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LIVING AS A CITIZEN OF HEAVEN
Philippians 3:16 - 4:1
Pastor Dave Strem
"POLITICS" IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
There are only two places in the entire New Testament where the word "politia" is mentioned in the Bible. And both are in Philippians 3:16 - 4:1. We are not talking about the politics of America. We are not talking about Republican or Democratic, we are talking about our citizenship in heaven, and the importance of it, how often we take it for granted, and the difference that your service can make.
WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN HEAVEN!
Do you realize you can make a difference in heaven? Often we think, "Well, I am just going to be there." But you get to do some things here and now, this week, next week and the days you have ahead that will affect your joy, your fellowship, your satisfaction and the satisfaction of others for all eternity.
Look at Philippians 3:16 - 4:1.
Only let us live up to what we have already obtained. (He is referring back to the righteousness that becomes ours by faith, standing righteous before God by faith, not on the basis of works.) Join with others in following my example, brothers. And take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For as I have often told you before and now say again, even with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross. Their destiny is destruction. Their God is their stomach and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ who, by the power that enabled him to bring everything under his control, will transform even our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love, whom I long for, my joy and my crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord.
This passage finishes the thought started in chapter one, verse 27: "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Stand firm in one spirit." Stand firm. And then he goes on in chapter two and says how to stand firm.
OUR CITIZENSHIP IN HEAVEN
The focus of this paper is our citizenship in heaven. People do not talk often about heaven and I do not say a lot about it because it can be escapist for many and impractical to others. "We cannot wait, our lives are so horrible here; we just cannot wait to get to heaven," some say. Others want practical truths, things they can see and understand, things that relate to the here and now. But heaven is true and the truth of it, the hope of heaven, is something that can change the way we look at the here-and-now. The hope of heaven gives us the strength to cope with the world we are in and there is nothing more practical than that.
GETTING OUT OF OUR LIFE
Anybody, like me, remember being in 5th grade and sitting through arithmetic and thinking, "My life is never going to get out of this classroom? I am never going to get to high school." And then in high school, as a sophomore, "I am never going to be a senior, I am never going to get out." And then in college, "Will I ever be done with these classes? When will I get to be free and work for a living." And finally, "Oh, I cannot wait to get to retirement." Folks, recognize, you get out of 5th grade, you get out of high school, you get out of college, you get out of the labor force, and you get out of retirement. Guaranteed. Heaven is true. Heaven is real. Eternity is real and it is waiting for you and your life now should be lived in light of it.
LIVING UP TO WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY ATTAINED - OUR HEAVENLY CITIZENSHIP IS NOT EARNED
In this passage we are going to see some key truths about Christians and our citizenship that stand out which can affect our lives if we allow the truth of them to seep down into our hearts. Look at verse 16. It says, "Live up to what we have already attained." It refers back to verse 9 where it says, "It is not having a righteousness of your own by the law, but righteousness that comes from God through faith in Christ." A righteousness not earned but given - imputed. It is allowed to be yours by the grace of God. Our citizenship is not earned. We cannot pay nearly enough for it. Our citizenship is granted by divine decree. You are a citizen of heaven by God's grace.
The Philippians understood how important this was but we have a hard time grasping exactly what this means because in America we are all citizens. Imagine living in a two-class society. Not much unlike America in the early days with slavery where there were two classes of people-citizens and others. And imagine yourself to be one of the "others." Someone can come along at any point and throw you in jail or beat you because they make an accusation against you and you do not even get a trial.
Someone can come and script you to be in the army or to work in a community labor force without pay because they want you and you have no right to say, "No, that is not fair!" You live in fear of getting on the bad side of any citizen who can do what they want to you. You have no security, no significance, no importance, little value, feeling in jeopardy all the time. Oh, how your heart longs to be a citizen. Not to be better than anybody else, but just to be secure, just to be safe, just to be able to protect your family.
PROTECTION BY CITIZENSHIP
The Philippians knew what that was like. They were a Roman colony with many Roman citizens, but most of the people in Philippi were Macedonians. They were aliens in their own land. And the Romans could do what they willed with them. The Romans were protected by their citizenship. If you were rich, a rich Macedonian maybe, you could sell half of everything that you had and buy your citizenship. If you were not rich, then the best chance you had was to enlist in the military. If you served in the military as a soldier for 21 years, you were given citizenship. You and your family were given citizenship. Of course, you had to live that long.
BECOMING A CITIZEN IN AN EMPIRE AND IN HEAVEN
Most of those who were Roman citizens got it by birth, born of parents who were citizens. But that was mostly in Rome, in Italy, and not in Macedonia, not in Philippi. There were a few. Everybody in town knew who they were. And if this person had an opportunity to stand before Caesar and request your citizenship you could be made a citizen. And Caesar would say, "I, Caesar Augustus, make you __________ a citizen of the Roman empire." And by Caesar's decree you had all the rights and privileges of a citizen. You are a citizen because Caesar himself spoke your name. It was not inherited, it was not purchased with a bribe, it was not earned through military service, it was given because a respected friend went to Caesar for you.
That is what Paul is describing in these verses. You have a righteousness that was not achieved by self-effort at keeping the law, not earned, but imputed unto you because you have a respected friend that went to the Father for you. "I died for him. I know him. Let him into our family, Father." That is what Paul is describing. Your citizenship is achieved by God's grace because a friend stands up for you. That should inspire humility in your heart and a heartfelt loyalty to the one who cared enough about you to gain citizenship for you so that you can be with Him in heaven. Your citizenship is divinely decreed by God Himself. That is a privilege and a blessing that should not be taken lightly.
This divine decree should inspire loyalty and dedication. It should change the way you live because suddenly it is not simply "the kingdom" or "God's kingdom," it is "your kingdom." You have a stake in it. Now it belongs to you. And as such, you reflect that homeland by the way you live.
As a citizen, you reflect your homeland. People from the United States when they go on trips abroad are sometimes known as "ugly Americans." The French are famous for their rudeness. The Japanese for their graciousness, respect, humility.
WHAT DOES YOUR BEHAVIOR AS A CITIZEN OF HEAVEN TELL OTHERS ABOUT HEAVEN?
What does your behavior, your behavior as a citizen of heaven, tell those around you about heaven? You reflect your homeland to those around you. That is why it says in verse 16, "live up to what has already been attained." Heaven is a humble, obedient, loving, gracious domain. James tells us, "the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all, pure, then peace-loving, considerate, and submissive. It is full of mercy and good fruit. It is impartial and sincere."
That is not simply the characteristics of the citizens of heaven, but it should also be what its citizens should reflect now. Those qualities only have meaning as they are reflected in the people who live there. Based on your behavior, is there anyone who would want to go to heaven to be with others like you? To be with the Lord you represent? That is a scary thought. How are you representing your Lord and the heaven He has created?
Romans chapter 12 says, "Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." That is why Paul can say so clearly, "Follow my example," because Paul tells us all through Philippians that God has transformed his life. He no longer is walking by the old ways but God has changed his heart. God has made him different. So he can say, "Follow my life." It is not arrogant. He just told us in verse 12, "I am not yet perfect but I do this. I forget what is behind me and I press on toward the goal I have of being with Christ." Paul is essentially saying, "I am still working at it so follow my example."
CONTRASTING THE CITIZENSHIP OF THIS WORLD WITH THE CITIZENSHIP OF HEAVEN
The contrast of living as a faithful representative of heaven is living as a citizen of this world, an enemy of the cross. Can you imagine a more hurtful accusation to be made of you? "An enemy of the cross" means living as if the cross is meaningless. The cross carries no weight with you. The cross is considered unimportant and even despised. Sure, it was a fact in history, but it does not change your life. It does nothing for you. It was simply a wooden stick on a hill, an instrument of cruelty and pain rather an instrument of salvation and grace.
Can you see their fingerprints on our society? Those who say that sin is a religious relic, that sin is irrelevant today. Sin is considered meaningless in our scientific age. "Technology and knowledge has come so far since those dark ages that we do not need religion to make a better world," some might say.
But science and technology have done absolutely nothing to change human nature or make us more morally responsible beings. Adultery, theft, perjury, murder, abuse, selfishness are as hurtful and as shameful today as they were in the dark ages. They destroy lives and break hearts in exactly the same way. That is why it describes them as, "their god is their stomach."
Can you see those fingerprints on our society? Do you hear the words, "If it feels so good, how can it be so wrong?" "What happens in Mexico stays in Mexico or what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas." As long as no one knows it is acceptable. Can you see this as a great lie? What you do in Mexico comes back with you because you come back and it is part of your character. You defined it there. "Their glory is their shame." People want to parade their decadence. "We have a right to be however we want to be." And they do in our society. But there will come a day when they will have to look God in the eye and it will not be acceptable.
Their mind is on earthly things. They are constantly focusing on: "How can I get more?" " I want for me." "I want my way." The world says: "Morality is simply an opinion and your truth or your sense of morality is yours and it is relatively irrelevant to me." "Relatively irrelevant." What does that mean? It means that if it does not make a difference or happen to me then I do not care. Unless you get my daughter pregnant. Unless you want to do something to me or take something of mine. Then all of a sudden it becomes very relevant. That view is selfish, self-centered. Sin is relevant because it violates God's law and it harms our relationships and the society we live in.
THE CROSS, AND THE GRACE
The cross declares the seriousness of all sin. The cross is the symbol of Christ's humility, of His obedience, of His suffering, of His love and graciousness for us. It is a symbol of God's mercy and God's justice. It is a sign of His hatred for sin but also His great love for the sinner. God is not simply a nice guy that says, "Do your best at least most of the time and it will be 'OK'." The rebellion that under girds sin must be addressed!
Would others around you want to be in heaven if you are there? Does your life reflect the qualities, the wisdom of heaven? Be careful of your reputation, of what you do and what you say because, truly, people equate you with Christianity. Last week I handed out the Christian Coalition voter's guide because I could not find anything else that asked pertinent and moral questions and also gave relevant responses. But I have to tell you, folks, the Christian Coalition has a terrible reputation in our community. Not because of what they believe, but because of the way they have acted on their beliefs. Because they, at times, have not exhibited graciousness, kindness, compassion, humility when they are stating their beliefs. That has been true in the past but God willing it won't be that way in the future.
WATCH HOW YOU LIVE AND SPEAK!
Some of you are part of that group. Watch how you live and speak, it makes a difference. It may be your behavior as much as your beliefs that drives people away. Think about it. Someone may come to accept your beliefs because they see them lived out in life but they will not return to you because of your obnoxious behavior. It becomes you who continues to drive them away and not your teachings.
The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and peace-loving, considerate and submissive. It is not compromising, not wishy-washy, but gracious, full of mercy and good fruit. It is doing things that are effective for bringing goodness to our society. It is impartial and sincere. It stands on morality not simply personal preference. Be careful because what you believe and how you live represents your homeland.
Verse 20 says:
But our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ who by power enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform everything even our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body.
Paul is talking to us about straining forward, of letting loose of the past and pressing toward the goal to win the prize for which Christ has called me heavenward. It is real, he is looking forward to it.
A CITIZEN LOOKS TOWARD GETTING HOME
A citizen looks forward to getting home. In my trips to Guatemala I always had a great time and enjoyed the company of many gracious people but I looked forward to going home. I went to Israel five years ago and had many wonderful experiences but I looked forward to going home to be with my family and friends. On my sabbatical I went to Chicago and saw some Cubs' games. I went to Los Angeles and went to Dodgers' games. I saw a lot of friends and did a lot of things, but I always looked forward to getting home.
It is an old cliché, but it is true. "Home is where the heart is." It is nice to get away, but you belong where you belong and as a child of God, you belong to Him and He wants you home. He wants you to remember and think about home and not to get all worked-up over the temporary issues that ultimately do not matter.
When I was in California I rented several cars. I had some fun cars, but I did not wax them. I did not change the oil on any of them. I did not want to get invested in those things. They were not mine. I took care of them as a responsible person but I did not invest anything into them because they were not mine. Everything you have in this world is temporary. There will be no Chevys in heaven. No Fords either. But what is there is exactly what you need.
A citizen looks forward to getting home. He does not get too invested where he is visiting, but he does invest in a few things he can take back with him. I brought back a few souvenirs from California, from Guatemala, from Israel. What can you take with you to heaven? What can you invest in now that you get to take with you? Those are the things that should hold the bulk of your attention. And notice that these things almost always revolve around people. It means investing your life in ways that benefit others, in ways that God deems valuable.
CHOOSE TO BE WITH CHRIST - YOUR CITIZENSHIP MATTERS
You can make a difference in lives that cause them to choose to be with Christ. You may not get to lead them personally to Christ, but you do get to plant some seeds or water them. You can make a difference. Now there is an ongoing dispute about election and predestination and free will. Does a person get to choose to go to heaven or has God already chosen from the foundations of the earth? The answer is, "yes." Billy Graham has said, "God has chosen who He is going to choose, but I get to usher the call." God chooses to save those who chose His Son! Ultimately, each person is responsible for his or her response to God's offer of forgiveness and fellowship but we must strive to never be a stumbling block for anyone.
Look at what Paul said in verse 1 of chapter 4. "You are my joy and my crown." His crown is not, "Well, talk about knowing the Bible. I wrote it. I have the crown of wisdom. I have the crown of excellence, of knowledge, of truth." His crown is the Philippian believers in which he has shared his life with, that he has sustained and supported. Their crown is him who they financially supported in his time of need, who they prayed for. Their lives intertwined and that is his joy and his crown. Paul is going to look at me and say, "Oh, yeah. You are the one who read my book and taught it to others." He and I will have a point of contact, something to share. But the Philippians are the ones he is going to have the most to share with.
Your citizenship matters. Are you focused on it? Do you see the reality that has been earned by God's grace. You possess it, now you are called to live up to it. Live in ways that bring a good reflection upon your Lord and Savior and then look forward to getting there. Realize this is just temporary. Do not get too invested here. See what you can send on ahead.
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Pastor Dave Strem
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