9 October 2014Philippians 3:17 – 4:3
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting as Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 20)
In today's passage, Paul encourages his readers to imitate his own behaviour and not to be distracted by those who live "as enemies of the cross of Christ" (v. 18).
It's not clear who exactly Paul had in mind here. Some commentators suggest that Paul was speaking about those who claimed that following Christ also involved obeying the Jewish customs, such as circumcision (Philippians 3:2). Others suggest that he was referring to those who claimed that, because of the forgiveness that Jesus made possible, trying to live a righteous life was not really important. Still others suggest that Paul is simply speaking about those who were diverted from the way of discipleship by the pull of the material world.
What is clear, however, is that the followers of Jesus are called to live by the values of heaven, because that is where their true home is to be found. In today's world, where many people spend parts of their lives living in different towns or even in different countries, the question is sometimes asked, "But where do you consider to be 'home'?" The answer can be shaped by a variety of factors and is not necessarily the place of birth.
Paul is clear that, for the follower of Christ, home is not anywhere in this world, and in verse 20 he uses the powerful phrase "our citizenship is in heaven". The word translated as "citizenship" in the NRSV is used nowhere else in the New Testament, and a precise translation into English is difficult. Words such as "commonwealth", "homeland" or "colony" have been suggested. It was a powerful image for the Philippians, who, although they were far from Rome, lived in a city which was governed by Roman regulations.
Whichever translation is chosen, it is clear that Paul believes that the followers of Jesus are to shape their lives by the values of the kingdom of God and not by the values of the particular geographical location in which they happen to live.
- Wherever you geographically find yourself today, what might it mean for you to live as a "citizen of heaven"?
- In verse 18 Paul is tearful as he speaks of those who do not follow the way of Christ. What might it mean for us to have that depth of compassion for those whose values are different from ours?