Monday, May 9, 2016

A Christian Foothold in the Emperor's Home

Nero was Rome's emperor when the epistle to the Philippians was written.
You come to minister to a brother who is going through a difficult time. You thought that somehow the circumstances might weaken his faith. So you visit him so you could at least contribute something to make him strong. No doubt, your labor was not in vain. You did help in strengthening him. God saw your love for your brother so his favor is upon you. But you know you have been to a specially strong Christian when after ministering to him, you realize that you were the one who received more strength.

Paul was such a person. Paul and the Philippians were certainly going through difficult times because of the opposition to the  gospel. Yet Paul's condition was the worse since at that time he was in prison. Yet his joy in the Lord never faded. He prayed with joy for the evidence of God's work in the Philippians (1:3; 3 John 1:4). He rejoiced because his imprisonment lead to the advancement of the gospel (1:13ff.). The one who was in greater trouble urged everyone to rejoice (3:1, 4:4).

I would like to point you to a small verse easily overlooked. For us modern readers, it was a not so obvious way of encouraging the Philippians, but I guess it easily caught the attention of the original recipients of this letter.
“All the saints greet you, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.” (4:22)
Philippi was a Roman colony. Believers there were experiencing opposition from the followers of the emperor.The joyful surprise of this verse is this: Christianity has established a foothold in the enemies' headquarters!!! Gordon Fee comments:
"Household would include household slaves as well as family members, but in either case it refers in particular to those who actually lived in Nero's palace in Rome..."1
Some of these were converts through Paul's ministry (1:13) and some through the ministry of others.

The 19th century New Testament scholar J. B. Lightfoot found some striking parallels between the names Paul listed in Romans 16:8–15 and the names of members of the Caesar’s household coming from the same era. He concludes,
“As a result of this investigation, we seem to have established a fair presumption, that among the salutations in the Epistle to the Romans some members at least of the  imperial household are included.”2
At the center of the persecution source, they have been gaining victory. Even in the very residence of the emperor, the Holy Spirit is in action. The gospel has infiltrated the tightly secured palace. There is a rebellion to the emperor's "lordship" even under his own roof. The powerful word of God destroyed the palace's defense system.

In the opposition's territory, there were true saints. The emperor set them apart to serve him. Yet the Holy Spirit set them apart to serve a different king.

Out of this verse, I suggest two life applications:
1. Be assured that the work of the church is not futile. Even if our conditions seems to indicate that we are at the losing end, the message of salvation is advancing. Our Lord is a mighty warrior, no opposition can win against him. "The gates of Hades" cannot prevail against the church (Matt. 16:18)

2. Be emboldened in your personal walk. For the same Spirit who is at work for the victory of the church over opposition, is also the same Spirit who works in your personal battles. The Lord our Mighty Warrior transforms us into conquerors like him, that we may persevere in the faith even against all the opposition (Rom. 8:37-38)

1. Gordon Fee, Philippians (IVP New Testament Commentary) 
2. J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (cited in John Macarthur's Philippians, Macarthur New Testament Commentary)

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