Heavenly Citizenship

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. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, who I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. ~Philippians 3:20-4:1

In the United States, patriotism is often seen as a high virtue, more so it seems than in most other parts of the world. There is a sense of pride and identity in belonging to our country. Though there is nothing wrong with being patriotic, so long as we don’t make our country our first love, Paul reminds us that we belong to an even better Country.

Unlike those whose minds are set only on “earthly things” (3:19), meaning that they’re more interested in what they can gain in this life than in eternity to come, we have a heavenly citizenship. This means that when we come to Jesus, our earthly home becomes at best our temporary second home. Though the book of Revelation describes people from every tribe, tongue, and nation in eternity, we will be united as one people under one banner: The Kingdom of Jesus.

So, we look above and ahead. We long for the coming of Jesus, awaiting the day that he will glorify our bodies. And this longing has present implications. We’re to “stand firm thus in the Lord.” Our faith is to be firmly fixed on and rooted in Jesus, and our primary business is to be about his business.

In his book Surprised By Hope, NT Wright describes this business in three terms: Justice, beauty, and evangelism. Knowing that we have a Savior-King who will one day right all wrongs, we are to seek justice in his name, doing our best to right the wrongs inflicted on those around us. Knowing that God himself is beautiful and that he makes things displaying his beauty (glory) and that eternity will be unimaginably glorious, we’re to combat the ugly stain of sin in the world by seeking to make things beautiful through various forms of art. And knowing that only those who have trusted in Jesus will be a part of the eternal Kingdom, we are to seek to lead as many other people there as possible through evangelism, our sharing of the gospel.

So, let these things drive you as you live and work in this present world but wait for the day of the return of the Savior-King.

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Who Influences You?

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 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. ~Philippians 3:17-19 (ESV)

Life is about imitation. Even as time and experiences shape our own unique personalities, as we learn and grow in this world, much of our education (in every facet of life) comes through watching and imitating. This is true physically, academically, and spiritually.

Life is about imitation and leadership is about influence. All of us are influenced by and influence others. Paul knew this well, so he called for the church to be influenced only by those who would lead them in their faith in a Christ-honoring direction.

Then, even with tears, he warned them against the corrupt influences. These were the “enemies of the cross”—those who are in the religion business for personal gain and/or those who corrupt others by calling good what is evil. Paul said the end of such men and women will be destruction. The same may very well prove true for us if we fall under their influence.

So, we’re to be guarded about who influences us and who’s example we follow. Fix your eyes on those who provide a godly example by staying faithful to God’s word, the gospel of Jesus.

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Eyes Forward, Press On!

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. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. ~Philippians 3:12-16

It’s so easy in life to look over our shoulders. Hindsight is 20/20, they say. People tend to look at the past in one of two ways. Either they romanticize it, thinking no days future or present could be as good as those good ol’ days; or they demonize it, letting the weight of their sin and burdens drag them down in relentless guilt until they feel that they have nothing to offer a world in need.

Paul preferred to have a different attitude toward the past. “Forgetting what lies behind,” he told the church, “and straining toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal.” This does not mean that Paul never thought about the past. In Acts, when you read about Paul standing before governors and kings, he often shared his story as he looked back to that point where Jesus saved him.

But, Paul kept the past in perspective. What is past is past, that can’t be changed. What matters is what is ahead and what we do in response to this forward view.

Paul knew he wasn’t perfect. He longed for the resurrection, becoming fully new and perfected through Jesus (3:10-11), but he knew he wasn’t there yet. But he also held on to this great truth: Christ Jesus has made me his own. He knew to whom he belonged through faith, and that changed everything.

Belonging to Jesus, he looked ahead and pressed ahead. Belonging to Jesus, he set his eyes on the prize: To be resurrected and fully alive with Jesus. So, he would have repented of the sin in his past and the hurt he caused. He would have been thankful for the grace and the love of God in bringing him salvation. Then, eyes set forward, he pressed on with the glory of Christ and hope of resurrection in full view.

May we have that same forward-looking vision of the resurrection, keeping our past in proper perspective as we neither idolize it or fall under the weight of its burden, but longing for the day when all things are new.

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Trash Heap Lives

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 of God that depends on faith—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 of the dead. ~Philippians 3:8-11 (ESV)

Jesus once asked the question: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his life? (Luke 9:25)

Paul took this question to heart. Before he came to know Jesus, Paul was a rising star with great potential as a religious leader over the Jews (3:2-7). But once he encountered Jesus, his aim forever changed. It was no longer notoriety, education, or power that drove him. No, he weighed everything in the balance and decided that a trash heap life was better.

A trash heap life compares everything the world has to offer to Jesus and says, “Jesus is infinitely greater.” It understands that gains in this world, while potentially useful tools, do not result in eternal gains. What good is it to have great education, much wealth, and fame and notoriety if it gets you nothing in the end?

The one inevitable that every man and woman faces is death. Most do all they can to delay death, but eventually it catches up to us. Then, everything we worked so hard to gain is let loose from our grip. We came into the world with nothing, we leave the world with nothing. Everything we earned and gained passes on to someone else. With enough time, even our memory is forgotten in history (with very rare exception).

A trash heap life realizes these realities and says, “I want more.” It realizes that the only way to get the more is through Jesus. So, Paul could cry out in passion, “I want to know him!” For Paul saw that the benefit of knowing Jesus wasn’t just for this life, but for eternity beyond. To know Jesus as Lord and Savior is to have a part in the resurrection to life. That is, one day our bodies will be raised uncorrupted and incorruptible, glorified by and together with Jesus, that we might experience unending joy.

The trash heap life longs for that day. If we have education or money or fame, we look at these only as tools to help guide us and guide others to Jesus, who infinitely matters. If we lose those things in this world, we still put our hope in Jesus who will give us much, much better things in the days of eternity to come. So, we cry out along with Paul: I want to experience the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus!

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Having Everything, Needing Jesus

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else things 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. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. ~Philippians 3:2-7 (ESV)

Some of the opponents that Paul faced were those who claimed superiority because of their Jewishness. This was a problem evident throughout many of Paul’s letters. He wrote to churches that often contained a majority of people who had come from a Gentile, or non-Jewish, background. Therefore, these followers of Jesus had never been under the Old Testament Law and did not possess the covenantal mark of the people: circumcision.

Early on in the life of the church, the decision was made not to burden Gentile believers with the necessity of circumcision (see: Acts 15). Yet, some would come into the fledgling churches and say: “You believe in Jesus, that’s well and good, but to truly be right with God you must be circumcised like us Jews.”

Paul responded by calling such teachers dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh. Righteousness, he argued elsewhere, had nothing to do with fleshly circumcision but everything to do with the circumcision of the heart, this being accomplished by faith in Jesus. Therefore, to add this physical burden upon the Gentile believers was to go against the very heart of the gospel they claimed to teach.

To emphasize his point, Paul described how he wasn’t speaking as an outsider. He was a Jew. In fact, he had been a rising star among the religious leaders of Israel and had been a zealot for the cause. Yet, there had come a day where he realized that everything he had meant nothing.

His ethnicity, education, leadership positions, and zeal did not earn him God’s favor. Though he possessed all these things that could make others jealous, he lacked faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior-King, and therefore he lacked the one thing that mattered most.

So, Paul looked at his gain and said, “I count it as loss. Give me Christ!”

This is how it should be with us: Jew or Gentile, black or white, male or female, rich or poor, high school drop outs or doctoral students, teacher or student, whatever we think we have that makes us superior or inferior to others ultimately matters not. Whether or not we have Jesus by faith matters eternally. We can have everything life has to offer and miss out because we don’t have Jesus. But if we have Jesus, then we have everything.

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Joyful Reminders

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. ~Philippians 3:1 (ESV)

This single verse, about halfway through Paul’s letter, gives a strong reminder of Paul’s purpose in writing to the church. He wanted them to experience the great joy of God through Christ in all things. He wanted them to join him in looking beyond the ups and downs, troubles and pleasures of each day and set their gaze firmly upon the solid rock of joy: Jesus.

So, he said, “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me.” Repetition is how we learn and grow. Hearing and doing the same things again and again is how we develop lifelong habits, either bad or good. In this case, Paul’s reminder was good. He knew the outcome of it would be greater attitudes of joy on a daily basis. Therefore, he had no qualms about reminding the church over and over of joy in Christ.

Paul also said, “…and is safe for you.” We live in a world of distractions, and that hasn’t changed in 2000 years. The forms of distraction shift with time, but the fact remains that we face plenty that tries to take our eyes off of Jesus. A regular reminder fights against these distractions. We need to be reminded that Jesus is the greater Savior-King, answering our deepest needs due to our sin.

Being reminded of the work of Jesus to save us and being reminded of the eternal joy Jesus brings us through salvation serve as a strong anchor of the soul. Let yourself hear and heed the reminder to rejoice in the Lord.

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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