For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (verses 18-21)
If you lived in Philippi, you were well acquainted with the concept of “citizenship.” It was an essential part of your identity.
Philippi had gotten its name from Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, who intervened as protector for the city in 356 BC, having been attracted by the wealth flowing from its local gold mines. But the city’s key moment came three centuries later when it was re-established as a Roman colony. This milestone for the residents of Philippi meant they became citizens of the far-off city of Rome itself, which became a huge source of pride and foundational to their self-identity. They lived in Macedonia, yes, but they counted Rome as their true home.
Paul uses this same concept to make a riveting point for all who are followers of Jesus. We may live here on earth, but this isn’t our home. Our true home is heaven. This is a foundational reality – our citizenship is there, not here. As a result, our loyalty is not rooted in this tangible world, nor in this specific slice of history. “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.”
But it's entirely too easy to get it mixed-up. This world remains tangible and obvious, its attractions and demands pressing in on us relentlessly. We’re feet-on-the-ground, right here. We’re governed by time. We are physical beings living in a physical world. It is too easy to forget where our home is actually located.
Which is exactly what some of those in Paul’s own day had done. He grieves for them, “with tears.” The bottom line is that “their mind is on earthly things.” Paul had used this very verb to urge the Philippians to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5) – that exalted focus, which shapes and remakes us, is in stark contrast with an earthly mindset with its devastating downward drag. As a result, those anchored in “earthly things” are controlled by their appetites (Paul doesn’t get more specific, but the general category applies equally to food, sex, consumerism, gossip, et al) and they take pride in behaviours and attitudes that should rightly cause them shame. Having set their eyes on earthly things, rather than on Jesus, they have become “enemies of the cross of Christ,” whose “destiny is destruction.” The consequence is severe.
So, be clear about where your citizenship lies. Don’t fool yourself, thinking you can be a spiritual dual-citizen. In Jesus’ words, “You cannot serve both God and money” (or anything else from this world). Live oriented toward your true home.
Indeed, with eyes focused there, we experience eager expectation, yearning for Christ’s coming, anticipating our full transformation into his likeness when he will bring us under the fullness of his lordship in that coming great day. Oh, yes.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Lord Jesus, lift my sights to you. I yearn for your coming. Meanwhile, on earth, keep me focused on you, rather than earthly things. My citizenship is in heaven. By your Spirit, keep shaping me by that reality. To your glory.
Reflect: With our feet on earth, it is so easy to have our mind focused here, too. What steps could you take today to keep lifting your sights to your true home? Ask the Spirit for his help.