(Phil 3.17-21) 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. 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. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set 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 enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Over the last few weeks—in the wake of Easter—
we’ve been reflecting on the resurrection of Jesus.
Seems like an important thing to reflect on—
seeing as how it’s the center of our faith.
The earliest Christians were absolutely obsessed
with the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—
it was why the church started at all.
They’d seen someone defeat death.
They’d seen someone discard death.
And the earliest Christians believed
that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth
I mean, they would,
The resurrection is about something better than life after death—
than existing in a nice place after death.
The gospel is about the world’s resurrected king
bringing resurrection to the world.
The resurrection of Jesus
shows us what is important to God.
This life, these bodies, this world—
this world is important to God.
Enough that he reclaims it—
that’s what the resurrection of Jesus is about.
A couple of weeks ago we saw in 1 Corinthians 15
the early Christian conviction that Jesus is going share his resurrection
with the rest of the human race.
We said this world’s future looks like Jesus’s resurrection.
The Christian hope is not about
God hitting a giant reset button one day
in some other kind of foggy reality called “heaven.”
No, the Christian hope
from start to finish
is about resurrection.
The resurrection shows us that
God is not reconsidering his creation,
God is reclaiming his creation.
This life that we’re living—
this life right now—
is the real thing.
Not just the things that we think of as spiritual—
literally everything matters.
A couple of weeks ago we looked a little at 1 Corinthian 13—
and we saw Paul telling early Christians to learn to live in love
because love is the one thing the world doesn’t outgrow.
One day when Jesus shares his resurrection with the world,
love is what is going to last into that new world.
Everything else is just baby clothes—
it’ll be outgrown.
The really, truly, bedrock important thing in this world
is learning to love.
That brings us to our passage today
and a phrase that I want us to meditate on briefly.
In this section of his letter to a Jesus community in Philippi,
Paul tells the Philippians that they are citizens of heaven.
That’s what he said in verse 20—
“our citizenship is in heaven.”
Growing up in church,
people would pick up on this phrase.
“Well, you know, this world isn’t my home—
I’m a citizen of heaven—of another world—
I’m just passing through.”
That’s the way this phrase would most commonly get referenced.
I once sat in a small group with a middle-aged woman
who was talking about circumstances in her life—
wrestling with struggles and difficulties
and the most human sorts of hopes and fears—
and then in the middle of it all, she made this quick sort of apology.
She felt the need to apologize.
To qualify her interest in this world.
She apologized and said something like
she knows this isn’t our home and that we’re just passing through—
and then she it’s hard “because I just love this world.”
In that moment I wanted to just stop the conversation.
I wanted to tell her that
there’s a reason why she loves this world—
God loves this world too.
There’s a reason why she thinks those circumstances matter—
it’s because they do.
But she had been handed an understanding that a truly Christian mindset
is where you’re this kind of detached, uninvested person
always thinking about going somewhere else.
She had been taught what a lot of us have been taught.
A lot times it sounds like that heaven’s citizenship—
that allegiance to Jesus, that being a Christian—
is primarily about:
There. Not here.
And then. Not now.
It’s about there—
going somewhere else.
And it’s about then—
someday, one day, after death… not right now.
And if you spend any length of time in churches
we can understand how she might get that impression.
There’s this wonderful hymn
that the church sometimes sings
called “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Wonderful, brilliant, stirring lyrics.
But the last verse of that hymn actually reinforces this
“To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.”
it’s a mindset that’s become pervasive in the church
that we can sing it and not even recognize it.
But that detached sort of mindset
is almost the opposite of what Paul is talking about here.
Paul is addressing Philippians.
(Well, of course he is.
That’s what we call the letter, isn’t it?)
He’s addressing people who living in the city of Philippi,
and Philippi is a Roman colony.
We don’t have a lot of experience with colonies.
We might remember something about thirteen original colonies from American History. Or something about 19th century colonialism if we payed attention in World History.
But for the most part they’re all just that—colonies are history.
We have to really think it through to remember what a colony is.
A colony is an extension of a country.
America’s thirteen original colonies were an extension of England.
John Adams, George Washington, and the rest
may have lived on this side of the Atlantic,
but they were citizens of England.
But the point about them being English citizens
was that they were bringing the life of England to a New World.
That’s what colonists do.
Colonists extend their motherland to new shores.
So too with Philippi.
When Paul starts writing things like “our citizenship is in heaven”
the Philippians understood this loud and clear.
Philippi is a colony of Rome
that was (re)established with former soldiers.
Philippi is an extension of Rome to new shores—
into the southern Balkan region of Thracia (modern Greece).
A great deal of the people who lived in Philippi were actually Roman citizens.
Their citizenship is in Rome.
But the point of being a Roman citizen
was not that one day you’re going to settle down in Rome—
or go live forever in Italy one day.
The Balkan shores are your home.
The city of Philippi is your home.
The point of being a Roman citizen
is to extend the life of Rome to new shores.
Philippi was designed to be a miniature Rome.
The citizens of Rome in Philippi
are colonists of the kingdom of Roman.
That means they’re working to extend
the culture of Rome, the habits of Rome,
the values and logic and life of Rome—
they’re working to extend the kingdom of Rome into a new world.
So when Paul says,
“You—you who confess Jesus as King, Jesus as Lord—
you may not be in the motherland but never forget
that you are citizens of heaven.
This doesn’t mean that we’re just passing through—
that we’re detached and uninvested because one day
we’re going somewhere else.
No—this really is our home.
You’re a citizen of heaven,
but your citizenship is about here and now.
Don’t obsess with leaving these shores,
don’t try to escape this world,
don’t give up this life.
You’re a citizen of heaven,
a colonist of heaven—|
live like it.
Live it here.
Live it now.
Live in such a way as to extend
the habits of heaven, the culture of heaven,
the values and logic and life of heaven,
extend these things into this home of yours.
For us—live in such a way as to extend the kingdom of heaven
to eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
I mean you’ve got to choose some way to live.
Live the life of heaven on foreign shores.
There are all kinds of ways of living that we see all around us.
The way of bright tabloid covers in checkout lanes.
The way of superficial YouTube channels and reality television.
The way of thoughtless consumers of entertainment.
There’s a way of living that obsesses only over
the needs and desires of the right now.
Really, a way of living
that lives as though this world has no future.
Living only on the surface of things.
That’s what Paul means by “earthly things” (v19).
Living as if reality is only
what we see and touch and experience
But that’s crazy.
That would be like chaos erupting within the walls Philippi
because people had forgotten that there’s a place called Rome.
For the Philippians,
their citizenship in Rome isn’t so much
about where they’re going in the future
as it is what shapes their present.
There exists a city on seven hills called Rome—
and you—you are Roman citizens.
Live like it.
Paul is saying there exists a different kind of city—
a heavenly city—and you are its citizens.
Dwell on that.
Because this is the city that will last.
Dwell on the reality that you are citizens of that city.
And then live like it.
We often wind up pursuing what we dwell on.
Dwelling on the surface of things
often leads to pursuing what won’t last.
When we dwell on just the surface of things
it often leads us to focus on ourselves—our fears, our cravings, our ambitions.
And that focus on ourselves
often lead us to live in ways
that don’t look like love.
It can lead us to live as enemies of Christ (v18)—
enemies of the true King.
Living in such a way (v19) where
our god is our stomach,
our glory is our shame,
our destiny is destruction.
And Paul says:
Don’t live like that!
That’s just crazy.
Don’t forget that there is a motherland—
there’s a city that makes sense of where we live.
And we eagerly await a Savior from there (v20)—
a King from there—who is going to transform the world.
Who will share his resurrection with this world.
Notice what Paul doesn’t say.
He doesn’t say,
“Our citizenship is in heaven,
and we eagerly await going there.”
He doesn’t say we eagerly await going to another world.
He says eagerly await our King arriving to transform this world.
That’s the picture at the end of the Bible.
At the of The Revelation—at the end of The Apocalypse—
we hear these words:
(Rev 21.1-5) Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
The Bible doesn’t end
with heaven overriding earth.
The Bible ends
with heaven overhauling earth.
With heaven renovating this world—
healing this world, transforming this world.
With voice from the throne making all things new.
Paul specifically mentions to the Philippians
that Jesus will transform our bodies.
Our bodies are transformed.
The arrival of Jesus doesn’t override the world.
The arrival of Jesus doesn’t make us
heavenly spiritual ghosts for another world.
The arrival of Jesus overhauls the world—he transforms these bodies.
The common stuff, the material stuff—
the cells and proteins and pigments and glands of our bodies.
That’s what Jesus transforms.
In the words of one scholar,
Jesus doesn’t save souls,
Jesus saves wholes.
A real, living human being—Jesus of Nazareth—
has unlimited power in the universe (v21).
And he’ll use that power
to transform our lowly bodies
so that they will be like his glorious body.
Our bodies—with their follicles and toenails and sweat glands.
The stuff that we might count as trivial or disposable
or unimportant or not spiritual enough.
The stuff that is so common, so ordinary—
that we take so for granted.
That’s what Jesus is coming to transform.
The resurrected king will bring resurrection to the world.
Our king will one day
make his kingdom known
in the world.
That’s the hope of the Church.
And what guides the Church.
There’s a day coming—a day then and there—
when Jesus will bring the heavenly city.
There’s a day coming
when Jesus will transform the world.
But being a citizen of heaven
isn’t about that day coming.
Being a citizen of heaven
is about here and now.
Being a citizen of heaven
being a colonist of heaven.
Christians are the people who proclaim a King—that Jesus is alive—
and who are learning to live as citizens of his kingdom right now…
on foreign soil.
The coming day
transforms this day.
When we’re actually learning to believe in a resurrected future
it ends up bringing hope—extending hope—into the present.
So two questions as we come to the table.
First, what are the ways in which
your god is your stomach?
What are the places where
you’re obsessed with only the surface of things?
Where are areas of your life you’re living
feels less like the life of glory
and more like a life of shame?
Less like the life of heaven
and more like a life of destruction?
We’ve all got those areas,
those places, those ways of not-really-living.
Can you name them?
Maybe it’s a relationship
or a situation at home.
Maybe it’s a destructive habit—
something that you keep returning to
and you know that it’s not the life of heaven.
Maybe it’s a pattern of thinking—
a place of selfishness and fear and anger.
(Those are good clues.)
Maybe it’s a posture within your soul—
the basic sort of way that you’re approaching life.
What might it look like, as you approach the table today,
to name that habit, that area, that relationship
and bring it before Jesus?
What would look like to live beyond the surface of things
and allow Jesus to teach you to live life that will last?
Second, how might Jesus be inviting you
to colonize the world around you?
What would it look like to live as a citizen of heaven—
to practice the life of heaven—in the world around you?
What would it look like
to practice extending the life of heaven around you?
With those you know?
In the walls of your classroom?
In the walls of your home?
I think practicing the life of heaven
often looks as common
as toenails and sweat glands.
It looks like practicing patience—
at work, at home, maybe even while we’re driving.
It looks like using our words
in ways that build other people up.
It looks like giving to others, and tutoring students,
and visiting the sick, and caring for our responsibilities,
and playing with our families, and speaking kindly to others.
Those might not sound like big things.
But they are.
Those are the big things.
That’s the life of heaven taking root on foreign soil.
Jesus is going to transform our bodies
and bring them into the future.
Our bodies are not wasted.
And Jesus is going to transform
our work and activities and everything else he can
and bring them into the future too.
When we practice for the kingdom—
when we live in love—nothing we do will be wasted.
We are all invited to practice living the life of heaven today.
What we can do always provisional—
only a rough draft right now.
We cannot produce a transformed world.
No matter how much we do,
we can’t finally fix the world or even fix our own lives.
But we CAN practice for a transformed world.
But we CAN get ready for what’s coming.
We can prepare for the coming of the king
by practicing his kingdom today.
And we can trust that one day our Savior will appear
not only to transform our bodies,
but to make all things new.
To transform all our rough drafts of love.
To transform this world.
May we learn to practice living in his kingdom today.