|Mercy Street Church of Christ
TEARING UP YOUR PASSPORT
It's hard to find a story anywhere a POSITIVE story, that is of a person renouncing their citizenship. Usually we look with disdain on a person who tears up their passport or burns a flag and says, "I don't want to be a part of this system any longer."
Back on an October 31, in 1959, a mousy-looking kid named Lee, wearing American blue jeans, walked into the American embassy in Moscow and told the receptionist, Joan Hallett, he was sick of being a citizen of the U.S.A. He preferred the workers' paradise, the classless utopia of the U.S.S.R. To his surprise and disappointment, the Russians didn't really want him very much either. And it wasn't much longer before Lee Harvey Oswald, back in the country he had rejected, climbed the stairs to the sixth story of a Dallas building, and shot that country's president as he drove past in a motorcade.
There's a bit of irony in the fact that everyone hates a traitor and yet all nations USE other countries' traitors to their own advantage. Back during the Cold War and some of this still goes on, to be sure we Americans were livid with the Alger Hisses, the Aldrich Ameses who sold out our side. And yet our own CIA encouraged Russian agents to defect, to sell secrets to the U.S. However, one writer astutely observed: "We may use him, but those who do still regard the double agent as vermin." No, we don't think much of a person who disavows his citizenship.
That's why it gives us pause here in Philippians chapter three when the Apostle Paul appears to do exactly that. All along, he's been exhorting his fellow believers you and me to seek a relationship with Jesus Christ, to strive toward the goal of eternity and heaven. But here right at the end of this chapter, he makes the clearest statement of all about it, just six words long:
"But our citizenship is in heaven."
Just like that: "But our citizenship is in heaven." And Paul goes on to emphasize why:
"And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ."
If you look in other versions, to see if this concept is fleshed out differently there, you don't find much contrast. "But our citizenship is in heaven," is what you find everywhere. The Message paraphrase does edit it just slightly:
"We're citizens of HIGH heaven!"
Which is essentially the same thing. Except if you go back to the King James Version, there seems to be a striking difference. There it says:
"For our CONVERSATION is in heaven."
Not "citizenship," "conversation." And sure enough, the Greek word politeuma, can mean several things: "citizenship," "commonwealth," "colony of heaven," or even just "behavior." So here's a picture, points out Dr. Ralph Martin in his Tyndale New Testament Commentaries for Philippians, of "genuine Christians whose conversation is in heaven."
Just one verse earlier Paul writes about some false teachers, people who are "(quote) enemies of the cross of Christ." And he shares this scathing rebuke:
"Their mind is on earthly things."
But now he writes to encourage his friends in Philippi, and you and me here today to be citizens of heaven, to have conversations that are focused on heaven, to exhibit lifestyle patterns that show others we're interested in heaven and in the God who lovingly rules our lives from there.
But you know, this leads us back to the disturbing question from the beginning. The Lee Harvey Oswald dilemma, so to speak. Is a man or woman who is focusing on heaven, and spending all his or her energy and income and resources on getting to heaven . . . is that person much use to the rest of society down here? That old complaint comes immediately to mind, where "So-and-So is so heavenly minded that he's of no earthly good."
Back a couple of years ago, a man and woman traveled up and down the West Coast, inviting interested people to basically tear up their passports and enter into a new kingdom. They rented hotel ballrooms, and then tacked up posters all around town with this headline: "UFO's." And the copy underneath posed these fascinating topics: "Why they are here." "Who they have come for." "When they will leave."
Well, I'm talking about the Heaven's Gate cult, of course. Now known as the suicide cult. But you can read how people sold their houses and abandoned their jobs. A sheriff's detective named Ron Sutton heard about a man who sold his $5000 fishing boat for five bucks; someone else just up and gave away a brand new van. "Here. I don't need this anymore." A hippie, to whom rock and roll music was everything his life, his existence gave away his electric guitar. Because he and others were turning away from, renouncing, their citizenship here in the U.S., and really, as part of Planet Earth. Were they the true followers of Philippians 3:20?
Well, there's a line in Dr. Martin's study guide which is absolutely crucial to notice. Here it is:
"The apostle here indicates the DOUBLE allegiance of the Philippian Christians," he writes. "As Roman subjects they ARE citizens of the far distant, capital city of Rome, where the Emperor has his residence. As servants of (quote) another king, one Jesus' [that's Acts 17:7], they are citizens of THAT capital city, where the King of kings has His domicile, and whose advent to establish His reign on this earth and to rescue His people is awaited."
Probably the finest book we know of on this topic is entitled Kingdoms In Conflict, written by Chuck Colson and Ellen Santilli Vaughn. Colson, of course, is perhaps uniquely qualified to weigh and then describe how a Christian can be both a citizen down here and at the same time have a passport for that Better Land. He was in the high halls of power, with an office just a few feet away from President Richard Nixon's. He knew intimately about political goals and flags and armies and earthly agendas. And then after Watergate and some jail and some praying and a conversion experience, he began to not only serve God but to run a ministry, Prison Fellowship, which prepares inmates for life in both kingdoms. So Colson is a very successful man with DUAL citizenship. How is this accomplished?
Well, he writes with keen insight about the temptation for Christians to try to run the world here below, which isn't really our topic today. But then he addresses our immediate concern:
"It is, in fact, their dual citizenship that should, as Augustine believed, make Christians the BEST of citizens," he writes. Meaning "the best of citizens DOWN HERE." "Not because they are more patriotic or civic-minded, but because they do out of obedience to God that which others do only if they choose or if they are forced. And their very presence in society means the presence of a community of people who live" and this is an interesting expression "by the Law BEHIND the law."
Now, friend, what does all this mean? Let me ask you something. Why do most people pay taxes? Well, because if they don't, the IRS nails them with a penalty. They're afraid they'll get audited. Why does the Christian pay taxes? Ideally, he or she does it because the Bible says to.
Why does the average secular person not steal or embezzle funds? Maybe because it's against the law, or frowned on by society; most likely, because of the rules and penalties. How about the Christian? Because of God's eternal law, the Law behind the law. We could go on, but you get the idea.
Colson adds a bit more:
"The citizens of the Kingdom of God should be patriots in the HIGHEST sense, loving the world by loving those in the nation in which they live." And why? "Because that government is ordained by God to preserve order and promote justice."
And then finally, in perhaps his best statement about how these two citizenships should blend and mesh, he writes:
"Christian citizens should be activists about their faith, striving by their witness to Christianize' their culture NOT by the force of the sword, but by the force of their ideas."
This kind of takes us into next week, where Paul writes to these citizens of heaven about living holy lives IN PHILIPPI. One of the stiffest, boldest challenges ever to be found in the Bible is in verse eight of the next chapter, about being "true, noble, right, pure, lovely," etc. That's the kind of character a person living in the suburbs of Philippi should demonstrate.
And then: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances," Paul writes. Is he writing that from Paradise, from a heavenly mansion? No! In fact, he's in jail! Down here where his earthly citizenship is very obviously going on! Earthly powers have him in chains! But he's still content, because the second half, the better half, of his dual citizenship is about to kick in.
As we close, let me express a hope that this ministry, the Mercy Street Church of Christ, is helping to demonstrate Philippians 3:20. We're here in a place called Texas. The U.S.A. We spend thousands of U.S. dollars every year, greenbacks, bucks, whatever currency of this land to do our work. We live here in Abilene, Texas, U.S.A. And then we talk to you about the Christian faith and about that other kingdom.
Now, do we force you? Do we compel you, drag you into a cyberspace baptismal font? No and I hope and pray to God we never come across that way. But I won't deny that we eagerly long to persuade you that's right, YOU, listening (reading) right now we want to persuade you to be a Christian. That's what we're here for: to paint word pictures that make you want to be a Christian. That draw you into accepting this passport for a better country. Keeping the one you have, but looking up to grasp the prize which is offered for that distant city.
To God be the glory! Amen.
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