MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
OUR CITIZENSHIP IN HEAVEN
Philippians 3:17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. 18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) 20 For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
This lesson gives us a clear alternative, between serving God and Satan. We can be belly-servers or servants of Christ. One alternative leads to destruction, eternal damnation in Hell. The other alternative leads to eternal life, receiving in full measure what God has promised in His Scriptures.
The lesson begins with a statement bound to annoy certain people. “Be followers together of me.” St. Paul also exhorts the Philippians to accept him as an example. St. Paul does have a tendency to boast, and the Holy Spirit even used his boastfulness, to remind people that they should glory only in the cross. This irritates people, because we see Paul as he was, a goal-oriented perfectionist. Yet God tamed this characteristic and made him the greatest and the most persecuted of the apostles.
Even if a tendency to boast leaks out of his letters, we also see the true godly purpose of his letter, especially here. He is not drawing attention to himself as the first among equals, as they say of the pope in Rome, but as one of the faithful followers of Christ. We could also say, “Let us all follow Christ together.” That is a contrast with those who have wandered off, or in some cases, have run away from Christ at full speed.
Paul is an example, because he said to the Galatians, “Do not follow the man. Follow the Word. If I return and teach another Gospel, then may I be damned to Hell. If an angel comes down from heaven and teaches another Gospel, let him be damned to Hell.” If all church leaders called attention to the Word instead of their persons, we would have orthodox Christian doctrine, in harmony with the Bible, taught everywhere, in every nation.
Paul wrote “many now walk.” A few people try too hard to identify who those “many” are, as if they belong to a given false-teaching group. But the whole point of saying “many” is that lots of people fall away from the Gospel in many different ways.
If we look back at one false teaching or another, we ask, “How could anyone fall for that?” But they did, and the false teachers sold their goods by calling attention to their own holiness and by attacking others, including Paul. One famous false teacher denied that the Son of God could be born of a woman. He did not have so much trouble with the divinity of Christ, but with His humanity. Now the Hollywood set has a block about the divinity of Christ, but they want to make Him all to human, just like them, perhaps even worse. Both groups are wrong in denying the union of the Two Natures in one Person, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Doubtless Paul was dealing with Judaizers among the Philippians. That is why he offered his resume earlier in the letter: “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” In other words, I am more of a Jew than all of the Judaizers and that is why I can reject your salvation by works.
We can easily say that all false doctrine, all false versions of Christianity, all cults, all religions—all of them—teach salvation by works. Only genuine Christianity teaches salvation as a gift of God, earned by Christ, not by us, and received in faith. Therefore, all those who do not walk according to this faith must continue down the path of destruction.
Paul lists 5 characteristics of following false doctrine:
1. They are enemies of the cross of Christ.
2. Their end is destruction.
3. Their god is the belly.
4. They glory in their shame.
5. They mind earthly things.
Groups of five in the Bible are commonly found with bad things, while groups of three remind us of what the Triune God accomplishes for us, such as the nine-fold fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5) and the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love). Some would say that five can be seen as trying to be god-like but falling short. At any rate, all false teaching tries very hard but fails to be godly.
Citizenship in Heaven
The KJV uses the word “conversation,” but we think primarily of talking when we use that term. The word used by Paul refers to citizenship or commonwealth. Unfortunately, this is a perfect time to understand what the apostle was writing about. The faithful Christians were a tiny minority in Paul’s world. They were beset by dictators and rulers who not only knew their religion but actively persecuted it.
The media ignore this now, but only a few years ago, when people studied Latin in order to go to college, we all knew that the Roman Empire persecuted the Christian faith, using believers for sport in the famous Roman Coliseum. That meant joining the church put a person’s property and life at risk. Comfortable tenured professors like to pooh-pooh that idea, saying the persecution was sporadic. That only meant that no one knew when the rulers would get an idea to hunt down a few Christians and ruin their lives.
A minority group that cannot keep its own members in line can be filled with despair. When people phone or write A Mighty Fortress, they express their sense of isolation in the last days of a mad, old world. Paul’s reference to “citizenship” in heaven encourages us to know that we belong to heaven now and will have our hopes realized in time.
Whether we live in Siberia or Scottsdale, our citizenship is in heaven. Rather than looking down and focusing on our material needs, we are to look heaven-ward, where Christ will come from, when He returns the living and the dead.
It is ironic that people become so obsessed with what is temporary rather than dwelling upon what is eternal. God is so powerful that He brings heaven to us while we are still on earth.
Forgiveness of sin is the most important blessing God gives us through our citizenship in heaven. That should never be dismissed as unimportant. The Christian Church has the primary role of proclaiming the Gospel of forgiveness.
From sin we have death. Because of sin, all must pass from this life into the next. So we are all temporary. As we get older it gets increasingly obvious that we are mortal. Our biggest fear is addressed by Paul. Christ will come to change our vile bodies to make them like His glorified body.
We are not told a lot about the end of time and eternal life, but we know that believers will receive glorified bodies and live in a new heaven and a new earth.
Christ gives us hope that this can be so, when we mourn the loss of loved ones. He seemed weak and defeated when He was crucified for our sins. His enemies rejoiced when His body was placed in the grave. They wanted to be sure, so they sealed His tomb and posted guards at the door. Yes, they would keep the King of Creation dead and locked up.
All of human folly is exposed in the guard posted at the tomb. The might of the Roman Empire could not have any effect upon the Son of God. He rose from the dead, perhaps without them knowing it. When the angels blasted open the sealed tomb door, a solid lid of rock, and revealed an empty grave, how those brave soldiers ran. No one needed to read them a paragraph about what had happened. They knew the event was far beyond their experience. Only God can transcend death.
So it will be when Christ brings everything into subjection to Himself. In fact, everything already belongs to Christ, but not everyone acknowledges that this is so. At the end of time, everyone will know what we believe, that heaven and earth belong to Jesus Christ. Those who lived their lives without faith will know, but it will be too late for them.
That is the challenge of parents, to raise children to believe the opposite of what the world believes, and to love what the world despises. It is so easy to go along with things now, because so many people are belly-worshipers who glory in their shame. Do you want to make a lot of money in cartoons? Have the cute little kids say the most awful, violent, sadistic and gross things. It is a big hit called “South Park.”
We cannot have everything the world loves and also belong to heaven. But God may allow us to miss a few superficial things for the many blessings He gives us with the Christian faith, forgiveness of sin, and eternal life.
Ephesians 3:20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
We are tempted at times to despair because of hardships, but God allows them to happen, to make us more appreciative. Someone wondered why God gave the Hebrews manna in the desert every day. Why not give them all the manna they wanted at once? One teacher explained that a man only saw his son once a year, when he gave him a large sum of money. Someone said, “Give him a little each day and you will see him more often.” He did that, and the son came to him every day. So the Hebrews hungered for food and ate the manna.
During a time of loss, or loneliness, suffering, or disappointment, we can be confident that God will follow the dark time with blessings. More than we can ask or think.