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Sensitive to our Citizenship (Philippians 3:20-4:9)

May 22, 2016 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Misc. Messages

Topic: Philippians Passage: Philippians 3:20–4:9


Sensitive to Our Citizenship
Philippians 3:20-4:9
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
May 22nd, 2016

 

I. Your Citizenships

I’m going to guess that most of you are like me: When it comes to my citizenship, I can be very insensitive. Sure, when political season is in full swing, I am often forced to think about how I will exercise my voting right as a citizen of this country. But beyond that, beyond elections, I don't think much about the fact I am a citizen of this country. I don't think very often about what else that means or should mean for my everyday life. It's fair to say, that very often, I take my citizenship for granted.

But what if, in recognizing this, I want to change things. What if I want to become sensitive to my citizenship? To savor it? To live in light of it?

As counter intuitive as it might sound, I’ve discovered that a good way to become sensitized to our American citizenship is to leave America. When I've travelled outside the country, it often leads to three things happening: 1) It can remind you of how just and free and prosperous our society is; 2) being in a foreign culture will help you to see the distinctiveness of your citizenship; and 3) it will make you uncomfortably aware of how you are carry yourself as an American and how others perceive you.

Whether you’re in the first world or third world, traveling abroad is a great way to become more sensitive to your citizenship.

But there is another, even more profound aspect to this conversation; an even more important sensitivity to an even more important citizenship. Turn over to Philippians 3.

 

II. The Passage: “Our Citizenship is in Heaven” (3:20-4:9)

2000 years ago, the Apostle Paul wanted his readers in Philippi to be sensitive to their citizenship. How does he go about reminding them of this important subject? Well, he does three things. First, he teaches them in 3:20-4:1 about the reality of their citizenship. Then in 4:2-7, he describes for them reflections of their citizenship. And finally, in 4:8, 9, he points them to some reminders of their citizenship. Why don't we look at each of these as we read through this passage. Look first at Philippians 3:20 through 4:1. Paul reminds his readers of...

 

1. The Reality of Our Citizenship (3:20-4:1)

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, [21] 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. [4:1] Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Paul know that citizenship was an important subject to the Philippians. Before he took the title of Caesar Augustus, the Roman general Octavius conferred upon the city of Philippi the title of ius italicum. It was the highest designation for a Roman colony. It was a status that exempted its people and their lands from taxes. And the Philippians were well aware of their privileged status; they took great pride in the fact they were a commonwealth of Rome.

But look how Paul takes something he knows about the Philippians (namely their civic pride) and he uses it to point them to something even greater. Instead of drawing their identity from their Roman citizenship, he reminds them of God’s Kingdom.

Though the context of verse 20 certainly has a future perspective in terms of our King's return, Paul is using that future reality to explain a very present reality. It doesn't say, “our citizenship will be in heaven”. It IS in heaven, right now! We also hear this in Colossians 1:13:

For He [God the Father] delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son…

Do you think of yourself in those terms? Goodness, we hardly think about our American citizenship. In Hebrews and I Peter, servants of God are called “strangers and aliens” in this world. Do you think of yourself in that way? Does this place feel like a foreign country to you? Or are you fairly comfortable here? A tension should exist, a tension that is even apparent from our songs of praise: “This is My Father's World”, and “This World is Not My Home”.

We can be comfortable in God’s creation as human beings made for planet Earth. But at the same time, we should be uncomfortable with the darkness of humanity’s wisdom, with the system of this world that is in rebellion against God.

In that latter sense, Paul wanted the Philippians to remember, and God wants us to remember that we are not from around here. And because we aren't, that changes things. Look at where Paul goes in terms of the outworking of such a reality…

 

2. The Reflections of Our Citizenship (4:2-7)

Although it may not seem like it at first, Paul goes on to describe reflections of our citizenship, that is, how our homeland is reflected through us in this foreign country we call the world. Look at verses 2-7...

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. [3] Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. [4] Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. [5] Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; [6] do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [7] And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

As I mentioned, at first it may seem like what we have in these verses is just a collections of random instructions and encouragements.

But Paul knew the Philippians knew that a person who is sensitive to their citizenship will live in light of their citizenship. He even said as much in chapter 1. Listen to the opening words of Philippians 1:27...Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ...

Now you might be thinking, “That's a great verse, but what does it have to do with citizenship?” Glad you asked. In Greek, the phrase literally reads, “Only behave as citizens in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” That “behave as citizens” is just the verb form of the noun “citizenship” in 3:20. You see, Paul knew the Philippians knew their was a way to behave as citizens, a way that was worthy of the privilege of their citizenship.

Isn't the same true for us? The customs of our country are different. And not just different, but right and just and good. That’s why this world should be uncomfortable with us in one sense. But our prayer is that God would also make our differences attractive for the sake of Jesus.

Just look at the four differences we find in this passage. Consider how they contrast with what the world teaches or how the world so often lives...

Harmony/Unity vs. Dissension and 'My Rights' (vs. 2, 3)

Abiding Joy vs. Fleeting Happiness or Persistent Despair (v. 4)

Patience and Graciousness vs. Rudeness and Impatience (v. 5)

Trust and Peace vs. Worry and Doubt (vs. 6, 7).

All of us struggle with remembering where we’re from, because we live on foreign soil. We are surrounded every day by an alien landscape! So how do we keep fixed on the reality of our heavenly citizenship?

 

3. The Reminders of Our Citizenship (4:8, 9)

Look at the reminders of our citizenship that Paul goes on to describe in verses 8 and 9...

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [9] What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

We often feel very comfortable in this world, in our society, in our culture (even if there are 'hot button topics' that irk or sadden us). Well, I don't think we should be surprised by the fact we often feel comfortable. Why? Because we will feel comfortable when we’re filling our minds with all the garbage out there, with what is not true, not honorable, not just, not pure, not lovely, not commendable, not excellent, not worthy of praise.

When we think on those things, we should feel right at home. But this is precisely why God wants His people to (v. 8) “think about THESE things”. He wants them to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent; what is worthy of praise, no matter where we find it.

Because wherever we truly find these things, they are from God. They are reflections of who He is. They point us back to our homeland. They are reminders of our citizenship because they are reminders of our King.

And notice that Paul does not simply leave it at “THINK about these things”. He goes on in verse 9 to get even more specific: What you have learned and received and heard and seen in ME—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

It is a good thing to think on the beauty of a Beethoven symphony. It is something excellent and worthy of praise. Although Beethoven did not have it in mind, his music reflects His Creator. But that music must always point us to a greater music, to the song of life that bursts forth through the gospel, the very thing Paul lived for, day in and day out. We need to think about what is pure, but we also need to walk in purity for the sake of Christ. We need to meditate on what is “worthy of praise”. But even more, we need to live the kind of life that causes others to see God as “worthy of praise”.

So how is Paul encouraging them? He is encouraging them by pointing them to the astonishing reality of their heavenly citizenship. But he also wants them to think carefully about the distinctive reflections of their citizenship. And to reflect the kingdom in this way, he knows they need to fill their thoughts with reminders of their citizenship.

We are not from around here, and God used Paul then, and is using Paul now, to remind us of that amazing fact; a fact we so easily forget.

 

III. “So Heavenly Minded...”

I'm not sure if you've ever heard it, but this charge has been leveled against the Church: “Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” Now, many of us might be aware of examples that would certainly support this claim; Christians who seem to live in their own separate subculture, talking a lot about love and salvation and heaven, but in the end, seem indifferent to the everyday needs of their neighbors, of their community. They will gladly give you a Bible tract, but may be too busy to give you a hand when you need it.

That's not who God has called us to be, brothers and sisters.

Listen to how these seven verses from I Peter 2 weave these very same themes together:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles [strangers and aliens] to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. [12] Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. [13] Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, [14] or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. [15] For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. [16] Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. [17] Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (I Peter 2:11-17)

And Peter will go on to talk about servants or employees acting in a God-honoring way with those over them. He will go on to talk about wives and husbands living in such a way that their heavenly citizenship is reflected. And in 3:9 he will instruct them...

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (I Peter 3:9)

Brothers and sisters, I believe God's word teaches us just the opposite of the world's criticism, that we cannot do any earthly good until we are so, so, so heavenly-minded.

Which one are we:

A foreign-born ambassador trying to represent his country well in a very different culture?

OR

A locally-born person, a native son, who has returned as the amabassador of a foreign nation, after living for many years in that foreign nation, learning its ways and customs?

Which one are we? We're really a little bit of both of those things. We are born again, that is we are born as children of God, and so we really are born somewhere else. But we are also from here. This is our culture, this is the world we were born into. We know it all too well.

But we have to be careful. If we only think about being from a different place, about not being from around here, if we don't let something else balance it out, we begin to despise the world; we begin don't look down on others in the world; that we are better than others in the world, the unwashed masses that we don't want anything to do with. Then we do the 'holy huddle', we 'circle the wagons' and stay separate.

But this is our culture; this is the world we were born into. And we've been away by the grace of God, we are away all the time learning the customs, learning what our new home is all about, that we may come back with humility and reflect this new country to the old.

This is what this is what our neighbors need, brothers and sisters. This is what our co-workers need to know, that there is another country, that there is another citizenship, that there is hope beyond the system of this world.

And they will see it if we are sensitive to our citizenship. Let's pray and ask God to do this work in us, making a sensitive to our heavenly citizenship.