by Barry Newton
How is a citizen of heaven supposed to act when confronted by antagonistic opponents? This is what the Philippian Christians needed to consider. Their answer appeared one Sunday during a worship service as the letter Epaphroditus had carried from Paul was read aloud to their beleaguered church.
Paul’s words likely provided a momentary reprieve from their own self-absorbed thoughts. For when opposition arises, people commonly focus upon their own well-being while mentally rehearsing recently suffered assaults. Grumbling replaces rejoicing. Tension and defensiveness displace love.
As the congregation listened to words from their friend, an amazing message unfolded. Their minds were transported to envision Paul in shackles far away. Although others were actively working for Paul’s demise by making sure that those in that distant city correctly understood the gospel he proclaimed, imprisoned Paul was rejoicing? The apostle explained his reasoning.
He was consumed with a focus which soared above his own circumstances. A singular goal shaped his drive and concerns. What mattered to him was whether the gospel was being preached and Christ was being served. Period.
As Paul dictated, his amanuensis’ pen plunged forward to reveal Paul had not always lived this way. In running the race of Judaism, Paul had garnered extensive laurels.
Nevertheless, all those sources of confidence in the flesh now lay abandoned and forgotten. He had been captivated by a new mindset, a mature perspective which also needed to penetrate the church at Philippi.
Paul’s concerns over matters of the flesh had given way to a new security, a new hope and a new way to live. Christ had seized upon him to enter the Christian marathon. In this race, since Christ had already provided the necessary righteousness as well as the hope for a future resurrection, Paul’s task involved reaching out for what lay ahead. To run in such a marathon, the Christian’s life involves living up to what has been provided, namely living as a citizen of heaven.
So how is a citizen of heaven supposed to act when confronted by antagonistic opponents?
Paul’s own imprisonment provided a flesh and blood example of the mature perspective he now proclaimed. While living engulfed among many who were antagonistic to the ways of Christ crucified, they should also forget about dwelling upon those things which were behind or focusing on earthly matters.
They too should not be mired down with pursuing a race built on the flesh, but plunge forward in living up to their heavenly citizenship in view of Christ’s coming transformative power.
How the apostle responded to his chains was amazing. It provided a lifestyle pattern to be imitated. Christ seeks to create an amazing story out of his followers’ lives.