COLONIES OF HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-21-65 8:15 a.m.
On KIXL radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Colonies of Heaven. It is a message built upon one half of a verse in the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Philippians 3:20. In the King James Version, it reads like this: “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” [Philippians 3:20-21], one of the most magnificent of all of the texts in the Bible; one of the great sentences in the Word of God.
But the message this morning is just the small introduction of that sentence, “For our politeuma is in heaven” [Philippians 3:20]. The Greek word for “to be a citizen,” is politeuō. The Greek word for “a citizen,” is politeia. Then, this word, politeuma, the Revised Version translates it, “For our citizenship is in heaven” [Philippians 3:20]. There are several translations who use the word “commonwealth.” “For our commonwealth is in heaven.”
But one of the older, modern translations, which would be kind of like a paraphrase, but has in it one of the most splendid, and scriptural, and spiritually true ideas that you could find in the Word of the Lord. For Philippi was a colony, a Roman colony. After a Caesar had won some tremendous victory, and seeking to reward his faithful troops who had loyally fought with him for, maybe, the strength of their lives, they were rewarded by being given a section of the empire, a part of it. And in that city, or in that part, or in that district given to these soldiers, they were, wherever placed, a little bit of Rome. They were Roman citizens. They were free from taxation, from outside government. They elected their own officers. They conducted their own political fortunes. And they were as proud as the people who lived in the Imperial City itself.
A colony was made up of Roman citizens—for the most part, soldiers and their families. And they were, wherever they were placed, they were a little bit of Rome itself. Now Luke says, in the Book of Acts, that Philippi was a Roman colony [Acts 16:12]. In writing to the church of the Philippians, the sense of what Paul said is beautifully expressed in that translation, that paraphrase, “For we are a colony from heaven” [Philippians 3:20].
In order that we might sense, realize, the sublime meaning, significance, of what Paul wrote there, may I describe the Roman world into which God placed His colonies from glory? There are five things that, to me, stand out above all others concerning the Roman world. It was built, as you know, around the Mediterranean Sea, and it encompassed all of the civilized world. And in that central sea of the whole earth, as they called it, the middle sea of the earth, the Mediterranean Sea, in that area, there were these five things that characterized it.
One: the Pax Romana. It was an event that has covered the pages of ancient history; the peace that the Roman legionnaire enforced upon the entire civilized world. They brooked no breach, and they mercilessly subdued every rebellion, and Rome held her provinces in an iron fist. It was the same kind of a peace as if Hitler had won the war and the whole civilized world was governed by a Pax Germana. So the Roman world was at peace, enforced by the strength of an impregnable Roman army. That’s the first thing you’d notice about that entire civilized world built on the Mediterranean Sea.
A second characterization: it was a world of chattel, human property. It was characterized by slavery. If I could call the Roman Empire any one thing above anything else, I would call it an engine of slavery. Whenever Rome subdued a rebellion, the army was followed by hordes of merchants dealing in human life. And the people, great cities, whole nations, were sold like chattel property. Out of a population of a hundred million people, sixty million of them were slaves. And a slave, in that ancient day, was the property of his master like a dog, or like an animal, treated as such, sold as such, bartered as such. It was a world of human slavery. Had you walked down the streets of Athens with Paul, in the streets of Rome, in the streets of Antioch or Ephesus, three men out of every five you would have met were bondservants, slaves.
A third characterization: you could not help but notice the religion and the morality of the people. For the gods they worshipped were worse than the people themselves. They worshipped Bacchus with a Bacchanalia; Saturn with a Saturnalia; Liber with a Libernalia, and they were nothing but gross, sensual, sexual orgies all in the name of religion. The highest expression of religion was to share it with a temple prostitute. You don’t translate, out of those dead languages, the descriptions of the religious life, the religious life of the people. It lies buried there in those dead and unspeakably shameful works.
Another characterization of that Roman Empire: it was one of the exposing of children. I picked that out because it is so hard for me to realize that in a world taught by Greek teachers—they were slaves—but being slaves, they were hired to teach the children. And the great emperors and the great leaders of thought in the Roman Empire were, without fail, taught by slave Greek teachers. Yet in that day of Roman jurisprudence, and Greek philosophy, and marvelous poetry, and sculpture, and art, and literature, to me, one of the grossest characterizations of the Roman Empire was the exposing of children.
Any child born in any family could live or die according to the discretion of the father. And if he didn’t want it, if he didn’t want it, it was the common practice to expose the child. By exposing the child, the Latin historian means the little baby was taken out into the wilderness, on the sides of a mountain, on the sides of a highway, and left there to die of exposure and a vulture eat it. To be eaten up by a wild animal, a wolf, or a jackal, or worse still—and this was common over the empire—worse still, the child to be picked up by greedy and merciless hands, and every bone in its body broken, and crippled, and distorted indescribably, and then, reared up to be set on a street corner that the terrible, misshapen thing, exciting pity from some hard heart, might be for alms. That’s the Roman Empire.
And the last characterization that impresses me as I read the history of the people: it was characterized by brutalized lusts. As many of you have, I have stood several times in the Roman Coliseum. For one thing, it interests me because it was built by the slaves that Titus took in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. And as I stand in the Roman Coliseum, there are two emblems of the Roman Empire that speak volumes to me. One is: the Coliseum itself. The gladiator: the tier upon tier upon tier of spectators who cried for the blood of men who fought with animals and fought with one another: the gladiatorial combat and the bloodthirsty throngs that cheered and cried for blood.
The other is: as you know, right there is a tremendous, rugged, rough cross. That was an invention of the Roman to put the fear of man in the heart of the slave. And the slave who dared disobey his master or seek freedom or outlet, if he was apprehended, it meant death on a Roman cross, the cruelest execution that man has ever devised.
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They pressed upon His brow a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
[from “Indifference,” G. A. Studdert-Kennedy]
The civilized world of the Roman Empire.
And into that world, God placed His colonies of heaven. They began to dot the shoreline all around Judea, and Syria, and the provinces of Asia, and Macedonia, and Achaea. And others brought the good news to Alexandria in Egypt, and to the provinces in North Africa, to Spain, and to Gaul, and even to Italy and the Imperial City itself. Little dots, little communities, little commonwealths, little states, little colonies, of love, and mercy, and blessing, and grace, and glory. They were so wonderfully and significantly different from anything the world had ever seen, these little colonies of heaven that began to dot the outline of the civilized world.
For one thing, they were so different in the God that they worshipped. How different from Jupiter, Jove, Neptune, Adonis, Artemis, Aphrodite, Diana! How very different! For they worshipped one Lord Jesus, and they adored Him as God and Master. In His life, a blessing, as one of their number said, “going about doing good” [Acts 10:38]. And in His death, a Savior, “This is My blood, shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. And in His resurrection, a living presence, “For where two or three are gathered together … there am I in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20], their Lord and their God. How marvelously different!
And the message they preached, the evangel they brought, the good news they proclaimed, what a marvelous thing to hear: cleansing for sin, the burdened heart, the guilty soul, in despair, in distress:
Here is life and light.
Here is the gospel of beginning again.
Here’s a new day and a new way.
Here’s a fountain for the cleansing of sin.
“For if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin” [1 John 1:7]. It was a gospel of cleansing, of beginning again, of forgiveness, of grace and mercy.
It was a message filled with reverence for human life and human personality. The child, the child, the child was looked upon as a gift from heaven [Psalm 127:3], and the parents were admonished to rear up the child in the love and nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. Responsible. Expose the child? Feed him to a vulture or a wild animal? To these little colonies the thought was unthinkable, much less doable.
The slave: “To you, Philemon,” wrote one of their number, “to you, Philemon, I send Onesimus, your runaway slave.” “To you, Philemon”—the master—“I send Onesimus, receive him as you would myself to whom you owe your very life. Not as a slave, but as a brother beloved” [Philemon 10-16]. Reverence for human personality; what an astonishing, what an amazing community! The child, the slave, the sinner. And their fellowship, their koinōnia, their love and deference for one another: “If I,” said their Lord, “if I have washed your feet; you ought to wash one another’s feet [John 13:14]… for this is the new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another [John 13:34] … By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye love one another” [John 13: 35].
And their solicitude for the world: they faced a world of darkness, and of savagery, and of barbarism, and of hatred, and of persecution, and of death. They faced that world with an abounding and victorious love and gospel appeal. “For God,” they said, “is in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them”—however vile and dark they are—“and hath committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation”—namely, this is it—namely “as ambassadors for Christ … and in His stead we plead, be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:19-20]. Oh! No wonder they made an impression upon the civilized world that changed the course of human history, these colonies of heaven [Philippians 3:20].
I have often thought there is no more impressive picture, painting, that I’ve ever seen than the painting of the Christians fed to the lions in that Roman Coliseum. You have seen it. The great throngs up, and up, and up, and up, and up, thousands and thousands of them, and in the center of the arena, this band of Christians. And the gates to the wild cages holding those ravenous, and hungry, and famished animals are being lifted. And the lions are just standing, poised to strike, and to kill, and to drink blood and eat human flesh. And in the center, the little flock of God’s people, kneeling on the sand in prayer, and their aged pastor standing with his face uplifted to heaven in prayer and supplication. When you see that picture, do you wonder what all those thousands of people thought? It was a new spectacle. It was a new scene. It was a new era. It was a new day. It was a new creation. It was a new gospel. It was a new God; colonies of heaven.
And may I come to our own hour, and our own day? One: all that separates us, all that separates us from the savagery and the barbarism of that ancient hour is the churches of God, of Jesus Christ, in the earth today. We battle a floodtide of atheism, of blasphemy, of destruction, of wanton disregard for human life and human personality. The same fierce, tyrannical thrust that conquered that ancient world, we face today in this hour. Oh, how much we owe to these congregations of the Lord!
In a new way, every member of the fellowship ought to sing:
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God,
Her walls before Thee stand
Dear is the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend:
To her my toil and cares be given,
Till toils and cares shall end.
[From “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” Timothy Dwight]
Colonies of heaven, the churches of Jesus Christ [Philippians 3:20].
Again: and how, O God, and how my heart, in praise and adoration, in affection and love, ought to flow toward our Savior, my Lord in heaven!
My soul is so happy in Jesus,
For He is so precious to me:
His voice, it is music to hear it,
His face, it is heaven to see.
His love and His mercy surround me,
His grace like a river doth flow;
And His presence, to love and to comfort,
Is with me wherever I go.
And the chorus:
I am happy in Him,
My soul with delight
Does He fill day and night,
For I am happy in Him.
[From “I Am Happy in Him,” Edwin O. Excell]
And how we ought to exhibit to the world a marvelous deference and reverential respect and love for one another, for one another; the fellowship, the koinōnia.
And last: how every church, and especially ours, ought to be filled with solicitude for the evangelization of the lost, our message to the whole world. City of Dallas, there is something God says to thee. State of Texas, America, there is something God would say to thee. “Listen, O earth! Give ear, ye isles of the sea, for God hath spoken!” [Isaiah 49:1]. And this is our evangel, our message from God, the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
Stir me, oh! stir me Lord—I care not how,
But stir my heart in passion for the world;
Stir me to give, to go, but most of all to pray,
Stir, ‘til Thy blood-red banner be unfurled
O’er lands that still in deepest darkness lie,
O’er homes where no cross is lifted high.
Stir me, oh! stir me, Lord, Thy heart was stirred
By love’s intensest fire, till Thou did’st give
Thine only son, Thy best-beloved One,
Even to the dreadful cross, that I might live;
Stir me to give myself so back to Thee,
That Thou can’st give Thyself again thro’ me.
[From “Stir Me”; Bessie Porter Head]
God, grant it. God, bless us. God, pour out upon us today that power of love, and intercession, and prayer, and mercy that made these little colonies of heaven in the days of the Roman Empire [Philippians 3:20].
While we sing our song of appeal, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]. Somebody you, coming into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], a family, or one you, while we make this appeal, come and stand by me here at the front. “Pastor, today, I’ve given my heart to Jesus” [Ephesians 2:8] Or, “Pastor, today we place our lives in love, in compassion, in fellowship, in ministry and service, with these dear and precious people” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. As God shall say the word and open the door, make it now; make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.
– “to be a citizen”
– “a citizen”
C. Politeuma –
sometimes translated “citizenship”, sometimes “commonwealth”, or paraphrased “a
was a Roman colony
II. The Roman world
world of peace – the PaxRomana
world of slavery
Out of population of 100 million, at least 60 million were slaves
world of debauched and degraded religion
gods were worse than the people who served them
for human life
The exposure of children
The crippling of children to be used for beggars
Brutalized lusts of the people
symbols that speak of the blood thirst of those ancient people
i. Poem, “When Jesus
Came to Our Town”
III. The Christian colony, community,
great Teacher and Master they worshiped as Lord and God
His life was an unspeakable blessing(Acts 10:38)
In His death was an atonement for sins(Matthew
In His resurrection we have a living presence (Matthew
gospel they preached(Philippians 1:21, 2 Timothy
reverence they had for human life
Children to be loved and reared in love and nurture of the Lord
The slave a brother beloved(Philemon 12-16)
The stranger, foreigner to be loved, entertained(Hebrews
Christian love and fellowship – the koinonia(John
13:14, 34-35, Ephesians 4:32)
solicitude for the world(2 Corinthians 5:19-21)
impact upon the world
of Christians being fed to lions in coliseum
IV. Our colonies of heaven today
Beginning to see dawning of another age of savagery
Between us and that pall of despair and defeat stand the churches of Jesus
The devotion that ought to arise in every heart
Watts’, “I Love Thy Kingdom”
Edwin O. Excell’s, “My Soul is so Happy in Jesus”
dear the word of comfort and encouragement (2
Our passion for the world
A. Head’s, “Stir Me, O Stir Me Lord, I Care Not How”