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Citizenship

Date: Jul. 26, 2020

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Philippians 3:12-21

Key Verse: Philippians 3:20

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Our ministry is composed of people from all over the world. Although, we are based in Chicago and there are a number of American-born people, there are those who were born in Korea, China, Nigeria or Albania. That is an amazing feat for a church with under 40 regular worship attendants. In my own family, my wife was born in Albania and my mother and sister were born in Germany. Wherever we are from, we maintain some sort of pride about where we come from. Each of our countries is the best, particularly for things we hold dear and especially food. If you ever met someone from another country, you know that the one thing that is the best in the whole world is their food. It doesn’t matter if you are Korean, Chinese, Nigerian, Albanian, German, Mexican or American, what you are used to is the best. When you are in your home country you also enjoy certain benefits while you are there. You can speak the language and know how to get around. You know if you need to haggle over prices or tip after a meal. You know when you should be quiet and respectful and when to have a grand ole time. You know what to say at the right time and to the right person. These cultural moments are known to those who know the culture. It is something that is important now and thousands of years ago. In Paul’s time, it was best to be a Roman citizen. As a Roman, you could vote and hold office. You had legal rights like the ability to sue, own property, create contracts and have a lawful marriage. As a Roman you could have a trail before a judge and appeal the decision and you could not be tortured, whipped or receive the death penalty, unless you committed treason. There were even some taxes that you didn’t have to pay because you were a citizen. It was considered to be the best at the time, but Paul gets us thinking about another citizenship which is even greater than that.

Our passage starts with a few overlapping verses. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (12-14) These three verses, here, we also heard about last week and they provide a great bookend for this passage. In these verses, Paul states that he has not obtained all this. What he is referring to is what he wrote even a few verses earlier. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (3:10-11) He said that he wanted to know Christ and be like him even in the resurrection. He has a desire to know Christ and to get to the same point as Jesus, but at the beginning of this passage, he says that he hasn’t already arrived at that goal. He has not been resurrected and he doesn’t fully know Christ. Now, it might seem a little like, “Yeah, duh, he’s not resurrected, yet. He hasn’t died,” but in Paul’s time there were a number of people who claimed that the resurrection had already happened (2 Timothy 2:18). If that were the case, then people would not need to grow like Christ, because we are already living in the resurrection. However, Paul asserts that he has not obtained resurrection, yet. He says that he has to press on to take hold of that resurrection. He is not all the way there yet but there is work that has to be done. In fact, his main goal is to focus on what lies ahead to obtain his goal. He says that he forgets what is behind. He doesn’t look back at his past because his future is so lucrative. There is a prize that God for which has called him heavenward. That prize is far greater than anything than he could find here on earth or in his past. So, he keeps his focus on what lies ahead.

He continues, “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” (15) Paul says that, if we consider ourselves mature, we should have that same view on things. What he means is that we have to press on ahead to the goal without contemplating on what is behind. That forward momentum is what drives us ever closer to the goal. When we start looking back and not towards the goal, we start to wander in lives. During this pandemic and this sheltering-at-home, I decided to help my older kids learn how to ride a bike without training wheels. When you are learning how to ride a bike early on, one of the things you have to remember is to always look forward. If you don’t, then the bike tends to go where you are looking. We have a tendency to go the direction that we are looking and the same is for our spiritual lives.

Paul also mentions that if we think differently on some point, then God will make it clear to us. Now, Paul doesn’t want to force this thought on people. It is not a thought that we can be forced into. There are many times where we want to convince others to believe what we do, but we can’t. Only God can make things clear to us. Only God can move our hearts to accept what is truly true. Paul had confidence in this and didn’t feel like he needed to push the concept further. This is very contrary to how I work. If I don’t think someone is getting what I am saying, I will try to explain it another way and I will continue to do so until they understand or they tell me that they don’t actually care. I actually commend Paul in having this view. It is a very good viewpoint when coming to people who believe. We can’t help them believe more, but we can pray for them that God will help them understand.

Each of us has to live up to what we already have attained. (16) We can’t live our lives with a faith that we don’t have. We shouldn’t try to fake our faith to tell others to fake their faith. We have to live our lives in accordance with the level of faith that we already have. Think about it. A baby who just started walking should not try to run a marathon. They can only walk for a little bit and shouldn’t attempt running for miles on end. Likewise, after your first driving lesson, you shouldn’t attempt to race in NASCAR or Formula 1. Your skills and abilities are just not ready for it. We shouldn’t be afraid to not understand something about faith and about Jesus. We should strive to understand more, but we can’t live like we have more faith than we actually have. We should pray for more understanding and experience, just like Paul did. He wanted to know more about Christ and we should always want more of that too.

Echoing this thought, Paul wrote, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” (17) Paul urges the Philippians to follow his example. Now, this isn’t a proud call to be more like him, but an honest plea to follow the path of Christ as he is trying to do. In fact, he tells them to keep their eyes on everyone who lives like he does. Having that comradery is very beneficial to all Christians. Knowing that we are not alone in our faith enables our faith to become bolder. We see others on the same path, and it encourages us and helps us to know that we are on the right path. In this world, there are many who scoff at following Christ and it is not our duty to call out the scoffing, but to encourage those who are trying to follow. If all you hear is negative things about your faith, then you might question your faith. You might wonder if the scoffers are right about what they say. Is it foolish to believe? Is it all just wrong? However, when you see others around you, doing the same things you are doing and believing in the same Savior as you, then you can put those scoffers out of your mind. You can be reassured in the truth that Jesus died for you to give you a new life and rose again on the third day to bring you to the resurrection.

Paul urges people to follow his example because there are those out there that wish to do believers harm. The passage continues, “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (18) Paul repeated to the Philippians many times that there were those who were enemies of Christ. Paul actually states that, in this case, he is telling them again with tears. Paul is imploring with them so much that it is bringing tears to his eyes. He’s like a parent pleading with his children to listen to what he has to say. They should not take likely the words that he is sharing with them. There are people who are enemies of the cross of Christ.

Now, these enemies could be a variety of people. He might be referring to some specific people or more generally. These enemies can refer to nonbelievers that want to cause people harm, but they can also be people who profess the they believe in Jesus, but they live according to their own selfish desires, like those who teach Christ out of selfish ambition, as mentioned earlier in the book. At any rate, those who are enemies of the cross are those who seek to undermine the power of the cross. Those would be people who deny Christ and try to discourage any believer. It is those who try to validate a purely humanistic lifestyle. But it is also those who try to add to the gospel, to the message of Jesus. It is those who want to add conditions around being a Christian, like acting a certain way or performing certain rituals, like the Judaizers in Paul’s time. Those Judaizers believed that all believers were required to follow all the Jewish laws, as well. They were saved by Christ but indoctrinated into the rules of the Pharisees. That negates the power of the cross. If Jesus died to bring salvation, then why would they need to do more to get salvation? There are people like that even now. They think that being a Christian means dressing a certain way, talking a certain way, voting a certain way, never drinking alcohol, being baptized a certain way, never being brash, never being loud, never having an opinion, or never having passion. They think that a Christian is perfect all the time and that they are always right. Anyone who does not conform to their thoughts is wrong and need to be put in their place. These people, too, are enemies of the cross of Christ. Their rigidity and lack of love are contrary to what Jesus did and taught, making them enemies of the cross.

Paul describes these enemies in the next verse, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” (19) There are a few things to unpack here. Let’s start with the last thing in the verse. Those who are enemies of the cross have their mind set on earthly things. The cross represents the things that are heavenward. So, if you are an enemy of the cross, then you are an enemy of things that are heavenly. That would mean that you have your mind on earthly things, which is what Paul says here. Now, what is wrong with having your mind on earthly things? We live in the world; we are around the things of the world. We have to take care of our stomachs when we get hungry. Why is it wrong to focus on earthly things? The apostle John helps to clarify this. He wrote, “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:16) These desires aren’t from God, but they are a symbol of the fallen world and we will desire them more than anything. John also wrote, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” (1 John 2:15) When our minds are set on the things of the world, it shows what we love, and what we love is not God, but the world. We cannot love God if we love the world, because all those desires are based in our flesh and it is that very flesh that opposes God at every turn.

There is another reason to not have our mind set on earthly things and that is that those earthly things don’t last. In this passage it says, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.” (19) Those who seek the things of the earth have their destiny in destruction. This could mean that they will ultimately die and have eternal condemnation away from God, but it could also mean that whatever they desire in this world is destined to be destroyed. The apostle Matthew wrote, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19) The things of the earth are all subject to destruction. No matter what it is, it will fade and be destroyed. I mean, what in this life lasts forever? I’ve broken the screen on my current phone twice already. Homes require constant maintenance and pieces need to be replaced all of the time. The same goes for cars. You have to change the oil, check the tires and replace any worn out parts. There are thousands of pieces that can fail. Even money can fade in value because of inflation. It is worth less and less as time goes on. Even the greatest and mightiest of things falls apart. Buildings will decay and rot when left alone or worse, yet, someone will destroy what others have built. Even the great pyramids of Egypt are not what they once were. They had covering of gleaming white limestone covering them, which is all but gone, now. Why should be desire things that turn to dust?

The passage also says that “their god is their stomach”. This means that the people who follow earthly things are driven by their own desires. Their goals are just to satisfy themselves without any regard for anything else. We as a country love to spout about our freedoms, but as Paul wrote in our key verse passage for the year, “I have the right to do anything,…but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23) When we live according to our stomachs, we live according to a fleeting desire. When the desire passes, we may be left with regret or even hatred. In my youth, I bought a number of things because I wanted them, but after having them for a while, I wondered what I was supposed to do with them. That is relatively innocuous, but when that desire involves another person, it can be destructive. King David had a number of kids from his multiple wives. One of his sons lusted after one of his daughters. He had the hots for his half-sister. It was starting to hurt him, so he devised a plan. He faked an illness and asked for that sister to come and tend to him. When she arrived, he forced himself on her and raped her, but once he was done, he hated her more than he professed to love her. His desires caused his sister harm and that desire was so fleeting that switched in an instant. He was so brutal because he was living according to his appetites. When we make our only goal what we desire, we cause destruction to us and those around us.

Lastly, the passage says, “their glory is in their shame”. Since Paul is dealing with the Judaizers in this passage, he is probably directly referring to those who boast in the circumcision. The Judaizers were so proud that they were circumcised that they tried to make sure that all believers were circumcised, also. They wanted to require it and kept boasting about it. Now, every time circumcision is brought up as a requirement, I wonder how do you enforce that requirement? Do you have some way to check it? Circumcision is done on the genitals, which are supposed to be private. It is not something that you share about. But that is why Paul says that their glory is in their shame. They were finding glory in something that was meant to be private. It was shameful to show or boast about genitals, but here they were boasting. It reminds me of the various sorts of things that people post in social media. How many times have you heard about someone posting about breaking the law and have video of them doing so? There have been people who posted video of them stealing stuff or destroying property. These are shameful acts, but they are proud of them. Then there are those who do dumb things for views. They don’t care about shame or anything, just the views. They are willing to sacrifice anything and everything just for their own, slim, single-minded benefit.

However, that is not what we are supposed to do. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (20) As opposed to those who focus on their earthly desires, those who love Christ are citizens of heaven. Paul brings up this thought of citizenship because it would be very familiar to the Philippians. Philippi was a city that was filled with Roman citizens. Many Roman soldiers would retire to Philippi. The city probably had the largest number of Roman citizens outside of Rome. They were very familiar with the concept of citizenship. As Roman citizens, the enjoyed all the benefits of those living in Rome even though they weren’t there. They were proud of their citizenship, but Paul reminds the believers there that they are citizens of a greater nation than even Rome—they are citizens of heaven. Whatever benefits they may have as Romans; they would have even greater as citizens of heaven. That is where their hope truly was supposed to lie. It is where Christ would come from once again.

He would come bringing that resurrection that Paul was striving for. The apostle John wrote, “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:17) This is, again, a contrast between those seeking the world and those seeking God. The world and everything in it will pass away. They are fleeting and cease to exist, but those who seek God will live forever. Not only that, as Paul writes, when Jesus comes, “who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (21) Jesus will take these broken, lowly bodies and transform them to be glorious like Jesus’ resurrected body. We will be like him forever and have true glory, not the fake stuff we try to find. The world offers us nothing that truly lasts, but we are not of this world. We have a citizenship from heaven. We are merely visiting here for a short while, while we have an eternal dwelling in heaven. That is where we belong, as believers.

It is also why Paul said that he forgets what is behind and presses on towards what is ahead. What is ahead is his citizenship in heaven. It is far greater than anything that he has on this earth and he is so focused on having that citizenship and its rights that all other things are considered a loss. When we look back on our earthly lives with desire, we denounce our citizenship in heaven. My sister was born in Germany and for many years had dual German and American citizenship, but when she was 18, she had to choose between one or the other. She couldn’t maintain both. It is the very same with being a citizen of heaven. We have to make a choice about the world or about God. We cannot be a citizen of both. They are opposites of each other. We have to look ahead to the eternal because it is something that truly valuable. The things of this earth are like Happy Meal toys, they may provide some entertainment, but they are flimsy and break easily, sometimes within a few seconds of getting them.

Our citizenship in heaven is unique. Unlike our citizenship on earth, we cannot be born into it. On earth, you are a citizen of where you are born. That is apparent when you look at all the different places the people of our ministry came from. But despite all those differences, we are all citizens of heaven and it is nothing that we could have accomplished on our own. Our citizenship in heaven is not determined on how we were born, but on how Christ died. His death on the cross for the sins of humanity allow us to become children of God and citizens of heaven. That is why an enemy of the cross cannot be a citizen, because citizenship comes through the cross of Christ. As we go about our lives on this earth, we need to have our focus on what truly matters. We cannot be two minds of this, but we should have a singular focus on where our citizenship is. We are on this world as visitors, tourists and ambassadors. It is not our home and the home that we have is the best that there is. It doesn’t matter where you were born, the church has one citizenship and that is of heaven. So we should lift our eyes to where our hope comes from.

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