16th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop A – 20)
Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30
September 20, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
I read an astounding article last week which stated that 5,800 people have renounced their United States citizenship in the first six months of 2020. There are two main reasons for Americans renouncing their citizenship: they don’t like the direction the country is going, or they don’t live in the US but still have to pay taxes because they’re US citizens. I was blown away by this revelation because America, even with its flaws, is by far the greatest country in the world. If it wasn’t, all those celebrities who said they would move if Donald Trump became president, wouldn’t have broken their promises to leave. As we draw closer to November 3rd, we’re going to discuss what it means to be a citizen of the US, including a special Sunday morning Bible study on Christians and voting. But before we talk about American citizenship, we must first address a different kind of citizenship, the citizenship we have through Jesus Christ.
If you were to take another look at today’s Epistle, you wouldn’t find citizen nor citizenship. Considering how Saint Paul frequently used his status as a citizen of Rome to help him in his missionary endeavors, it’s unusual that he only uses the word citizen once in all his letters. However, when Paul says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” that’s exactly what he’s referring to, and which he elaborates on in chapter three, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
When it comes to your American citizenship, there’s some flexibility. You can live in Iowa City and root for the Cyclones, you can live in Ames and cheer for the Hawkeyes. You can live in Bidenland and vote for Trump, you can live in Trumpville and vote for Biden. The difference is found in the big picture of allegiance. You can’t be an American citizen and fight for ISIS against America. You can’t be a Christian, a citizen of Heaven, and align yourself with earthly things. Christians have just one allegiance and that’s to Christ Jesus. To act otherwise is to renounce your citizenship in the Church on Earth and the Church in Heaven, even your citizenship in Christ.
When Paul says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” he’s referring to how we live as Christians, and how we affirm our allegiance to Jesus. Just as the citizens of a nation are expected to obey the laws of the land, we’re expected to obey the laws of God. We’re to live in ways that only bring glory and praise to Jesus, never shame. The Gospel of Jesus is shamed when people know we’re Christians, and yet see us getting smashed at the Thirsty Carp. The Gospel is shamed when Christians would rather do anything than hear God’s Word. Jesus Himself is shamed when He sees us mistreating others through our words and actions. The behavior of American tourists reflects on America, and our behavior reflects on Christ. Paul puts it this way in Colossians, “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” In other words, you’re a citizen of Christ, so act like it in all that you say or do.
As a citizen as Christ, it goes without saying, that you’re also a citizen of Christ’s Church, and the Church’s manner of life is unity. Paul writes, “I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” Jesus promises in Matthew, that the gates of Hell cannot possibly destroy the Church, but when we, as Christians, fail to stand together in one spirit and one mind, we are carrying out our own attacks on Christ and His Church.
As a citizen, I would gladly fight for America against any attacks that I could. I love this country and if that means joining a battle, I will. We should have this same attitude when it comes our heavenly citizenship as well. Now, obviously God doesn’t need our help; He doesn’t need any help. What God does want is for us to stand united against the citizens of this world: the culture, unbelievers, and Satan. And make no mistake we are at war with this world, and this hasn’t changed since Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians. By rejecting Roman culture, the Philippian Christians were waging a war against it. Christians didn’t practice infanticide, the exposure of unwanted babies to wild animals and the weather. They didn’t worship Caesar. They opposed slavery. By doing so they made enemies, and we have enemies as well. How can we, as citizens of Heaven, not make enemies? We reject abortion and infanticide. We oppose the exploitation of children, men, and women. We don’t worship money or status. We value the nuclear family as God’s intended. All of these things run contrary to the attitudes and practices the citizens of this world. Yet, in the face of opposition, the Church, you, me, and all believers, stands steadfast, striving forward, because we know the truth of the Gospel. We stand strong knowing that the enemies have no real power over our citizenship, and we have nothing to fear because we know the end for both the citizens of heaven and of earth.
In the Old Testament reading, Isaiah says, “Let him return to the Lord, that [the Lord] may have compassion on him.” That verse says it all! God has compassion on His people. Out of His overflowing compassion, He brings us to faith so that we receive the benefits of being His citizens. Through His power, we are changed from citizens of hell to citizens of Heaven. When someone renounces the citizenship of one nation for that of another, they receive the benefits from the new nation. By God’s grace, we have renounced our citizenship in Satan’s domain of darkness, for citizenship in the eternal kingdom of glory.
This faith ensures that it doesn’t matter what happens to us. As Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The blessings of our heavenly citizenship under Christ Jesus may not always be readily apparent, but they’re real. As citizens of Christ Jesus, you are forgiven! The times you embrace the culture around you, the culture of Satan and this world, are forgiven. The times that you long for your past citizenship when there were no claims on your life, those are forgiven as well! You have nothing to fear, because Christ’s suffering and death did all that needed to be done. His passion brought us God’s compassion.
One blessing that you may not believe is a blessing is suffering, but not just any suffering, suffering because of your citizenship. Paul says, “[Do not be] frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.” Suffering may not seem like a blessing, but it is when it reveals your faith. Suffering for the faith reveals your attackers as those who are destined for eternal damnation and reveals you as a saved citizen of heaven. Suffering not only reveals our faith, it strengthens it as refines our faith and drives us closer to our Lord. And we remember, suffering is never the end! As Paul declares, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” I think Paul may be understating the glory of heaven a little bit, because what waits for us is far, far, far, far better than remaining in this world.
I often tell people that I’m blessed to be a pastor because I get to tell others about Jesus. I hope you also feel blessed to be retiree, a teacher, a businessman, a nurse, a farmer, a laborer, because you get to tell others about Jesus. That’s what citizens do! If someone asks if you think they should become a citizen of the United States, you’d encourage them (I hope) because it is the greatest nation in the world. So also, we encourage people, we invite them to join us as citizens of Heaven. Even when things are going poorly for us, we can still be Christ’s witnesses. When Paul wrote Philippians, he was in jail in Rome, but he didn’t let it get him down. He writes, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” Paul may be a prisoner, but everyone is learning why he’s a prisoner, and that brings people to faith in Christ. That witness makes people, citizens of heaven, and not hell. So we share the blessings of salvation, we tell others of our heavenly King, and we stand up as the Church, steadfast in the face of opposition so others will see Christ in us, and by God’s grace, see Christ in themselves.
From what I can tell, there are more than four and half million people on the waiting list to legally become US citizens. That’s a very long line. Some people have waited thirty years to become citizens. The list to become heavenly citizens is a tad bit shorter, actually a whole lot shorter. That just means that you and I have a long road ahead of us. We stand steadfast and immovable as citizens of Christ, fighting the culture of a world that doesn’t want Christian citizens. Our lives reflect our citizenship that God will work through our faith and suffering to bring others into His Kingdom. Let us announce proudly our heavenly citizenship that all may know that whether we live or we die, we are Christ’s.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen