Sunday, 15 May 2011

Heavenly Citizenship

(Warning long post). Last night I spoke at an International Trivia night to about 30 or so young adults. Below is more or less what I said. For the size of the audience I felt this talk was too formal. For some reason I was expecting more people to be there. At the end, for the application, I drew heavily on this talk that I had heard Don Carson give at this years Katoomba Easter Convention.

Intro - Present Day
I have a bit of an issue. Hannah and I are planning on making an overseas trip to England sometime next year, but I don’t have a passport. I am torn as to what passport I should get. My Dad is a Maltese citizen, he does not have duel citizenship with Australian and he flies on a Maltese passport. Because of my Dad I think I am allowed to get a Maltese passport, which could be handy as Malta is part of the European Union. My wife Hannah was born in England and has duel passports for Australia and England. I think because I married her, I might be able to get a British passport. And of cause I was born in Australian, and so I am entitled to get an Australian passport. So my issues is, which country should I identify myself with? Maybe the answer is clear, after all I live in Australia and have never been anywhere else. But there are advantages for identifying as a citizen of another country. So I am not sure who I should tie my allegiances with.

Just out of curiosity how many of you have become Australian citizen by taking a citizenship test? I had been told that to be an Australian citizen there are three rights and three responsibilities that you have to be aware of. Now not having been taught this at school I didn’t know what these were, so I was going to ask Hannah who did the citizenship test...but she wasn’t around so I looked it up on Wikipedia, and I found out there were actually 6 rights and 4 responsibilities to be an Australian citizen. Does anyone have an idea what they could be?:

As a citizen of Australia you are entitled to
  1. have an Aussie passport, 
  2. you can leave Australia and return without any immigration restrictions, 
  3. you can’t be deported, 
  4. you can register your children as Austrian if born overseas, 
  5. you can work for the Government, and 
  6. you can run for public office. 
But with those entitlements you have the following four responsibilities:
  1. you have to obey the law, 
  2. defend Australia if the need arises, 
  3. you have to enrol to vote and to actually vote, and 
  4. if called upon you are to serve on a jury. [1]
Now realistically the idea of citizenship today comes down to where you want to work or what line in the airport you want to queue in. Although there are these rights and responsibilities that come along with being a citizen of a country; our country in is pretty relaxed about it (which to be honest I am quite glad).

Citizens of God
But back in the Apostle Paul's day your race and citizenship was pretty much who you were. Your whole identity was built around who your parents were, what they did and where you lived. The Romans were the conquering country who gave their own citizens special privileges. They were free to roam the know world without fear of been harassed by the local occupying army. Not only was there the Romans with their privileges, if you were a Jewish citizen you did not hang out with the Gentiles nor did you hang out with your neighbouring half cousins the Samaritans. Back in the first century, your identity was wrapped up in your citizenship. That’s what makes Paul’s statement so radical. He says in the letter to Philippians that Christians have a new identity, a new citizenship, he says:
...our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Phil 3:20-21)
Paul says that Christians await their Savior Jesus, who one day will transform us to be like Him.

Don’t earn our way in
Now most countries have their quirks. They have their sayings or actions or things that they are known for. I hear that when travelling overseas people tend to fall back on these quirky or stereotypical behaviours. I’ve been told that these actions help tourists keep their own original identity. Such as the overseas Australian who starts to say “G’day” to people, when back home they never greet their friends that way. The actions a tourist falls back on, or the homesickness they feel, doesn’t make them a citizen of their home country. Instead they do or feel these things because they are from that country. The actions they do not make them a citizen, but because they are a citizen, they do the action. That is a bit abstract, so lets bring this in.

Christians are called to be part of this new citizenship under Jesus and they are called to certain behaviours. The key point is, that it’s not the behaviour that makes them part of the kingdom of God, instead its the other way round. Its because they are a citizen of God that they behave in a certain way. As citizens of God’s Kingdom we get to live a certain way under God. Because of what Jesus has done for us, because of the grace of the gospel shown to us, we can reflect grace to others. We are privileged to know God and what He wants us to do, and we are privilege to do them for our good King.

What does citizenship look like?
So what does this look like? What are Christians called to do as citizens of Jesus? Well many books have been written, and will be written on this, but for just this talk I want to focus three things in the next 9 verses after Paul mentions citizenship. He starts with a “therefore” meaning because of what was said previously, because our citizenship is in heaven, God is going to transform us. He says:
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! 
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yoke fellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. 
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:1-9)
In this Paul lists a stack of things that Christians are to do[2], but from this short passage and for the sake of time, I just want to focus on three of them: our gentleness, our anxiousness and our thoughtfulness.

Expand on three ideas
Our gentleness is to be evident to all. With this word “gentleness” other translations use the word “reasonableness” (ESV) or “gentle spirit” (NASB) or “moderation” (KJV). John MacArthur says on this word “This refers to contentment with and generosity toward others. It can also refer to mercy or leniency toward the faults and failures of others. It can even refer to patience in someone who submits to injustice or mistreatment without retaliating. Graciousness with humility encompasses all the above.”[3] Graciousness with humility encompasses all the above.

I’m not sure if you have noticed, but our culture teaches us to be the best in something. We are to excel and to be known for our abilities. But here it says we are to be gentle, or humble. We are to be known for not being known. We are to have a spirit of gracious humility. Think back just in the last few hours. When you were preparing for this event what did you what people to notice about you? How did you want others to see you? Or think back in the past week, what Facebook statuses about yourself have you put forward to the world for everyone to read? What are you being know for on there? For your appearance or abilities, or to be a gentle, thankful encourager, who points to the grace of God?

Tonight when playing trivia when a disagreement comes up over an answer how are you going to react? Are you going to speak louder and try and get your way or are you going to show contentment with and generosity toward someone? Now what if it turns out they were wrong and you were right? How then are you going to react? Tonight how can you show mercy or leniency toward the faults and failures of someone?

We are to be moderate and gentle. Not extreme, or as we would say, not a drama queen.

Paul also gives a bit of a motivation for us being gentle or humble, he says because “the Lord is near”. This could mean the Lords return is near, or it could mean that Jesus is watching us and is close at hand right now. Either way how would you like Jesus to find you? What do you want to be known for? How do you want others to remember you by? How do you treat others? Do the answers to these questions change when you remember that Christ is near?

Remember, we are not just to be gentle or humble, but we are to be known for our humility.

Paul also says that Christians are not to be anxious about anything, but instead they are to pray with thankfulness. This does not mean we don’t have concerns. We are being told more about worldwide disasters and issues and wars than any other generation in history. We are constantly told about the dangers of any and everything and about the troubles not just in our own local community, but globally. I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about this stuff, nor is Paul. We still should be concerned for these things, but we shouldn’t worry about them. Instead we are to pray. The solution to worrying is prayer. Prayer is what is needed the most and is often what is most lacking. Let us replace our worrying with prayer. After all will not our judge do what is right? Trust in God. Be content that he will look after us in all things and be thankful. Be thankful that our just Father in heaven hears our prayers and is looking out for us.

Paul gives us the outcome for praying to God. He will grant us peace, knowing that God is ultimately in control. This is a hard peace to explain as it “transcends understanding.” My man J. C. Ryle has said:
Jesus can make those happy who trust him and call on him, whatever be their outward condition. He can give them peace of heart in a prison, contentment in the midst of poverty, comfort in the midst of bereavements, joy on the brink of the grave. There is a mighty fullness in him for all his believing members - a fullness that is ready to be poured out on every one that will ask in prayer. Oh that men would understand that happiness does not depend on outward circumstances, but on the state of the heart.[4]
We need to set aside time to be still before God and pray.

Holy thoughts
The last thing I wanted to focus on from this passage, is the instruction for us to think holy thoughts. It is sometimes a scary thing to realise that God knows your thoughts. There is a old proverb that I have heard Don Carson say: "You are not what you think you are; but what you think, you are." I’ll say that again: "You are not what you think you are; but what you think, you are."

Where does your mind go to when you have free time? What do you think about and what emotions does that raise? Do you build up bitterness, or anger when thinking about past events? Do you rehearse past events over and over in your mind and in this parallel universe do you come out the hero and the other party made to look dumb? How often do you self-promote or boat in something? How often do you complain and make yourself out to be a martyr?

Christians are to transformed their minds to think the ways of God[5]. We are not in the dark as to what the things of God are. It says right here that we are to think about anything that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. These things we are to focus on. Martyn Lloyd-Jones famously said[6] that we have to stop listening to ourselves and start talking to ourselves. We need to fill our mind with scripture, so we can re-tell ourselves its truth in times of tempting and in times of need. We should use the word of God to fill our mind to transform our actions towards others.

We are to rejoice and be thankful. If you can not think of anything to rejoice and be thankful for, then you really are not thinking. Rejoice and be thankful for this day that you have had, for warm food and good company, for light entertainment and healthy competition, for this moment, to pause and reflect on what is truly ultimate in your life.

Think about how you could be an encouragement to someone tonight. Think about something that is true and noble or admirable in someone and tell them what it is.

Wrapping it up
So tonight lets be patient and humble, and not be arrogant or complain. Lets rejoice about the good things that God has given us. Reflect on your thoughts, if you are stressing about something or you’re thinking about something that you shouldn’t, then stop and pray.

Remember, our citizenship is already in heaven, tonight lets live like it.

[Pray to close]

[2] I have found at least 8 piratical things mentioned in this passage: [1] to stand firm in the Lord (v1); [2] to mediate differences between fellow Christians (v3); [3] to rejoice in the Lord always (v4); [4] to let your gentleness be known to everyone (v5); [5] to not be anxious about anything, but pray with thanksgiving (v6); [6] to let the peace of God, guard your heart and your mind [this surpasses all understanding] (v7); [7] to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, excellence and worthy of praise (v8); [8] to put into practice what you have heard and seen by Godly examples (v9)

[3] MacArthur ESV Study Bible Notes (I used the 30 day free trial to get that quote)

[4] A Call to Prayer by J.C Ryle

[5] Romans 12:2 - Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

[6] I fist head this by C.J Mahaney from this talk: The Troubled Soul: God’s Word and Our Feelings from the New Attitude (or Next) 2008 conference. There is also an extended Lloyd-Jones quote here:


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