Why every cop should read Paul's letter to the Philippians
Updated: Mar 19, 2019
Paul, with the help of Timothy, writes the Letter to the Philippians while in prison. Now, don’t think of prison in modern terms. The ancient world prison was where you were sent, not as punishment for being convicted of a crime, but as a place to be confined until the local Roman magistrate felt like hearing your case.
Depending on your status in life, or lack thereof, you could languish in prison until you died. You see, while in prison awaiting trial you had to count on family and friends to bring you food, clothing, and medical help when needed. No friends or family or financial means? You starved to death or died of illness or disease.
So Paul is in prison and has no idea his fate. Yet he writes about joy and rejoicing. In fact, he uses the words “joy” or “rejoice” 16-20 times in a letter that is only 4 chapters long. The other word he uses repeatedly? Christos, or Christ. Why is this important? Why keep repeating, almost flaunting, the name Christos? Who were the Philippians and why beat them over the head with the words Christos, joy and
At the time of Paul, Philippi was a Roman colony along the Via Egnatia. Philippi was originally founded by Alexander the Great and named after his father, King Philip II. The via Egnatia was the main road from Constantinople, Turkey to Rome, constructed some 200 years before the time of Christ. Philippi is almost dead halfway between the two. Thus, it was the gateway city from Asia Minor to Europe. In 42 BC, Octavian (later known as Caesar Augustus) and Marc Antony defeated Brutus and Cassius and Philippi became a Roman Colony – for retired Roman Soldiers!
Philippi is inhabited by the elite Roman Guard, the toughest of the tough, the hard core-bad to the bone might of the Roman Empire. These were the enforcers and protectors of Rome that survived 20 years of marches, battles and occupations. These guys were Warriors, Servants and Leaders of their time.
The reward for their service to Caesar? They were given FREE land and slaves, Roman citizenship, a cut of a future booty active duty soldiers confiscated in the name of Caesar (think pension check) AND they were exempt form ALL land and animal taxes levied by Rome throughout the Roman Empire.
These guys and their families were LOYAL to Caesar! They were HAPPY and JOYFUL! They were REJOICING in having made it to retirement and all of its benefits. And by the way, by this time Caesar had declared himself a god – and took the title Christos! He had likened himself to the god-man Achilles.
So, Paul comes to Philippi and dares to TELL them that there is only one Christos? Christos Jesus! Now that takes some stones. Read Acts, of the Apostles, Chapter 16 to learn of the consequences Paul faced for preaching this message in Philippi. Give you a hint – he is thrown in jail and beat with rods. Paul converts many of the Gentile Romans – starting with the Roman jailer and his family, and even some of the small Jewish community, and established a Church of believers in Philippi.
So it is in this context that Paul writes, and we must read with understanding, the Letter to the Philippians. Paul is repeating and reinforcing there is only one Christos, Christos Jesus. Remembering, Christos to the Romans was a t title
reserved to Caesar and Caesar alone. Not only does Paul say it once, but 7 times – just in the first 11 sentences of his letter.
Paul uses other military imagery the converts of Philippi can relate to. In Phil. 1:27-30, Paul uses Phalanx language/imagery. The Phalanx was the Roman military formation of soldiers with their shields and spears. You know, the one where the front line of soldiers had their shields in front of the them – think the number one SWAT guy in the stack with the ballistic shield to protect himself and those officers behind him. And the rest of the soldiers would raise their shields over their heads, so no arrow could strike them from the front or overhead.
The soldiers learned to move in perfect unison – even though they could not see beyond the person in front or next to them. They practiced, drilled, over and over. They could march, double time, forwards, backwards and even side to side – all as one cohesive, fluid body. They were invincible! They had no fear of losing!
Paul uses this imagery, this disciplined mindset, when he encourages the believers of Philippi in “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.” Paul is telling them to use the tactics they knew as soldiers that would ensure success to conquer on behalf of Caesar and apply it to their battle to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So what does that look like?
In chapter 2, Paul continues with the Phalanx imagery and tells the believers of Philippi: “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Phil 2:1-5 In other words – put on the mind of Christ and imitate His humility. What did Christ’s humility look like?
Well that is answered in verses 6-11. And remember, Paul is talking to retired Roman soldiers who owed everything they were enjoying in retirement to Caesar. Also, read this passage more as a hymn (Old Testament style) than simply literary prose (simple sentences in paragraph form continuing from verse 5):
"Who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is is above every name,
so at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Now this is some powerful language and message. Paul is telling them that not at Caesars name, but at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend and tongue confess that Jesus Christ (Christos) is Lord. And not Lord for himself, but to the glory of God the Father – the One true GOD. And that humility and obedience of this kind WILL cost you your life – but the reward is much greater than the suffering.
In chapter 3, Paul goes on to encourage the believers of Philippi. He uses the “count as loss” language. Remember, these converts had everything a Roman citizen could dream of – and it was free, after surviving a career in the Roman Legion. And they risked it all to convert to be followers of Jesus Christ. So Paul connects with them on a level they can appreciate. He shares what he counts as loss. He was born a Jew AND Roman citizen; he was an educated man and legal scholar – a Pharisee and Rabbi; a zealot of the Jewish faith – he had been given legal permission to persecute the early Church. Paul had STATUS. Yet, he says he counts this all as loss compared to life in Christ “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Phil 3:10-11He is repeating the message of 1:21, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”
Finally, in Chapter 4:4-7, Paul exhorts the believers, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace and of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Now, Paul is saying this from PRISON! He is telling them, if I can have this complete dependence on God in prison, surely you can have it on the outside. He follows this with the oft quoted verse, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
As cops, while we don’t have the pension of a Roman soldier, we certainly can relate to the battles faced as warriors. We can certainly relate to being part of a profession that is perceived as Us versus Them – not unlike the Roman soldiers who were both feared and despised. We can also relate to the feeling of relief, or at least I can, of having survived and reaching retirement. We are not unlike the Philippians of Paul’s time. This Letter spoke volumes to me as I studied it more deeply. But it isn’t just for us old retirees.
As Christian Police Officers we are called to put on the mind of Christ – the mind of selfless love and obedience. Though we know we may pay the ultimate price in protecting and serving our communities, we still try to do everything to go home at the end of our shift. Christ knowingly and willingly died on the Cross – a horrific and most humiliating death – to protect and save us from eternal death to serve and gain for us eternal life.
We are called to rejoice always and to “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” 4:5 When we are vilified and beat down in the media and by politicians and so called “Reverends”. When we are spit on, cursed at, and attacked doing our jobs. It’s not about us. It is not us versus them. It is all about them – both professionally as cops and as believers in Jesus Christ. That’s a tough message to swallow.
The greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God; with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” MT 22:37 “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” MT 22:39 This means on and off the job.
Want to know what a real Christian Warrior, Servant and Leader looks like? Read the Letter to the Philippians.
May God bless you and keep you safe.