Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Brothers, 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.
Citizenship comes with benefits.
As a citizen of the United States, I am entitled to the rights that go along with being an American. The United States is my home. I can live anywhere I want within the borders of my country, and I can move freely from place to place as I please. I am afforded safety by the law, by the police, and by the military in my country. When I visit other countries, I am just a guest, a foreigner. I feel out of place because I don’t know the language and the customs. However, if something were to happen to me, the American government would still protect me.
Citizenship comes with benefits.
Paul tells the saints in Philippi that our “citizenship is in heaven.” He doesn’t say our citizenship will be in heaven, he says it is in heaven. Right now. Heaven is our home. It’s where we belong, it’s where our identity lies. We are safe and protected. Because that is true, it stands to reason that earth is foreign ground. We don’t belong here. This place just doesn’t feel like home. Paul describes it this way: “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” (Philippians 3:18-19). When we set our minds on earthly things, when our appetites become our god, we “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
Paul urges a different path, saying, “let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:16). In other words, our charge is to live what’s already true, as citizens of heaven and children of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. We’re just visiting earth for a while, until we can return home. Don’t become too comfortable with the things of earth. It’s not our home. Paul has his eyes fixed on heaven and on living a life worthy of a citizen of heaven. He wants his readers to have the same aim. He writes, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
Citizenship also comes with responsibilities.
Citizens are obliged to obey the laws, to live peaceably with others, and, most importantly, to honor the king. Paul says, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). How bold is Paul! He has no problem holding himself up as an example, boldly challenging his readers to “imitate” him. Paul knows he is “pressing on” toward Jesus and is comfortable with others following him to help them follow Jesus. Notice as well that Paul does not consider himself to be the only such example. He encourages them to “keep their eyes” on anyone who walks as a citizen of heaven.
Perhaps my favorite part of this section of Philippians is the very end of chapter three. Paul’s language is very future oriented throughout, as he “forgets what lies behind” and “strains forward to what lies ahead.” Then, at the end of the chapter, he writes this: “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” (Philippians 3:20-21). This promise means a great deal to me. My son Luke has lost a leg and his body is sick, but Jesus is powerful and all things are subject to Him. He is in control. In heaven, everything will change. I eagerly await my Savior. I envision the day that Luke will be given a new body in heaven, a spiritual body (see 1 Corinthians 15:44). I picture him running free, no longer in pain, living in complete peace, enjoying all the benefits of a citizen of heaven.
- Do you feel more like a citizen of heaven or of earth? What advantages does citizenship in heaven have over earthly citizenship?
- Paul uses the phrase, “their god is their belly.” What appetite are you tempted to make into a god in your life?
- How can you live a life that “holds true” to the salvation and citizenship you’ve already attained? Consider the idea that good citizens honor the king, in this case Jesus, as you form your response.
Make a list of things that you’re thankful for, things that are true right now because your citizenship is in heaven. Take a moment each day this week to reflect on these blessings, asking God to help you keep your circumstances, whatever they might be, in perspective.