Christ’s ministry and the beginning of the early church coincided with a period when the Roman Empire was enjoying great peace—the Pax Romana (Roman Peace). The empire extended from Hadrian’s Wall in the north to the Sahara desert in the south and from Hispania in the west to the Caspian Sea in the East. With this diversity of nations it was inevitable that the empire would be thoroughly pluralistic in religion.
In this Pax Romana, Juvenal, the Roman poet spoke of beautification as “one of the most important technologies of the age.” A Roman lady’s boudoir had in it an array of cosmetic instruments such as tweezers, scissors, razors, files, brushes, combs, hair-nets, wigs, jars of perfume, creams, oils, pastes, pumice stones, and soaps. Abortion was a way of life practiced with abortive herbs and an array of crude instruments. Divorce was so widespread that it was said, “Seldom do marriages last without divorce until death.” Adultery was common, homosexuality practiced, and prostitution legalised and even a registered profession.
This reads like a description of society today in North America or Britain. The idea that the culture today is worse that it has ever been is false. Acts 16:12 tells us that Philippi was a chief city of the empire and so Paul’s letter to the church was addressed to people living in moral circumstances much like our own. We ought not despair then with the state of society. We should be encouraged by the fact that for two thousand years God has preserved His church through times of darkness and persecution and that He is preserving it even today in such a moral morass. He is still building His church. Read your New Testament as those in Pax Romana first read it; understand it in the context in which they understood it. It was relevant then and is still. Let us strive together for the faith of the gospel and then live in the world so as to represent well the gospel.
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