Over the last two months our church has been making its way through Paul’s letter to the Philippians and I had the privilege of preaching on Philippians 4:1-9. As I was preparing for the sermon, I was once more struck by Paul’s strong words to the Philippians, where he states in 3:20, “[O]ur citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (HCSB). This was a radical statement to his readers, most of whom were citizens of Rome, the elite of the world. They were called to consider their valued status as “filth” (see Php. 3:8) in light of the amazing promise waiting for them in heaven.
Having lived as a foreign resident for the last 15 years of my adult life, I like to think I may understand this concept a bit. I have no rights where I live; only privileges that can be revoked at the whim of the government or citizens of the country I reside in. As such, I must hold these privileges with an open hand. Recently we have seen a loss of privileges, likely resulting from a combination of people with an ultranationalist bent getting into high office and the abuses of the system by the large population of refugees. It has been hard, because I like my privileges. It is no fun being treated differently, just because I do not hold citizenship; but that is life here. I have no rights; only privileges.
That is how we as Christians must approach our life on earth. Even if we hold citizenship in the land we live, ultimately, we need to consider the “rights” we enjoy as privileges, because our citizenship is in heaven. When we live as Citizens of Heaven should (see “Six Characteristics of a Citizen of Heaven” for details), we will fall afoul of the system promulgated by the devil and the world. We will then be persecuted, with the goal of forcing us to toe the line; and when we do not do so, the goal will be to silence and destroy us. This is usually done by taking away the rights afforded us by the countries we are citizens of. When that happens, we should gladly take up our cross, as Christ did, knowing that in Heaven’s economy glorification comes after suffering. Understanding this, we will be able to do as Paul commands in Philippians 4:6-7, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (HCSB). This is an incredibly difficult concept to live out, but the Christian life is not meant to be easy. In the immortal words of TobyMac, “It is way beyond me.” Thank God that he gives us, the Citizens of Heaven, the strength and ability through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Pray for me to live this despite my hatred of pain and suffering, so that Christ may be glorified in and through me as I sojourn in a land I love, yet a land that will not claim me as its own. I will pray the same for you as you.