Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
Citizens of Heaven
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
What difference does it make where you hale from? People are people, right? Sure, there may be a difference in how we pronounce some of our words. Coke is a 'soda' in one area and 'pop' in another. The crick that runs through the town might be a 'creek' in another town, a 'rivulet' in another state, and a 'stream' somewhere else. But those differences are really no more significant than if you root for the Rams, Cheer on the Chiefs, or are a Vikings fan. Where you come from, and where you grew up doesn't make much difference, does it?
The answer, of course, is yes. Within one nation or one culture the differences can be striking, such as between big-city folk and rural Americans, but from culture to culture and nation to nation it can be almost overwhelming. In many places people will not eat anything raw - not even a salad. They know that it is just not safe. In some cultures, it is polite to burp. In others, it is unthinkable to eat with your left hand. In America we have a personal space of about three feet, into which we only allow certain people without getting very uncomfortable. In other places, the personal space ends at the outer layer of your skin or clothes. And for most people on earth, bad breath and body odor are not issues - except when the person you are dealing with is lacking either. That marks them as foreign and peculiar.
Of course, we can expand the discussion to the things some cultures teach their people to live for - and to die for. Islamic terrorism makes perfect sense to a fervent Muslim, just as suicide - seppuku or hari kari made sense in oriental cultures. Imagine the difference that different worlds makes in people. This isn't science fiction, it is what our text speaks about this morning. Paul says, "our citizenship is in heaven". We want to think about what that means. Our theme is, Citizens of Heaven.
We, Christians, are citizens of another world. We are here, born and raised, but our homeland is actually another world. We have never seen it, but it lays claim on us, and it makes us different from the people who belong to this world. It doesn't teach us a new language, but it shapes our use of the language we have here. It doesn't give us new tastes, but it causes us to lose or at least deny many of the tastes we have learned living here. Being a citizen of heaven doesn't make any difference in any good we might do, but it changes us as regards values and purposes and hopes and dreams - and it changes our future.
Let me read you a loose translation of our text before we go on. I prepared this as I wrestled with what to preach today. You all should work at becoming a group of copycats, imitating me, brothers, and pay particular attention to how you behave, following the example we have set for you. For many (who were once believers) of whom I have spoken to you many times before, and once again I speak of them with tears, live as bitter enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is eternal destruction, their God is the desires of their flesh, and they are people who find glory in what is actually to their shame, and who think about nothing but world things. But we are citizens of heaven, from which we are eagerly awaiting the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is going to entirely transform our humble bodies to be just like His body in glory by using the power He has through which He is able to place everything into subjection to Himself.
Believers, and only believers, are citizens of the place where God lives and rules. That place is our true home, and our final destination. Unfortunately, from the American mind-set, our homeland is not a democracy. We have a King. You are not free as a citizen of this kingdom to live just any way that happens to strike your fancy. We are given only the duty of serving our King faithfully while we are here, and representing our homeland faithfully. We are to show the whole world, here, what our King is like and how wonderfully different our homeland - that other world - is. To do that we are to imitate those who are faithful citizens and leaders from our homeland. When Paul wrote this letter, those other Christians had Paul and the Apostles and their immediate disciples to watch and imitate. You have me, and other faithful members of Church, particularly pastors.
Citizenship in this other world is not by bloodline. An American born in any nation on earth is still an American by right. A citizen of heaven is a citizen of heaven only as long as that citizen is faithful. Paul tells us something about that when he talks about those who have turned away. "For many (who were once believers) of whom I have spoken to you many times before, and once again I speak of them with tears, live as bitter enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is eternal destruction, their God is the desires of their flesh, and they are people who find glory in what is actually to their shame, and who think about nothing but world things."
Now, I have to confess I added a couple of words to that text. I inserted the explanation that these enemies of Christ of which Paul speaks, were once believers. Paul could not have been speaking about the unbelieving world - for we know that they are naturally enemies. That would be nothing to talk about - at least nothing new. But Paul speaking about people who were once Christians - or who claimed at one time or another that they were Christians. I suspect that he was referring to people who still think of themselves as Christians, but who are, in fact, not. That is why he takes the time to describe them, and what it is that marks them as enemies of the cross of Christ.
But what a thing! These people were once citizens of heaven. Now they have set themselves against Christ - and against the cross of Christ in particular. They take their stand against forgiveness of sins and a Savior who dies that they might live.
I doubt that they would describe themselves in that manner, but that really doesn't matter. God describes them in that way through the pen of Paul. Take note, too, that Paul takes no joy or satisfaction in their state. He identifies them with tears in his eyes, sorrow over their lost condition. And they are lost, because their end is eternal destruction. That is where they are going, by their own design. You can pick them out - not out of a crowd of unbelievers, they look just like unbelievers. You can pick them out of a crowd of those who call themselves Christians.
These are the people in the church who think only of what appeals to the flesh. Their focus is on being happy, being comfortable, and church fitting into their schedule rather than wrapping their schedule around the opportunities for fellowship around Word and Sacrament and living the love for one another that Christ said would mark His disciples. Pleasure, convenience, and self-esteem are big issues within the church for these people.
Some of these people actually find their greatest delight, or their fame, in those things of which a Christian ought to be most ashamed. The easiest thoughts are of those who are homosexual and proud of it, and still want to call themselves "Christian". They include people who find ways to profit from the church either selling the church what they ought to be giving, or by persuading the church to purchase what they are selling when the church really doesn't need it. People who endorse a morality contrary to the one taught in Scripture, who call sin good and good evil, fit in here. I cannot help but see many of those who write books for Christian audiences, create music ostensibly for a Christian market, or who peddle sacred trinkets to those in the church as fitting in here.
In truth, while those people probably fit into this group, I think everyone who measures the church by the standards of the world is a likely candidate for inclusion in this forsaken tribe. When we measure church by beauty or comfort, the service by its entertainment value or its length, or we judge the preacher by his personal appeal rather than his faithfulness to God's Word, we all tend toward this behavior. The truth is that we can point at others who are particularly offensive to us, but we all face the temptations to give just what we are comfortable giving - be it time or energy or attention or money. We all face the temptation to put our own house in order first and think about the body of Christ second. We are at least tempted by fame, or popularity, or comfort. A big church - or at least a building would be nice. It would be pleasant to have a crowd here confirming that we have the right church, the best doctrine, and it is so good that everyone can see it plainly. If none of you face these temptations, hold your head high . . . because I do, almost every day.
This worldly-mindedness is so natural. I grew up in this world. I want comfort. I want to be loved. I want the world around me to recognize who I am and how hard I work - and I would prefer some of that recognition in the form of hard, cold cash. Those are common temptations against which most every Christian must struggle. That is why Paul tells the Philippians to keep and eye on their behavior and to imitate the example that he and the other faithful ones have set for them. It is my aim and my prayer that I also set for you and example of faith and of godliness and proper priorities and values that you might imitate me.
The reason we spend ourselves in this imitation is that we are not of this world any longer. We have been translated into citizenship in heaven. That was done by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. It was worked in us by the power of the Word - the power of our Savior - who just happens to be our King - whose power it is to rule over and control everything. One day we look forward to Him raising us out of our graves - unless, of course, He returns for us before that day of our physical death. We look forward to Him totally reworking our tired, aging bodies, so infected with sin and twisted by its effects. He will rework them and transform them to be just like His body - the one that the disciple saw on Easter evening and during the days that followed, a body of glory!
He has already reworked us spiritually. We are no longer of this world, ruled by sin. We are redeemed, restored, forgiven because Jesus took our sin and guilt and shame and died for us, and gave us His righteousness and eternal life in exchange. He has the power, and He has promised us that He will do it for our bodies as well. The life we are called to live is the one that is "of faith". We are to choose our actions on the basis of this hope. We are to form our values on the basis of these promises. We are to speak and live as those who actually expect that our Savior is coming and He is going to do what He has promised to do with and for us.
We are to live as those who are eagerly awaiting something they expect really soon - Our Savior coming to get us and take us to that homeland of which we have heard, but have never yet seen. If we give up waiting, try to make ourselves comfortable here, since the wait is so long, of just try to fit in with the crowd, we then become one of those whose life demonstrates that they are now enemies of the cross of Christ, who ultimate end is eternal destruction.
Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life. That's always been one of my favorite Bible passage. Hold fast to what thou hast, that no man take thy crown. They both say what Paul says here in our Epistle today: we are citizens of heaven! Let us keep that in our hearts and minds, and walk deliberately, carefully, and faithfully as those who know what they are doing and why. We have a hope. We are truly citizens of heaven.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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