By Gregg Bing
The saints at Philippi were well acquainted with the concept of citizenship. Philippi, named for Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father, was made a Roman colony by Caesar Augustus around 42 B.C. Roman citizenship was a valuable possession. Some, such as the Apostle Paul, were fortunate enough to be born Roman citizens; others paid large sums of money to purchase this valuable title (Acts 22:28). Roman citizenship entitled a person to specific rights and privileges that non-citizens could not claim. For example, after being wrongfully imprisoned in Philippi, Paul announced he was a Roman citizen. Upon hearing this, the city magistrates, were afraid, for they knew they had violated his rights (Acts 16:37-38).
In his letter to these Philippian saints, Paul makes use of their familiarity with the concept of Roman citizenship to teach them an important spiritual truth.
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Phil. 3:20-21)
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, our citizenship is in heaven. The Philippians, though over 600 miles from Rome, still enjoyed all the privileges of Roman citizenship. As believers we, too, enjoy all the wonderful privileges of our heavenly citizenship, though we presently live here on the earth. This world is not our home; heaven is. We are merely strangers and pilgrims here on earth, living for and serving the Lord as His “ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:20) until He comes to take us home to be with Him. The opportunity to be an “ambassador for Christ” is a great privilege, but it is also a great responsibility.
An ambassador is sent to represent someone else. In our case, we are here on earth to represent our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are here to serve Him in “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18); to share His message with the world, “the word of reconcilitation” (2 Cor. 5:19); to implore people, on His behalf, to “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). As ambassadors, our words are very important, for we are presenting the truth of Christ to others, but our conduct, our behavior, is equally important. Paul addresses the issue of our “conduct” as heavenly citizens in the opening chapter of Philippians.
“Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” (Phil. 1:27-30)
The word “conduct” (“conversation” in the KJV) is the Greek word “politeuo” from which we get our English words: politics, political, police, and the suffix -polis (i.e. metropolis, Indianapolis, etc.). The word means “to be a citizen” or “to live as a citizen.” Wuest, in his Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, says it refers to “the duties devolving upon a man as a member of a body” (i.e. as a citizen).
Our conduct here on earth should be proper or fitting for heavenly citizens, but how do we measure what is proper? Paul says that our conduct is to be “worthy of the gospel.” The word “worthy” is the Greek word “axios.” You can readily see the English words that derive from this word: axis, axiom, axle, etc. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines the word as: “weighing, having weight, having the weight of (weighing as much as) another thing, of like value, worth as much.” The picture we get is that of a scale that measures by placing items of equal weight on each side. As heavenly citizens, our conduct should have equal weight or value as “the gospel.” That is, our conduct should be fitting and proper in relation to the wonderful “gospel” message that has been entrusted to us by our Lord (1 Thess 2:4). What a glorious privilege is ours! Yet, what a tremendous responsibility is laid upon us!
How can our conduct be “worthy” or balance with the gospel? Consider the following three facts. First, our gospel is “the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16); the “good news” that Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose again (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Just as the focus of our message is Jesus Christ, so the focus of our conduct should be as well. Paul told the Philippians, “to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). Paul’s whole purpose for living was Jesus Christ; that He might be given the pre-eminence in Paul’s life (Col. 1:18). Paul instructed the Colossian saints to “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him” (Col. 1:10). Conduct worthy of the gospel is conduct that glorifies and honors the Lord Jesus Christ and seeks to please Him in all things.
Second, our gospel is “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24); the “good news” is that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Colossians 2:6 tells us,
“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”
We received Christ Jesus all because of God’s grace. Our salvation was “not of ourselves” and “not of works,” there is therefore nothing for us to glory in; it was a wonderful gift from God. Conduct worthy of the gospel is conduct that is dependent upon the grace of God for all our needs (2 Cor. 9:8); conduct that, therefore, gives God all the glory and boasts only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14).
Third, our gospel is a message of faith. Paul speaks in this very verse (Phil. 1:27) of “the faith of the gospel.” Salvation comes through faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross for our sins. We trust in Him and Him alone. We rely upon Him and His faithfulness toward us. This is true in regard to our salvation, but it should also be true in regard to our daily walk, or behavior. Conduct worthy of the gospel is conduct lived by the faith of the Son of God and by our faith in Him (Gal. 2:20); conduct that trusts in Him in all situations (Prov. 3:5-6).
How important is this admonition to let our conduct be “worthy of the gospel?” Paul prefixes this admonition with the word “only,” a word that emphasizes that as believers, our “only” concern, the single focus of our lives, should be that our conduct is “worthy of the gospel.” Is this true in your life? I encourage you to carefully examine your own heart and life and answer this question honestly, and then seek to ensure that your conduct is, indeed, “worthy of the gospel” each and every day.
Next month we will look at three specific areas of the believer’s conduct that Paul was concerned with as mentioned in verses 27-30.
(To be continued)