Welcome to Wednesday’s podcast. I hope that you are having a good week.
Today our Bible passage is Philippians Chapter 3 vs18 through to Chapter 4 vs1; and we’re going to be focus on verse 20 which says,
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In a strange twist of fate my podcast weeks in the last term have fallen on the original Brexit day – 31st October 2019, the General Election, and then this coming Friday on the actual Brexit day – 31st January 2020.
Discussions about citizenship, immigration and national identity are never far from the front pages, and it’s not just Brexit related. There’s the Windrush scandal, the desire for Scottish independence, and even the media frenzy about Harry and Meghan spending half the year in Canada.
In the UK at the moment, our views on citizenship are being strongly shaped by the political and social context that we find ourselves in. The same was true of those in Philippi at the time Paul was writing to them.
Philippi was a Roman colony in Northern Greece. Thousands of Roman soldiers had been given land and positions there. And then alongside this were the original Greek families, who were not all that thrilled about the way in which their town had just been taken over and colonised by these Italian immigrants.
And so it is into this context that Paul writes the words, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” He wants to cut across political debates and social divisions with Godly truth. And the Bible has the same power and authority to do that into our own 21st century context and situation as well.
Now, both in Roman history and British history, colonisation has been used to justify some dreadful behaviours and attitudes, which I am obviously not supporting. But the language and imagery of colony and colonisation is important to understand in order to see the godly image of citizenship that Paul is trying to paint here.
Firstly, the point of being a colonist is to bring your culture, your influence and your way of life to the place in which you live.
And so when Paul says “our citizenship is in heaven” he is not saying, “Don’t worry, just look forward to when you can leave and go and live somewhere better.”
What he is actually saying is, “Remember that you are citizens of heaven and, as the church in Philippi, you are a colony of heaven. Your role is to bring heaven’s culture, heaven’s influence, and heaven’s way of life to the place in which you live.”
As citizens of heaven, we are part of God’s plan – he is going to use us – to help bring transformation into the lives of the citizens of earth who don’t yet know Jesus.
So, how are we helping to bring heaven’s culture to our workplace? How are we heaven’s influence on our street? How do we encourage heaven’s way of life in our families?
The second thing about being a colonist is that it takes perseverance, commitment and determination.
Paul acknowledges that the Christians in Philippi are finding it hard to keep going as representatives of heaven in this Roman colony; surrounded by its hedonistic culture, the worship of pagan idols, and endemic political corruption.
This is why yesterday we saw him write the words “press on”, “strain forward”, and today we hear him say “stand firm.”
And we need to hold onto those words, just as much as the Christians in Philippi did. The distraction of earthly things and the pull of a culture that does not follow the ideals of heaven – and in fact stands in complete defiance of them – is exactly the same for us today.
Where do we need to stand firm in our calling to be a citizen of heaven? Do we need to say no to that extra pint when out with friends? Do we need to stop dating non-Christians? Do we need to challenge a friend over what they are sharing online?
The final thing that makes you successful as a colonist is knowing where your help comes from.
Ultimately, in Philippi, if the native Greeks got too rebellious or rowdy, the Roman colonists knew that they could call upon the might and power of the emperor and his army to come and rescue them.
And today, when people feel challenged or under pressure, we see the rise of leaders who take on this ‘rescuer’ or ‘saviour’ identity, promising to ‘Get Brexit done!’ or to ‘Make America great again.’
And this is where being a citizen of heaven makes a profound difference to our outlook and approach, because no matter what difficulty we face, or the situation that we find ourselves in; our rescuer comes not in the form of an army or a political leader…… instead our Saviour is from heaven – the Lord Jesus Christ – and we eagerly await for him.
And unlike a citizen in a colony, with a supporting army far away in another country, or the citizen who finds their politician remote and removed; as a citizen of heaven we can have a personal relationship with Jesus, a Saviour who is interested and involved in every aspect of our lives, and who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, lives not in a far away city, but actually within us.
Where do we need to be reminded today that as a citizen of heaven, we don’t need to try and sort things in our own strength? Are there areas of our lives where we are looking for someone or something else to be our rescuer, rather than Jesus? If we are facing difficulties or challenges are we living in the knowledge that our help comes from Heaven?
Heavenly Father, thank you that as followers of Jesus, we are citizens of Heaven. Fill us with your Holy Spirit today in order that we can bring the culture and the influence of heaven into the places where you have sent us. Amen.
BIBLE READING: Philippians 3:18-4:1
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 Saviour 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.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!