Living in a Hostile Culture
Written by Kellye Schiffner Carver (First 5 Ministries)
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.
Sometimes, as a Christian, I feel judged, minimized or dismissed. Maybe you can relate.
While I don’t experience outright persecution or faith-based violence where I live, I do experience microaggressions, negative judgments and sometimes unfair treatment because of my Christian perspective.
Fortunately, Paul’s letter provides timely advice.
As a prominent Roman colony, Philippi enjoyed the same rights as the capital – benefits like land ownership and tax breaks. Despite living in Macedonia, Philippians dressed as Romans, added their names to Roman rosters, even spoke Latin at times! Many former Roman soldiers settled there, and residents prided themselves on this Roman heritage. (Acts 16:21)
Paul writes primarily to the gentiles in this community. Envision yourself as a Christian in Philippi – a time where the majority walked and talked like Romans and when Roman government often disliked, minimized or persecuted the church.
This may not sound too different from your situation now.
Despite this opposition, Paul encouraged the Philippians (Spoiler alert: and us! ) to live like Jesus. This is a major theme throughout Philippians. He also reminds them of their allegiance to a different king.
Specifically, Paul advises Philippians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of their faith. (Philippians 1:27) The original Greek entails behaving as a citizen.
While it’s important to live honorably as a citizen of our country (following laws, paying taxes, etc. ), Paul says this isn’t enough. A Roman citizen himself writing from a Roman imprisonment, Paul understood the power of Rome. Yet, he encouraged the Philippians to remember their true citizenship in the unity of the family of God – not Rome. (Philippians 1:27; 3:20)
This meant their behavior should reflect not the culture of Rome but the culture of the gospel. (Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:12) If a non-Christian observed their lifestyles, relationships or choices, they should see Jesus and what he preached. (Matthew 5:43-44; 22:37-40; John 15:12)
This applies in our world, too. Regardless of where we live or what government we are subject to, our faith should permeate our personal interactions. Our schedule. Our dress. Our finances. The entertainment we choose. Whether at work or at home, in word or deed, can others see that we’re Christians?
God’s Word further encourages “striving” (or “fighting” or “contending” depending on your translation) in unity for the gospel. (Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:2-3)
The Greek word for striving – usually associated with athletics – means to “wrestle” or “seek jointly.” Paul used several such metaphors, suggesting believers work together as a team after an ultimate prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 2:5; 4:7)
And just like an athletic team, Paul encouraged a unified Philippi to have no fear of opposition. (Philippians 1:28; Ephesians 2:18-22) Paul didn’t ask this lightly; he experienced his own persecution in Philippi and throughout his ministry. (Acts 16:12-40; 2 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Timothy 1:8) However, he still urged faithfulness and integrity amidst a hostile culture.
What important and relevant advice for Christians today! No matter the time or place:
- Live as citizens of God’s Kingdom, not the world’s.
- Live out your faith.
- Live in unity with believers.
- Live without fear of opposition.
That’s quite a game plan, and we’ll certainly experience challenges following Paul’s instructions. But always remember, our team already won! (John 16:33; 1 Corinthians 15:57)