Expand to context: 1:27-30 Let your life as a citizen be worthy of the gospel of Christ so that whether I come and see you or am absent I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side (military) for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything (military) by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction but of your salvation and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict (military) that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
ESV Philippians 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. …14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Citizenship, like membership in a club or organization, has its privileges and rights. Citizens in the modern world often have some say in the role of government, perhaps even voting rights. Citizens typically have the greatest economic freedom and authority of all people in a country. Citizenship also traditionally means that one is due a certain level of protection from one’s government. Noncitizens, no matter how permanent their status, are usually limited in these three areas.
Citizenship also has its responsibilities and duties: citizens are expected to participate actively in the political process, to the extent granted by law; citizens are generally expected to serve in the military defense of their country when called on to do so.
As Paul writes his Epistle to the Philippians, he knows that many of them are Roman citizens. Ancient Roman citizenship was a big deal. Not everyone had it. In fact, most people who lived in the empire were not Roman citizens. But Philippi was a Roman colony. It’s citizens were Roman citizens having the right to vote for their own Senate and magistrates. It was governed by Roman law and language. Philippi was a retirement colony for honorable citizens, mostly military veterans. They were proud of their service, proud of their status, and proud of their citizenship. Hear how Paul speaks of “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side. Not frightened by your opponents, and your fearlessness is a clear sign to the enemy of their destruction. Suffering for the sake of the Empire and engaging in the conflict.” You can just see a company of Roman soldiers standing firm and fearless in formation facing the enemy.
Paul takes this idea of pride in citizenship but adds a twist. Strive at being a good Roman citizen, sure. But remember that first and foremost you are a citizen of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As you strive to be a good citizen of Rome and a fearless soldier, strive to be an even better citizen of God’s kingdom and even more fearless in the face of suffering for the sake of Christ as Paul himself suffered for Christ. Your loyalty no longer lies first with any country. Christ has redeemed you, forgiven you, and now lives with you. He has made you a new citizen of the kingdom of heaven. In this kingdom everything is reversed. A Roman citizen gloried in his status and power. But in God’s kingdom glory and status are not great virtues; the great virtue is humility. That is to say,
THE CITIZEN OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM
CONSIDERS OTHERS MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN HIMSELF.
If we have reason to live as citizens worthy of Christ’s kingdom, it is by the work of the triune God (vv 1–2). And do we ever! Christ humbled himself to make us his citizens (vv 6–8). What wonderful encouragement! (v 1a). Your citizenship comes from the humility of Christ who humbled himself to become a servant. There is no pride in Christ who considers not his status as all powerful God and creator to be something to grasp. Rather he took the lowest social status and became a servant. In fact he took a social status lower than any Roman citizen. He took the status of a slave. A Roman citizen could not even be crucified on a cross. That was a special punishment reserved only for the worst criminals who were not citizens of Rome. Roman citizens were executed by beheading which is much quicker and less painful.
There is much joy at being a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. The Father comforts us with his perfect love, demonstrated in the life and work of Jesus (v 1b). What do we see when we look at the cross of Jesus? We see the love of the Father for us. We see love so great that even though we are sinners he sacrificed his own Son in order to reconcile us to himself. Christ died to make us citizens of his kingdom. Now that is humility! That is humble service!
And we have joy because the Spirit binds us up into God and into one another, creating Christian affection and sympathy (vv 1c–2). We are bound together in one organic entity, a community, a family. We participate together in the same Spirit of God, in affection and sympathy for one another. As St. Paul encourages, “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” For the “cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (I Cor 10:17).
However, there is no room for boasting. We did not attain citizenship by our own efforts. Unlike Roman citizens who attained citizenship by serving in the Roman army one cannot become a citizen of Christ’s kingdom by his service. One cannot purchase citizenship in Christ’s kingdom with money, like a slave in Rome could. Nor can one become a citizen in Christ’s kingdom by being born to a citizen. Just because your mother or father is a citizen, doesn’t make you a citizen in the kingdom of God.
Therefore, there is nothing to boast about. It is not through your effort or talent, or service, or money that you are citizens of God’s kingdom. Rather, it is through the humility of the King. The King sets the way its citizens look at others (v 5). Citizens of Christ’s kingdom are not driven by selfish ambition or conceit (v 3). “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Citizens of the Kingdom are not driven by ambition for power to become an elected official like governor or president. They are not driven by the ambition for money to move up the company ladder even at the expense of coworkers in order to get a higher pay. They are not driven to have others serve them, and never ever say, “It’s not my job,” when there is something that needs to be done.
Rather, citizens of Christ’s kingdom count others more significant than themselves and look after the interests of others (v 4). Citizens of Christ’s kingdom consider others as having a higher rank, a higher status in the society, as being greater in the kingdom. Unlike Roman citizenship which was a source of pride and boasting over against those who were not citizens; unlike American society in which everyone wants to be above his neighbor in rank, power and fortune, in the kingdom of God everyone considers himself of the least rank and considers himself the servant of his neighbor. There are examples of this everywhere in the kingdom of Christ. There are multitudes of men and women who give up large salaries and a comfortable life to become missionaries; who leave lucrative jobs and nice homes to become pastors. There are many in the church who spend hours a week serving the poor and homeless at a soup kitchen. Just think of the many people who give up time every week to serve in the church on the altar and flower guild, doing altar care, singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School, ushering, doing radio broadcasts, repairing and maintaining church buildings, serving on boards and committees. Humility and service is the mark of citizenship in God’s kingdom.
Such humility among his citizens is evidence of the King’s work in our lives. It is the King’s work to give us the mind of Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant. In that way, citizenship in God’s kingdom is completely the reverse of citizenship in earthly kingdoms, such as Rome or the US.
Those who are citizens of God’s kingdom are different from the rest of the people. They shine as lights in the world. In the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, where greed, pride, selfish ambition are the norm, God’s people shine as lights of love, humility and service. In the midst of suffering and pain we serve others to alleviate suffering and touch others with Christ’s compassion and care. In the midst of death and a dying world we anticipate our resurrection in Christ (vv 14–15) shining forth with hope in stark contrast to the hopelessness and despair of those who have no hope in the resurrection. The Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins in order to deliver us from the present evil age by the power of his resurrection according to the will and desire of our God and father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.
Hold fast to the word of life (v 16a) and never doubt its power to free you from this present evil generation; from its greed and pride. For this word of life in Christ Jesus grounds all humility and good works in the power and presence of Christ. And Christ is bodily present with us in the Sacrament today. Here he literally comes into us and dwells in us, joined to us in all our suffering and pain, and giving us his life and resurrection.
Hold fast to the word of life for it continuously reminds us of the forgiveness and life we have in Christ. Christ is present with us in his word and pours his Holy Spirit into you as the word is preached into your ears.
Hold fast to the word of forgiveness in the absolution which speaks you righteous before God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Hold fast to the washing of regeneration of Holy Baptism which washes you clean from your sin and makes you citizens of Christ’s kingdom. Yes, citizenship in the Roman Empire was a reason to be proud. Our citizenship in the kingdom of Christ gives us even greater reason to rejoice, but it is different. It’s a joyous reason to be humble. Amen