President Caesar and King Jesus

[This post is part of an Easter series: President [fill in the blank] and King Jesus.]

“We set sail…to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:11-12).

Philippi was a Roman colony in northern Greece, settled mostly by Roman soldiers about a hundred years before Paul gets there. These Philippian colonists were proud of being Roman citizens, and they did their best for generations to introduce and cultivate the Roman way of life in this Greek territory. In addition to the very fleshly way of life enjoyed by most middle- and upper-class Roman citizens, one of the key aspects of Roman culture to emerge was emperor worship. Caesar was hailed literally as “savior” and “lord” and “son of the gods,” and to be a colonist under his lordship meant that one’s life should reflect the best of the king’s empire. For a Philippian to claim to be a “citizen of Rome” did not mean they were just going to sit around and act like the natives until they got to return to Rome. No—as a colonist, to be a citizen of Rome meant that they were going to live the Roman life right there in the midst of foreign territory.

Just as the Roman colonists form community in this Greek territory of Philippi and live according to the Roman standard, worshipping the Roman god/king, so the Christians in Philippi are colonists of a different sort, with a different citizenship and a different God/King. Later, Paul will write his famous letter to the church in Philippi. In it, he encourages the Philippian Christians to look to his example of heavenly citizenship, to look to each other to stay on the straight and narrow, but whatever they do, do not follow the example of those worshipping the gods of this world (Phil. 3:17-21). Jesus is the true Savior and King, not Caesar, and it is Jesus who will come from heaven to save the world and to set all of creation right, something he is already doing through his church. The church can stand firm and begin to live as colonists, to live as heavenly citizens, because Christ is the true King of heaven and earth.

Our life shows our true citizenship, the real focus of our worship. Lydia is a prominent businesswoman, a dealer in purple cloth. She is also a worshiper of God who listened eagerly to Paul’s teaching about Jesus, and she and her whole household are baptized (Acts 16:14-15). And Lydia is a powerful example to us when she has the guts to say, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” How many of us would put ourselves in that position of scrutiny? How many of us would say to our fellow believers, as Lydia says here and Paul writes later, “Look at me. Judge me. Follow me.” 

Like it or not, your life is reflecting your worship and true citizenship. Are you a heavenly colonist, actively seeking and living God’s kingdom way “on earth as it is in heaven”? Or are you so entrenched in worldly power and ambition that your allegiances are confirmed or threatened by elections, and your happiness and success are measured by socio-economic status, worldly achievements, and the approval of others? We must be honest with ourselves. It’s easy to slide into the cultural gravity around us, to be pulled by the weight of those who try to convince us that our security and success depend on them and their plans and programs and promises. But we must lift our heads, open our hearts, and fix our eyes on Jesus—the author and goal of our faith. While we participate fully in our culture, we are not beholden to it. Instead, we bring the reign of the world’s true King so to bear in our culture and world that our lives show the present and coming reality in which “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).