will not be afraid of those who oppose us – 'not in any way frightened' Paul says. This is precisely what Paul has been modelling so far in this letter – he is locked up, in chains, facing the full weight of imperial Roman justice. But he sees it all as simply another means for God to advance the gospel. So he rejoices and spends his time evangelising his guards; and as he contemplates possible death, he rejoices that he will be with Christ, which is better than life itself! And so it must be with all who know and follow the Lord Jesus, who are members of his heavenly city. That is in fact the crowning glory of our citizenship – it cannot be taken from us, not even by death. In fact death simply marks the beginning of our full entry into all of its benefits. So we have hope and confidence that prevails over all our fears.
This is living worthy of our citizenship in heaven, living worthy of the glorious gospel. And you can see how these things follow can't you? This gospel is the message that Jesus has paid for sin by his death, and by his resurrection has been lifted up and made the highest ruler in heaven and earth; and that he will one day come again to judge us all. It brings with it the call for all people everywhere to repent and put their trust in Jesus. And it promises that if we do we will be joined to Jesus and made citizens of his heavenly city, members of his family, made one by being made his.
So what Paul is talking about is simply living out the full implications of that gospel message in the face of violent opposition. If the message of the gospel is really true, then the people who have been saved by it will be united together, because we belong to each other, we will stand firm in this gospel, because there could be no greater message, no higher power to serve, or reward to seek. We will declare this message for all to hear because our King should be recognised and honoured by all, and we want everyone to join in the benefits of his heavenly city.
And, knowing the highest ruler of all and preparing to meet him in his judgement seat, we will not be frightened by those who have limited authority and can do only limited harm – and when we meet them as our opponents we can entrust ourselves into Jesus' merciful rule and trust that he can protect us, and he will repay us out of his own riches for any cost that we bear in defence of his glory.
So I have to ask you - do you know the truth of the gospel? Are you standing united with your brothers and sisters, holding firm to it? Are you prepared to contend for the gospel in the face of fierce opposition? Or are you more likely to wilt in fear? When we were on our summer holiday we stayed in the south of France – and we enjoyed peace and rest… on one day we visited a local historical site – the remains of a Roman colosseum. As we wandered around the walls and then out into the area I was suddenly struck by the realisation that Christians were probably martyred there – innocent men, women and children put to the sword, or fed to wild beasts for the entertainment of the crowds. Why? Because they refused to bow the knee to Caesar and worship him as a god: they accepted death rather than mouth empty worship to a proud man. Could you do that, could I? Wouldn't we rather live to fight another day? But that would not be fitting for citizens of heaven, that would be to deny the gospel – to deny that Jesus alone is Lord, to deny that to die is gain, and to deny that our true citizenship is not here, but there, in the life to come. Our forebears lived lives worthy of their heavenly citizenship, worthy of the gospel – pray to the God who is mighty that we might learn to do the same.
All this might be true, but its not easy for us to hold onto in the face of truly fierce opposition, Paul knows that full well, so he gives us a little glimpse into what our suffering achieves through God's power. Our suffering reveals our salvation because it reveals our connection to Jesus. This is Point three:
3. Our suffering is used by God to reveal his people
Have a look at verse 27 again:
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved--and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have."
Paul does something amazing here with our suffering for the sake of Christ – three things actually. We don't have long, so we'll be brief, and we'll take them in reverse order (in order of importance). Verse 30 is the basis for the things Paul says about our suffering – see the since at the start there: since this is true all the rest follows. And what a glorious thing Paul is doing here, he shows that our suffering as Christians joins us to Jesus in his suffering. Did you see it there? Paul joins their struggle to his – you, he says, are going through the same struggle that you saw I had and now see that I still have. And what is Paul's struggle? Well he's already said – 1 vs 13 I am in chains for Christ, vs 16 I am put here for the defence of the gospel, vs 21 for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. He'll keep coming back to this intrinsic connection between his suffering and those of Jesus in ch 2 and 3. Flick over to 3.10 where Paul brings it into sharp focus:
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."
This is the glory of our suffering for Jesus – it joins us with him, in some realistic and spiritual sense, we join in his suffering – not that our suffering pays for sin, but that we, as members of Jesus himself are caught up in the rejection that he suffers – the world hates and rejects Jesus, and so it hates and rejects us as we represent Jesus in the worlds. That sounds purely negative doesn't it? What's the upside in that? The upside is that Jesus went through suffering into glory – and if we are joined with him in his suffering then we are truly his, and so we will be joined with him in his glory too – as Paul said I want to share in his sufferings so that I will attain to the resurrection from the dead – with Jesus in suffering, then with him in glory; rejected by the world, loved by God – or loved by the world and rejected by God – which would you rather be?
This makes sense, then, of verse 29. It has been granted to you, Paul says, not only to believe but also to suffer for Christ. Well that doesn't sound like much of a gift – open it, open it, it's a voucher for suffering! Um, no thanks… but if the gift is unity with Jesus – first in his suffering, then in his resurrection life, we can see the glory of it, can't we?
And the logic string extends then back to verse 28 – it is because of this intrinsic connection between our suffering and our belonging to Jesus that Paul can call our suffering for Jesus a sign that we will be saved, but that our enemies will be destroyed. Those who hate Jesus, despise his followers. Those who would see Jesus removed from the face of the earth rage against his people too. Their very opposition to the gospel reveals their furious rage against God.
I mean think about it – there is some vivid imagery here of a contest and a struggle – Paul has even seemed to be alluding to military action as he's talked about the church. But it's not like he's encouraging Jihad – it is as far from it as is possible to be. In this struggle the church is to love. Paul calls them to be good, gentle and kind, to be blameless and pure, without fault, even while those around them are crooked and depraved. How can you hate that? How can you rage against love? How can you shout for blood in the arena when an innocent child stands to be ripped to shreds for the crime of being blameless? But that is exactly what happens – the more closely we resemble the Lord Jesus, the more vitriolic will be the response.
So today we stand to be reviled and hated, despised and rejected. Perhaps the day will come when a preacher will be locked up for preaching the gospel in our land. Perhaps that day won't be far away. Perhaps it won't be just preachers, but Christian bakers, and nurses and registrars, adoption agencies and Christian Unions… perhaps all of us will come to know what it means to be scorned and rejected along with Jesus. I hope that if that day comes – when that day comes to you, you will recognise what it happening, and with Paul you will be able to rejoice that you bear that suffering for the sake of Jesus, knowing that if you suffering for him, you suffer with him and so will rejoice with him; knowing that he grants suffering as a gift that promises glory in heaven, and that those who oppose us rage not against us, but against God, and so we do not need to fear them, because we will be saved and they destroyed.
There's so much more to be said. In fact this topic of living lives worthy of the gospel of Christ will continue in the chapters to come. But this is the starting point – every follower of jesus is a citizen of heaven through the gospel. Our urgent task, the one thing that we need more than anything else is to live that gospel out in practice, to live as worthy citizens – united together to stand in the gospel, contending for it as one man, unafraid of opposition, because we know that opposition only reveals that we will be saved because we are joined to Jesus in his suffering and so will be joined to him in his glory. So whatever else you do, do this – live lives worthy of the gospel as worthy citizens of heaven.
As we finish I've identified four sets of attitudes to help us to diagnose where we're at – if in fact we are living as citizens worthy of our calling or not:
Hoarding vs Generosity (big barrier to world hearing the gospel from us!)
Fear of Death vs 'to die is gain'
Fear of opposition vs 'without being frightened in any way'
Divisions among us vs 'standing as one man' – because we are more concerned about the things of this kingdom than the next.