17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you 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 set 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. (Philippians 3:17-21)
Among Christian cemeteries, the top epitaph is said to be “My citizenship is in heaven.” We have hope in heaven.
In verse 17, “Look at those who are following in our example,” are Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus (2:19-30). He encourages people in the Philippian Church to follow the leaders of the Philippian Church who are following their example. We are often urged to take Jesus Christ as an example, but Paul writes that he dares to take himself as an example. It takes a lot of courage to say this.
Jesus Christ is the only perfect person. In some ways it is impossible for us to imitate Jesus. But Paul is human and imperfect just like us. Paul doesn’t think he’s perfect, he’s still on the way, he’s a follower of Jesus Christ, he wants to know the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he confesses. We can model Paul’s way of life and earnest steps.
Paul wrote this because there were many people in the Philippian church who were walking against the cross of Christ (verse 18). This does not mean that they did not believe in Jesus, but that there were many people who, although they were Christians, betrayed the spirit of the cross and lived according to their own desires. Some people had the distorted and erroneous notion that if sins were forgiven by the cross of Jesus Christ, it would be better to sin. I think what Paul has in mind here is people who have turned their freedom in Christ into licentiousness to do whatever they please. You were called to be set free. Just don’t use that liberty as an opportunity for the flesh to work, but serve one another with love . (Galatians 5:13)
There are two types of exemplars here. Paul, who lived on the cross, and those who opposed the cross. Like Paul, we would like to take steps to accept the suffering of the cross. That is the true Christian walk. I believe that if we do so, we will be able to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection.
The thoughts and concerns of those walking as enemies of the cross were only for the earth (verse 19). But Paul’s thoughts and concerns were in heaven. Think not of earthly things, but of heavenly things (Colossians 3:2). Everything on earth is temporary and passes away. But heavenly things are unchanging and eternal. The word eternity, so often used on this earth, feels like a light word. It’s not real eternity. It is often used to mean about 100 years at most.
But our citizenship is in heaven (v. 20). My nationality is Japan. I didn’t get this through my own efforts. I was granted Japanese citizenship because my parents are Japanese and I was born in Japan. It is the same with Christians being given citizenship in heaven. Our efforts do not give us citizenship in Heaven. By believing in Jesus Christ and being born again, one becomes a child of God and is given citizenship in heaven. This is not through our own efforts, but through God’s grace and faith. Jesus said John 3:3 “ Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. ” We have a citizenship on earth, but how wonderful it is to have a citizenship in heaven! .
Having Japanese citizenship is a great privilege. By being Japanese, the Japanese government treats Japanese people specially. When Russia attacked Ukraine, it was reported that the Japanese government prepared a charter plane to rescue Japanese people. Having a nationality in heaven is a wonderful thing. It means that God treats us specially. Therefore, we Christians have two nationalities. There is a citizenship on this earth, and there is also a citizenship in heaven.
When I was a pastor in Saitama Prefecture, Mr. N (male, 80 years old) came to our church. For some reason, from the moment he came, he wanted me to hold his funeral. Due to his illness, he came and went for four years, but he came to worship service regularly. But I thought that if he didn’t believe in Jesus and be saved, I wouldn’t be able to hold the funeral with confidence, so I prayed that Mr. N would believe in Jesus. I also visited his home sometimes and talked with Mr. N and his family. One time he collapsed during a service and called an ambulance. Finally, his illness worsened and he was admitted to the hospital. I went to visit & pray. Although it was a short time, I had the opportunity to speak and preach the gospel. But communication became difficult and I became impatient. Then I prayed a spiritual warfare prayer and prayed to let Satan out of his hands. Then, God intervened and I was able to have a short conversation with Mr. N, and I was able to lead Mr. N to salvation and confession of faith! Then, some time later, he died. Just before he passed away, his wife and eldest daughter called and rushed to the hospital to pray for him. And I was able to attend Mr. N’s death. I felt very solemn. So, I heard from his family that the day before he passed away, Mr. N looked up at the sky and laughed. Maybe he saw an angel who came to pick him up. They seemed to be very impressed.
Mr. N’s family was Buddhist, and there were no Christians in his family, but according to Mr. N’s words, I officiated the eve ceremony and the funeral as planned. Mr. N’s family gathered, but they were all non-Christians. The eve ceremony was held at Mr. N’s house, and the funeral was held at the church. So I spoke the Word of God, ” Our citizenship is in heaven .” The message is that Mr. N’s nationality is in heaven. we have hope that if they believe in Jesus and go to heaven, they would be able to meet Mr. N again.
Also, there is a message that having a citizenship in heaven means that we should walk like a citizen of heaven. The city of Philippi was a Roman colony. Many of the inhabitants would have had Roman citizenship. Having Roman citizenship meant that one was expected to walk like a Roman. Similarly, what does it mean to have a citizenship in Heaven? Christians are required by God to walk like heavenly people.
We are strangers and sojourners on this earth. We could say that we are like immigrants in a foreign country. Ukrainians are migrants to other countries. But they hope they will come back to Ukraine again. Our homeland is Heaven. From there, from heaven, we await the return of our Savior Jesus. At that time, the kingdom of God and salvation will be completed.
What will happen then? Our bodies will be transformed into bodies of resurrection (v. 21). Here our body, the physical body, is described as the base body. This is a rotting thing, a body that dies. The body returns to earth. For man was taken from the earth. The first man, Adam, was made by God from the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became alive.
The physical body itself is not evil. Because of Adam’s sin, the human body has become a vile, mortal body. But we have hope. God will transform this humble body into a glorious body. when will that happen It will take place at the end of the world when Jesus returns.
1 Corinthians 15:47-52 says 47 The first is from the earth, made of clay, but the second is from heaven. 48 All who are made of earth are like those who are made of this earth, and all who are from heaven are like those who are from heaven. 49 As we had earthly forms, we also have heavenly forms. 50 Brothers! I will say this. A flesh and blood body cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The perishable cannot inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen! I will tell you mysteries. We are all changed, not put to sleep. 52 With the final trumpet, at once, in a moment. At the sound of the trumpet, the dead rise incorruptible and we are transformed.
First Man = Adam Second Man = Christ