You have the status of being a citizen of the United States of America. Now living here in the U.S. we probably take that for granted. In fact, we may only think of it in negative terms as we get our taxes prepared for April 15.
However, if you go on vacation, or even if you go and live overseas, you are still a United States citizen. And that status really does mean something. When there is civil unrest or a natural disaster, the United States government makes arrangements to get U.S. citizens out of a country.
And if things really go wrong, people who don’t even know you will risk their lives to save you – just because you are an American. Jessica Buchanan experienced this. Buchanan was involved in a humanitarian demining project in Somalia when she was kidnapped by pirates. Attempts to negotiate her release failed and because her health was worsening, U.S. Special Operations forces launched a raid to free her. On Jan. 25, 2012, twenty-four Navy Seals parachuted into Somalia and attacked the compound where Buchanan was being held. They killed all the pirates and rescued her. They did all of this, just because Buchanan had the status of being a citizen of the United States.
In our text today, St. Paul reminds us about the status that we have. Our citizenship is in heaven because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. He has given us this status and it now shapes the way we live in the present, and gives us hope for the future.
Paul begins our text this morning by saying, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” What are the Philippians supposed to be imitating in Paul? It is the attitude that he has just described.
The apostle has warned the Philippians about those who are pushing the Torah and circumcision upon them. It was an ongoing struggle in the first century Church as some Jewish Christians said that in order for Gentiles to be part of God’s people they had to do something – they had to observe some part of the Law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Paul has just said that if being Jewish was the big thing, then he could outdo all of the opponents. He wrote, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:
circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
It was an impressive resume. But then Paul went on to say that none of it meant anything. He said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Compared to the gift of righteousness which Paul had received in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, it all meant nothing. In fact, Paul calls it garbage and he says that nothing else matters when compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. Through faith in Christ he had received God’s righteousness – his saving action to put all things right.
Paul’s goal was to gain Christ and be found in the righteousness that God provided through him. But that wasn’t all. He went on to add that his goal was that, “I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Jesus Christ had passed through suffering and death on the way to resurrection. Paul says it is the same for those who have faith in Jesus. As Christians, sharing in Jesus’ sufferings and being conformed to his death is part of our life. But this is done in the assurance that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and that the power of his resurrection is already at work in us through the Holy Spirit.
That is how it is supposed to be. That is the pattern that Paul wanted the Philippians to imitate in him and other mature Christians among them. But in our text the apostle also acknowledges that not all do this. He says, “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.”
We need to pay attention to Paul’s words here because he is talking about people who identified themselves as being Christians. None of them said, “Oh yes, I am an enemy of the cross!” However their way of looking at life was all messed up. Paul says that their god was their belly and they gloried in their shame with minds set on earthly things.
Paul doesn’t give us any specifics, but it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out what this looks like in our own time. Think about all the things where the world places the emphasis: money, possessions, vacations, sports, success, fame, prestige and sex. How often do these things shape your thought and goals? How often do they determine your behavior and your judgment about what is important, good and desirable instead of Jesus Christ and his Word?
The apostle knew that these challenges are out there. That’s why he writes these words. He has said, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” And then he goes on to remind us about what we are – the status we have. Paul says at the end of our text, “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.”
The language about “citizenship” would have been very meaningful to the Philippians. Though located in Greece, Philippi was a Roman colony. There were several different statuses that a city outside of Italy in the Roman Empire could have. The best was to be a Roman colony. The residents of Philippi were Roman citizens. They had the all the rights that went along with that status. Now to be clear, they didn’t live in Rome. That wasn’t home. Their home was Philippi. However, their status was one of being Roman citizens. This defined who they were.
Your status has been defined by your baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of this, your citizenship is in heaven. You have the status being God’s people – his saints. This is something that has been won by Jesus Christ who is now the ascended and exalted Lord.
Already now, Jesus has won. He has defeated sin. He has defeated death. His reign as the victorious king has already started. He is the One who gives you the status of having citizenship in heaven.
Paul says that because of this we are not to live as those whose god is their belly and who glory in their shame with minds set on earthly things. After all, our citizenship is in heaven. That’s who we are. That’s what God has made us to be.
Paul calls us to join in being imitators of him. Immediately before our text he has said, “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.”
We have the status now of being saints. In the resurrection of Jesus we have the guarantee that death has been defeated. But Paul reminds us that we must live as those who have their eye on the prize. We are to live as those who want to be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of our own, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. We are to live as those who seek to know him and the power of his resurrection as we share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, so that by any means possible we may attain the resurrection from the dead.
This goal of sharing fully in Jesus’ resurrection is the thing that gives us hope and encouragement. Paul says at the end of our text that while our citizenship is in heaven, “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.”
Uncertainty about the future makes us nervous and saps our strength. Paul reminds us that we know what the future holds. We may not know the timing, but we know what will happen. We are awaiting our Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will return and change our bodies to be like his glorious body.
God made our bodies to be good as we lived in his very good creation. It is only sin that made them mortal – able to die. Jesus Christ is the second Adam who has reversed what the first Adam did. His resurrection is the beginning of our resurrection. He is the first fruits.
People in Philippi had Roman citizenship. But their home was Philippi. In the same way, your citizenship is in heaven, but this world is your home. That’s why Paul says that we eagerly await from heaven a Savior who will transform our bodies. The Lord Jesus will return and transform your body to be like his glorious body.
This isn’t some kind of escape from our physical, bodily existence. Instead, we learn that Jesus Christ is the model and pattern for our resurrection. At Jesus’ resurrection he invited his disciples to “touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” His was a physical and bodily resurrection. But it is a body that is imperishable and can never die again. That is the transformation that Jesus will work upon you when he returns on the Last Day.
In our text, Paul reminds us about the status that we have now – we are the people of God and our citizenship is in heaven with our Lord. He also points us to the future – to the day when Jesus Christ will return in glory and transform our bodies to be like his so that we can live forever in his renewed creation. The Holy Spirit will use this present and future to aid each one of us in being imitators of the apostle Paul as we walk in faith.