Grace Bible Church
Citizens of Heaven – Philippians 3:20,21
(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 8, 2004
Citizens of Heaven
Introduction & Review
Last week I spoke about the importance of following a good example. In Philippians 3:17 Paul calls us to “join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” You will become like those you seek to imitate, so it is very important that those you seek to imitate, your heroes, are worthy models to follow.
Even a cursory study of Paul’s life shows why he is a good model to imitate. He developed in his own life the character qualities that we need to have in our own lives. Paul set the proper goal for himself of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. He wanted to know Jesus personally as much as humanly possible, or as he said in verse 10, “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Paul also kept his priorities by pressing on toward that goal. He did not let himself become distracted by the past or side issues. Because he kept his priorities, Paul was also adaptable to the cultures he was trying to reach with the gospel without compromising any of God’s commands or becoming assimilated. He learned what was important and what was not, what was necessary and what was just personal preferences. Paul was bold when it came to the truths of the word of God, but flexible when it came to his own personal desires. Paul was not perfect, but he was quick to acknowledge and take responsibility when he was wrong.
All of these things, and many more, are qualities in Paul’s life that are good examples for us to follow. There are also the many other examples set forth in the Bible, as well as the lives of godly Christian men and women that are recorded on the pages of history. I mentioned some of them last week from the ancient Church fathers, the Reformation Period, and more recent pastors and missionaries. I also mentioned some who had been great Christian examples in the fields of politics and science.
But just as there are good examples, there are also bad examples that we should be wary of as Paul warned in verses 18, & 19. It is tragic that so many professing Christians do not heed the warnings and instead hold such people in high esteem simply because they have gained wealth or fame from the world. Regardless of how well they can sing, act or play a sport, those who character is marked by immorality or moral depravity do not deserve honor by the Christian. Such honor is reserved for those that fear the Lord.
Those who are outwardly depraved are easy to spot and therefore it is easier for us to protect ourselves from their influence. More difficult to identify are those who give an outward appearance of being religious, even pious, but who inwardly are, as 2 Peter 2:2 describes them, greedy and sensual. They are those who secretly introduce destructive heresies. Paul calls them “enemies of the cross” in verse 18. They either add to or take away some vital aspect of the gospel message, so that it becomes one that leads to eternal damnation instead of eternal life.
The Judaizers and legalists add works of righteousness and thereby destroy grace, and salvation only comes by God’s grace. No work or works of righteousness done by you can save you because they are as filthy rags before God (Isa. 64:6). The Greek philosophers and their modern day counterparts redefine sin, but salvation does not come without conviction of sin and a turning from it (Acts 17:30). Others exchange the Jesus Christ of the Bible for one of their own making, but one who is just a “glorified resurrected man,” or a lesser God, or a good teacher and example cannot save you. Salvation from sin only occurs by God’s grace alone through faith alone in the true Jesus Christ alone.
The difference between good and bad role models will ultimately be demonstrated in their final destination, heaven or hell, but in the “here and now,” they are also evident. What do they pursue in seeking satisfaction, godliness or their appetites? What do they boast in, is it honorable or shameful? What do they think about, is it heavenly or earthly things? As we come to our text this morning in Philippians 3:20,21, Paul gives one more contrast as he explains the expectations a Christian has that motivate him toward godliness.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself, (Philippians 3:20,21).
The importance of this first phrase cannot be stressed enough for in it is another contrast between good and bad, but more importantly, it is the reason and motivation for a Christian to live a godly life. In a way, this is a summary statement of Paul’s argument throughout this chapter, but to understand that, we need to dig into this phrase a little deeper.
“Citizenship” is from politeuma / politeuma. The KJV translated this as “conversation,” but we no longer use this word in the way they did in the 1600’s. They meant it as “a keeping company;” “intimate fellowship or association;” “commerce in social life.” Some of the British translators use “commonwealth” for this word. The explanation in TDNT includes usage in Greek literature “which employed politeuma / politeuma. for foreign colonies outside the mother country with certain specified rights.” This was exactly the situation that existed in Philippi, which was a Roman colony in Macedonia. Those who belonged to the colony of Philippi were also citizens of Rome with all those respective rights. I believe Paul purposely used this word to convey to the believers in Philippi a great spiritual truth of the same nature.
The Christian is radically changed at salvation. The most radical is that change of going from being dead in trespasses and sin into being made alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5). God’s grace is extended to us and we are justified before Him and forgiven our sins (Romans 3:26; 1 John 2:12). We are adopted into God’s family and made his children (John 1:12; Gal. 4:5). Included with this is that we are given citizenship to a place we have never been, but because it is the dwelling place of our Father, we belong there too. Heaven becomes our true home.
It is important to note that the word translated as “is” here, (uparcw / huparchô), is not the normal verb for “is.” This word means “to begin, to be ready or at hand;” “being, belonging to;”
“to possess.” The usage of this word here places emphasis that this is something that is, as Lloyd-Jones puts it, “being already in existence and manifesting itself.” Heaven is not something that is just off in the future somewhere, but instead is as Lightfoot describes, “our citizenship is even now in heaven.” Though we are not there yet, it is current reality.
This was a concept what would have been easily understood in Philippians. Undoubtably there would have been some there that were citizens of Philippi, and hence also Roman citizens, who had never been to Rome, and though they had never been there and were not there currently, they also understood the importance and current reality that they were indeed citizens of Rome. The same would have been true for anyone who became a Roman citizen later in life, but had never been to Rome. Though we have not been to heaven and are not there currently, the current reality is our citizenship is even now in heaven. It is our true home.
This has always been true for those who were faithful in following God. In Hebrews 11 it describes some of these great godly men and women of the past and then in verse 13 it comments about Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah. “13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that [country] from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better [country], that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”
That is the true nature of the Christian life. Though we were born here, after we become disciples of Jesus Christ, we gain an awareness that this world is not our real home. We can sense that we are strangers and exiles here for we do not fit in well with the world around us. Perhaps you have had the same experience I have had in this. The longer I walk with Jesus Christ and draw close to him, the less the things the world offers have much attraction to me. They just continue to diminish as I grow in knowing Christ and experience Him living through me. There are cultural events and national celebrations that I enjoyed at one time, but now I find some of them to be offensive and others as just a waste of time. Even those that I still enjoy leave me with a cognitive feeling that there is a lot missing. There is much more to life than these things. I long for that heavenly country and that city whose builder and maker is God. That longing in turn causes me to change my behavior and actions. Who can be excited about and desire worldly things when you are a citizen of heaven, which is so much better?
Having our citizenship in heaven causes us to be the opposite of those Paul warns about in verse 19 whose god is their appetite, whose glory is their shame, and who set their minds on earthly things. All that such people set their hearts upon are temporal. A mind set on heavenly things looks for all that is related to heaven including the glory of our returning Lord and all that brings with it. We seek and find eternal satisfaction in our God instead of the fleeting pleasures of our appetites.
The citizens of heaven have proper expectations of what is to come. In verses 20,21 Paul describes two of the wonderful promises we can expect to be fulfilled along with a description of the nature of our longings and the means by which it will all be accomplished.
Nature of Expectation (eagerly wait – vs. 20)
Paul first explains the nature of our expectation for receiving the full benefits of our heavenly citizenship. He says that we “eagerly wait” (NASB) or “look for” our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come from there.
The verb here, apekdecomai / apekdechomai; means “to await or expect eagerly” (Vines). The word occurs 8 times in the New Testament. It is used 6 times by Paul, once in Hebrews and once in 1 Peter. In all but the usage in Peter, it describes the longing for Jesus’ return and the events and changes that will occur when that happens. It is used 3 times in Romans 8:18-25 referring to creation and believers waiting eagerly for the glory that is to be revealed to us (vs. 18). Creation anxiously longs for the revealing of the sons of God when it will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (vs. 19-22). Believers with perseverance wait eagerly for our hope (vs. 25), our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (vs. 23). In 1 Corinthians 1:7 Paul uses this term in describing one of the character qualities of the Corinthians who were “awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And in Galatians 5:5 Paul uses it to describe those who “through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.” Hebrews 9:28 also describes those who eagerly await Jesus’ return.
The sense here then is that our confident assurance that Jesus will fulfill His promises causes us to look forward to His return and all the consequences related to it. This is an eager, but patient waiting, for though we do not know the timing of His return, it is something we are confident will happen. Jesus will return. This is a reason Paul desired to reach forward to what lies ahead and forget about what was behind. All the things he longed for the most were in the future. (As a quick aside, that is an important point to keep in mind throughout your life. A child naturally longs for the future because with it will come greater freedom and wonderful new experiences. However, as you get older and your body starts wearing out or you come to the harsh realization that many of your dreams for this life will never be fulfilled, it is easy to long for those earlier times when you were physically strong and agile with less pain and your dreams for the future were exciting. For the Christian, the future is always exciting because of Jesus’ promises concerning it).
Return of Jesus Christ (vs. 20)
Jesus’ return is the pivotal event of the future, but Paul stresses here that it is the person that we are eagerly waiting for. The event itself and its consequences are secondary. Perhaps the following paraphrase can bring out the sense of this verse. “The Christian is even now a citizen of heaven, and heaven is where our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is at, and we eagerly wait for His return.”
The promise of Jesus’ return is spoken of throughout the New Testament. There are two aspects to Jesus’ return. One is of the positive consequences to those who believe, and the other is of the negative consequences upon those who do not believe. Those who scoff at the promise of Jesus’ return only demonstrate both their ignorance and unbelief, and they will pay the negative consequences. Perhaps next week I will take a break from our study of Philippians to give you more detail on the differences between these two aspects of Christ’s future return, but for this week, we will only be looking at the positive aspects since that is what Paul is emphasizing here to the Philippians as an encouragement to them to live holy lives. These are the positive reasons that our minds are to be on the things above instead of the things that are on this earth (Col. 3:2).
Certainly the foundation for this belief in our Savior’s return is Jesus’ promise that His coming back was a blessing they were to look forward to. Probably the best known and clearest passage on this is John 14:1-6 Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, [there] you may be also.” Jesus also clarified in verse 6 that He was the only way to heaven stating, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.
Acts 1:10,11 records the comfort given to the disciples as they watched Jesus being taken to heaven after His resurrection. It says that while they“were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them; and they also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
Paul speaks of the comforting aspects of Jesus’ return for the saints not only here in Philippians, but in many of his other epistles.
Colossians 3:4 Paul tells the believer that “when Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” This was a reason that they were to consider the members of their earthly body as dead to sin and set aside their sinful practices to walk in holiness. Their lives were now in Christ and this is what will happen in the future, so live accordingly.
In 1 Timothy 6:14 Paul uses Jesus’ promised return to encourage Timothy to live in holiness saying, “keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time.”
In Titus 2:11-14 Paul speaks about some of the things the grace of God brings to us including salvation, instruction in righteous living and causing us to be “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.”
In 1 & 2 Thessalonians Paul speaks of another aspect of Jesus’ return that was a comfort to the believer. It would remove them from God’s wrath which was to come. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9 Paul speaks about the Thessalonian believers and how they “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, [that is] Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 Paul brings out both the comforting aspect to believers and the warning to unbelievers saying, “For after all it is [only] just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and [to give] relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
The Thessalonians had become fearful that those who had already died would miss the blessings of Jesus’ return. Paul comforted them in 1 Thess. 4:16 explaining that “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” Those who have died do not miss any of the blessings. In fact, they receive them first, which brings us to back Phil.3:21.
Transformation of our Bodies (vs. 21)
One of the wonderful consequences of Jesus’ return for His saints is what Paul says here that Jesus Christ “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” There is a wonderful change that will happen to every true Christian. This physical body which is so limited and fails us so often will be changed into a different kind of body which will not have those limitations and will not fail us.
Paul explains 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 that this body will be imperishable and immortal, for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. This change to our physical bodies will occur “in the twinkling of an eye,” which is the time it take for light to go through the cornea of your eye and reflect back out off the lens. In other words, this is change is instantaneous.
Now we do not know all the properties of this body, but 1 John 3:2 tells that we shall be like Jesus when He appears. We have already seen from 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 that this body will be able to sustain us in being caught up into the air to be with Jesus him forever. Our current bodies could not withstand such an event and existence, but Jesus’ body after the resurrection did just that (Acts 1). We also know that Jesus’ resurrection body was able to eat physical food (Luke 24:42), and though it could be physically touched (John 20:27), it was not bound by physical barriers such as a shut door (John 20:26). Jesus was also able to appear and vanish before people eyes (Luke 24:31, 36).
Now as wonderful as it is to think about exchanging “the body of our humble estate” with all its limitations and failings for one that is in “conformity with the body of His glory,” especially for those of us with some chronic physical pain or handicap, that is not the best part about all of this. The best part is that this body of sin will be done away with and our sanctification will be complete and the final work of glorification will be accomplished. The result will be that we will no longer struggle against sin, for it will be fully vanquished from us forever. That is the most wonderful personal aspect about Jesus return. The work of being conformed into His image will done and we will be like Him.
Means of it Accomplishment (vs. 21)
How will all this be accomplished? It is not anything that you can do for yourself for it is infinitely beyond all human ability. It will be done by the power of Jesus Christ which is the same power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself. Recall from back in chapter 2:10,11 that this same power will force every knee in heaven, on the earth and under the earth bow before Him and every tongue to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.
There is no power greater than this for no one can take us from the God’s hand (John 10:28,29), and no power in the universe can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). As stated in 1 Cor. 15:25-28 and Ephesians 1:19-23, Jesus is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come and He will put all things in subjection under His feet.
There is no question or doubt that Jesus Christ will accomplish all that Paul has spoken about here. He will come again, and when He does He will transform our humble bodies into the image of the body of His glory.
When we are saved there are many radical changes that take place. One of them is that we are given citizenship in heaven. It is this change in citizenship and the longings to experience the fulness of its benefits that change my attitudes and behavior. The Apostle Peter put it this way in 1 Peter 2:11,12, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe [them,] glorify God in the day of visitation.”
This is not an issue of having a moral code of conduct. Morality codes focus on the pro and con of particular actions. I do this and do not do that because these would be the consequences. Moral codes of necessity generate long lists of do’s and don’ts. They guide the ethical non-Christian and legalist, but they are inevitably self centered. “I am kind because I want people to be kind to me. I do not get drunk have immoral relationships because that would be bad for my body.”
The isssue is having a change of heart to pursue holiness. Holiness focuses on who I am in Jesus Christ. I do this or do not do that because I am a citizen of Heaven, a child of God, and I am being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. It’s outlook is Christ centered. It’s list of do’s and don’ts is very simple. I exist to bring glory to my savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore I will do what will bring Him the most glory and refrain from anything that does not. What would Jesus do? What does Jesus want me to do? I am kind because that reflects my savior. I do not get drunk or have immoral relationships because that would bring shame on my savior’s name.
Where is your citizenship? If it is not heaven, it can be. Talk with one of our church leaders after the service. If you say it is heaven, then are you living in the reality of what that means, or are you living as if you really belong here on earth?
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times Jesus’ return is mentioned. Talk with your parents about who the importance of Jesus’ return .
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Why is Paul a good example to imitate? Who do you want to be like? Why? How are you protecting yourself from the influence of bad role models? What are some of the radical changes that occur when a person becomes a Christian? What does it mean to have your “citizenship in heaven” even now while you are on earth? How does your life compare to those spoken about in Hebrews 11:13-16? What proper expectations should you have as a citizen of heaven? Why should you “eagerly await” Jesus’ return? How do we know Jesus will return? Support with Biblical references. Why does Paul only mention the positive aspects of this for believers in this passage? What are the negative aspects of Jesus’ return for unbelievers? What will happen to the physical bodies of Christians when Jesus returns? What will happen to our struggle with sin? Why? How is all of this accomplished? What are the differences between having a moral code of ethics and being a citizen of heaven? Where is your citizenship?
Sermon Notes – August 8, 2004
Citizens of Heaven – Philippians 3:20,21
Introduction & Review (vs. 17-19)
Citizenship (vs. 20)
Nature of Expectation (eagerly wait – vs. 20))
Return of Jesus Christ (vs. 20)
Transformation of our Bodies (vs. 21)
Means of it Accomplishment (vs. 21)
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