SAINTS IN CAESAR’S HOUSEHOLD
© Dr. Mark E. Hardgrove
Text: Phil 4:21-22
21 Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. 22All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household. NIV
In my conversation with many people, who do not profess Christ as their Lord and who have not been Born Again, the reason I often hear from these people is that they feel like becoming a believer is too great a sacrifice to make. In other words, they feel like it is too difficult to live the Christian life in a world that offers the pleasures and the temptations that does.
As a matter of fact, I’ve talked to many people who once were believers, but who no longer serve the Lord, and their explanation for turning their back on the Lord and on His Church is that they feel the Christian life is just too hard to live. I’ve talked with high school and college students who say, “It’s just too hard!” I’ve talked to kids of parents who are not Christians say, “It’s just too hard!” I’ve talked with the spouse of someone who is not a Christian and they say, “It’s just too hard.” I’ve talked with people who work in a work environment where people are heathens and they say, “It’s just too hard!”
That is the report of the enemy to all who would live godly in Christ Jesus, “It’s just too hard.” But the report of the Lord in Proverbs 13:15 is that “the way of the transgressors is hard.”
Jesus did say, “in the world ye shall have tribulation,” but he also said, “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Paul did say, “they that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” but he also said, “these present sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.” James said, “count it all joy when ye fall into diver temptations.” There will be trials, temptations, and tribulations, but that’s no reason to throw in the towel. That’s no reason to give up on God and go back to the hog pen. The greater the trial, the bigger the victory. The bigger the giant, the harder he falls. There will be battles, but thank God the victory is already ours!
Now I want you to look at the two verses I just read. There is a phrase in verse 22 that has burned in my heart for over fifteen years. A. A. Ledford, one of the great Bible teachers of the Church of God, brought this phrase to my attention back in the 1980’s and it continues to challenge me. Look at it again with me: “All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household.” Did you get that? There were saints, that is, believers in Caesar’s household. They were either members of his family, or slaves who served in the house of Caesar, but they were believers. I don’t know what that does for you, but it sends chill bumps down my spine. Let’s consider our text.
Eleven years had passed since Paul had been with the Philippians, but when they heard that Paul was in prison in Rome they sent Epaphroditus to Rome with an offering and their greetings. Paul then sends them this Epistle, greeting and thanking them for their kindness, which was like bouquet of fresh flowers in the prison cell.
Paul is old, now, and no doubt the years had taken their toll on his body, but some 20 times in this short Epistle to the Philippians Paul uses the words, joy, rejoice, peace, content, and thanksgiving. It was a dire time in the life of Paul and for Christians in general, but Paul could always find a reason to rejoice. Nero, the despotic Caesar of Rome was persecuting the Christians and Paul’s head was soon to be lifted from his shoulders, but when Paul started thinking of Jesus, and what He meant to him, he had to “shout, shout, shout, shout, all night, all night!” God help the church to discover what Paul had discovered. This joy that I have, this joy that I have, the world didn’t give it, I said the world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away!
At the end of the letter, in the list of those who sent their greetings to the church at Philippi, Paul says, “All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Nero’s household.”
It was under Nero’s reign that the Apostle Peter was crucified on a cross. But when they went to nail him, Peter cried out that he wasn’t worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. So to mock him the soldiers inverted cross, they hung Peter upside down on the cross where he died. It was under Nero that Paul was beheaded. It was under Nero that the slums of Rome were set on fire, and many historians believe that Nero had this done so that he continue his building projects. But when the city caught fire, Nero blamed the Christians and in so doing inflamed the hatred and anger of the Romans against the believers.
The Roman historian Tacitus says of Christians that, “Their death was made a matter of sport; they were covered in wild beast’s skins and torn to pieces by dogs; or were fastened to crosses and set on fire in order to serve as torches by night” (Annals XV, 44).
Nero’s personal life was also filled with scandals as he indulged himself in the most debased forms of pleasure and entertainment. Nero finally took his own life in the summer of 68 AD.
But remember this, the next time that you think the cost is too great, the next time that you feel that it’s just too hard, the next time you feel the sacrifice to much to give . . . there were saints in Caesar’s household. There were men and women who lived in one of the most sinful and sinister households the world has ever known, but they served God.
The Witness of These Believers Teaches Us Of the Power of the Gospel
I) POWERFUL ENOUGH TO REACH BEYOND OUR LIMITATIONS
Paul was in prison, and yet his influence never abated. He was under house arrest and yet his epistles and instructions continued to guide the churches. He was not longer able to roam the countryside to start churches, but he was able to pray, write, and reach the people around him.
Don’t ever let the enemy convince you that you cannot be an effective witness, or become involved in ministry because you are limited by your circumstances. People sometimes say, “Well, under the circumstances, I can’t do much right now.” Friends, we’ve not been called to live under the circumstances, we’ve been called to rise up on wings as eagles. We’ve been called to put the enemy under our feet. We’ve been called to snatch souls from the fire (Jude 23). We’ve been called to push back the darkness and defy the gates of hell. If you’ve done everything to stand, then stand!
Your circumstances, with regard to your time, or your finances, may appear to limit you. But if Paul could reach and guide churches while under arrest in the capital of a city whose leader who made sport of killing those who called themselves Christian, then all of us can do something to further the cause of Christ.
The Gospel cannot be chained, burned, buried, broken or imprisoned. Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to them that believe . . .” It is powerful enough to reach beyond your limitations save somebody.
I knew woman in Maine who was in a nursing home, Sister Hazel Walton. She was 96-years-old, confined to a wheelchair, and blind with cataracts. But she still had a sharp mind, she had a mind to serve the Lord wherever she was, whatever the condition, and whenever she could. I was visiting with Sister Hazel one day and she asked me to pray with her to reach her new roommate with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was imprisoned with a death sentence on his head, but the Gospel would not be chained.
Paul wrote to his young apprentice Timothy:
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. (2 Tim 2:8-10, NIV).
II) POWERFUL ENOUGH TO REACH INTO THE HEART OF DARKNESS
Not only is the Gospel powerful enough to reach beyond your limitations, the Gospel is powerful enough to reach into the heart of darkness, bring out a soul and wash him in the blood of the Lamb. There were saints in Caesar’s household. Somebody reached these people with the gospel. The early church historian Jerome said that many of Nero’s own relatives were lead to the Lord by the Apostle Paul from his prison cell.
Some folks may look as though they are out of reach, beyond our influence, but if people in Nero’s home, whether family or servants, could be touched and transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we can reach captains of industry, mayors, governors, presidents. Students, you can reach your teachers. Employees, you can reach your boss. Entrepreneurs, you can reach the people you serve.
Your neighbor may sound like and act like he or she will never receive Christ as Lord. Perhaps your own son or daughter may shun the Gospel and you may feel like they cannot be reached. But the truth is that no one is beyond the reach of the nailed scarred hands of Jesus. I know. I’m living proof that his hand is not short that it cannot save. “When my Savior reached down for me, He had to reach way down for me. I was lost and undone, without God or His Son, [but] then He reached down His hand for me.”
I have a cousin who rebelled against the schools, he rebelled against his mother, and he rebelled against county appointed social workers. He joined the marines and rebelled against authority there. He looked and sounded unreachable. But thank God! God can reach from the uttermost to the gutter-most. One day the love of God got a hold of my cousin and now he’s married with three beautiful girls and is preaching the very Gospel that delivered him.
Your child is not beyond the reach of God’s love. The next time the enemy tries to tell you to stop praying and to stop fasting for your child, you just stop where you are and shout it out, “there were saints in Caesar’s household, so I know that God can reach my child!”
Paul said the Gospel cannot be chained. It cannot be chained in, nor can it be chained out. God gave us the keys of the kingdom. God gave us access through the Gospel of Jesus Christ to open the prison doors of sin and invite the captives to be free in the name of Jesus, for he who the Son sets free is free indeed!
III) POWERFUL ENOUGH SUSTAIN YOU
The miracle isn’t just that the Gospel was powerful enough to reach beyond the Paul’s prison, or that the Gospel was powerful enough to reach into the darkness, but the miracle is also that the Gospel is powerful enough both to save and to sustain. There were saints in Caesar’s household. There in the midst of this man’s tyranny, there were believers. There, in the midst of the debauchery and evil, there were believers. There, where the mere mention of the name of Jesus might land you in the arena with wild dogs or lions, there were Christians.
Let me tell you young people, you can live a godly life in an ungodly school. Listen to my employee. You may go to work at a place where they use the Lord’s name in vain all day long, but you can live a godly life in the that darkness. You may be a husband or a wife whose spouse is not saved and sometimes you think you can’t make it another day alone, but you can. There were saints in Caesar’s household.
Sun and I knew a woman in Maine who came with her little four-year-old boy to the Church of God. In fact, Sun and I picked them up and brought them to church. But her husband, who didn’t go to church anywhere, didn’t want her going to a Pentecostal church. She told him that if he wanted to go to the Baptist church with her and his son she would go to the Baptist church also. But wouldn’t he do that, so she kept coming to the Church of God. Finally, in the middle of a Maine winter, this man kicked his wife and their son out into the cold and snow because she wouldn’t stop coming to the Church of God.
Well, she ended up in a woman’s shelter with her son, but she kept coming to the Caribou Church of God. The Gospel is powerful enough to sustain you even when friends and family forsake you. Where sin abounds, grace doeth much more abound! His grace is sufficient!
You may be going through a time of trouble, but God is able to use you to further the kingdom in spite of your trials.
You may be facing some circumstances that would have sent lesser men and women running, but God’s grace is sufficient to see you through the storm.
You may be living or working in a place where the people around you seem to be beyond your reach, but there is no barrier that Gospel cannot break.
You aren’t where you are by accident. You aren’t working where you’re working, or doing what you’re doing by accident, God has a plan that includes you.
Where you are, what you’re doing, the people you know, the lives you touch, the opportunities you have, are all part of God's plan for your life.
No one, anywhere is an untouchable, unless we refuse to reach out. You may be in a place that challenges your faith. You may have to put your faith on the line everyday. You may have to face the scorn or the distain of others around you because you will not compromise your confidence in Christ. Your own family may reject you. Your friends may leave you. You'll just have the attitude of the songwriter that sang, “Take the whole world, but give me Jesus!” God’s grace is sufficient to sustain you in the midst of the darkness. For where sin abounds, grace doeth much more abide.
The next time you think you can’t make it. The next time the enemy tells you that living the life and shining your light in a sin soaked and darkened world is impossible, remember the saints in Caesar’s house. They lived in the house of despot who sent Christians to the arenas to be killed for the sport by wild dogs and lions. These saints, lived in the house of a man who covered Christians in oil and then burned them alive at the stake to light his garden.
You can make it. In a country where you can worship God in beautiful facilities sitting on land exempt from taxes. In a country where you can tell others of the love of God. In a country where you can hand out tracts, pray out loud, and read the Word of God, you can make it. If the saints in Caesar’s house could maintain their faith, we can make it.