By Pastor Josh Seale
on Philippians 3:1-21
I spent much of my adult life laying my head down in places that were not my home. I lived in states of which I was not a resident, and in countries of which I was not a citizen. I became quite comfortable living and sleeping in places I did not call home. And although I was comfortable, I still longed for the day I would return home. Yet when I did return to the place I call home, I was still not home.
Recently while reading through Philippians, chapter 3 caused me to reflect on my citizenship and where I consider home to be, and as Paul states, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). The term citizenship is a publicly recognized legal status that authorizes someone to be a citizen—that is, a full and functioning member of a civitas, a social and political community, along with the rights and duties that come along with it. It is understood as a “right to have rights.”
Between Two Worlds
The Apostle Paul’s teaching reminded me that I am between two worlds. I am an American citizen here on earth, according to my physical birth, but my true and eternal citizenship is in heaven, with God, in His Kingdom, according to my spiritual birth (John 3:3-5; 2 Cor. 5:17). And this spiritual birth which brings eternal citizenship in God’s kingdom depends on faith; a faith that God gives (Phil. 3:7-9; Eph. 2:4-9; Titus 3:5).
But what caused me to consider my own citizenship was the entirety of chapter 3. In Paul’s opening sentences of this chapter, he first cautions the Philippian believers to “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” (Phil. 3:1-3). Paul was cautioning his fellow believers not to get caught up in the worldly traditions, following false religions and beliefs, and not to place their confidence in anything or anyone but Christ (3:8; 2 Cor. 4:5; Col. 1:28; Gal. 6:14). He goes on to explain how all worldly accomplishments or forms of ascetism are fleeting in comparison to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:4-8). Paul wants to live for the sake of Christ even in suffering, so “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 from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10-11). From this point, Paul’s focus is toward the goal and prize, Christlikeness. His focus is not on the world or the things of the world but on the things of heaven.
Goal and Prize
As Paul directs his attention and his readers’ attention to a prize that will not fade away, he gives them a goal. The goal is to look forward to the new life you have in Christ Jesus the Lord as he said in 3:13, “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.” He also said something rather similar in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Paul explains that the new life in Christ is one you must struggle and strain toward daily (Phil. 3:12-16). This new life in Christ means we no longer live for ourselves or for the world, but rather, we start living for Christ. “…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” (3:13).
When we start living for Christ we die with him to the elemental things of this world (Col. 2:20), die to the law (Rom. 7:4; Gal. 2:19), die to the world (Gal. 6:14), and we die to sin (Rom. 6:2). Christ then raises us up from the dead with Him to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). Our new birth (John 3:3; 2 Cor. 5:17) then brings the life of a Christian straining forward toward the goal to win the prize that is Christ.
Think with a Kingdom-focused Mindset
Lastly, Paul calls his readers to imitate him and those whose lives are examples of a God-honoring, God-glorifying, and Christlike life. With a broken heart he reminds them of those who are living for the world and walk as enemies to the cross of Christ. Sadly, their end is destruction and their citizenship is not in heaven but eternal damnation, for they depended on their works to save them and denied Christ (3:17-19). “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,” (3:20-21). I find comfort not in my worldly citizenship or where I lay my head each night, but in my true and eternal citizenship which unites me with Christ. Just as Paul found comfort when he said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (Phil. 1:21). For him, “gain” was being united with Christ in the Kingdom of heaven where he is a citizen today.