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Citizen Paul (2)

W Stevely, Ayr


Famously, of course, Paul was a Roman citizen. How that came about is not clear. Since he was born into this status it may suggest that his father or grandfather had been granted Roman citizenship for some service for the Emperor. By the time of the Acts the number of Roman citizens had grown greatly as the ways to obtain this dignity had been relaxed. In this, as in his other citizenships, Paul exemplified his exhortation to the Corinthians: "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called" and, "If thou mayest be made free, use it" (1 Cor 7.20-21).

His status enabled him to travel freely across the empire, to be protected from torture, scourging, crucifixion (though in exceptional cases this could be imposed) and from summary, arbitrary justice. He could, as he did, demand a hearing in Rome against his accusers. He made use of his privileges but he also recognised his responsibilities.

Like the Lord Jesus, he taught that one should "Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour" (Rom 13.7). The plain teaching of the New Testament is that we should be model citizens in so far as paying our taxes and giving due respect to the authorities is concerned. Haman's false accusation against the Jews was that "neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them" (Esth 3.8). He had prefaced that by stating that "their laws are diverse from all people". There was a germ of truth in that but shamefully distorted to cause maximum harm in the mind of Ahasuerus. We are not immune from similar slanders but should take care that no legitimate complaint of disobedience can be brought against us as in 1 Peter 4.14-16.

One might add that there is no suggestion that Paul questioned the way in which taxes might be spent. He simply acknowledged the right of the ruler to collect them. Rulers, as servants under God (whether they realise this or not) will be called to account for all their actions. It is in Romans that the apostle notes that the Lord has said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay" (12.19). Unjust rulers are to be left to the Lord to deal with.

Paul used his citizenship not only to gain space for him to continue with his work for the Lord but also to bring under some shelter his fellow believers who were at risk. This seems to be the point of his behaviour in Philippi. Having taken "many stripes" at the hands of the mob and violence from the magistrates and then having been used to bring salvation to the jailor, Paul demands that the same magistrates who had ordered him to be beaten come themselves to bring him and Silas out of the prison. The result was that "They feared when they heard that they were Romans" (Acts 16.38). The new believers and the infant assembly at Philippi would be given some degree of respect lest Paul bring an accusation against those who had broken the law. Perhaps that is why he can later testify that "no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only" (Phil 4.15). They had never forgotten his care for them.

However, Paul's allegiance to Rome did not stop him stating unequivocally that "Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil 2.11). It may seem straightforward to us but could readily be seen as seditious by emperors who claimed absolute authority. It was the issue brought before Pilate to help secure the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. Later emperors claimed divinity and demanded that incense be offered to them. Faced with this demand by Rome many a child of God chose not to comply and was martyred for their loyalty to Christ.


From Philippians 3 we learn that whatever advantages Paul might have gained from his citizenships on earth they were not to be compared with his link with heaven. They are but refuse. Indeed "all things" fall under the same condemnation compared with "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus".

Why does Paul speak like this? It is simply that he finds all too many "who mind earthly things". They are "enemies of the cross of Christ". Given the phrase that "many walk", they seem to have been professing Christians. We need to note that he speaks of them while "weeping" - weeping over the harm they cause, but also perhaps weeping that their end is "destruction". One should never talk lightly of the eternal doom of the sinner.

The emphasis in the passage is on manner of life. Says Paul, "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample". Underlying all his activity lay a yearning to be like Christ and to be with Christ. So he states that our citizenship is in heaven, "from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil 3.17,20).

Heaven, like Rome, had citizens with privileges and responsibilities. It still has. As citizens of heaven we are at present here on earth as "strangers and pilgrims" (1 Pet 2.11). As resident aliens here we must expect that we will be viewed with suspicion, sometimes with scorn. While we might serve rulers well like a Joseph, a Daniel or a Mordecai we may face, again like them, a prison, a lion's den or a gallows. The Lord Himself walked a path of rejection and suffering. And so the hymn writer reminds us that "If in thy path some thorns be found, then think who bore them on His brow".

As citizens we often carry passports that are intended to give safe passage through foreign territory. For those of us in the UK the wording is "Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty...to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance". That does not always happen, and the implication is that in such cases Her Majesty will note and deal with those who fail to honour the passport. Our Lord is careful for us his subjects. He has said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Mt 25.40). While the interpretation of this Scripture may principally refer to the future, the application is surely true. Similarly we can apply the word of Zechariah: "Thus saith the Lord of hosts…he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye" (2.8). When the apostle stood before the Roman authority, content to be a stranger, "the Lord stood with" him (2 Tim 4.17).

If as strangers we have "no fixed abode" here then, as pilgrims, the glad truth is that we are not wanderers but are on a journey. We have come through a "strait gate" and on to a narrow way that leads to life.

Paul was indeed a stranger and a pilgrim but he was also an ambassador (2 Cor 5.20). Being linked with heaven gave him a dignity and standing that might not have been recognised by those he worked among but was real nevertheless. And as an ambassador he carried heavy responsibility in representing heaven.

So our behaviour is to be determined by our knowledge of Christ. It is important that we bring credit to the place of our citizenship and to our Sovereign. Some citizens of "Her Britannic Majesty", one suspects, she would cheerfully disown! Let it not be so with us. While the "Sermon on the Mount" has at times been dismissed as only applying to the future Kingdom era, Scripture makes clear that we have been "translated into the kingdom of his dear Son" (Col 1.13). The standards that the king expects of those who belong to him are outlined in the Sermon. The outcome should be that we will let our "light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Mt 5.16).

It would be remiss not to note and enjoy the fact that, with Paul, those who have this citizenship are linked to heaven, "from whence also we look for the Saviour" (Phil 3.20). The certainty of the coming of the Lord and the day of reward was an inspiration to Paul. The trials he faced were a "light affliction, which is but for a moment" and for him it "worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor 4.17).

So we ought to make good use of the opportunities afforded by earthly citizenships. We should seek, with the help of the Lord, to meet our responsibilities as citizens of heaven. And we look with glad expectation for the Lord from Heaven.



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