Philippians 3:20-21 - 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
If your eyes are only on the things of this world your joy will fade away. Corrie Ten Boom, Holocaust survivor, used to say, "Look around be distressed. Look within be depressed. Look to Christ and be at rest." The above verses conclude a chapter in which Paul describes joy in terms of how it is related to complete consecration to God. He said knowing Jesus, even in the fellowship of His suffering, was far greater than any human achievement he ever attained to. In fact he said all his earthly achievements were garbage in comparison to knowing Jesus. Paul contrasts this total consecration with those whose god is their belly, who are only concerned with earthly things and who are as result, enemies of God. He then punctuates this chapter by pointing believers to a heavenly perspective. He seeks to have his readers lift their eyes to heaven.
Paul substantiates his call to a fully surrendered consecrated life by pointing out, “For our citizenship is in heaven.” The word “citizenship” (πολίτευμα - pŏlitĕuma, pol-it´-yoo-mah) means citizenship, colony, commonwealth, or community. We get the English word politics from the original Greek word politeuma from which “citizenship” is translated. One commentary states of this word:
Politeuma was used in classical Greek from the Fifth Century B.C. onward of the various acts, departments, and functions of government (cf. Bauer). It was used of the business of government, the administration of government, and the policy of government (both local and foreign). Aristotle used it in his Politics for “the government,” those who hold political power or who hold a share in it.
From the time of the Third Century B.C. politeuma also meant “citizenship.” Politeuma was frequently used to designate a “corporate body of citizens,” a colony of foreigners who are residents in a foreign city while their citizenship and allegiance is elsewhere. It was used, for example, of a “body of Judeans living in Berenice,” or of “Cretans living in Egypt.” Politeuma is not found in the canonical books of the Septuagint but is found in 2 Maccabees 12:7 where it is said that Judas wanted to “root out the whole community of Joppa” (RSV). Hence, politeuma can mean “community.”
Christians are a “colony of foreigners” in this world. We are temporary residents. Our “citizenship and allegiance is elsewhere.” We should see ourselves as passing through this world on the way to our true eternal destination of heaven with Jesus. This perspective should impact the way we live. This world is not our final destination. We are on our way to a different far more glorious and perfect destination, heaven.
It would be easy, given the state of governments and the political upheaval that so often characterizes the world, to be enticed into the quicksand of horizontal political endeavors. While we are to be good citizens within the government systems God has sovereignly placed us (Rom. 13), we are also called to a higher calling. As Citizens of heaven, when the ways of God and the ways of man come into conflict, our position is clear, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; cf. Daniel 3:16-18; 6:10, 13).
A patriot is “one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.” We are, therefore, to be heavenly patriots. What is a heavenly patriot? I asked that question to a group of pastor friends of mine and here is a sample of what they said:
• "Being a citizen of heaven means that heavenly concerns and divine guidance take precedence over anything and everything that is earthly generated and conflicts with the grace and character of God. The way I see it is if we all stood as firmly on our rights enumerated in the US Constitution as citizens of the USA like we do our rights and privileges granted to us by God, this nation would be a whole different place. We could have been born at any time in history, and in any place in this world, and God through His divine Providence saw fit to place me HERE, in this country, NOW – when they needed me most. I do not want to leave God or country down. I once took an oath to defend this nation against all enemies foreign and domestic, and as long as I can do that and still look my loving and gracious God in the eye when it is over, I will fight to the death to defend this land and its people. The way I see it, I have more right to do that than I do to defend myself against persecution for my faith. In the former I have been given a mandate by God, through His Holy Word to obey the laws of this land that HE has allowed to exist, yet when it comes to persecution for my faith, I am required to turn the other cheek and suffer as Christ has suffered which is my reasonable service."
• ". . . . I have often said that if our nation decides to take God out of our country, they will have to take a chisel and hammer to Washington, DC - His Name and His word are carved in stone everywhere. . . . We are citizens of heaven and citizens on earth, placed here as salt and light and as witnesses of Jesus Christ (not His attorneys, but His witnesses). Thus, we ought to always conduct ourselves accordingly. So many pastors I have spoken with believe that we have only a heavenly responsibility and some believe that we have only an earthly responsibility. I believe that it is not either/or, but both/and - let us not disconnect the two but exercise both in all that we do. We . . . pray and participate - to awaken ourselves and as many as we can to the privileges and responsibilities that come with our dual citizenship."
• "Our ultimate citizenship is in Heaven, not on earth. We are here as ambassadors, advancing the interests of our Better Country. We are on temporary assignment here, but we have a permanent home in Heaven. No matter how bad things get with the kingdoms of the earth, the Kingdom of Heaven is ruled by a wise and righteous King. And He will return here and make all things right, and one of our goals is to hasten His return by properly representing Him while we're on our assignments here."
• "A heavenly citizen is a good citizen – wherever he/she may live. A heavenly citizen is one who does not vote Democrat vs. Republican, red vs. blue, conservative vs. liberal but biblical vs. world. Unfortunately, most Christians go to the polls with a worldly world-view rather than a biblical one. They will vote their pocketbook, personal interests, party line or for “the face” without filtering their choices through the Word of God. A heavenly citizen does not go with the stream but votes his/her Bible."
So what is a heavenly patriot? A heavenly patriot hungers and thirsts for righteousness (Mat. 5:6). A heavenly citizen knows they are blessed if called upon to suffer for righteousness sake (Mat. 5:10; 1 Pet. 3:4). Jesus said if we are persecuted for righteousness sake we should, “rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Mat. 5:12). We heavenly patriots are, quite simply, yet profoundly, called to a higher standard than the lost sinner who lives in and for the things of this world. What characterizes this joyful heavenly patriotism that God calls us to?
First, God’s joy producing Heavenly Patriotism lives united with other heavenly patriots (3:20a). Paul says, “For our.” He emphasizes the community aspect of citizenship. To the Galatians he was inspired to write, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). There is a “law,” a principle of Christ that says we should stand by and help our brothers and sisters in Christ. A burden is differentiated by Paul from a “load.” A load is each individual’s responsibility (Gal. 6:5). A “burden” is that too heavy for anyone person to bear. We are to help our brethren when they are weighed down with burdens too heavy for them to bear alone. Paul was willing to be “poured out” for the Philippians (Phi. 2:17). God calls heavenly citizens to support one another and sacrifice for one another; to love one another (Rom. 13:8; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9). It’s a joy producing thing to receive help with burdens and to give help to others with burdens.
Second, God’s joy producing Heavenly Patriotism lives with a heavenly perspective (3:20b). Paul says, “For out citizenship is in heaven.” “Heaven” (οὐρανός - ŏuranŏs, oo-ran-os´) refers to the sky and is used to point to the abode of God. It used to refer to the air or sky such as where birds fly (Mat. 6:26; 8:20; Acts 10:12; 11:6). It is used in reference to the location of the stars (Matt. 24:29, 35; Mark 13:25, 31; Heb. 11:12). And it is used to refer to the eternal habitation of God (Matt. 5:16; 12:50; Rev. 3:12; 11:13; 16:11; 20:9). Heaven is also the abode of angels (Matt. 18:10; 22:30; cf. Rev. 3:5).
With this in mind scripture speaks of heavens. When Jesus ascended He “passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:12; cf. also Eph. 4:10 Heb. 7:26; 8:1). Paul speaks of the “third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2). The first heaven is the sky, the second heaven is where the stars and planets are, and the third heaven is the abode of God. The Father has always been in heaven (Mat. 5:16; 12:50). Jesus is now in heaven (Rom. 8:34; 1 Pet. 3:22; Heb. 9:24). The Holy Spirit descended from heaven at Pentecost (1 Pet. 1:12). Jesus will descend from heaven to the clouds and receive His saints at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:16). Seven years of Tribulation on earth will take place as God pours out His wrath from heaven on a Christ rejecting world (Rev. 16). Then Jesus will return at His Second Coming with His saints and angels (Mat. 24:30; Jude 14; 2 Thess. 1:7; Rev. 19). Jesus will set up His earthly Kingdom on earth for a thousand years (Rev. 20). And at the end of that thousand year reign there will be the Great White Throne Judgment wherein sinners will be judged (Rev. 20). After this a new earth and heaven will be created by God (Is. 65:17; 2 Pt. 3:10; Rev. 20 and 21). Finally, we the saints of God will one day be welcomed into this new heavenly abode (2 Cor. 5:1).
Third, God’s joy producing Heavenly Patriotism lives with eager expectation of Christ’s return (3:20c). Christian, we have a glorious future to look forward to and that should cause us to rejoice. In fact Paul says we “eagerly” (ἀπεκδέχομαι - apĕkdĕchŏmai, ap-ek-dekh´-om-ahee) or with great expectation we intensely wait for our “Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s exciting to think of the prospects of Jesus’ return. We should live every day with the intense and great expectation that today could be the day Jesus returns for us! That is a blessed hope that fuels Jesus’ joy within us (Titus 2:13).
Fourth, God’s joy producing Heavenly Patriotism Contends for the Lordship of Christ (3:20d). Paul identifies Jesus as, “the Lord Jesus Christ.” A Day is coming when Jesus will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16), but right now there is a “god of this age,” Satan, a usurper who is battling against Jesus for control of this world. This usurper Satan is trying to force his way into a position of lordship that only rightfully belongs to Jesus. Satan is a deceiver and part of his strategy is to blind people to the truth of God (John 8:44; 2 Cor. 4:4). Satan’s ultimate goal is to reign in place of God (Isaiah 14:12-15). Satan wants to be the King of kings and Lord of lords. That just isn’t going to happen. Satan is so deep in sin and self-deceived, (sin has a warping deceiving effect on those who sin – 1 John 1:8, 10) that he actually believes he can unseat God. He is like a maniacal genius consumed with delusions of grandeur and devoid of truth and reality. He will ultimately be defeated (Rev. 20). But until then the heavenly patriot must realize we are in a war.
The heavenly patriot realizes we are in a war. While we exist and function in a material world, beneath the surface in the spiritual realm, (a realm just as real as the material world), is a war of the ages raging. Guns and explosives have little impact on our enemy in this war. We need to use different weapons. Paul explained our situation like this:
• 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 - 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,
Because this war is in the spiritual realm the primary battlefield is in our minds and hearts. The sin we see in the world such as violence, hatred, perversity, injustices, and spiritual blindness are all symptoms of hearts and minds that are depraved and separated from God. The battles to be fought therefore are battles for the minds and hearts of people. Satan tries to establish strongholds of false, deceptive, lying thoughts and emotions in people. The things which oppose the “knowledge of God” must be cast down, captured and brought into obedience to Christ. The hearts and minds of people must be brought into subjection to the Lordship of Jesus.
God has given us powerful weapons to wage this war. What are these weapons? Paul further describes the war we are in and the weapons we are provided by God when he is inspired to write:
• Ephesians 6:10-18 - 10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—
First to fight effectively and win this war we must depend on the power of God (6:10). We have to pay attention to the detailed war strategy God has given us in His word putting on all the armament He has provided (6:11). We need to recognize our struggle is not against people as much as it is against Satan and his demonic forces who manipulate people in sinful ways (6:12). We have to take a stand for God and His word (6:13). To do so we need put on all the armor of God: the belt buckle of truth which keeps all the other armor in place (6:14a); the breastplate of righteousness which guards our hearts (6:14b); the shoes of the gospel so we take the gospel wherever we go (6:15); the shield of faith to ward off the lying accusations of the enemy (6:16); the helmet of salvation which protects our mind from thoughts of condemnation (6:17a); and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (6:17b) – all that the heavenly patriot does in this war needs to be done in God’s truth. And lastly the heavenly patriot relies on prayer, the long range artillery of the Lord which softens enemy bunkers so that we can storm the beachhead (6:18). The heavenly citizen must be in constant communication with their Commander in prayer and praying always for those in earthly leadership positions since influencing and controlling earthly leaders is a prime target of the enemy (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
We are in a tough struggle, but we have one piece of incredibly important information about this war. We know the outcome! We know that in the end Jesus wins. That’s incredibly important because that makes us “more than conquerors.” Read the words of Paul in this regard:
• Romans 8:31-39 - 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing the enemy does to us can separate us from God. He can, literally, capture us and isolate us from other people, but Jesus will be there with us. Jesus said He would never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). God is for us, it doesn’t matter who is against us. God has proved by giving the most precious of things, His only Son Jesus, that He will provide every resource needed for victory in the war. We are settled and secure on the battle lines knowing God loves us and is for us. We may be physically killed, but that only brings us into the glorious presence of Jesus. Nothing can separate us from God. That information makes us more than conquerors. What does that mean, what is a “more than conqueror”? A conqueror goes up against an opponent hoping they have mustered enough forces and a good enough strategy to defeat their enemy. Even the most confident commander entertains the possibility of an upset victory by their opponent. Not so the more than conqueror. We are “more than conquerors” because we go into battle knowing the outcome. There is no doubt, Jesus wins and therefore we win. We are supremely confident in our Lord. He has never failed before and He will never fail ever. The heavenly patriot therefore is supremely confident because of the trustworthiness and omnipotence of the Commander leading them.
Fifth, God’s joy producing Heavenly Patriotism relies on the transforming power of Jesus (3:21a). Politics, psychology, worldly philosophy, social sciences, sports, entertainment, nothing in this world can deal with the root problem of this world which is sin. The only thing powerful enough to deal with sin is the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Only full surrender to Jesus can bring the change needed to make a difference in this world (e.g. Rom. 12:1-2). God alone can give us the power needed to live a godly, holy, righteous, meaningful and purposeful life that is satisfying and complete. It’s only through knowing Him and experiencing His power that we can escape the corruption that is in the world (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
Paul speaks of the fact that when Jesus does return, He will “transform” (μετασχηματίζω - mĕtaschēmatizō, met-askh-ay-mat-id´-zo) or change, fashion, figure, transfigure believers. This word is to be distinguished from another Greek term metamorphoo. Metamorphoo refers to a change in “character, nature, the very essence of a person or thing.” This is the word used to describe the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mat. 17:2). Metaschēmatizō “refers to that which is changeable, the outward “fashion” of a person or thing, e.g., a person’s gestures, speech, clothing.” When Paul spoke of Satan as one who “transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14) he used metaschēmatizō alluding to a change on the surface, in appearance and not a change in his essence.
What significance does Paul’s inspired choice of words have? When Jesus returns He will transform our “lowly bodies,” bodies susceptible to illness, aging, sinful warped appetites, disease, and death into bodies like the one Jesus has. Our bodies will “conformed” (συμμορφός - summŏrphŏs, soom-mor-fos´) or fashioned like His, “glorious body.” No more aches, pains, sickness, disease, or weakness due to sin. It will be the ultimate body makeover! The apostle John chimes in with his own inspired words of confirmation and agreement saying:
• 1 John 3:2- Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
Jesus’ “glorious” (δόξα - dŏxa, dox´-ah) body is radiant, honorable, splendorous. We won’t be Jesus, but we will have bodies like Jesus! When Jesus returns and we are united to Him we will receive glorious resurrection bodies unshackled at last from the deteriorating effects of planetary sin. That is reason to rejoice!
Sixth, God’s joy producing Heavenly Patriotism rests in the Sovereign Power of Jesus (3:21b). Paul says, “according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” The word “subdue” (ὑποτάσσω - hupŏtassō, hoop-ot-as´-so) means to make subject, to make submit, or put in submission to. Jesus has sovereign power to put “all things” in submission to Himself. Not only will Jesus powerfully change our bodies, but He will bring “all things” under His sovereign Kingship and rule.
Commentator Adam Clark makes the following comment:
According to the working] κατα την ενεργειαν According to that energy, by which he can bring all things under subjection to himself. Thus we find that the resurrection of the body is attributed to that power which governs and subdues all things, for nothing less than the energy that produced the human body at the beginning, can restore it from its lapsed and degraded state into that state of glory which it had at its creation, and render it capable of enjoying God throughout eternity. The thought of this glorious consummation was a subject of the highest joy and confidence amongst the primitive Christian. This earth was not their home; and they passed through things temporal so as not to lose those which were eternal.
Remember what Paul was inspired to write in the previous chapter:
• Philippians 2:9-11 - 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
That day is coming and every heavenly patriot of God looks forward to that day and lives in light of it. Even though things on earth may look bleak and even hopeless at times, the heavenly patriot can always take joy in the solidly sure fact that one day Jesus will indeed “subdue all things to Himself.” Take joy in that my fellow heavenly patriots.