COLONIES OF HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. CRISWELL
2-21-65 10:50 a.m.
On television and on radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Colonies of Heaven. For some time we have been in a series of messages on the church, and after this series is completed we shall enter a long series of sermons on the Holy Spirit: the gifts of the Spirit, the presence and power, the endowment, the enduement, the clothing of the Holy Spirit, the baptizing of the Holy Spirit, the regenerating power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It will be a far longer series than I thought for when I began the study last fall. Many people, even among you this morning, are praying that God will give the pastor wisdom from heaven as he studies and as he prepares these messages on the moving, living Spirit of God. The sermon this morning is especially meaningful to me, both because of its superlative and celestial truth and because of its meaning and significance to us in this present hour.
In the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and the twentieth verse is the text, and the message is built upon the first part of this twentieth verse. The entire sentence is one of the most meaningful and preciously comforting in all the Word of God. “For,” and I read out of the King James Version:
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.
And the text, “For our politeuma is in heaven” [Philippians 3:20]. The Greek word for “to be a citizen” is politeuō—our word, politics, political; politeuō––to be a citizen of the state. The Greek word for “a citizen” is politeia, and this is a Greek word; the only place, instance it is used in the New Testament––politeuma; “For our politeuma is in heaven.” Sometimes in a revised version it will be translated, “For our citizenship is in heaven.” Sometimes it is translated commonwealth. “For our commonwealth is in heaven.” And in one of the older and more famous of the modern translations, the translator paraphrased the word, and he did so appropriately because Philippi was a Roman colony. And he paraphrased the word like this, “For we are a colony of heaven.”
A Roman colony was a little bit of Rome established somewhere in the far-flung provinces of the empire. Usually the colony was given as a reward to Roman legionnaires who had fought faithfully and well under some Caesar. And in deference to the loyalty of his troops, the conquering emperor would take a portion of some province and endow his soldiers with the gift of it. They were free from taxes. They were free from governmental interference. They ran their own affairs, and they lived in pattern exactly after the imperial city of Rome. They were called Roman colonies, and Philippi was one. It is called such by Doctor Luke in the Book of Acts, and in writing to the church in the Roman colony at Philippi, a little bit of Rome in Macedonia, in writing to Philippi, the Roman colony, Paul says, “For we,” who belong to the church of the Lord, “for we are a colony of heaven” [Philippians 3:20]. Our politeuma, our commonwealth, our empire, our capital, our citizenship is in glory, but here in this terrestrial earth, we are a colony of heaven. And that we might enter into the full meaning of what Paul has said, may I describe the best I can, may I describe my impression of the Roman Empire as I read its story in history and in ancient literature? There are five things that impress me as being preeminently characteristic of the Roman Empire. Built around the Mediterranean Sea, the central sea of the earth they call it, the Mediterranean Sea—it encompassed the entire civilized world. And these five things are so flagrant as characterizing that ancient, worldwide dominion.
First: it was a world of peace. They called it the Pax Romana, but it wasn’t like a peace as we love and know it in America. The Pax Romana was an enforced peace. It was a peace held in the grip of a tyrant. It was the same kind of a peace as if Hitler had won the war and all the civilized world were in a “Pax Germana.” And Rome ruthlessly and mercilessly enforced that quiescence from armed conflict and rebellion. Wherever in the provinces, wherever in the world one dared to stand up to challenge the rule of Rome, the fierce legionnaire was there with his sword and with his shield, and without regard for human life, quelled and quenched such rebellion in human blood. It was a world of peace, the kind of a peace enforced by an imperial Caesar.
My second impression of the Roman Empire: it was a world of slavery, chattel property, men sold and bought, treated, looked upon like dogs, like animals. Out of a population of a hundred million, at least sixty million of them were bondservants, slaves. Had you walked down the streets of Athens, or of Ephesus, or of Antioch, or of Rome, or of Corinth with Paul, three men out of every five you met would have been slaves—and a slavery in a degradation that to us is unthinkable and impossible.
A third impression of the Roman Empire that I have: it was a world of debauched and degraded religion. The temples to their gods were on every high place and in every grove of trees, but the gods were worse than the people who served them. They worshipped Bacchus in a Bacchanalia, they worshipped Saturn in a Saturnalia, they worshipped Liber in a Libernalia, and those “alia’s” were as vile and unspeakable as human soul could imagine. The temple prostitute was the attendant, and the concomitant, and the corollary of every act of worship. We don’t translate—out of the literature of that ancient world––the filth, and the darkness, and the sin, and the immorality by which, in the name of religion, they worshipped their gods. It lies buried, as it ought to be buried, in the dead languages of an unspeakably filthy and vile literature.
A fourth impression I have of the Roman Empire, that ancient civilized world: their irreverence for human life and human personality. From one side of the world to the other, it was the privilege of the father in the house to say whether or not a child was wanted and whether or not it would live, and the exposing of children was civilization-wide in that Roman world. When a child was born, if a father did not want it, they—what they called, they “exposed it.” They would take the infant, place it on the side of a mountain or out in the wilderness where a wolf or a jackal would devour it, or where, under the fierce heat of the sun, a vulture would eat it. Or worse still, they would place the child on the side of a road where a grievous, and greedy, and vulturous family would seize it, and break all its bones, and raise it up a misshapen thing, that it might excite pity in asking alms on somebody’s street. That was universal in the Roman Empire.
And a fifth thing that impresses me as I read the story of that ancient civilization: the brutalized lusts of the people. As many of you, I have stood in the Roman Coliseum; a vast interest if for no other reason than the fact it was built by the slaves from Judea and Jerusalem that Titus captured when he destroyed the nation of Israel. And standing in that Coliseum, there are two symbols there that speak so eloquently of the blood thirst of those ancient people. One is the arena itself.
Ignatius, pastor of the church at Antioch, some little while after 70 AD, Ignatius is supposed to have been the first Christian martyred by the beasts in that arena. And in that horrible and unspeakable agony, gladiator fought gladiator, and men fought men, and beasts fought men. And the thousands cheered in that circular arena, looked down and cried for blood and shouted when they saw the sand crimsoned with human life: one symbol of the Roman Empire.
The other symbol, as you stand and look to your left, is an enormous and rugged cross. The most cruel instrument of execution and torment that mind has ever devised is a cross, and it was invented by the Romans in order to keep intact and subdued those millions and millions and millions of slaves; cruel, an instrument, an instrument of bitterness and of suppression and of cruelty, the cross.
When Jesus came to Golgotha
They hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet,
And made a Calvary.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns.
Red were His wounds, and deep,
While those were crude and cruel days
And human flesh was cheap.
[“When Jesus Came to Our Town,” G. A. Studdert-Kennedy]
This is the Roman Empire in the day of the Caesars.
And in those dark days, when religion was more debauched than the people, and when the people were more bloodthirsty than the Caesars, and when the Caesars held the whole civilized world in an iron grip, in those days, in those days, God brought to pass the most marvelously meaningful miracle of creation that the hand and heart of God had ever devised! For around that civilized Roman world, the Lord began to plant colonies of love, and mercy, and forgiveness, and fellowship, and brotherhood. And Paul called them “colonies of heaven” [Philippians 3:20]. In Judea, then in Samaria, then in the provinces of Asia, then in Macedonia and Achaea, and around through Egypt and Alexandria and the provinces of North Africa, in far away Taurus, Spain, and in Gaul, yea, and in the imperial city itself, they of Italy salute you. They of Caesar’s household salute you, colonies of heaven.
They were communities. They were commonwealths. They were brotherhoods like unto which the world had never seen before, so strangely, so utterly, so absolutely different from what history had ever described or man had ever created. So unusual, the God they worshipped; the only gods they had ever known were named Neptune, or Venus, or Adonis, or Aphrodite, or Artemus, or Astarte, or Jove. But this God, worshipped by those people as Lord and Master and Teacher, in His life was an unspeakable blessing––caring for the poor, healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, preaching the gospel of the good news of the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 11:5]—in His life an unspeakable blessing, in His death an atonement for sins [Matthew 27:32-50; Romans 5:11]. “This is My blood,” He said, “of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. And in His resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7], a living presence: “For wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]. What an unusual, what a different, what an amazingly separated kind of a God; One like the world had never known.
And the evangel itself; the gospel they preached; the message they bore; the glad tidings they declared from glory; what an amazing, what an amazing, what a different thing––these brotherhoods, these colonies of heaven scattered around the Mediterranean Sea [Philippians 3:20]. They preached the gospel of forgiveness, of cleansing for sin. They preached the gospel of a land of beginning again. They preached the message of hope, and of light, and of immortality, and of glory, and of victory! What an amazing direction, for all the pagan world knew was suicide. The end of life, the end of disappointment, the end of despair, the end of age, the end of everything to the ancient was suicide!
Seneca, greatest exponent of the philosophy of Stoicism and the teacher of the Roman Caesars, Seneca, in keeping with his exalted Greek philosophy, committed suicide. The Caesar that he taught committed suicide, for in the philosophy of men there’s not any door, there’s not any hope, there’s not any betterment, there’s not any way, there’s not any light, there’s nothing left but to die. That was the Roman world in his teaching.
And these, these came––and oh, what a message! “For of me to live is Christ,” did they say, “and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21]. “Yea,” said one of them:
the time of my departure is at hand…
and there remaineth for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them who love His appearing.
[2 Timothy 4:6, 8]
What an amazing evangel! Whether we live or whether we die, whether we are young or whether we are old, whether we are slave or whether we are free, we are the Lord’s, and God is our victory forever. What an amazing evangel!
And the reverence they had for human life and human personality; the child was to be loved, reared in the love and nurture of the Lord as unto God, a little child. And a slave, and a slave born to be crucified, and a slave, why, one of their number wrote to a master in Colosse named Philemon, and said to him:
Philemon, Master Philemon, I am sending back to you your runaway slave. I found him in Rome, I led him to Jesus. I am sending him back to you Philemon, and now receive him as you would me, to whom you owe your very life. Receive him as you would me; no longer a slave, but a brother beloved, a brother beloved.
Well, the world never heard such doctrine, the evangel they preached.
And the stranger, to be taken advantage of, to be robbed, to be slain, to be mistreated; one of them wrote, “Be careful to entertain strangers: for some have thereby entertained angels unawares” [Hebrews 13:2]. And the fellowship among themselves, the brotherhood, the koinōnia, the community [Philippians 3:20]; their Lord said, “If I, your Master, have washed your feet; ye ought to wash one another’s feet” [John 13:14]. “For I give you a new commandment, That ye love one another; even as I have loved you. Herein shall all men know ye are My disciples, if you love one another” [John 13:34- 35]. And one of them wrote to me, the most beautiful sentence in the world, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” [Ephesians 4:32]. The fellowship, bound together with a love from God, from heaven, in honor, in deference, preferring one another [Romans 12:10]. The world never heard such.
It was a new gospel. It was a new message, and the solicitude they had for the world was unlike anything civilization, culture, philosophy, literature had ever described, for the world in which they were placed was vicious and vile and wicked. And they were slain, they were sawn asunder, and they were poured in boiling caldrons of oil, and they were crucified, and they were fed to lions, and they were burned at the stake! And while they died, they looked at their tormentors and yet spake to their executors:
God is in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing your trespasses unto you; and have committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation…
We pray you in God’s stead, as though God spake by us, be ye reconciled unto God.
[2 Corinthians 5: 19-20]
Not curse for curse, or tooth for tooth, or claw for claw, or bitterness for bitterness, or hatred for hatred, but an evangel. “My brother who lights the torch, that sets the flame that burns my body, my brother, God died for you and in Christ speaks words of reconciliation and forgiveness.” Oh, you can’t imagine such, you can’t imagine such. And the impact they had on the civilized world, no wonder, no wonder, in comparatively a few centuries, they won the whole civilized earth to the faith of Jesus Christ!
Haven’t you seen that picture, a very famous one and all-reproduced, of the Christians fed to the lions in that Coliseum? And the thousands and the thousands—tier upon tier, rung upon rung—and the thousands of spectators looking on, and there in the sand, that little band, that little flock of Jesus, and to the side the great iron grates being raised, and those hungry and ravenous lions loosed to destroy and to satiate themselves in Christian blood! And the little flock all on their knees together; the child, the family, all on their knees in prayer, and in the midst, the aged pastor standing with his face raised to glory, in prayer and intercession.
When you look at that picture, do you ever wonder what those people thought who looked down upon them? They had come that their brutal hearts might be satiated with the crimson of human blood! And to see men die in commitment, and in prayer, and intercession to God, they changed the world. They outlived it. They out-loved it. They out-died it.
And now may I speak of God’s colonies of heaven today, the churches of the fellowship of Jesus Christ? You are beginning to see the dawning of another age of savagery. As soon as they think they can triumph, whenever they are persuaded they can win, that day the attack will be made. And the march of that slavery is as vile, and as atheistic, and as debauched, and as dark as any that the Roman world ever saw or ever knew! And between us and that pall of despair and defeat stands the churches of Jesus Christ: God’s colonies of heaven [Philippians 3:20].
Oh, the devotion that ought to arise in every heart for what the fellowship of the congregation of the Lord means to us, as a people, as a nation.
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] as 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.
[“I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” Isaac Watts]
The community, the koinōnia, the fellowship of God’s children in the earth; and ah, the overflowing, abounding love by which we ought to adore and to worship our precious and living Lord [John 8:42]––not dead, not on some crucifix, not a faith and a religion that is buried beneath the sands of the centuries, to be dusted off in some old musty tome—O, the Lord who lives today! “My soul,” says the song,
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 doth flow like a flood—
And His presence, in guiding and comfort,
Is with me wherever I go.
For I am happy in Him;
My soul with delight
He fills day and night,
For I am happy in Him.
[ from “My Soul is so Happy in Jesus,” Edwin O. Excell, 1902]
I had a memorial service yesterday. Oh, how sweet the name, and how precious the hope, and how dear the word of comfort and encouragement, “For if we die with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him” [2 Timothy 2:11-12]; the evangel of the church.
And our solicitude for the whole world, our city of Dallas, our entire state of Texas, our neighbors across the sea; O God, that there might be in us that fervor of spirit and that consecration as would make this message known, wherever a man has an ear to hear and a mind to understand and a heart to feel our evangel of light, and hope, and salvation, and immortality, and glory, and freedom, and triumph, and victory, in this world today, our generation and among our people.
Stir me, O, 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 till Thy blood-red banner be unfurled
O’er lands that stood in deepest darkness lie;
O’er homes where no cross is lifted high.
Stir me, O, stir me, Lord. Thy heart was stirred
By love’s intensest fire, till Thou didst give
Thine only Son, Thy best beloved One,
Even to the dreadful cross, that I might live.
Stir me, Lord; stir me to give myself so back to Thee,
That Thou canst give Thyself again through me.
[from “Stir Me, O, Stir Me, Lord, I Care Not How,” Mrs. A. Head]
Colonies of heaven declaring the glory of God and the saving grace of His Son, our Savior; the blessed, the precious, the living, the saving Lord Jesus [Philippians 3:20].
Isn’t it remarkable? God never gave it to angels to preach, but to mortal man such as we [Romans 10:13-14]. May the Spirit bear its appeal to your heart this morning, and while we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you, give himself to Jesus, come; a family you, to put your life in the fellowship of the church, come; a couple you, one somebody you, while we prayerfully, earnestly sing this appeal, if you are in the balcony, there’s a stairwell at the front and the back, on either side, and time to spare; come. Come, if you’re on that last row of the balcony and God bids you. Make it this morning. And on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front: “Pastor, today I give my heart to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]. I give my hand in token thereof to you.” Or coming into the fellowship of the church, as the Spirit shall make appeal, shall speak to your heart, come, come. Make it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.