The Power of a Heavenly Citizenship
This weekend, parties will be thrown, grills will be full, fireworks will be shot and fun will be had. It is good to celebrate July 4th. It is also good to do so sober mindedly, for the cultural and spiritual forces at work in our land right now are very strong, threatening to pull us apart at the very seams. If we, as followers of Jesus, recognize it for what it is, then we are already more equipped to a) not give in to or exacerbate those forces and b) carry ourselves with truth and grace so as to serve as a unifying, non-anxious witness to a better hope than the competing ideologies in our land.
It’s the same hope Paul encouraged the Philippians to consider in the midst of a situation that was brewing in their churches. Two women leaders, Euodia and Syntyche, were fighting and it was causing division within the church. We don’t know what the reason for the fighting was, but we do get Paul’s exhortations to them. He commands them in 4:2 to “agree in the Lord,” but he builds his case the previous 3 chapters by laying out several examples of those who live lives of self-giving love because of the Gospel: Timothy, Epaphroditus, Jesus and even himself. The root of their strife was a self-preservation and a self-glorification that was missing the trajectory of the Gospel that would provide them the resources to stop fighting and actually agree. Paul lays out that trajectory in 3:17-21 and it would do followers of Jesus well to recapture this truth for our day as well:
“Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.”
Paul tells them that their greatest weapon against fighting one another is to treasure their citizenship in Heaven. Why?
- Gift. No one fights and argues their way into a heavenly citizenship. The only way to gain it is to admit there is no other way to get it except through the cross of Jesus. A citizen of heaven must be righteous. The Bible is clear that no one is righteous (Romans 3), therefore a heavenly citizenship must be received as a gift. This immediately puts every human on a level playing ground, thus greatly diminishing the impulse to fight for one’s own glory, kingdom and appetite to “win” every argument.
- Hope. A heavenly citizenship gives something other than earthly things to fix one’s eyes on. When our eyes stay horizontal, we are looking at temporary things that are perishing and asking them to satisfy eternal longings. It will never work. That is the definition of “hopeless.” For the one whose citizenship is in Heaven, the promise of God is that the LORD Jesus will return and transform these temporal things, including our bodies. What often causes people to fight is the press of time, and the sense that time is running out to realize our kingdoms. A citizenship in Heaven releases that pressure because Jesus is bringing us bodies like his post-resurrection one, a body that can never be destroyed.
- Power. The source of that hope is the power that enables Jesus to rule over all things. If that power is going to transform us, then we can stop fighting for perceived, temporary power and instead love others from a real, permanent power that has already proved it can pass through death and survive.
So, as you gather with family and friends this weekend, celebrate the freedom we have as American citizens. It is a real gift that affords many things. But if you are a follower of Jesus, you have something far more permanent and powerful than that. You have a citizenship in Heaven: you didn’t earn it and you cannot lose it. That perspective will help us to not fuel the forces of rivalry and strife and to be a unifying, non-anxious presence. And perhaps it will give us an opportunity to “give a defense for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15) and not be ignorant to the schemes of Satan nor outwitted by him (2 Corinthians 2:11).