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Philippians 3:17-4:1

Citizens of Heaven

Philippians 3:17-4:1


Video Link


Main Point:  As citizens of heaven we have a different set of priorities to live by. Therefore, we can’t walk as enemies of the cross but as those who glory in Christ our Savior.

1. How do enemies of the cross live?

a. minds set on earthly things

b. they glory in their shame

c. their end is destruction

2. How do citizens of heaven live?

a. being a citizen

b. we glory in Christ

c. our end is glorious

Sermon Text


 There were 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth and Curt Schilling had a no-hitter going. In baseball, a no-hitter is when a pitcher, or a combination of pitchers, don’t give up any hits to the opposing team throughout the whole game. Curt Schilling was one batter away from being only the 17th Red Sox pitcher in the team’s history to accomplish this feat. And when the Oakland A’s left-fielder, Shannon Stewart, came up to the plate, Schilling had it set in his mind he was going to throw him a fastball for the first pitch. The Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek called for him to throw a different pitch but Schilling didn’t listen; he shook his head no until Varitek put down the sign for a fastball. Well, Stewart was waiting for it and hit it into right field for the first hit of the game for his team. Instead of Schilling going down in history as one of an elite group of pitchers with a no-hitter to their name, the game will be mostly forgotten and assigned to the rubbish bin of history of what could have been. What could have been if he had only listened to his catcher, and not had his mind set on that one type of pitch, the wrong pitch, that cost him baseball glory.

 Having your mind set on the wrong thing isn’t just a baseball problem, it applies to all of life. We can so easily get a way of thinking, feeling and acting in our minds that we ignore all warnings to the contrary. But instead of simply missing out on baseball glory, we could miss out on eternal glory. In our passage this morning we have one such warning that we can’t afford to miss. We are told here that:

 As citizens of heaven we have a different set of priorities to live by. Therefore, we can’t walk as enemies of the cross but as those who glory in Christ our Savior.

  1. How do enemies of the cross live?

 In verse 17, Paul encourages his readers to follow his example of living and thinking, and those like him. He wants us to think and act like he does in the ways we have been learning about throughout this letter. And when he says to “keep your eyes” on those like him, he uses a very similar word to the one he used in warning his readers of the dangers of the false teachers they needed to be on guard against, to watch out for, to keep a close on. So, with the same intensity you would be on watch against false teachers, watch those who are walking rightly and follow them. And the reason we must do this, is because, verse 18, there are many people who walk differently, who live not as Paul does, but as enemies of the cross of Christ.

 Unfortunately, we do not know exactly who Paul is speaking about here. His original readers in Philippi did, they have often discussed these people. But we are not privy to their previous conversations so we are just left to speculate and there is some disagreement about who Paul is referring to here. Whoever it is, it causes him great pain and sadness; he writes about them with tears. Even within this letter that is filled with emotions, this stands out. This is the only place in all of Paul’s writing that he explicitly mentions his tears, his weeping over something. That should give us pause and really make us want to know what and who he is talking about because it matters a lot to him, this is personal.

 I don’t think that he is referring here to false teachers, like those he mentioned at the beginning of the chapter. The language he uses there is really strong, but is more of righteous anger, not of sadness. Instead, I think he is speaking of those who claim to be followers of Christ, but instead live in such a way that says otherwise. These are people that say they know Christ, to be under the protection and blessings of the cross, but are actually its enemies. What they have is a false profession of faith as proven by their lifestyle.

 So, how then do these people, these enemies of the cross live? Paul gives us some specifics, things we are to watch out for, be on guard against, in others and in ourselves to be sure we are not living like them.

 There are four phrases that make up verse 19, we will come back to the first one in a few moments, but these last three really describe how these enemies of the cross live with “minds set on earthly things”; this being the overall summary of their actions. To have your mind set on something, means here to dwell on it, to fix your attention on it, to really focus on it. So, what Paul is saying, is that these people that he is describing, are obsessed with the things of this world; they are totally devoted to and idolizing of the world.

 But what does this mean exactly? What does it look like? If we need to be careful to not follow their lead, we need to make sure we know what we don’t want to be doing. What is Paul referring to when he speaks of “earthly things?” Is this just anything here on the earth like food, a house, a car?

 It’s important to notice that this is not the first time Paul has used this word and his original readers, reading it in the Greek in which Paul wrote, would have picked up on this. Thinking rightly has been a big theme in this letter, starting in chapter 2, about thinking like Christ, having a unified and humble mind. Then just last week we saw in our passage in 3:15, Paul urges us to think like he does, having our minds focused on the goal of the upward call of Christ. And he will come back to this word in chapter 4. Now here, in speaking about enemies of the cross, Paul says they do not think like him. Instead of focusing on Christ-likeness and our upward call in him, their focus, devotion and desires are entirely bound up in the things of this world. They live to pursue this world and this world only as if this was all there was. And remember, it seems that these were people that claimed to be saved, who said they knew Christ and are aware of what awaits us in the future; they do not deny the existence of God, and sin and Jesus and heaven. But they live as if none of that mattered. While they do not deny him with their words, with their lives they completely reject Christ.

 To really get a deeper understanding of this, flip forward a few pages in your Bibles to Colossians 3:1-9. You will notice a lot of the same wording used there. Here Paul gives a fuller description of what he means by “earthly” and what is it? It is the giving into our sinful desires. A mind set on earthly things, is a mind that does not resist sinful temptations but is devoted to them, at their mercy, given over to them, seeking the pleasures of sin and makes an idol out of them. In other words, an enemy of the cross is someone that lives exactly like the world while proclaiming to be saved out of it.  

 Theirs is a self-centered life, they have become entirely focused on fulfilling whatever their hearts and minds desire. “God says this is sin but I don’t care because I think and feel otherwise.” Their god is their belly, meaning that their lustful appetites consume them. Enemies of the cross have very little if any concern for what God's Word has to say over their lives and how they should live. If I want to think or act this way I do it, if it feels good i do it.

 They think they are living life to the fullest, getting the best of both worlds. Salvation plus feeding my lusts.  One puritan pastor, Thomas Brooks, said of those living this way that "A hypocrite may love to be healed by Christ, and to be pardoned by Christ, and to be saved by Christ; but he can never take any pleasure in the person of Christ. His heart never seriously works after union with Christ...No hypocrite did ever look upon Christ to save him from the power of his sins...all their pretensions and performances are but beautiful abominations in the sight of God."

 An enemy of the cross has no real desire for Christ, only what may advance his own sinful cravings.

 And they don’t realize that what they are surrounding themselves with, what they are filling themselves up with is not to be celebrated but it is actually shameful. They glory in their shame, literally they take pride in and make much of, they put on display that which is actually indecent and disgraceful. They give honor to what is bringing dishonor on them, these "beautiful abominations."

 And the reason Paul weeps over them is because their end is destruction. These people that say they know Christ, have heard the good news of the cross and the upward call of Christ, yet live as enemies in complete contradiction to that calling and it will result in eternal destruction. These people have blinded themselves to the truth. They claim one thing, they claim salvation, but their end is the opposite and unless they wake up and repent, they will be in for a startling realization when they meet God. Everything they pursued with their selfish zeal will be for nothing; all of the self-centered pleasures of this earth will be destroyed in the end and all those who clung to them will be dragged down to destruction as well. They are, as another Puritan writer put it, “like the wings of a butterfly; though curiously painted, they come off in your fingers.” They look promising, beautiful and enticing, yet the pleasure received from the world is here today and gone tomorrow, it comes off in your fingers, vanishes right before our eyes. A short time of pleasure leading to eternal destruction.

 Now, it is important to note, this is not talking about losing salvation. There is not a sin threshold that someone can reach where you were saved but then turn into an enemy of the cross. This is about deceiving yourself and others; claiming a false reality, never having been saved in the first place as evidenced by the way in which you live. If the pattern and habits of our lives is typified as earthly, sinful, being given over to the ways of thinking and acting like we saw in Colossians 3, then what basis do we have to claim we are in Christ awaiting our upward call to heaven? Oh yes, Christ’s death covers all sin, but a heart truly changed by the cross will not then walk as an enemy against it.

 Paul wants his readers to watch out, be on guard, make sure this is not your heart, deceiving others by a false profession and being deceived ourselves while actually headed for eternal destruction.

  1. How do citizens of heaven live?

 Paul contrasts the enemies of the cross with those whose citizenship is in heaven, starting in verse 20. What does it mean to be a citizen, to have citizenship? To be a citizen is to pledge allegiance to and come under the governing authorities of that land. There are responsibilities involved with being a citizen, you have to live as those over you direct and command. When you become a citizen of the United States you have to renounce any other allegiance you may have had before and promise to defend and uphold the laws of this nation. The same is true of being a citizen of heaven. When you come to faith in Christ, you are brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of God and you must renounce your allegiance to sin and pledge fidelity and obedience to God and he does not allow duel citizenship.

 So, the enemies of the cross have their focus, their minds set on earthly things, they have not renounced their allegiance to sin and the world. That is what they live for because they are citizens of the sinful world. But, in contrast to this, our citizenship is in heaven. Our true home is not this earth; therefore, we live differently. We have a different set of priorities and goals, a different calling, a different mindset because our homeland is not here. Those with a citizenship here on earth live to fulfill their sinful desires, that is what their minds are consumed with and prioritize. Their god, their governing authority is their belly, right? Those with a citizenship in heaven live to fulfill the desires of their God, the one true God and Lord Jesus Christ. We have our minds set, focused on, consumed with, heavenly things. Look again really quick at Colossians 3:9-14. Paul explains that in contrast to earthly things, having a mind set on heavenly things looks like this: kindness, humility, forgiveness, love. Those are the priorities of heavenly citizens, those are what we live for, seek, find pleasure and joy in doing. Did you catch that? God has created us and his world so that when we follow his commands to live rightly as citizens of his kingdom, we find real joy and pleasure. Loving God and loving our neighbors is a greater source of joy than sexual immorality. And that may be hard to believe and convince ourselves of, but God calls us to see and find that it is true. This isn't about renouncing our chance at having a fun, full, pleasureful life. That's what the world wants you to believe. That following Christ leads to a lesser fulfilling life, where you miss out on the good stuff. But God has made us to find true, real and lasting joy and fulfillment in him, not in sin, not in idolatry, not in the darkness but in the light. Christ died on the cross to bring us to his kingdom of joy, as Paul says in Romans. Don't believe the devil's lies that he has real pleasures, he has only counterfeits that don't last and lead to destruction. There is real, true, lasting joy in knowing Christ and living for him, so much more than the world could even imagine.

 Going back our Philippians passage and thinking about the characteristics that we are to live by as citizens of heaven; a good way to summarize those traits Paul listed would be Christ-likeness. As citizens of heaven we seek to think, feel, and act more and more like Jesus Christ. We glory in Christ Jesus, as Paul said in 3:3. Which means that in contrast to those who glory in their shame, we put Christ on display, not our selfishness, not our sin, not our shame. We take pride in him, we model ourselves after him, we make much of him, we pursue him, we focus on knowing him more and more. Thatis to be the goal and aim of every citizen of heaven, renouncing our allegiance to this world and its fleetong pleasures and seeking to know our God and King. And like Paul, we press on, we put aside everything that hinders our calling as citizens of heaven, and we keep straining forward to know him and be more and more like him in all things.

 And yes, there are lots of obstacles in our way to live rightly as citizens of heaven, Paul acknowledges that here in verse 21, in that little phrase, “our lowly body.” We are weak in our bodies, we suffer, we face hardship, we are tempted and we are not yet perfect. Life is not easy, the Christian life, while full, is not free from pain. But it is worth every difficulty to press on, to grow in our Christlikeness. It is worth it now, and it will be worth it then, when Christ returns from heaven.

 It is worth it now because the pleasures and joys of knowing Christ and being conformed to his image far outweigh the pleasures of this world. Indulging our sinful flesh does bring pleasure, it can feel good, that’s why we do it and are tempted to keep doing it! But they are counterfeit, half-hearted, pleasures; mere shadows of the real thing that we find in knowing Christ. The pleasures of this world cannot satisfy, they are fleeting and destined to take everyone consumed with them down to destruction with it.

 But God, he alone can satisfy. He alone can fill our souls to overflowing with peace and joy even in our lowly bodies, even in suffering and hardship. He promises to do this forever in heaven, but he says it starts now. Notice Paul does not say our citizenship will be in heaven, as in once you get there things will be different. Yes, for sure things will change, we will be transformed out of our lowly body into a glorious one like Christ’s, but that process starts now by knowing him more and more. Notice the end of verse 21. The power by which Christ will transform our bodies into glorious ones like his, is the same power that enables him, that he uses now, present tense, to subject all things to himself. In other words, Christ’s work of redeeming all things, bringing all things under his new creation has already started. It is not just a future event but a present reality. The joys of heaven are being brought to us now if we would only seek after them and not the world. If we would only live as citizens of heaven, and not enemies of the cross.

 And as citizens of heaven, we await the end to this life to start our new and better one. Those with minds set on earthly things have no hope, their end is destruction. But our end is glorious.

 We look forward to when our Lord and Savior again leaves his throne, this time it is to bring us home where we will forever be with him. We know that this world is not all there is so it should change the way we live in it today. Our looking forward to Christ’s return gives us a new way of looking at the world around us. The fleeting pleasures of sin grow less attractive the more we know Christ and the glories to await us with him. We will be tempted still, yes, we are still in our weak and lowly bodies. But we lose nothing, and gain everything, by throwing off our sinful desires and seeking to know and be more like Christ today, tomorrow and forever.

 George Swinnock was an English pastor in the 1600’s and he wrote a book called, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith. I love the way he writes about God in comparison to our sinful pleasures and calls people to Christ.

 “All the riches of the covenant of grace that Christ has purchased with his precious blood, and all the good that an infinite God can give, you shall have them. God will fill up your soul to its utmost capacity. When you have these, you desire no more, and quietly rest forever. What a portion is this! The pleasures of sin are for a season, a little inch of time. This portion is forever. When earthly things are taken from you, he is the good part that will never be taken away. When dying and withered, he will never leave or forsake you. At death, your portion will swim out with you in that shipwreck. Death parts all other portions from the sons of men, but gives you your full portion. Then will you know your portion’s true worth. When fire burns up the world it will not even singe your portion. You may stand upon the ruins of the world and sing: I have lost nothing, I have my inheritance, my happiness and my God still.”