I wrote yesterday, on the twin site of Deep into Scripture, about the rules of success in the world. We live in a status driven country – in a status driven world – but not nearly as status driven as Philippi.
In Philippi, who you were, and exactly what your level was in society, was continually on display. Just the clothing you wore said everything – and there was no pretending to be what you weren’t
The slaves were dressed and often branded as such.
The Greek non-citizens in their tunics would be obvious for what they were – better than slaves but certainly not Roman.
Even among the togas of the Romans there were outward symbols of status. Different colored linings on their togas meant different levels of standing.
Everyone was superior to someone, inferior to others, and your position was public knowledge showcased every day. The difference of fashion we would see all around us was for identification not couture.
When there were dramas being performed in that pretty amphitheater we saw as we entered, the display of status was more of a show than the show.
Senators were up front.
Romans involved in politics, but at lower levels, called Equestrians, were next.
Then came other Roman citizens and certain Greek elites.
Up in the nosebleed sections were the Greek non-citizens.
There were no seats at all for slaves.
There was a place for everyone in Philippi, and everyone was put right in their place.
And into whatever class you were born – you remained. You could rise within your own class, but never dreamt of truly climbing above your rank.
The keys to the city were in the hands of the 3 in 100 elite – and they made a habit of regularly reminding the commoners. Even if by the tiniest unintentional action you insulted the pride of an elite there were repercussions.
There is a story of a Greek man who one time forgot to get off of his horse in the presence of a Senator.
Later, the Greek man was on trial for a trivial offense.
The Senator was passing by and remembered the man.
He entered, stopped the proceedings, and announced to the magistrates the details of the horrible indignity the Greek man imposed upon him.
The trial was reconvened
and the verdict of guilty was pronouncd without further delay.
These were the egg shells upon which everyone but the very top of society had to walk. The lower you were in Philippi the more delicate your steps had to be.
But it didn’t stop with the upper class. It trickled right on down to the other classes.
Tax collectors were better than butchers.
Farmers were better than fishermen.
Craftsmen were better than actors.
You were who the society dictated you were.
Even slaves, who were at the very bottom of the ladder, had a descending class order: personal slaves, above kitchen slaves, above grounds-keeping slaves, above mining slaves.
There was a place for everyone in Philippi.
And everyone knew their place.
Can you see why they needed an encouraging letter from Paul?