Monday, 9 October 2017

Christian Citizenship (Philippians 3:1-4:1)

This was my fourth talk at my church's youth camp. When preparing the talks, I thought the Philippians 2 talk would have been the most Gospel-centered, with the whole Jesus Hymn in it, but after all five talks were done, I think this one turned out stating the Gospel, on an individual level clearer.

Citizenship has been a funny thing in recent times. Some of our politicians have found out that they had citizenship for another country. Put your hand up if you were born in another country. Depending on what country you were born in, you can keep that citizenship while also being an Australian citizen. Australia is quite an open country when it comes to citizenship, they are completely happy with people having citizenship. My Dad was born in Malta and he has kept that citizenship. Based on the current Maltese law, if I’m bothered to fill in the right forms, I’ll be able to get Maltese citizenship too[1]. Some countries automatically bestow citizenship on children of citizens. This is kinda a big deal for pollies. They could lose their job over it.

Citizenship and family descent in Paul’s day was seen as a bit of a big deal too. The Romans were very proud of who they were, for they had been on the winning side of history for about 200 years and had conquered pretty much everywhere that really mattered. The Jews were a proud nation as well. Despite being surrounded but lots of different cultures, they were still able to keep their own religion and traditions and be separate from the rest of the world. Although they had been oppressed by different nations, they still were a proud nation for they believe they were a chosen race of God. To be part of this race, they thought you were special to God.

Paul was both a Jew and a Roman citizen, so he pretty much had it all when it came to race and nationality. But now, he is in prison awaiting a trial that may end in his death and here he has something to tell us about another citizenship. We will see that Paul looks back to his past and his achievements, how Paul considers his present state before God and then what he is looking forward to in the future[2]. He tells us all this as an example for us to follow (3:17).

Paul’s example (3:1-14)

Paul starts out this chapter with a quick warning for the Philippians to avoid some uber Jews, who think that in order for these Roman, or non-Jewish believers to be truly saved they still have to undergo the Jewish rituals. They said all Christian (male) believers had to be circumcised. But Paul turns the table on them and insults them on their own terms. He calls them dogs, evildoers and mutilators. I could go on as to how good these insults are, but in this whole chapter, Paul’s overall point is that it’s not your biological descent that matters to God, but rather where your allegiance or citizenship ultimately lies. Does it go with Lord Ceaser or Lord Jesus?

Paul argues against these overly enthusiastic Jews by using himself as an example. Paul was no stranger to Judaism. In fact, Paul was the man when it came to Jewishness. He ticked all the right boxes, some of which were even out of his control. Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin. Israel’s first King, Saul was a Benjaminite. It is possible that Paul’s original name, Saul came from King Saul in the Old Testament. Paul could trace his lineage to which Jewish tribe he came from. His parents were also good Jews by circumcising him on the eighth day. Paul was a Pharisee and a really keen one at that, so keen that he saw Christianity as a heretical group that needed to be violently shut down. Paul even says, that his standing before the Jewish law was faultless. Not that he was perfect, but that his standing before others in his obedience to the law was accurate or correct.

The Past - Rubbish (3:4-8)

While Paul’s resume seems like a good thing, Paul does a strange thing with his status. He says he considers all these a loss for the sake of Christ. To someone back then, they would be thinking Paul would be a terrible accountant. Paul is taking things deemed worthwhile and valuable, but marking them as a negative or an outgoing expense, to be seen as a debt. But in the totals column, in the income field, Paul just writes one thing: Christ Jesus.

Paul calls all his achievements, all his status as garbage. Now, this is actually a polite modern translation. As you go back in English Bibles the translation gets stronger. One guy uses the word “filth”[3], another translation says Paul counts his achievement as “dung”[4] and I am not going to repeat how John Wycliffe translated this. Let’s just say the word means “poo”, or we might say “crap” if we are being polite. Paul counts his heritage, his religiosity, his climbing of the Jewish ladder “crap” when compared to knowing Jesus. Jesus is worth more than anything you will ever earn, or will ever achieve or ever be given. Everything you have right now is heading for a rubbish dump. Eventually, all our stuff goes there. In 100 years from now, any achievements you have made will most likely be forgotten. But your standing with Jesus will last forever.

Do you see your life in light of this? How do you compare yourself to others? What achievements do you remind yourself that you have done to feel better about yourself? How do you prove your worth? We all want some form of affirmation or status. We want to be recognised. Either we want to be the smart kid, or the good looking one, or the sporty one. We all want lots of friends. And those things are good, but ultimately life isn’t what everyone else is telling you. It’s not about getting great grades, it’s not about raising a family, it’s not about earning money. While those are good things, ultimately life is about Jesus. This is why we are to live different, because Jesus is worth it, and everything else in comparison is rubbish.

The Present - Righteousness (3:8-10)

But why is Jesus worth so much to Paul? It is because only in Jesus do we have righteousness before God. Verse 9, Paul says that the righteousness that he has doesn’t come from anything he has done, but is Christ’s righteousness given to us from God which we receive on the basis of faith. Righteousness is a big word which pretty much means a right relationship or right standing with God. To be considered righteous by God is for God to consider us innocent, free from guilt, free from His anger, and able to approach Him without fear knowing that He utterly loves us. We get this righteous standing, not because we are good looking, or are really kind to the people we like, or are really smart, or because of who our parents are. The only way we get this right standing before God is because of what Jesus has done for us.

We saw some of this yesterday. Because of what Jesus did the cross, because He was humble to the point of death, God exalted Him as the true King of everything, and now everyone who believes in Him gets Jesus’ righteousness. On the cross, Jesus took our punishment and now we get Jesus’ righteousness. This is what is known as the great exchange. This is the best trade deal in the history of all trade deals, ever[5]. This means we are off the hook, there is no pressure to perform or worry about how God sees us. Because Jesus has done it, we don’t have to. Because Jesus was the hero we don’t have to be. Our salvation is a free gift from God.

Do you really believe this? No matter what you have done, if you trust Jesus as the true King of everything, you are accepted by God. This status changes everything. Submitting to Jesus as the true King means God takes over. God works in you to give you new desires and motivation to fulfil His good purposes (2:13), and God will carry your salvation on to completion in the end (1:6). Remember, God is a completer finisher, and Paul looks forward to this.

The Future - Resurrection (3:10-14)

Paul sees that he has Jesus’ righteousness right now, but he is still looking forward to the future. Paul hasn’t somehow completed his Christian or spiritual walk now that his status in the eyes of God are all good. He is still waiting for the resurrection. He is waiting for his King, the ruler of the Kingdom in which he lives, to return. Paul is looking forward to his new body on the new earth which is heaven.

In Christianity you don’t really ever arrive at something, you don’t ever stop travelling in the Christian life. You don’t hit some sort of higher plain or existence. You don’t automatically become immune to suffering. In fact, Paul says, in verse 10, that he wants to participate in Christ’s suffering. Paul sees suffering as a chance to imitate Jesus. Earlier Paul also said that belief in Jesus and to suffer for Jesus was a gift granted to him (1:29). But in this suffering, Paul presses on to the finish line, like a runner. This of a sprinter going like the clappers. Just before the finish line he doesn’t stop and dwell on how good his starting was, or how great a pace he has kept. He is completely focused on the end. Here Paul says he forgets what is behind him and strains heavenward. This means he is enduring and waiting for heaven when he will have his resurrected body on the new earth. Heaven is not some white fluffy place with clouds and Philadelphia cheese, it is a physical thing. We are going to have physical bodies like Jesus did and walk and work on a physical earth. We can and should look forward to this.

Heavenly citizenship (3:15-4:1)

Paul encourages the Philippians to follow his example by living up to what they have got already, that is Christ’s righteousness. Now that we have nothing to fear when it comes to being accepted by God, now that the pressure is off for us to build our own identity in worldly achievements, we are to live different.

Paul says something very striking in verse 20. He says that our citizenship is in heaven. Philippi was a Roman colony and many people there would have said they were citizens of Rome, but that didn’t mean they were all looking forward to going back to Rome. It meant the opposite[6]. It meant that in Philippi they were bringing Roman culture to the area. They were building similar buildings, speaking the language and some were even worshipping Caesar as a god. They were bringing a mini Rome to Philippi.

Likewise, for us, we are citizens of heaven. Out identity, our loyalty our security, our leader is in heaven, and while we are here waiting for our King to return we are to bring a mini heaven here, you know “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven[7]”.

In Philippi what do you think would happen if the city was suddenly surrounded by a foreign nation? Rome would send its army in to recuse Philippi, and on a grander scale that is what Paul is waiting for in verse 21[8]. One day the Lord of Lords will come back and rescue His people and everyone will bow and confess that Jesus is the true King of everything. He will transform this earth, he will transform me and he will transform you.

And so before that happens we wait. We don’t wait passively stilling around twiddling our thumbs. We wait by standing firm in the Lord. We need to look to other Christians for examples to help us in standing firm. Paul warns about others who behave similarly to the world, who follow other gods. Instead, we wait by showing the rest of the world what it is like to live in heaven, inviting more people into this new kingdom. The church is a little heavenly colony, living under different rules and a different Ruler. It is a community that follows and imitates Jesus. But more of what that community looks like in tomorrow’s talk.

Wrap up

So to wrap up,

Because of what Jesus has done for us, if you trust in Jesus you can know for sure that God sees you perfect like Jesus. Not because of anything you have done, but because of what Jesus has done. Jesus lived the perfect life and did not sin and then died for sinners. We get Jesus’ perfectness and Jesus gets our punishment.

We are free to live different. We don’t have to serve ourselves and seek out rubbish achievements to make our name great, we live to make Jesus’ name great. We do this by showing the world what heaven will look like, we live like heaven here on earth. We are to put Jesus first and others second, while we await Jesus’ return and our resurrected bodies.

We look forward to the day where our humble, sacrificial King will come back again, and while we wait we live in such a way to invite as many people around us to join in on this new heavenly kingdom.

[1] Maltese Citizenship by Descent

[2] This breakup of past, present and future was taken from Wiersbe, Warren W. (1974), Be Joyful: Even when things go wrong, you can have joy. I added the R's

[3] Darby’s translation

[4] King James Version

[5] This is a play on Trump’s line about the worst trade deal in the history of trade deals.

[6] Wright, Tom (2004), Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters

[7] Matthew 6:10

[8] Wright, Tom (2004), Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters


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