Summary: In the end of the 3rd chapter of Philippians, St. Paul speaks of the two ways a person can live. This sermon is an encouragement to live the way that leads to our heavenly goal.
What value do you place on your American citizenship? At first, this question might catch you off guard, because on an average day, you probably don’t think about your citizenship all that much. But I have thought about that very question a bit more in the recent past. It’s so easy to take our American citizenship for granted until we run into people that don’t have that. I remember how Luciana felt a couple of weeks ago when her family was flying into town for her wedding. They weren’t flying in from New York or Wisconsin or California. That wouldn’t have been a big deal at all. But because Luciana’s family was coming from Brazil, and because they don’t enjoy the American citizenship that most of us take for granted, it was not a given that when they got off the plane, they would be able to enter the US even for a visit. And now even that Aaron and Luciana are married, I’m still learning about the long process that it is going to take before she gets to be a citizen and enjoy the rights that we don’t think twice about.
Citizenship is vital. It’s something that when you have it, it is easy to take for granted, but if you would lose it, you would dearly miss it. Our text for this morning talks about a citizenship that every believer enjoys. Jesus has taken care of all the necessary paperwork and procedures and has made you a citizen of a country called “heaven.” This morning, the Lord teaches us how citizens of his country live while we are here on Earth, away from our native land. 1) Citizens of heaven focus their eyes on fellow citizens. 2) Citizens of heaven turn their backs on the enemies of the cross of Christ. 3) Citizens of heaven devote their hearts their Savior, Jesus Christ.
Philippi had a Christian church that was very dear to St. Paul. True, Paul loved all Christians, but the Philippians especially had that same mission-mindedness and love for God’s law as Paul did. If you look at terms just in the last verse of our reading, you get a sense of the closeness that Paul shared with these believers, “my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…dear friends!” And yet, even though these were some strong Christians, Paul writes about things that they should watch out for, since as we heard last week, the devil sure works hard on those who call themselves followers of Jesus. And one thing that Paul had seen happen in other churches was Christians who ran with the wrong crowd, and figured it wouldn’t hurt them. Instead, believers are to embrace what is spiritual and avoid what is worldly. Often times Christians forget this, so even this strong little church in Philippi was reminded of that important fact by Paul.
So he says in our first verse, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” This almost sounds like bragging on Paul’s part. I mean, I would sound pretty arrogant if I stood here this morning and said, “hey, you Crown of Glory people, you gotta be more like me.” Now we know that Paul was a sinner. Before he became a Christian he called himself a “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” And even after Jesus found him on that road to Damascus and worked faith in his heart, Paul still lamented about this constant struggle against sin that was raging in his heart. Remember in Romans 7, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” Let’s be clear: St. Paul was a sinner, just as much as you and I are. I want to stress the fact that Paul is a sinner, because I am about to drop a bombshell on you: As much as I’ve read the Bible, I could not find any story where after Paul’s conversion, a specific sin of his is recorded. The Bible isn’t a book that will gloss over the faults of believers. On the contrary, the sins of Christians are right there out in the open. I mean, we could talk about Noah getting drunk and lying in his tent without clothes, or Abraham sleeping with his wife’s servant, David’s famous adultery and murder, St. Peter’s rash words and actions and his infamous denial. Even St. John, sometimes called the “Apostle of Love,” after some towns rejected Jesus, John wanted to hatefully call down fire and make them like Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible never attempts to hide the faults of believers. And that makes it all the more amazing that we can’t dig up much dirt on St. Paul. Paul is such a shining example. And it’s all the more astounding because he was the most unlikely candidate, given his shady, violent past.