Colonists & Saboteurs
Good morning, friends. It’s so good to see all of you this morning. We’re in our fourth week of our exploration of Philippians, and we’re finishing up chapter 1 this week. Last week we were camping out in verses 12-26 (some 15 total verses). This week, we’ve got verses 27-30 (some 4 total verses). And two words are going to propel us through the passage to that goal:
“Colonists” and “Saboteurs.”
Those two words are going to propels us… and one supervillain is going to help us think about those words:
From the Gotham rogues gallery—the cold-hearted master of ice himself—Mr Freeze. Does that sound like a deal?
Already—not that everyone’s excited about a supervillain—let’s dive into the text in verse 27.
Paul invites the Philippians to embrace their lives as colonists.
We miss it in English, but you can see it in Greek… and all of his letter up to this point has been leading here:
“Most importantly, axiōs [in a manner fitting for] Christ’s good news, politeuesthe [live together as citizens].” (Philippians 1v27)
This verb, politeuomai, is a word that everyone knew in the Greco-Roman world. It’s related to the word polis—where we get words like “Indianapolis” or “metropolis” You can even hear it in our “political.” The word polis is the word for “city,” and so the verb form of it has to do with living your citizenship:
Live your citizenship together. Live together as citizens. It’s plural—it’s something you Philippians all do together. And it’s political—it’s something you do publicly.
Now, interestingly enough, this normal word for citizenship had extra significance for the people of Philippi.
We have two cities on this map… Rome and Philippi. Are they close together? No. They are not. They are around 1,000 kilometers—over 600 miles—apart as the crow flies. The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the fountains, the palace of Caesar— all of that is WAY WAY WAY far away. Because the polis of Rome—the city of Rome—is 600 miles away.
But Philippi was something unique. Philippi was not just some city in land under Roman control. Philippi wasn’t just a Roman city; Philippi was a Roman colony. Philippians didn’t live any old way they felt like… they lived as Romans. They were making Philippi a sort of New Rome on foreign shores. Even though they lived miles away in Macedonia, their politeuma—their citizenship—was Roman.
Philippians were Roman colonists on the shores of Macedonia. They lived the life of Rome on strange, foreign shores. The culture of Rome, the law and customs of Rome, the protection of Rome was just as much a reality in Philippi as it was in Rome itself. The life of Rome came to Philippi because Philippi was a colony of Rome, and her colonists brought a new kind of life with them.
We don’t think about colonialism or colonies very often. We might see a TV show or documentary that addresses the great colonization efforts of various countries through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The colonization most of us are probably most familiar with is the colonist called “a roommate.” Anyone know what I’m talking about? Every roommate is a colonist. Especially if you share a bathroom and a kitchen, you begin to realize that they have brought strange, foreign customs to the shores of your house:
“No towels don’t go there.You put your seltzers right where the milk usually goes. We don’t just leave laundry in the dryer.”
Many of us had the experience of looking for a roommate at some point in our lives. Imagine you have a room to rent in your house and your looking for a roommate. Your friend Selena connects you with this guy—you talk with him on the phone, agreed on everything—he seems totally great. But then on the day he’s moving in you realize… my roommate is Mr Freeze. (How did this not come up in conversation? Note to self: add “Are you a supervillain?” to roommate application.) Victor is carrying in his futon and his tanks of liquid nitrogen. You’re making your dinner that night, glance down the hallway, and notice icicles have formed, and white steam is seeping out from under the door. All roommates are colonists, and this one obviously so. There is a completely different kind of world being lived right in the middle of your familiar world.
That’s what the Philippians were doing in the middle of Macedonia. They were colonists—living a completely different world—the Roman world—within the city walls of Philippi.
Paul is using a word that they—the Philippians—as colonists—are very familiar with, and he redirects it as a picture of following Jesus. He tells them to politeuesthe in a manner worthy… not of Rome… but of Jesus. Of Christ’s gospel (v27). He takes what the Philippians already know about being colonists—bringing a new world to foreign shores—and redirects it. Live as citizens… whose lives are axiōs—worthy—that line up with Jesus.
Near the end of chapter 3, he’ll bring this up again when he reminds them that their “citizenship is in heaven” (v20) and that we wait for Jesus to come from heaven to rescue and transform this world. It’s the same concept. Paul is telling the Philippians:
Christians are colonists of heaven on the shores of earth.
So Philippians, recognize that in the same way your Roman citizenship means that you bring a new world to the shores of Macedonia, Jesus has freely made you a citizen of heaven—a member of his family—and that means you bring the life of heaven to the shores of earth. In all you say, in all you do, in your habits, in your rhythms, in your routine, through small choices again and again and again—you are called to live as a different kind of people in this world. To be heaven-people. People of love. People that you can look at in the present (v28) and say: “I know this world is going to hell in hand basket—destroying itself—but those people are living like a sign of where all this is headed—they’re living in a way that will last.” We’re called to be the people who show the life of heaven—even before our King returns to bring heaven here.
So what does this “life of heaven” look like? Paul said it last week in verses 12-26: it looks like making ourselves small and serving others. That’s where the delight of True Life is found. We get humble and small. We become a servant. Paul said it back there and Paul is about to say it again:
Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself… (Philippians 2v3-7a)
There is news—says Paul—of the world’s true King. This news is good news. Heaven emptied itself to come to earth. God made himself small. God washed feet. God took up a cross; because apparently this is what God is like. God is not Zeus-like. God is not braggadocios. God is not angry or spiteful or out to prove anything. God is patient and God is kind and God does not envy, does not boast. God is not proud. God is humble. God is a servant. God is Christ-like.
That’s what the life of heaven is like. “Jesus is Lord”—that’s the good news—the euangellion—the gospel—that Paul is spreading all around and inviting people to live in. He tells them:
…live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel. (Philippians 1v27)
But this good news starts running into all kinds of opposition when you begin to believe it and practice living into it. A great deal of opposition comes from within us. My selfishness doesn’t die easily. My ambition—to be famous or celebrated—doesn’t want to give up. My desire to gratify myself instead of serve others. We could go on and on. And that’s just within us. We also discover that there is opposition around us—dark undercurrents in the world that like to crucify kindness. The Philippians are running into this opposition in some kind of form:
God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing. (Philippians 1v29-30)
People speculate what this opposition was. Some scholars think the Philippians are beginning to face opposition from civil authorities—local leaders and governments. (“We all know that “Caesar is Lord. It’s on our coins, it’s carved on walls and statues, everyone knows it. So you’ve got to stop with this Jesus-is-Lord-business… otherwise you’re going to bring down the wrath of Rome on us.)
And whether we’re living in the first century (driven by violent armies, power, sex, money, and corruption) or the twenty-first century (driven by violent armies, power, sex, money, and corruption) when we start following Jesus, we quickly realize that the world—both within us and around us—doesn’t want you to live the life of heaven. Darkness is always creeping in—actual opposition from the outside, and then selfishness from the inside. The life of humility—the life of serving—the life of Christ—isn’t even recognized as the good life. Even we—we who are trying to follow Jesus—have trouble remembering that humility and servanthood are the good life. It’s like we live in a world permeated with opposition to the life of heaven.
And this where the other word comes in handy: Sabotage.
Christians aren’t merely meant to be colonists of heaven… Christians are the saboteurs of darkness.
C.S. Lewis puts it this way:
“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” (Mere Christianity)
“A great campaign of sabotage.” That’s so good. The brokenness of the world needs to be broken. Sin needs to be sabotaged. Someone needs to throw a monkey-wrench in the schemes of hell… and we get to be a part of that.
Returning to our—rather absurd—example of Mr. Freeze for a moment, it’s a bit like having Mr. Freeze for a roommate—that’s the colonist part. But then it’s like having Mr Freeze as a roommate AND your house is in Death Valley with no air conditioning.
Suddenly our friend Victor Freeze (that’s his name) isn’t merely a colonist, creating a new world in the midst of your house. This colonist is simultaneously a saboteur. He’s actually working against conditions on the ground—sabotaging the heat and the hell of Death Valley in order to accomplish this new world. The new world created by his colony stands in stark contrast to the world around him. He has colonized the cold by sabotaging the heat.
This is call of Christians: We keep returning—again and again—to the good news of Jesus. We keep worshipping, keep dwelling on him, keep following him. It’s not always easy. Paul calls it a struggle—an agōna—in verse 30. (But he also calls this suffering a gift.)
But over the long haul—what happens is we find a new world being birthed and an old world being resisted. As we keep following Jesus we find heaven moving in like a colony and hell getting sabotaged in the process.
We find ourselves resisting moments where everyone else is talking about that person at work (and he’s just the worst; and did you hear what she did?). We find ourselves wanting to sabotage—to defuse—to stop—the gossip. Because we want to colonize the moment with something else… with love. (What would it look like to talk TO that person instead of ABOUT them? To begin to understand them and care about them instead acting like they’re just a prop in your story?)
Notice the order: colonizing love comes before sabotaging sin. Christians sabotage the darkness by colonizing with love. A lot of people think the primary thing about being a Christian is sabotaging sin. Many think of existence as if, there’s a bunch of bad stuff out there—and “being Christian” means not making sure I don’t say it or see it or think it or do it. And I make sure I ask God for forgiveness for when I do—inevitably—sin. It’s like focusing on the weeds and never looking at the lawn.
Yes—the human experience right now is permeated by darkness. But the point of being human is not simply to avoid brokenness but to live in wholeness. You can’t expect to beat the heat of Death Valley—to beat the brokenness—without something new moving in.
Sabotaging darkness is the byproduct of love colonizing. Darkness gets sabotaged only when something new—when love—replaces it. Gossip isn’t gone until words of goodness and affirmation habitually come to stay. Lust will never leave until vulnerability and honesty moves in to stay. Greed has to go—to be sure—but it needs something better in its place… generosity and giving. The hellish heat of death valley is terrible, but the only solution is a cold colonist. Likewise, the hellish hate in this world is terrible, but the only solution is love colonizing.
And here we’re getting at the heart of the gospel: we don’t need a roommate for the heat; we need a transplant for our heart. We need someone to move in and change us from the inside. To colonize us with love; to sabotage our darkness. And that’s the good news—it happens. God himself—in Jesus—the rightful king—has come into this world and continues to spread life. He’s in the process of gently colonizing me individually—and us collectively—with his love. He’s in the process of gently sabotaging my darkness, thwarting my worst impulses, for the sake of love.
We sang earlier that God is for us, not against us. That’s desperately good news. And it’s true. Someone here is struggling with that. But, hear this: God is more for us than we are for ourselves. And that means he’s frequently got to be against us in frustrating ways. He must sabotage our darkness so we can finally receive the good, real life of heaven.
Jesus sabotages us… not to make us less human, less fully ourselves. Rather, Jesus wants to make me more myself, more human. And Love is what I was made. So anything unLoving needs the monkey wrench. But make no mistake… even God’s sabotage is for you.
As we come to the table, may we all ache to be sabotaged and colonized. May we invite Jesus—the Great Colonist of Love—to come and infect our lives with True Life. May we welcome the Spirit—the Great Saboteur of Darkness—to thwart us where we need to be thwarted. May we ask the Father to show us the life of heaven and show us how we can spread that life into the world around us.