17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends. (Philippians 3:17-4:1 NIV84)
What country are you from? In our Spanish service, that’s a very legitimate question. Looking at you, it’s maybe not so necessary. You’re proud to be an American, right? Me too! It’s a blessing from God to be born and live in the United States. You watch the news and see the struggle of so many people who dream to be American citizens but don’t have that option. Doesn’t that make you ask, “Why me? Why do I get to be an American?” It’s always tempting to think, “Because I deserve it!” Except, no one chooses where they’re born. It’s by the grace of God! We have a special blessing that many people wish they had. Where are you a citizen? “I’m an American!”
That’s a problem. Did you know that? Being citizens of the United States presents an obstacle to faith in Jesus. The devil loves to take God’s blessings and use them to turn us away from God. So what’s the problem with being an American? This really isn’t our home. When we think it is, we miss the message of Christianity. This isn’t our home! If you lived on a garbage heap in Mexico, it’d be hard not to dream of something better. But when we live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood with all the food and stuff we need… “Ahh. I’m home! This is my country. I’m an American!” Do you ever focus more on the kingdom of America than on the kingdom of God?
The apostle Paul knew that the Christians in Philippi—the Philippians—had that very same temptation. The Philippians were also proud of their citizenship. They weren’t Americans. Can you guess what they were? Romans. The residents of Philippi in Greece—even though it was far away from Rome in Italy—were blessed to be considered Roman citizens. This was what everyone in the ancient world coveted. Unlike many people at the time of Jesus, the Philippians had all the privileges that came from being citizens of the most powerful empire in the world.
But to these people who took great pride in their Roman citizenship, Paul wrote something that must have shocked them, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” “You’re not home here, at least not if you’re a Christian. This earth is not our home. Our citizenship is in heaven!” Listen to the urgency in Paul’s voice: “Join with others in following my example….As I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” This is a big deal! There is a huge difference between having your heart on earth and your heart in heaven. How you live is a big deal! Where your hope is placed is a big deal! Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. It was so sad for Paul to see people fall away from Jesus.
So what does it look like when you’re focused on earth and not on heaven? “Their god is their stomach.” This phrase really hit me. “Their god is their stomach.” Everyone has a god. Everyone loves something more than anything else. Here’s one common god—your stomach. Your body. As I was studying this, I couldn’t stop eating peanut M & Ms at my desk. Huh. How much of life is driven by your stomach—by your body? We feed our bodies. We feed our desires. How’s your self-control? “If it feels good, do it! If it makes you feel happy, do it!” Satisfying physical desires easily becomes the most important thing—god! Isn’t that true? People who live as enemies of the cross of Christ—who have their citizenship in the wrong place—“their god is their stomach.”
That leads to something else: “Their glory is in their shame.” Think about that. What should make you feel ashamed becomes something you’re proud of—“their glory is their shame.” Does that happen? Gay pride. Pro-choice marches. A white man in New Zealand proudly streaming live as he slaughters people not like him. “Their glory is in their shame.” We excuse drunkenness —glory in shame. Boast of sexuality—glory in shame. Laugh at crudeness—glory in shame. God knows just the words to hit home, doesn’t he? When what should make you feel ashamed becomes something that you’re proud of, you’re got your citizenship in the wrong place.
How does that happen? It’s pretty simple, “Their mind is on earthly things.” If you were to chart your thoughts this past week, what was your mind on—earthly things or heavenly things? I’ve been reading about NCAA basketball—and the Packers signed four new players. Did you read that? Did we read the Bible? We bought paint for our basement, lots of birthday presents for our kids, did we bring an offering to Jesus? The other stuff isn’t bad stuff, right? They are blessings from God! But what does the devil do? He takes good things and make them our gods—so we lose the real God. Is that why we feel so empty? “Their mind is on earthly things…”
When you hear that list, “Their god is their stomach, their glory is in their shame, and their mind is on earthly things,” what country comes to mind? America! Who comes to mind? Me! Is this really such a big deal? Yes, because here’s the result: “Their destiny is destruction.” You can live in the greatest country in the world and still end up in destruction. You can have a life that seems to be going great and still be living as an enemy of the cross of Christ. I hope that when you hear that, you say, “Wait a minute! I don’t want this to be my life. I don’t want this to be me!”
So here’s the good news: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” You are not just an American. Actually, this isn’t your home country at all. When you believe in Jesus, your passport changes. “Our citizenship is in heaven!” We’re citizens of heaven! How is that possible? Why would God want us up there? It’s grace. It’s all by God’s grace. Because the only one who deserves to be a citizen of heaven—Jesus—left his country and came to ours. He let himself be rejected again and again. He died for our sins and rose for our salvation to make us citizens of heaven. I love sharing the gospel with immigrants. Your citizenship here on earth doesn’t have any bearing on your eternal life. By God’s grace, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven!” (Luke 10:20).
And since our citizenship is in heaven, “we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Where does our help—our Savior come from? Heaven! How often don’t we put our trust in people here on earth? How often don’t we think that if just the right person or right people were in power, everything would be great in our country? Our Savior doesn’t—can’t—come from here. Our Savior comes from heaven! Don’t look to Washington or Madison to solve your problems. Just look up. Up to the cross. Up to heaven itself. Our Savior comes from there.
You know who it is—“the Lord Jesus Christ.” I want you to think about Jesus’ title—“Lord.” What does the word “Lord” mean? We use it all the time. What is a lord? Master. Ruler. Authority. Who is the real Master? Ruler? Authority? King? It’s Jesus. Trusting in that is what will really bring you peace. The same Jesus who loved us so much that he died for our sins—that same Jesus has brought everything under his control. What’s included in “everything”? Everything! No matter what you see with your eyes, here is the truth—Jesus is Lord!
And to citizens of heaven, Jesus makes this promise: “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.” There’s a fancy name for what that verse describes: The resurrection of the body. Heard of that? We say it all the time in the Apostles Creed. According to the Bible, when you die, your soul goes right to heaven and your body returns to dust. But just for a while. On Judgment Day, Jesus will raise up your body too, and you’re going to live with your body and soul in heaven. You’ll have a perfect, glorious body like Jesus did when he rose from the dead. Talk about a good health care plan! You are going to live—body and soul—forever in heaven.
Why would you ever want to give that up? What can our world possibly offer that’s better than Jesus? Here’s the answer. Nothing! Just a few verses before our text, Paul exclaimed, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Philippians 3:8). There is nothing that compares with Jesus! That’s why Paul, with tears in his eyes, warned about living as enemies of the cross of Christ. That’s why Paul encouraged those Philippians to follow his example. Surround yourselves with people who share the same faith in Jesus. Imitate the people who have their hearts set on heaven. Don’t ever forget that this is all temporary. You are a citizen of heaven!
That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised when we face persecution for our faith. We’re not from around here! God is constantly reminding us that heaven is our real home. As Jesus hung on the cross, do you think he was tempted for a minute to think, “Boy, this is a really nice place”? No way! Heaven was his home. As Jeremiah was rejected by everyone—that’s what Jeremiah did—he went around for decades preaching God’s Word, and he was rejected, then rejected, then rejected some more. Do you think he was thinking, “I want to live on earth forever”? No! Heaven was his home. Even the apostle Paul—as he wrote this letter to the Philippians—was sitting in a jail cell. Do you think he felt at home there? Not at all! Heaven was his home.
Believers in Jesus have always faced opposition. Why? Because this isn’t our home. This isn’t our world. We’re citizens from another place. When we speak the Word, when we stand up for the truth, we will often be rejected, like Jesus was. Even in America. Maybe especially in America. Why does God allow this? What’s God’s plan? We can’t always understand what God does, but we do know God’s ultimate goal: Lead us to trust in our Savior Jesus. Old age teaches that, doesn’t it? Heaven is my home. Floods remind us of that, don’t they? Heaven is my home. Death drives that home, doesn’t it? Heaven is my home. We’re citizens of heaven.
“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends.” You can fill your stomach and live for your desires, but you will never be full. You can take pride in your sin and parade it around, but you won’t have peace. You can focus on the things of this world, but they will never satisfy you. You were made for something more. Stand firm in the Lord. You will not be disappointed. This is how it works in God’s kingdom—first the cross, then the crown. You don’t want to give that up! There is nothing in this world that can possibly match what you have in Jesus. Where are you a citizen? Heaven!