Friday, March 1, 2013

A Colony of Heaven on Earth

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20)
Paul wants the believers at Philippi to follow him, Timothy and others as sound examples of living together as followers of Jesus. He has two reasons particularly in mind. The first we have already seen: Because there are those who, though they present themselves as believers, actually live as enemies of the cross by their self-absorbed behavior. The second reason is this: Our citizenship is in heaven.

Paul knows very well about citizenship. Though he is from Tarsus, in Cilicia (Acts 21:39), he is a freeborn citizen of Rome. And he does not mind invoking its benefits, as we see in this vignette from when he was placed under arrest by a Roman commander in Jerusalem:
And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?”

When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.”

Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?”

He said, “Yes.”

The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.”

And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.”

Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him. (Acts 22:25-29)
Like the old American Express ad says, “Membership has it’s privileges.” A Roman citizen has great status throughout the Empire, and the believers at Philippi understand how important and valuable this citizenship is. Philippi is one of only five cities in Macedonia that enjoys a special citizenship status with Rome. But now Paul speaks of a much greater citizenship, one possessed by every believer in Jesus.

It is important to understand that this citizenship is not about what we will one day be. Notice that Paul does not say that “our citizenship will be in heaven,” but rather, “our citizenship is in heaven.” For believers in Jesus, it is present reality, not just future hope.

It is also important to understand that this citizenship is not so much about where we are going as it is about where we are from. That is, Paul is speaking here more about our source than our destination. We know this is about heaven as source because we eagerly await for the return of the Lord Jesus from there.

Citizens of Rome were sent out to create colonies in every territory that was under Roman authority. The purpose was to establish the life and culture of Rome throughout the empire. Citizens of heaven are sent out to create colonies in every territory under heaven, to establish the life and culture of heaven throughout the earth. “We are a colony of heaven,” is how Moffatt’s New Translation puts it.

The Greek word for “citizenship” (politeuma) is about commonwealth or community. It comes from a word that speaks of the administration of a city. To be a citizen of heaven means that our lives are now administered from there. We no longer have to live in bondage to the lusts and desires of the old way of life we used to know. We are no longer subject to the world systems that are manipulated by principalities and powers.

As a colony of heaven, we are here to establish the life and culture of heaven on earth. For all authority in heaven and on earth has now been given to King Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 28:18), and He has sent out His assembly, the Church, to disciple the nations and teach them everything Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20). The end result will be heaven and earth coming together as one (Revelation 21), the will of God being done on earth exactly as it is being done in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

This process is not yet finished, of course, but it has already begun. The darkness is already fading away and the true light of King Jesus is already shining (1 John 2:8). Even so, it will not be full and complete until the King comes again. So we watch for that day with eager anticipation, living out our citizenship here and now, enjoying the favor of heaven and imparting its blessing to the earth.

As a colony of heaven on earth, we are to live in such a way that demonstrates that reality. Although it is not apparent in English translations, Paul touched on this earlier, when he said, “Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). The Greek word for “conduct” is politeuomai, which speaks of the citizens of a free country getting along together in community. As citizens of heaven, then, we must learn to get along well together on earth — because there is no division in heaven.

Focus Questions
  1. What are the benefits of having heaven as your destination?
  2. What are the benefits of having heaven as your source?
  3. How does the way we conduct ourselves demonstrate the reality of heaven on earth?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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