True Philadelphians are a rare breed. We drive fast, talk fast, and know where to find the best cheesesteaks. (If you guessed Pat’s or Gino’s, you would be incorrect.) I’m proud to have been born and raised in the City of Brotherly Love.
I laugh when I recall the time a few years ago I overheard a coworker refer to herself as living in Philly. I could not let it stand—I had to say something, since I knew she was at least a good 40 minutes down the main line. To be a true Philly native means something. Once a Philadelphian, always a Philadelphian.
Certain places have a unique way of conferring pride. In the ancient world, Philippi, named for Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great), was one such place. Strengthened by its gold mines and military fortifications, the self-reliant city enjoyed partial independence for long periods of its history. Under the Romans, the colony of Philippi functioned as a “miniature Rome,” governed directly by two Roman military officials and serving as home to a large population of veterans. To be a Philippian was to carry prestige equal to that of being a citizen of Rome itself.
So, it’s no coincidence that Paul exhorts the Philippian Christians to “behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ” (author’s translation). The Greek verb Paul invokes here shares the same root as our English word politics. Just as the Philippians bore a certain dignity as Romans, so now were they to bear the far weightier glory of heavenly citizenship.
But what does it mean to live “worthy” of the gospel? By definition, the gospel is good news to undeserving sinners. Yet Paul is not saying that we can make ourselves somehow deserving of the gospel, as though we by our good conduct could place God in our debt. Rather, he is rousing his readers to a lifestyle befitting their Christian confession. “Live in a way that is becoming of your high calling,” he says in effect.
Paul will go on in this passage to define such suitable Christian conduct. Yet it does not take a great deal of insight to intuit the apostle’s point. We must live holy lives, freed from the sins for which Christ died. And, armed with this gospel, we are duty-bound to announce this gospel to a dying world—to be on mission amid a dying world.
Citizenship, unfortunately, means little to most of us. Most natural-born Americans take their citizenship for granted and likely could not pass the civics exam given to those who apply for naturalization. By contrast, many US immigrants who have passed through the citizenship process develop a deep appreciation for the history, traditions, and ideals of their new nation. Having experienced life in a different culture under a different set of principles, many of them highly prize their experience as Americans.
Similarly, we are called to treasure our citizenship in the kingdom of God. Whether we lived long in the world of sin before encountering Christ or lived but a few tender years before our conversion, we should recognize the privilege of belonging to Christ. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul will later conclude (Philippians 3:20)—and so, our lives, decisions, and priorities are to be ordered in this light.
To live in a manner worthy of the gospel is to live on mission. We will never “deserve” grace, but once we’ve tasted the grace of God, our undeserving lives can never be the same.
You have brought me out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of your beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). I was unworthy, but you chose me—and now you call me to live worthily as a citizen of your realm. Arm me with this mission mentality. Help me to be intentionally, zealously committed to serving you in the world, putting sin to death and bringing the good news of Jesus to others.
In Jesus’ name,
- Pray for clarity to see the areas in your life that are out of step with your heavenly citizenship. Petition the Lord to grant you repentance and resolve in each of these areas.
- Intercede for your church to have a mindset committed to heavenly pursuits. Pray for a fresh missionary spirit in your church.
- Pray for new missionaries arriving on international fields to gain the proper visas and statuses in their new countries of service. Ask for God to open doors throughout the world—since it is all his.
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