Study 10 SAINTS IN STRANGE PLACES
(Scripture Portion: Philippians 4: 19-23)
This study is based upon Philippians 4:21-22, in which the apostle Paul adds a postscript to his letter. In this P.S., the saints at Rome (and in particular the slaves in Nero’s household) send their greetings to the saints at Philippi. Who were these Roman saints? They were Christians, believers, disciples of Christ. Every true believer is a saint, so far as his or her standing before God is concerned. Verse 21 gives us a clue as to what a saint is: a saint is one who is “in Christ Jesus”. Very often this word is used only in reference to those who have departed this life. In the official sense in which the word is used, no one is given the rank until he is dead; but to reserve the name for those canonised by the Church, or for those called to asceticism and solitude, has absolutely no warrant from the New Testament. Paul addressed a number of his letters to the saints in Rome (Romans 1:7); in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1); and in Philippi (Philippians 1:1). These saints were the children of God (John 1:12) who had been born again of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) and redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
But just think of it – saints in Caesar’s household! How striking this statement is! In a number of scriptures we read of saints in wrong places, but there was certainly nothing wrong for these saints to be in Nero’s palace. It was strange indeed for them to be there, but wonderfully strange! This, surely, is perhaps the most unlikely place you would expect to find saints. Historians tell us that the Roman civilisation of 2000 years ago was characterised by heartless cruelty and indescribable corruption. Rome was a veritable cesspool of iniquity. The horror and degradation which abounded have rarely been equalled, and probably never exceeded, in the history of mankind. Nero was “a wholesale robber, a murderer, a matricide, a liar, a coward, a drunkard, a glutton, incestuous and so utterly depraved that even the pagans of his day spoke of him as a ‘mixture of blood and mud’! He usurped a throne, he poisoned his legitimate heir whose sister he married, only to break her heart by his brutality, and then he ordered her assassination. He murdered his own mother and kicked to death his second wife. He ordered the death of the brilliant philosopher who had striven in vain to guide his wayward heart. He reduced his capital to ashes and tortured the Christians to death by hundreds in martyrdom. Before he was 30 years old, this hideous monster of corruption was stained through and through with every possible crime and form of cruelty and degradation.”
What an atmosphere in which to live for Christ! – and these saints, whose greetings Paul sent to the Christians at Philippi, were slaves of this Nero. From all this, consider the following deductions and learn the following lessons.
1. GOD CAN MAKE SAINTS OUT OF THE MOST UNLIKELY MATERIAL
These slaves were truly under-privileged people – uneducated, illiterate, down-trodden and living in a corrupted society; yet the grace of God triumphed in their lives. They were transformed from sinners into saints; like the man in the tombs (Mark 5:1-20), and like countless other derelicts who have been salvaged by the power of God. Yes, God can mend broken lives, and He delights to take the weak and the despised, the slaves in a pagan state, and constitute them as His sons – look up 1 Corinthians 1:27-29. Thank God, the gospel can save the worst – as someone has said, “from the guttermost to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25).
2. GOD HAS HIS WITNESSES EVERYWHERE
Even in Nero’s household! If you have travelled at all you will have discovered that in every walk of life there are those who are faithful to the Lord – people of rank and distinction and humble, ordinary, unheard-of folk. Today, God has His Josephs (Genesis 39:1-6); His Nehemiahs (Nehemiah 1:11); and His Daniels (Daniel 1:1-21). What a privilege it is to be His witness!
3. IT IS POSSIBLE TO WITNESS FOR THE LORD ANYWHERE
Yes, even in the most unlikely places! There are, of course, some places where a Christian should not be; some commodities which he should not sell; some associations which he should not keep – look up 2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1. But wherever God has placed us, just there it is possible, by His grace, to live and to witness for Him. Whether in palace or in prison, in professional or commercial life, in business or in the home, it is possible to be a true witness for the Lord there.
4. GOD WANTS YOU TO BE HIS WITNESS SOMEWHERE
Perhaps He wants you in the Emperor’s palace, in the office or at home? Maybe He wants you in Africa, India or South America? At this moment you are to be His witness just where He has placed you, and if you think it is hard to witness for Him just there, remember the saints in Caesar’s household. Do not be disturbed and upset by the unbelieving world; you, as one of His saints, should be a disturbance to the world and to the Devil. Are you a live witness just where the Lord has placed you? – look up Acts 1:8.
5. THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN MUCH, AND SAVED FROM MUCH, FREQUENTLY PROVE TO BE THE MOST ZEALOUS SAINTS AND RADIANT WITNESSES
Paul says that of the saints in Rome it was “especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” who sent their greetings to the Christians in Philippi. This surely indicates that those poor slaves felt a deeper sense of gratitude to God, and of zeal and of love to their brothers and sisters in Christ, than those who were more privileged in their environment and circumstances. Now read Luke 7:36-50, and especially note verses 44-47, and in particular verse 47. When we consider all that the Lord has done for us and is to us, should we not be filled with a deep love for Him and for His glory?