In the past two weeks we have covered Philippians Chapters 1 and 2, guided by insights from a deep dive into the history and character of the city of Philippi. It was a Roman colony with a rich Greek and Roman military history. It was originally a Greek city but had become a settler colony for elite retired Roman soldiers.
Philippi was the gateway from Asia to Europe; making it a strategic military zone. Lydia, a wealthy business woman, was the first convert to Christianity. When the Church in Philippi started, some Jewish Christians (the Judaizers) joined them and were teaching that to be truly Christian you must first adopt Jewish culture and identity. Paul was so offended by their teaching, in Philippians 3 he called them dogs!
Philippians 3:1-7 (The Living Bible) (shortened): “Whatever happens, dear friends, be glad in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you this… Watch out for those… dangerous dogs… who say you must be circumcised to be saved… We Christians… realize that we are helpless to save ourselves. Yet if anyone ever had reason to hope that he could save himself, it would be I… For I went through the Jewish initiation ceremony when I was eight days old, having been born into a pure-blooded Jewish home that was a branch of the old original Benjamin family… I was a member of the Pharisees… I greatly persecuted the Church; and I tried to obey every Jewish rule… But all these things that I once thought very worthwhile—now I’ve thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone.”
The Judaizers put their ethnic pride first. Paul says for Christians, this is not right; remember he had asked the Philippians to put away pride in Chapter 1 and to put on a humble mind like Jesus in Chapter 2; now in Chapter 3 he teaches that our ethnic identity should not be our chief influencer, our chief influencer should be Jesus.
To the Philippians this was news; they were in a Roman colony where people came from all over and worked hard to become Roman citizens. These Christians were now told by Judaizers – Roman identity is nothing, Jewish identity is topmost. Paul disagreed strongly; for Paul, having a humble mind like Christ is everything.
So, how should we manage national and ethnic identity? When Paul was jailed in Philippi, he used his Roman nationality to defend himself (Acts 16:35-40). Our nationality and ethnicity helps us navigate life on earth, but wins us no credit before our creator. In the heavenly court, a loving humble life like Jesus wins us a crown.
Lord, we pray for grace to grow out of seeing others only by nationality and ethnicity; help us love all sincerely and live humbly, Amen!
Image credit: International Christian Fellowship (ICF), Frankfurt, Germany – Sermon on Philippians (09Feb2020)