Our Citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians)

            Citizenship is a hot topic of discussion in our country right now.  There’s talk about how to keep non-citizens from entering our country, and talk about how to take immigrants who are already here and make them citizens.  During past elections, there’s been talk about which candidates may or may not be “natural born citizens”.  I’m personally fascinated by the concept of dual citizenship, the ability to be a citizen of two different countries at the same time.

            This topic of citizenship is an important subject for those of us who are Christians.  But the important thing for us is not whether we are citizens of the United States, but whether we are citizens of heaven.  In Philippians 3:20, Paul said, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

            It’s interesting that Paul would use this term “citizenship” when writing to the Philippians, because citizenship was a very big deal in the city of Philippi.  That city was located in Macedonia about 600 miles from Rome, but it was a Roman colony.  So, there were a large number of Roman citizens living in Philippi, especially retired military.

            Philippi was governed by Roman law. They practiced Roman customs. They dressed like Romans, they had Roman architecture.  A Roman could go to Philippi and feel right at home.  They did everything they could to bring a little bit of Rome into Philippi, because even while they lived in Philippi, their citizenship was in Rome,

            So, when Paul used that term “citizenship” here in his letter to the church at Philippi, it meant something special to them.  But Paul turns things around.  It’s not Roman citizenship that is so important, or any other earthly citizenship, for that matter.  What really matters is that our citizenship is in heaven.

            To all those Christians who lived in a city that took great pride in their Roman citizenship, Paul said, “You have a higher citizenship than that of Rome.  Those of you who are Christians are citizens of heaven.  And just as your Roman citizenship greatly affects the way you live from day to day, your heavenly citizenship should also affect the way you live, to an even greater degree.  

            Knowing that we are citizens of heaven changes our perspective on life here on this earth.  We’ve been studying from I Peter on Wednesday nights, and we’ve seen how Peter says that those of us who are Christians are strangers and pilgrims on this earth, sojourners, only living in this country temporarily, but looking forward to one day being in our true home.

            As Jesus put it, we live in this world but we are not of this world.  And so, we don’t blend in, we don’t fit in, with the warped values of this world.  The popular culture that surrounds us does not determine how we think or how we live.  We don’t fall into the trap of living like everybody else. 

            As Paul said in Romans 12, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12:1).  And in Colossians 3, Paul wrote, “Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

            Because our citizenship is in heaven. And yet, we all still have some living to do here on this earth.  And that’s important, too.  There are people around us that we need to love and to serve while we are on this journey.  We all have various responsibilities to take care of while we wait for Jesus to return: we’re husbands and wives, parents and children, church members, employers and employees, and yes, even citizens of this country.

            Our life in this world, this is important. As Christians, we don’t just withdraw into a shell and ignore what’s going on around us.  Knowing that we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, that affects how we conduct ourselves here on this earth. 

            It was Oliver Wendall Holmes who first said that “some people are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good.”  But if we are truly heavenly-minded, we will make every effort to do much good here on this earth.  In fact, history demonstrates that the people in this world who have done the most good are actually those people who are the most conscious of the world to come.

            There are so many examples of people who, precisely because their minds were set on the world to come, because they were so heavenly-minded, they spent their lives serving the needs of others and serving Christ.

            Well, this morning we’re going to look at a passage that’s all about being citizens of heaven, and it’s a passage that’s going to give us a contrast between two different kinds of people:  first of all, those people whose minds are centered on the things of this world; and secondly, those people whose minds are centered on Jesus Christ and spiritual things.

            But, before we do that, let’s watch this overview of the entire book of Philippians, and then I’ll be back to talk more about our heavenly citizenship.

            Watch VIDEO (Philippians)

            In Philippians chapter 3, beginning with verse 15, Paul says, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

            “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

            “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:15-21)

            What Paul does here is to draw a series of contrasts between those who follow the example of Jesus Christ — those who adopt the way of living that Paul has been talking about earlier in his letter — there’s a contrast between them and those whom Paul refers to as “the enemies of the cross of Christ.”

            Let me suggest several contrasts that I see here.  First of all, there is a difference of……

I.          Lifestyle:  How Do You Live?

            In verse 17, Paul says to “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”   And then, on the other hand, in verse 18, Paul talks about those who “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

            Now, if you’re familiar with Paul’s letters at all, you know that that word “walk” is a key word in all his letters.  Paul often talks about how we should walk as Christians.  Sometimes he says we walk in the light, or we walk in the Spirit, or we walk by faith.   Here, he’s talking about walking after the example that Paul and others set for the Philippian Christians.

            If we go back to Philippians chapter 2, we see that Paul has given us the example of Jesus Christ, and his self-denying, self-giving humility, that led him to be obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.

            Then Paul gives the example of Timothy and his self-denying service, and Epaphroditus and his risk-taking love and faithfulness to the ministry.  Then Paul gives us his own example in chapter 3, where he says that he is willing to count everything as loss for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ.

            In verses 12-14, Paul talks about how he has not yet reached perfection, he hasn’t yet attained his final goal, but he’s like a runner running in a race, running for the prize, stretching forward, pressing on for the goal of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

            And so, Paul takes all these examples and he says to the Philippians, “Walk this way!  Follow these examples.  Imitate me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.  Follow the example of those who follow Jesus Christ.”  That’s his exhortation.

            And, this morning, I want to encourage you all to do that – to follow the example of people who walk in the shadow of the cross.  It might be the example of someone in the New Testament that you feel a real connection with.  It might be a Christian who has lived sometime in the centuries since then that you can read about.  It might be someone in your life right now. 

            Find your heroes, find your examples.  And I think what you will discover is this, that as you study the lives of faithful men and women, both living and dead, as you learn their stories, first of all, it will humble you (because you will see how far you still have to go in your Christian walk), but it will also encourage you as you see how they persevered through their struggles and difficulties and what they were able to accomplish for God, and it will inspire you in your Christian walk.

            And so, in Philippi, there were some in the church who walked after the example of Christ and Paul and other faithful Christians, but then there were those who walked as “enemies of the cross”.

            Scholars aren’t sure exactly who these people were, but the fact that they were enemies of the cross seems to imply a couple of things.  First of all, they may have been enemies of the cross because they were opposed to the message of the cross.  There are some people, even some Christians, who are offended by the message of the cross, that it is through the cross of Jesus Christ, and only through the cross, that we can be saved.  

            So, maybe the people that Paul is talking about here didn’t like that message. They rejected that message.  In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul talked about people like that.  He said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18). 

            He goes on to say, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:22-24).

            So, here’s one of the first things that we need to ask ourselves:  Are we offended by the message of the cross? Are you offended by a message that says you can do nothing to save yourself; only Christ can save you, and he saves you by taking your place, being condemned on your behalf, dying on the cross as a substitute for your sins? 

            Are you willing to give up your self-righteousness, to take all the good deeds that you’ve done and to say as Paul did, “Everything I’ve ever done to try to be right with God is absolute garbage in comparison with knowing Christ, and it is Christ and Christ alone who must save me.”

            Enemies to the cross of Christ reject that message. And I think that’s part of what Paul meant by that phrase.  But I think there’s something more, and this is a little more subtle and requires a bit more soul-searching on our parts.  It’s not just that they are enemies to the message of the cross, but they were also enemies to the way of the cross, which is the way of discipleship.

            Paul’s whole point in this passage is not just to give us the message of the cross, although he certainly does that, but it is to say, “This is the way that we need to live.  Jesus Christ set the example.  He gave us the example by going to the cross.”  It’s the way of humility, it’s the way of self-denial, it’s the way of service, it’s the way of sacrifice.   

            That’s the way of the cross, and Paul is saying that we are enemies to the cross of Christ if we reject that way of living, if we refuse the terms of discipleship, if we do not walk after the pattern of humility and servanthood and self-denial.

            And if we’re not careful, it is possible for us to affirm the doctrine of the cross while denying the application of that doctrine to our lives.  One preacher (Leonard Ravenhill) used to say, “Your doctrine can be as straight as a gun barrel, and your life just as empty.”  It’s possible to say, “Yes, I believe in the cross of Jesus”, but that cross has no impact, no transforming implications in your life.  

            And if that’s the case, then I think Paul would say that you’re living as an enemy to the cross of Christ.  If the cross doesn’t change how you live, if it doesn’t change you, then you’re living as an enemy to the cross.

            And so, the question this morning for all of us is this –What is your walk like?  Are you walking with the cross, or walking against the cross?  That’s the first contrast.  The second difference Paul sees between these two groups has to do with….

II.        Mindset: How Do You Think?

            Or maybe the better question is, what do you think about?  And again, I want you to see the key words here in our text.  In verse 15, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”

            When Paul says, “Those who are mature think this way,” we need to remember what he’s just said.  Paul has just said that he gave up everything to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  And he’s pressing on to reach the goal of the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.  And now he says, “This is how I want you to think. I want you to have this mindset, a mindset that’s looking ahead, a mindset that’s counting everything as loss for the sake of gaining Christ.  This is how I want you to think.”

            This word “think” is a key word in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  In Philippians 4:8, Paul says to “think” about things that are honorable and just and pure and lovely.  The noun form of the word “think” is “mind” and Paul uses that word a lot as well. 

            In chapter 2:5, Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”  Have the mind of Christ, the mindset of Christ.  Think about things the way Jesus thought about things. 

            And now he comes to it again when he says, “Let those of us who are mature think this way,” let those of us who are mature have this mindset.  What’s the mindset he’s talking about?  It’s the mindset of Christ that’s been exemplified in Timothy and in Epaphroditus, and in Paul himself.  He says, “Have this mindset. Let this mind be in you, the mind of Christ.”

            But notice how he contrasts this in verse 19 with the mindset of the enemies of the cross of Christ.  In verse 19, he’s talking about those people, and he says, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

            You’ve got the mindset of Christ on one hand, and then you’ve got the mindset of the enemies of the cross on the other. You’ve got one mindset which was exemplified in Christ and in Paul and other faithful Christians, and it’s a mind that is set on giving up everything for Christ.  It’s a mind set on spiritual realities, eternal realities.  It’s a spiritual mind.

            In contrast to that, there is this mind that is set on earthly things.  It’s a worldly mindset.  What does it mean to have your mind set on earthly things?  It means that your absorbing, consuming thoughts are about temporary, this-world concerns: work, money, pleasure.

            But this is tricky, because all we have to think about those things, don’t we?  You have to get up and go to work tomorrow morning, and you have to watch your finances.  You have to think about some of these things.  So, how do we do this?

            In the 17th century, Jeremiah Burroughs wrote an entire book called “A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness”.  And in that book, he said that an earthly-minded person approaches even spiritual things with an earthly mind.  He says, this kind of person goes to church and he listens to the word and he prays, but he just doesn’t have any heart in it.  That’s not where his heart is.

            But, he says, a spiritually-minded person is just the opposite of that. A spiritually-minded person is able to approach even earthly things with a spiritual mind.  He does his work not just for the sake of the bottom dollar; he’s doing it in obedience to God, he’s doing it for the good of others, he’s doing it to glorify and honor Jesus Christ.

            Burroughs said, in fact, that a person with a spiritual mind is more heavenly and more spiritual when he’s busy doing his job, even though it may be digging ditches—he’s more spiritual at these things than an earthly man is when he’s in church praying or reading God’s Word or taking the Lord’s Supper.  It all comes down to this — Where is our mind set? What’s our heart focused on?

            Again, as Paul said in Colossians 3, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2)

            So,is our mind focused on the things of this earth, or is our mind focused on things of an eternal nature?  So, first, there is the question of lifestyle (how do you live?), and second, there is the question of mindset (how do you think?).  The third difference Paul sees between these two groups has to do with….

3.         Worship: What Do You Desire?

            Again, look at verse 19, Paul’s description of the enemies of the cross of Christ. “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

            What does Paul mean when he says “Their god is their belly.”?   The stomach here is a symbol of all our appetites.  It’s what we crave.  And, in all of life, if what we desire is stronger than what we know is good for us, we tend to lose control.  For example, if food is more important to us than the diet we are on, we will gain weight.  If making a purchase is more important to us than sticking to our budget, we will get into financial trouble.  But how much more serious it is when living to satisfy our pleasures is more important to us than living for Christ.

            “Their god is their belly.”  It means that they worship their appetites.  It means they live to fulfill their every desire. These are people who are living for self.  They are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” 

            And it’s not just that they’re living this way, they’re proud of it.  Paul said, “They glory in their shame.” They ought to be ashamed of their behavior, but instead, they’re proud of how they’re living.

            In contrast to that, in verse 20, Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Because we are citizens of heaven, we walk differently, we conduct our lives differently, we have higher things to set our minds on.  And the deepest desire we have is to be with Jesus Christ, the King of heaven, the King of glory.  That’s who we worship.

            I like what James Smith said about worship.  He said, “The church is the place where God invites us to renew our loves, reorient our desires, and retrain our appetites.”  It’s so important what we do as we gather here week after week.  It’s a time for us to reset, to refresh, to remind us of the values of the kingdom to which we belong, to get our minds back on heavenly things and to reorient our appetites and our desires, our worship, so that they are truly centered on Jesus Christ.

            As a Christian, our citizenship is in heaven, but we live here on this earth, and our ambition, our goal is to bring a little bit of heaven to earth, so that where we live becomes a little colony of heaven, just like Philippi was a colony of Rome.  That’s what the church is called to be.  And it’s through the church that we learn to embody and to live out the values of the kingdom.

            But there’s one more distinction that Paul makes between those who follow the cross and those who reject the cross, and that’s…..

4.         Destiny: Where Are You Going?

            In verse 19, Paul says of the enemies of the cross of Christ. “Their end is destruction.”  What is significant to me here, though, is what Paul says in verse 18, “[I] tell you even with tears.”  I don’t think Paul was exaggerating.  I think he truly was brought to tears knowing there were some who were headed for destruction.

            But, if all your focus is on this world, then there can’t be any other end result, because this whole world is bound for destruction.

            But there is something different that waits for those who live in the shadow of the cross.  In verses 20.  Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

            It’s not destruction that waits for us, but transformation.  God will transform us. He will make us completely new. As long as we live here on this earth, we have to deal with the problems associated with this body.  But Paul says there is coming a day when that’s no longer going to be the case. You’re going to be changed, you’re going to be transformed. 

            Because, like we sang just a few moments, this world is not home.  We’re only passing through, because our citizenship is in heaven.  And someday, we all get to go home.

Pray with me:

            Father, our desire this morning is to be like Christ.  We want to focus our minds on heavenly and eternal realities, not on the things of this earth.  Lord, we ask you this morning to direct our minds and our lives in that direction.

            But, Lord, we know that all of our resolutions are worth nothing apart from the power of your Spirit.  But by your Spirit we can be changed, we can be renewed, and we can become and live as citizens of heaven, even as we live here on this earth.  Help us as a church to be the kind of followers of Jesus that people around us can see a colony of heaven right here in their midst.  

            In Jesus name, Amen

0 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *