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“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

(Philippians 1:23)

In the past messages about the Covid19 pandemic, the focus has been upon what to pray for and to encourage each and everyone hearing them that we need not fear as we have a good God who delights in His people. He doesn’t promise us that life would be without difficulties; however, He promises to be with us in them.

Where does the strength come to face your fears? – to advance with a steadfast resolve to either do or die? The apostle Paul minces no words about his unwavering determination, when he wrote, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” Philippians 1:20. There is a military ring to his words. Paul is writing from imprisonment. He has been guarded by Roman soldiers, having exercised his rights as a Roman citizen by appealing to Caesar. He has been in the custody of the Romans for a time, but he rejoices that his chains have given the gospel access to the place guard. The Christian faith was spreading from prisoner to his captors.

Paul is writing to Christians in Philippi, a city that prided itself in its ties with Rome. Dennis E. Johnson in his excellent commentary on Philippians in the Reformed Commentary Series wrote the following about Philippi.

"By the time that Paul, Silas, and their team reached Philippi, this city in eastern Macedonia already had a colorful history. Four centuries earlier, the city had been taken over by King Phillip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great – hence the name Philippi. In the century before Paul arrived, Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian and the general Marc Anthony defeated Caesar’s assassins in a decisive battle fought just outside Philippi, and the victors celebrated their triumph by constituting Philippi a Roman colony. That meant that citizens of Philippi had the same legal rights and privileges as citizens of Rome, the capital of the empire. Many retired army veterans settled in Philippi, adding to the city’s “Roman flavor,” which was reflected in its architecture and language. Although surrounded by Greek-speaking communities in the eastern Mediterranean, Philippi had Latin as its official language. Not surprisingly, Philippi prided itself on its religious devotion to the Roman emperors, in addition to worshiping indigenous pagan deities."

Patriotism flourished in Philippi. Being a citizen was a big deal! It is interesting that Paul, when he writes to the Philippians about living the Christian life, uses a Greek word that speaks about “being a good citizen” rather that his customary approach, the Christian “walk.”

"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." (Philippians 1:27)

Better translation – conduct yourself as “citizens” worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Johnson pointed out the whole book of Philippians is full of military terms., which is truly fitting for a military town with active-duty troops and retirees from the Roman legion there. Johnson’s commentary has given me an new understanding of the book of Philippians. In the past, I thought the theme was encouragement and joy amid trouble. I now see it as a training manual for combat. The placement of Philippians after Ephesians is significant. Ephesians closes with putting the armor on and telling us to stand firm. Philippians is all about the fight.

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The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches. (Matthew 13:31-32)

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