The Herald Weekly Vol XVII : 26

We are also Citizens of Heaven
(Philippians 3:17-21)

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians while he was confined in the Roman prison. He never felt restricted even though he was behind the prison bars; but he wrote a four-chapter long letter that challenged the believers to rejoice and live for Christ in all aspects of their Christian life.

For the Apostle, nothing could stop him from preaching the gospel nor constrain him from bearing witness for Christ. In death or life, in any circumstances or conditions of comfort or adversity, Paul could say the most Spirit-empowering words. These includes:

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21)
“Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (2:2)
“Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all,” (2:17)
“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (3:7)
“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his suffering, being made conformable unto his death” (3:11)

As we move forward into the third chapter and verses 17-21: Paul said, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

There are three important lessons to glean from the Apostle’s teaching:

Firstly, beware of the enemies of the cross

Paul criticized not only the Judaizers, but also the self-indulgent Christians. These are people who claim to be believers but don’t live up to Christ’s model of servanthood and sacrifice. In fact, they opposed the teaching and convictions of Christ. Paul said those words to those whose minds were on earthly things. He referred to them as “…enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Phil 3:18-19).

In other words, these satisfy their own desires before even thinking about the needs of others. But, freedom in Christ does not mean freedom to be selfish. It means the opportunity to serve and to become the best person you can be for Christ’s sake.

Who exactly were the enemies of the cross?

a) One group consisted of the Judaizers – they denied the saving power of the cross. It was a symbol of shame and stumbling block to them that they could not accept.
b) The second group included the Epicureans who made pleasure their life’s goal and pursuit in every aspect of living. They abandoned as hopeless the search for pure truth. Instead, their goals were enjoyment and pleasure through experience. They were also known as hedonists – pleasure seekers for life’s enjoyment.

Someone put it this way:
Their end isn’t mansion,
but destruction.
They won’t pick up the cross.
Their glory isn’t the right aim,
but their shame.
Their mind isn’t spiritual birth,
but physical earth.

Why did Paul say that their “God is their belly”? He meant that what is important to them is all that belongs to the body; fleshly life of man which perishes. They are those driven by sensual appetites; eager to please self, and not the true and living God.

We must note that Paul mentioned these groups of people with tears in his eyes, and he reminded the believers to pray for them as well as to mark them so that their godless ways will not in any way influence the followers of Christ.

Secondly, we are the citizens of heaven

Although locked in the dark dungeon and confined to a space full of rats and roaches, the joyful Apostle related to the Philippian believers of a better and spiritual life. He reminded them that they are citizens of heaven.

Yes, believers have in their possession a second citizenship in heaven as a result of their trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour.

This reminds us of an Olympian swimmer by the name of Martin Zubero who was born and raised most of his life in the USA. Martin received his university education in the University of Florida. He trained for swimming competitions in the US, but at the competition in Barcelona Olympics in 1992, he swam under the flagship of Spain as he chose to represent his father’s nation. His father is a citizen of Spain and so is Martin. He felt greater allegiance to his father’s nation. Martin has dual citizenship, and so do we as Christians.

Paul says, “For our conversation is in heaven” (Phil 3:20) which means “we are citizens of heaven.” No matter which nation we live in, as followers of Christ, we are also citizens of heaven. We may be physically living in this world, but our allegiance is toward our God in heaven. God has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). Yes, we need to constantly remind ourselves that though we live on earth, but our true citizenship is in heaven. Hence, we should set our affection on things above, and store our treasures there (Matt 6:20).

All of us believe in Christ, and like Abraham and the Old Testament patriarchs, we are looking for the “city which has foundations, whose  builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). God’s people in the past “seek a country” (v14), but they “desire a better country, that is an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” (vs 14, 16).

Beloved, as the words of a hymn reminds us: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through…” We are just pilgrims on this earth, and soon God will take us back to His glorious home in heaven.

Citizens of Philippi had the same rights and privileges as the citizens of Rome because Philippi was a Roman colony. Likewise, we will one day experience all the special privileges of our heavenly citizenship because we belong to Christ. Therefore, our minds should be on spiritual things in heaven rather than temporal things on earth.

But, does your conduct match your Citizenship?

1) Can the cleaner at a food centre tell by the way you treat him or her that you are a citizen of heaven through your words of appreciation or encouragement for his or her effort?
2) Can the people on the road tell a difference by the way you drive?
3) Does your conduct match your citizenship when you are behind the doors of your home?
4) Whose morals or code of conduct do you observe when you are on a business trip alone?
5) How do you treat others on the phone, or at work?

Remember, we are citizens of heaven. No matter which country’s passport we may hold, all Christians who follow Jesus are citizens of heaven. No residency requirements. No book to study first. You may or may not have had an interview that resulted in your being baptized or confirmed in a church. But you made a choice to follow Jesus Christ. And when you made that choice, when you received Him as your Lord and Saviour as the One whose life and teachings are now your norm, right there and then, you were given a passport declaring that you are a citizen of heaven.

Christians live under the principles and ideals of heaven. We perform an important function on earth while we are here. God has placed us on earth to glorify Him here before He brings us to heaven.

Thirdly, we will one day be changed to be like Christ

Paul in the smelly and dirty jail wrote a letter with great hope that one day Christ “…shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.”

When Christ does come to save the citizens of heaven at the end of the age, He will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body. Our bodies are “lowly” now in that they are subject to temptation, sin, ailments, weakness, decay and death. The bodies of believers, once they are transformed, will be like the body of Christ. With the new body that is incorruptible and imperishable, the citizens of Heaven will be able to fulfil God’s intention to rule over His creation – only it will be a new creation that will have undergone its own transformation (Rom 8:20-21). The new creation will be filled with the glory of God – His presence and majesty. As Habakkuk 2:14 declares, “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”

In summary, we are called to be alert to the oppositions to the true teachings of Christ. We are reminded that we are the citizens of Heaven, and given a glorious hope that the day is coming when our vile bodies will be transformed to be like Christ. Let us then move forward with confidence and trust in the Lord as we stand firmly in the truth of the Bible, and continue to witness for Christ in this world that needs His hope, peace and eternal security in Him.

Pastor Bob Phee
(1st printing 2 Sep 2012)

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