It seems strange that in this letter filled with joy we find Paul weeping. But these tears are not for himself but because of others. Paul is heart-broken over the way some, who call themselves Christians, are living their lives, with their minds on earthly things.
I. FOLLOW MY EXAMPLE (Verse 17)
In verse 17 Paul uses himself as an example and tells the members of the church at Philippi to follow him and those who imitate him. Why should the Philippian church follow Paul’s example? Why should we? I wouldn’t dare point to myself as a “model Christian”. None of us should. Paul knew he was a sinner. In I Timothy 1:15-16 he twice refers to himself as the “worst of sinners”. Paul, however, could say these words as he was writing from his prison cell because over the years he had poured himself out in full devotion to the Lord, and he had on his body the marks of Jesus Christ. He had received several scourgings as a result of his testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ. In Galatians 6:17 Paul says, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus Christ.”
Until we are as dedicated as the apostle Paul, and have suffered the hardships he has experienced, it would be better for us not to call attention to ourselves as examples. However, we must also realize that every Christian is a pattern to someone who is watching him or her. So, what people see in us will either help or hinder the cause of Christ. That’s why Paul said to Timothy in I Timothy 4:12, “in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example to those who believe.” Remember, others are watching us.
II. THE ISSUE (verses 18 and 19)
We don’t know for sure, but in verses 18 and 19 Paul may be talking about the Judaizers and their followers. The Judaizers were “enemies of the cross of Christ” because they added the Law of Moses to the saving work of Christ on the cross. Their “god is their appetite (or their belly)” because they were so strict about what things you could eat and what you were forbidden to eat. Their “glory is in their shame” because they required and boasted in the circumcision of all males. They were glorying in something that they should have been ashamed to talk about. In Galatians 6:14 and 15 Paul says, “but may it never be that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” In verse 19 Paul shares the real source of their problems: they “set their minds on earthly things.” And verses 19 and 20 indicate that these “enemies of the cross of Christ” were not Christians, nor were they part of the Philippian congregation.
III. THE SOLUTION (verses 20 and 21)
Paul reminds the Christians at Philippi that their “citizenship is in heaven”. The church is a colony of heaven here on earth. Citizenship is important and it has its privileges. From across the world people continue to come to the United States to become citizens. This is often a deeply moving experience. One woman said, “I cried when I got my citizenship. I looked at the flag and said “I’m an American now!” Another man said, “I gave up everything to come here, but it was worth it”. Why do so many people have such a strong desire to become Americans? Their answers are basicly the same answers as those given by the Pilgrims. This is a country of hope, and they want a chance to be free. One person was asked how he was going to celebrate the day he became a citizen. His answer was, “I’m going to go to work. That’s the best way I can show my gratitude for my new homeland.”
None of us wants to suffer the fate of Philip Nolan in the book entitled “A Man Without A Country”. Because he cursed the name of his country, Nolan was sentenced to live aboard ship and never again see his native land or even hear its name or news about its progress. For 56 years he was on an endless journey from ship to ship and sea to sea, and finally was buried at sea. He was truly a man without a country.
As citizens of heaven living on earth, we Christians should never be discouraged because we know that our Lord is one day going to return, and maybe we’ll already be in glory before then. Thank God, we will not have to live in our present bodies forever. A new body is waiting for us, which will be a body like the resurrection body of our Lord Jesus Christ. It will be an eternal body free from decay, and best of all, free from temptation and sin. A famous American wrote his own epitaph for his tombstone. This is what it says:
“The body of Benjamin Franklin, printer.
Like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out,
Lies here, food for the worms;
But the work shall not be lost,
For it will appear once more
In a new and more elegant edition,
Revised and corrected by its Author!”
As we notice the signs of age in these physical bodies of ours, it should not alarm us. The grey hair, the wrinkles, the declining physical strength, the aches and pains, and such things as false teeth and bifocal glasses should remind us that we are not to dwell in this old house forever. God has promised us a much better one. Take a look in the mirror! The moving van is on the way! Are you ready to go to heaven?
When I was a child I found an animal that was longer and thicker than my middle finger. It was a pea-green color on top and a darker shade of green below. It had a flat head with a black mouth that was lined with sharp teeth. It had six hands with snow white pads on them, which it used to stuff food into its mouth constantly. It had ten stubby little feet with suction cups on them. At the top of its rear end was a curved reddish horn, ending in a sharp, but harmless, point. At the time I thought it looked beautiful, but to most people it looked repulsive. Did you guess what it was? It was a big, fat tomato caterpillar! I put it in a mayonnaise jar and poked some small holes in the lid. My family and I were taking a trip to the mid-west for three weeks to visit family, so I stocked him up with leaves and grass. When we got back from our trip, I hurried into our garage to see it. To my surprise the caterpillar was gone, but in that jar was the biggest moth I had ever seen. It was light brown and had what looked like eyes on its wings. I had planned on keeping the caterpillar, but when I saw that moth I knew that I had to let it go. It was meant to fly and it was cooped up in that little jar. I opened the lid and watched with excitement and delight as it stretched its wings, took off, and flew away.
If we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are now citizens of heaven, and we’re in for a wonderful and beautiful change. We are going to have a peace, freedom and joy that we’ve never experienced before. It’s beyond our imaginations!
Are you a child of God? Are you a citizen of heaven? John 1:12 says that if you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are a citizen of heaven by adoption. Only children of God become citizens of heaven. How are we expressing our appreciation for the wonderful privilege of being children of God and citizens of heaven? Are we faithfully and joyfully serving the Lord Jesus Christ today? That is the best way to celebrate the fact that we have truly become citizens of heaven.