The times of the Pax Romana were given to vanity, luxury and hedonistic pleasure. Ironically a lot of the pleasure experienced in this “peaceful Rome” was by the persecution of the Christians. Revelation 17:6ff describes the Roman Empire from a Christian perspective—“Drunken with the blood of the saints.”
Paul was writing to Christians living in a chief city of the Empire (Acts 16:12). The first exhortation of the letter is that they would live lives that were polished by the Gospel. The original Greek, politeuomai—coming from the word polis (city)—is translated here and in other places with the old English word “conversation”. This word means, “to behave as a citizen.” You will see in the Greek word where we get the word politics (the government of the city). Our English words polite and polished, among others, also find their roots in this Greek etymology.
The apostle is saying; be polite, have your “manner of life” polished by the gospel, live as one who has a honourable citizenship. But what citizenship is Paul speaking of? Surely citizenship of the Empire would not demand such holy and honourable living. He meant of course, as he tells us later, using the same word, (3:20), “our citizenship is in heaven.”
Live your life in such a manner others know that the Gospel controls your life. How you interact with the lady at the cash register in Walmart, or with the telemarketer who interrupts your supper for the third consecutive day, or the taxi driver who cuts you off because he wants to get an edge at the next green light. Apply the rules and disposition of the gospel to your conduct. If we live with the calm serenity of a citizen of heaven and you will be a good citizen of any nation.
Reading: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”—Philippians 1:27