There are some parts of the Bible that just seem to be taking up space. For example, at the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians there are a few lines of greetings that Paul was relaying from the Christians in Rome to those in Philippi. One of those greetings, in Philippians 4:22, is from “those of Caesar’s household.”
Doesn’t seem particularly life changing.
But then again, maybe I’m reading it with the wrong “eyes.”
I’m reading this letter as if it was written to me. But a closer approximation to the truth is that I’m “eavesdropping” on a conversation between Paul and the Christians in Philippi.
So I started wondering what would it have meant to the Philippians that people in “Caesar’s household” cared about them. But I wasn’t quite sure who Paul meant when he said “those of Caesar’s household.”
Paul was imprisoned on multiple occasions in several different places; one of which was Rome, the seat of power for the Roman Emperor, Caesar. Most likely, the letter to the Philippians was written during this imprisonment and a little detective work showed that “Caesar’s household” was a way of referring to people employed in the palace; in particular, the Roman soldiers who comprised the Palace Guard charged with guarding Paul.
For members of Caesar’s household to send greetings through Paul to the Christians in Philippi, they would have to be followers of Jesus, too. That means Paul, while awaiting trial for serving Jesus Christ, was telling the very soldiers who were guarding him about Jesus!
That’s just crazy.
Yet here’s what Paul himself says about the situation:
“And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.” (Philippians 1:12–13, NLT)
The followers of Jesus in Philippi were also at risk because of their faith and Paul’s letter implies that they were already being persecuted and enduring hardship. Knowing that Paul and others had been imprisoned and even killed simply for being Christians must have given them pause. Perhaps they wondering what it would be like if they were arrested. Wouldn’t that be the worst possible outcome?
Actually no, it wouldn’t be. Paul ends up telling people about Jesus even while imprisoned…especially while imprisoned! Who else had a “captive” audience of Roman soldiers? After all, the soldiers were kind of stuck while they were on duty guarding him.
Simply knowing that even though “the worst” had happened to Paul and yet good things were coming out of it, that even hardened Roman soldiers were hearing that Jesus loved them enough to die in their place and were responding, must have given courage to the Philippians as they faced the possibility of imprisonment as well.
But I also discovered something interesting about the Philippians that made this greeting from Roman soldiers who were now Christians even more encouraging.
Philippi was an official Roman colony, which meant that everyone who lived there was a Roman citizen automatically. Roman citizenship was a high honor that many people in the Roman Empire didn’t possess. So even though Philippi was quite distant from Rome, the people in that city felt very “Roman.” Also, a large percentage of the population in Philippi were retired Roman soldiers who had been given a land grant for a farm as their retirement package. Therefore, the majority of the people in the church in Philippi were ex-Roman military or at least people who felt a strong connection to the Roman Empire and Caesar.
But it was that very Roman Empire that had put Jesus to death as a criminal against the state. Surely, these ex-soldiers and the other Roman citizens in the church at Philippi had to wonder if they were doing the right thing in declaring themselves followers of Jesus the Nazarene. Were they dishonoring Rome? Was being a Christian worth the risk of what they would lose in status and rights as Roman citizens?
Then they get this letter from Paul with greetings from active duty Roman soldiers who are in the palace of Caesar himself. A plum job for a soldier and yet these soldiers risked everything to pledge their lives to a greater King, one who gave his life to set them free.
I think that probably put steel in the backbone of the Christians in Philippi.
While I might not have thought a simple greeting was life changing, I’m betting this one was for those in Philippi who had been questioning whether they had made a good decision in following Jesus Christ. With Paul and the Roman soldiers who were within easy reach of Caesar’s ire willing to live dangerous lives of passion for Jesus, how could the Philippians give up?
Suddenly Philippians 4:22 seemed a lot more significant than I thought it was. That is because I was no longer reading it with the eyes of a twenty-first century Westerner, but those of a first century Philippian.
But I was still left with the question of whether Philippians 4:22 had any relevance for me. I don’t live under Roman rule. I’m not particularly beholden to one political leader, as they were to Caesar. I most likely won’t be imprisoned for being a follower of Jesus, although for many people in the world today that is a very real possibility.
Be that as it may, I still face some of the same questions and fears that the Philippian Christians did. What if “the worst” (whatever I think that is) happens? Am I still willing to cling to Christ as Paul did? Even when things are very, very hard am I willing to put the good of others above my own safety and tell them about what Jesus has done for me and for them, also as Paul did? Am I willing to risk my professional advancement, even my job, if people know that I am a follower of Jesus, like the Roman soldiers in Caesar’s palace did?
I guess it all comes down to, What am I willing to risk losing? And after I’ve lost it, am I willing to keep serving Jesus?
Sometimes we can’t know the answers to those questions with certainty until they actually happens. But I think that if just asking the question raises my heart rate, scares me, then I need to spend some time praying that God would show me his beauty and love and power, so that everything else seems insignificant by comparison.
That’s what gave Paul courage. That’s what gave “those of Caesar’s household” courage, too.
That’s what will give you and me courage.
Here’s some advice from the author of Hebrews.
“[L]et us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.” (Hebrews 12:1–4, NLT)
Keeping our eyes on Jesus. That’s how we do it. Modeling our lives on his willingness to suffer and endure hardship for what mattered.
Fixing our eyes on Jesus is what breeds courage and passion and downright recklessness.
So now I’m revising my opinion of Philippians 4:22.
It is life changing.
Having new eyes was all it took.
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