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Six Characteristics of a Citizen of Heaven

When I was a child, personal computers were just beginning to become popular. My father brought our first computer home when I was about nine years old. It was a glorious device: an Apricot F1 with a green monochrome monitor. It had a wireless keyboard and mouse — in 1984! This didn’t come to other machines until the 1990s. It was also the first computer that could be programmed to print Turkish characters; not even the more popular IBM clones or Commodore 64 could do that at the time!

But what made all computers of that era vastly different from the ones today was that they came with thick user manuals, that detailed every part of usage. Nothing was intuitive about these computers. We have Steve Jobs and Apple Computer of the late 1990s to thank for the semi-intuitive usability we have today. In the 1980s and 1990s you actually had to know what you were doing and to know that you had to read the manual. This became apparent to me a couple years later when my dad started researching a machine to replace our ageing Apricot. We looked at a Toshiba laptop, which was an IBM PC clone, and despite the command prompt looking identical to our Apricot’s, very few of the commands that I knew worked, since the Apricot used a different dialect of PC-DOS. To use the other computer, I needed to learn a new language; I needed a new manual.

Similarly, this passage that we’re going to look at in Philippians is a short manual for how a citizen of heaven should conduct him- or herself. 

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Pondering the Master

Our church has been going through a sermon series on the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7). As a part of this, I had the privilege of preaching on Matthew 5:13-16 in which Jesus uses two word pictures to describe his followers: salt and light. As I prepared the sermon, it was the former that struck me this time, as it describes an aspect of the nature of the Church, which I had not formerly considered. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men” (Mt. 5:13 – HCSB). There are some very interesting things packed into this verse that come out, if we look at what the people in Jesus’ day thought about salt. First, salt was very valuable, so much so even that it was prized above gold! Second, salt was one of the most powerful preservatives of the day. It prevented decay and allowed food to be transported over long distances without refrigeration. It also was used as a flavoring agent, as it is today. Salt did its job invisibly, in the background, but very tangibly. In the same way, the Church of Jesus Christ salts the societies it exists in, usually invisibly and silently, but tangibly. My mother has frequently said that by simply being in a society Christians make a difference. Their very presence alters things, prevents the moral decay of society from progressing at the rate the Enemy, his unseen minions, and their collaborators among the humans desire.  Hence the opposition against the Church by the world at large. The Church makes a positive difference.

Historians tell us that salt in first-century Israel was largely mined from the Dead Sea region and consisted of more than just sodium chloride, allowing the “true salt” to leach out of the compound, thus becoming tasteless and worthless. Interestingly the Greek word that is translated “lose its taste” is elsewhere translated as “become foolish”1.. Whether or not Jesus uses hyperbole here, as some commentators suggest, we can observe that in the past the Church has “become foolish” by compromising her values and message; and thus, became irrelevant for the preservation of good in society. She became a voice of whoever was in political power and no longer preached the Gospel or made a moral difference in word and deed. The Church in the West is facing this dilemma again. If the Church desires to remain salty, she will have to accept that she will be persecuted when she remains true to the teachings of Christ, much like her cells in Asia and Africa are experiencing. We see how Christian ethics have shaped western culture and how they are being actively opposed, because we are the salt of the earth. Let us live up to it, because our very presence preserves the good in the world. This hidden part of our nature as Christians is paired with our open witness to Jesus’ message (the “light” in Mt. 5:14-16). Let us remember this as we live our lives in a broken and dying world.

Image Credit: Kevin Carden | Lightstock

  • 1. J. Goetzmann, “Wisdom, Folly, Philosophy,” ed. Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), pp. 1023–1024

From Wolfhawke’s Reading List

Michael Crichton

New York: HarperCollins, 2005.

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