Our Citizenship Is In Heaven
Where do your loyalties lie? Which banner do you wave? Is it with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers or with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders? Will it be with Toronto or Saskatchewan at the Grey Cup next Sunday? For many years, my brother has had a significant loyalty to the United States of America. Are you enamoured with the US or are you loyal to Canada? Perhaps some of you are loyal to Britain.
The banner we wave is revealed in a lot of ways in our life. Carla was really hoping to cheer for Winnipeg in the Grey Cup next Sunday, but she will settle for cheering for Saskatchewan, or Toronto, or BC or anybody except Montreal. My brother has tended to take most of his vacations in the US, whereas we have taken most of ours in Canada.
Where do your loyalties lie? What place does the banner of Christ have in your life? We want to examine this thought as we look at Philippians 3:15-4:3.
Where Do Your Loyalties Lie?
Enemies Of The Cross Of Christ
In the middle of this passage, in verses 18,19, Paul talks about those who “live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” As he speaks about them, we notice that he speaks with great concern. He has mentioned them before and mentions them now with tears in his eyes. Why was he so sad about them? Why such a deep compassion for them. Paul was concerned about the lost and diligent in seeking to bring them to Christ, but his concern here seems to be somewhat deeper and more painful even than his love for the lost. I think that the reason is that these people were those who were believers, but who were not living according to the way of Christ. They knew the way of salvation, they knew the life God could bring, but they were rejecting that life. They had chosen a banner to fly in their life, but it was not the banner of Christ.
Trying to identify which specific group Paul has in mind is tentative at best. Some have suggested this is another reference to the “dogs” he mentioned in 3:2 and others that they were Gentile Christians who but rejected all principle and lived for themselves. Either one could be possible.
Identifying them would be interesting, but it is more important that we understand how they lived because as we will see, some of their actions are not far from how some of us live. The text gives five characteristics of them.
First of all, they are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” It is not that they do not believe in Christ, but they do not rely on the cross. If they are those who want to add circumcision, they are, as Paul says in 3:3, people who “put confidence in the flesh.” By doing this they, and we if we follow the same path, reject the sufficiency of the cross of Christ to forgive our sins.
Or perhaps they are people who have not realized that the Christian life is a life that must always be lived in discipleship, in taking up our cross and identifying with the death of Christ by being willing to sacrifice our own lives for Him. Instead, they have chosen a life of self indulgence and self satisfaction.
On the other hand, they may be people who are hesitant to identify with Christ so as to avoid ridicule and persecution.
There is an African fable about a turtle who wanted to fly. He persuaded two birds to hold a stick with their feet and he would bite the stick and then they would fly and he would be able to experience flight as well. The story is about how he was unable to keep his mouth shut and so part way through the flight he opened his mouth to say something, but in so doing, released the stick, which was keeping him safely in the air, and went crashing to the ground. When we become enemies of the cross of Christ in any of these ways, we let go of the one thing that is giving us life.
For those who are the enemies of the cross, when they let go of the stick, the cross of Christ, they let go of that which is life and the result is that their “destiny is destruction.”
Why are they willing to go this route? The reason is that their “god is their stomach.” Our stomach is a symbol of our appetites. In all of life, if what we desire is stronger than what we know is good for us, we lose control. For example, if food is more important than the diet we are on we gain weight. If making a purchase is more important to us than sticking to our budget, we get into financial trouble. But how much more serious when living to satisfy our pleasures is more important to us than living for Christ.
One big problem is that some people who choose this banner to fly under are proud of it. As Paul says, “whose glory is in their shame.” They should perceive their behaviour as shameful, but instead they glory in it. They glory in being undisciplined, in choosing the poorest, in settling. They don’t see it as glorying in their shame, but it is. One person that I knew had grown up in a Christian home, but wanted fame. She married a performer and gave up her faith life in the mean time. She gloried in fame and gave up the glory of Christ and that is the shame of it.
The banner they fly is obvious. Their mind is not on heaven, nor on Christ, nor on the things of God. As the final statement indicates, “their mind is on earthly things.” In other words, they have a worldly mindset.
Paul’s “weeping” concern is that none of the Philippians be like that. I would share that concern.
Paul goes on to remind the Philippians that they have something much better than settling for a life that leads to destruction. Philippians 3:20 says, “our citizenship is in heaven.”
This concept is particularly unique for the Philippians. Although Philippi was in Macedonia, or the Greek region, it was a Roman colony and so would have had a fairly strong component of Roman allegiance. The people of the city would have accepted the lordship of Caesar, the Roman ruler who was ruler over most of the known world from Arabia to England. Citizenship was important to them and they were citizens of the Roman empire, but Paul reminds them of their allegiance to a much greater, more extensive kingdom and that is the kingdom of heaven.
I have here a passport which identifies the owner as a citizen of Canada. With a passport, wherever you travel in the world, it will identify you as Canadian. Probably most of you do not carry your passport with you to church, but do you have any documentation which identifies you with your other citizenship? What identifies us as citizens of heaven? In one way, the document which identifies us as citizens of heaven is in heaven. In Philippians 4:3, Paul talks about some of them whose “names are in the book of life.” In another way, our heavenly citizenship is identified in us by the fact that the king Himself lives in us by His Spirit.
The mention of citizenship reminds us of our current dual citizenship. Although citizens of Philippi, or Canada or any other nation, we are also citizens of heaven. We are already citizens of heaven and yet in a way that identification is obscured by our other citizenship and so we look forward to what is yet to come. In a moment we will examine that promise.
Live Up to It
Before we do, however, we need to examine what is the central purpose of this passage and that is to encourage the Philippians and us to live according to the heavenly citizenship. The mention of those who are enemies of the cross of Christ sets before us a choice to declare under which banner we are living our life. What do citizens of heaven live like?
A Mature Mindset
He actually begins this line of thought in 3:15 where he encourages them that “all who are mature should take such a view of things.” What is he talking about? It seems that he is referring to what has just preceded in the passage. A few weeks ago we looked at this passage and at Paul’s testimony about where he was flying his banner. He did not put confidence in the flesh even though he had reason to do so. Rather, he had discovered the glory of living his life in a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. He had declared with great conviction, “I want to know Christ, I want to know the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings and also the experience of resurrection. Paul desired a Christ directed mindset and in verse 15 he urges all who are mature in Christ to “conform their lives to their knowledge of Christ…”
Flying under the banner of Jesus Christ means having such a goal in life, having such a hope in Christ as the primary directing force in all of life.
It is interesting that he mentions those who are “mature” in vs. 15, when he has spoken of not having arrived yet in verse 12. This is an acknowledgement that we are all on a journey of faith which will bring us into a greater maturity. What is most encouraging is his assurance that it is God who is at work in us.
Notice what he says in the rest of verse 15, “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” If we are truly seeking God, then our life is a journey superintended not by someone else’s opinions or by our weaknesses, but by God Himself who will, in time, lead us to Himself and to His truth. Of course, if we are not seeking God and do not want to go His way, He does not force us. But we can have the confidence that if we are seeking Him, He is leading us towards Himself.
As a friend to the Philippians, Paul is ready to leave it to God to reveal those things on which they disagree. Of course it is most likely that he is not talking about essential matters such as living under the cross of Christ or pursuit of the heavenly prize, but on non-essential matters.
Don’t Lose Ground
On July 1 of this year, I paddled from Assiniboine Park to the Forks in my kayak. The current is quite strong and it didn’t take me very long and was quite enjoyable as I paddled and drifted along with the current. I paddled all the way into the Red River and across it and back and then had to paddle a quarter mile or so against stream to where my vehicle was. The current is strong enough that it was hard going and if I ever quit paddling, I was quickly being carried along towards the Red again.
In our walk in the Lord, Paul says that we need to be careful that we “live up to what we have already attained.” In encouraging us to live in this way, he is acknowledging that there are a lot of things in this world which would carry us along in the way of the world. He is saying that we need to keep paddling, we need to keep going in the direction of living under the banner of Christ. We need to make sure that we do not lose ground by becoming careless in our walk with Christ.
Following Godly Examples
There is great encouragement in this life in Christ when we recognize that there are a lot of faithful people who have helped us by being an example to us. Paul directly tells them to follow his example, or the example of others who are living as he does. This is not arrogance on his part, because he has already earlier acknowledged that he doesn’t know it all. It is, however, a recognition that he has attained a level of maturity and that his example will lead them in the right direction.
One writer says, The Christian life is not lived by a “written code of precepts and maxims” rather it is following an example – ultimately Christ and those who follow Him. Paul says this in other passages, such as I Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” This is an encouragement for those who are new Christians to look for someone who is more mature spiritually than they are and follow them. That is why we assign mentors to people when they become baptized. Mentoring is a way of providing an example of what it means to follow Christ and then learning by that example. It is not so much about instruction, but about example, about following a model and is a great way to be encouraged and also a great way to encourage others.
Who are the people in your life who have been your spiritual mentors? I think about my parents, about the pastor who married us and encouraged us in ministry. I think about a Chinese student who lived in The Pas and attended our church and challenged me in the area of prayer. I think about other pastors who have been colleagues and have challenged and encouraged me. Looking for examples whose lives we can imitate, or being examples to others is a great way of getting help to fly under the banner of Christ and follow Him.
Standing Firm and Unity
The section we are looking at today extends from 3:15 to 4:3. In 4:1-3, we have two very specific and practical matters related to living under the flag of Jesus Christ. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but just want to point out that we have already dealt with the matters written about here. In 4:1, he encourages them to “stand firm in the Lord.” This was the theme we looked at a few times already. In face of opposition, living under the banner of Christ means standing firm in the way of Christ.
The other part of this deals with a very specific issue happening between two church leaders, two women – Euodia and Syntyche. The encouragement to them is that they should “agree with each other.” This is also a theme which we have examined before and is very important. The wording is similar to that in 2:2 where Paul encourages God’s people to be “like minded.”
These very specific issues remind us that following Christ can not only be talked about in abstract or general terms as we have been doing. Following Christ has some very specific and practical elements attached to it.
The command of Paul in this passage is to walk according to the way of Christ. To lift up the banner of Jesus, to fly the flag of Christ in all of our life. If we do not, we are in danger that we may become like those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ” and our end will be destruction.
But that is not who we are! “Our citizenship is in heaven!” Since that is who we are and that is how we live, we have a glorious hope and that hope is described in 3:20,21.
Waiting For His Coming
We are now already citizens of heaven. We now already belong to Christ and His kingdom. Yet at the same time, “we eagerly await” a Saviour from heaven. This verse so clearly reveals the “already” and “not yet” nature of the Christian life. We already have some great promises and possessions, but we are still waiting for the day when who we are and what we will inherit is fully revealed in us and to us.
So we wait, but we do so, as Paul says, “eagerly.” Christ’s return, His coming to get us, the glory of heaven is so great that we are eager for his return. Can we really say that we are waiting “eagerly?” With what level of eagerness for Christ’s return do you live your life. If we can say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ” or “I want to know Christ” then our level of eagerness will be great.
Anticipating His Transformation
What is so great is not only seeing Christ, but also seeing what He will do in us when He returns. The “not yet” nature of our heavenly citizenship makes us all too painfully aware that we have not arrived and that, in fact, we often suffer because we are not yet in heaven. But, when that for which we are waiting comes we will be transformed.
Power To Transform
God has all power to make the necessary changes in us.
Once when I was tilling the garden, I was in an awkward position and the garden tiller suddenly got away from me. I could not let go of it and it was going where I did not want it to go. I did not have the power to bring it under my control. God does not lack power in that way. The text tells us that He has all power to “bring everything under His control.” That means that God has all power to bring Osama bin Laden and George Bush and every power on earth under His control. If he has the power to bring these people under His control, then surely, we can be confident that He also has all power and authority to transform us.
John Piper says, “The Lord and Judge and Savior over all the universe was tested and found perfect through human suffering. Now he is doubly suited for his role as Lord of the universe: he is God with natural rights, and he is Redeemer with purchased rights. He can put his foot on Satan’s neck not just because of raw divine power—which would have been enough—but also because he exposed himself to Satan’s temptations and to his final weapon, death, and broke it on Easter Sunday morning. So he is doubly suited to rule. He has Creator rights and Redeemer rights.”
And He will transform us. He will make us completely new. Some have debated, “how will we be able to be in God’s presence when we are so imperfect?” The Catholic church has taught that there will be time in purgatory so that we can be perfected for heaven and if we haven’t quite made it, purgatory will make us fit. But this passage tells us that the one who has all power, will, on the day when Christ returns, transform us so that we will be completely new.
We will become like His glorious body. Our transformation will resemble that which happened to Christ, who although he was still recognizable and could eat food, was not bound by walls and time. More than that, he was no longer so decay or corruption and neither will we. Aren’t you looking forward to that transformation?
So which banner do you pledge allegiance to?
This passage encourages us to Remember who we are. We are heavenly citizens. We live under the banner of Christ. Since we do, we can rejoice that God is working in us helping us to learn the truth, that He will return and that He will transform us. As we remember these things and rejoice in them, we must also continue to reach for a greater maturity in Christ, following good examples, not slipping back, but following Christ in all matters of life including even all the practical matters of life.