14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
15Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
17Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
4Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
- Imagine a place of light in a dark world?
- Imagine a place where everyone is loved?
- Imagine a place of healing?
- Imagine a place where all are welcome?
- Imagine a place where people are willing to sacrifice for others?
Where is this mystical place?
- What is the name of this peaceable kingdom?
- Eternal Life?
- The Kingdom of God?
No actually, I am describing the fictional country of Wakanda in the movie “Black Panther”. This monarchy provides a deep insight about the Kingdom of God, and in many ways parallels the Heavenly Kingdom.
Wakanda is Light in a Dark World: Wakanda is the kingdom of abundance that was hidden in plain sight from the rest of the outside world that has a distorted view of it.
Wankanda is Love of God’s People: The love shared between the people and their ancestors, a man and a woman, a king and his people was pure, unwavering, and sincere. The love made them loyal, innovative, and unafraid. Their love made them lay down their lives for the king and their kingdom.
Wakanda is Love and Healing for the Nations: Wakanda was where people from different tribes, languages, and people groups came together to worship one king. The glory and honor of the nations are brought into this kingdom, and the fictional metal of “vibranium” has the same healing effect as the leaves of the tree of life which bring healing to all nations (Rev. 22:2).
Wakanda is Love for All Creation: With every outfit, every hairstyle, every ritual, and even the uniqueness of every weapon, their beauty and the unity in their diversity was on full display. The earth and the animals were all in harmony with the people who shared time and space.
Wakanda is a place where one Lays Down One’s Life: In Wakanda, folks willingly sacrifice themselves for a greater good. Wakanda’s King T’Challa did not become king overnight. He was taught, trained, and prepared by his father. From his first day on the job, his life was in danger and threatened. Yet, he understood his mission, and his commitment to that mission caused him to determine the type of king he was going to be. People want to be citizen’s in this community. Following the showing of this block buster movie, people would great each other by crossing their arms and proclaiming “Wakanda Forever!” Who doesn’t want to be a citizen of this kind of community, but what about you and I? Where is our citizenship? Thorofare, West Deptford, Gloucester County, New Jersey, USA?? The Apostle Paul reminds us and the church in Philippi about what passport we hold:
20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
At once many modern Christians misunderstand what Paul is means. We naturally suppose he means “and so we’re waiting until we can go and live I heaven where we belong.” But that’s not what he says, and it’s certainly not what he means. If someone in Philippi said, “We are citizens of Rome,” they certainly wouldn’t mean “so we’re looking forward to going to live there.” Being a colony works the other way round. The last thing the emperors wanted was a whole lot of colonists coming back to Rome. The capital was already overcrowded and underemployed. No: the task of the Roman citizen in a place like Philippi was to bring Roman culture and rule to northern Greece, to expand Roman influence there.
That is the picture Paul has in mind in verses 20 and 21. The church is at present a colony of heaven, with the responsibility (as we say in the Lord’s Prayer) for bringing the life and rule of heaven to bear on earth. We are not, of course, very good at doing this; we often find ourselves weak and helpless, and our physical bodies themselves are growing old and tired, decaying and ready to die. But our hope is that the true savior, the true Lord, King Jesus himself will come from heaven and change all that. He is going to transform the entire world so that it is full of his glory, full of the life and power of heaven. And, as part of that, he is going to transform our bodies so that they are like his glorious body, the body which was itself transformed after his cruel death so that it became wonderfully alive again with a life that death and decay could never touch again.
Knowing this will enable Christians to “stand firm in the Lord” (4:1); and now we can see more clearly what that means. It doesn’t just mean remaining constant in faith. It means giving allegiance to Jesus, rather than to Caesar, as the true Lord. Paul has described the church, and its Lord, in such a way that the Philippians could hardly miss the allusion to Rome and Caesar. This is the greatest challenge of the letter: that the Christians in Philippi, whether or not they were themselves Roman citizens (some probably were, many probably weren’t), would think out what it means to give their primary allegiance not to Rome but to heaven, not to Caesar but to Jesus — and to trust that Jesus would in due time bring the life and rule of heaven to bear on the whole world, themselves included (pp. 126-127).
Paul isn’t preaching escapism here. Rather, he is making a statement about how citizens of heaven are to live on earth — indeed, a political statement.
Paul sees the church as a colony of heaven with the task of living out that heavenly citizenship. In fact, “live out your citizenship” is a decent paraphrase of the word in 1:27 which is often translated “conduct yourselves,” since this word is a verbal form of the noun translated “citizenship” or “commonwealth” in 3:20. The word is related to the noun polis meaning “city,” from which we get our English word “politics.”
And politics is indeed on Paul’s mind here. He wants the church to “live out her citizenship” in a way that is “worthy of the gospel.” And what is the gospel? Here in Philippians, it is the announcement that Jesus is Lord.
Just as the Roman citizens in Philippi were imitating the Roman pattern, the Christians are to imitate the heavenly pattern. Just as the Roman citizens were making Rome’s authority visible and advancing that authority in their environs, so the Christians are to advance the gospel (which is what “striving together for the faith of the gospel” in 1:27 means). And they are to keep doing that, no matter what opposition they may face until God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, because Jesus, not Caesar, is the Lord and Saviour and, though they may be oppressed now, he will bring them to share in his exaltation and glory.
That’s Paul’s point here: not “you get to go to heaven when you die or when Christ returns” but “you have a calling here on earth and you can trust that, no matter what opposition you may face, the King is going to come from heaven to vindicate you and exalt you to share in his glory.”
So will you and I be citizens of heaven?
Will we focus on the task of the Heavenly citizen in a place like America was to bring Christ’s culture and rule to New Jersey , to expand God’s influence here?
Will we Stand Firm?
Commentary provided by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, Doug Bratt, Adam J. Copeland, Scott Hoezee, NT Wright and Sarah Heinrich