HEAVENLY MINDED BUT STILL EARTHLY GOOD: Philippians 3:18-21 June 18, 2020
HEAVENLY MINDED BUT STILL EARTHLY GOOD
Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 3, specifically, Philippians 3:18 – 21.
Reflection | In the previous verse, Paul articulated the heart of discipleship as he offered up his own life and “those who live as we do” (v. 17), as an example for the Philippians to learn from in the pursuit of following Christ. Now, with this next set of verses, Paul goes on to describe the kind of people the Philippians should not emulate. His characterization of this group is harsh as he refers to them “as enemies of the cross of Christ” (v. 18).
Paul here is more than likely not referring to non-believers, those who have not confessed Christ. Keeping the broader context of this passage in view, he is speaking of those who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually following Jesus. Paul began this section of the letter by warning the Philippians to watch out for those who were “putting confidence in the flesh” (v. 4). These were individuals within the community who were professing faith in Christ while also forcibly mandating adherence to traditions and practices of Judaism in order to be saved.
Before diving deeper into Paul’s indictment, it is worth noting, his diatribe against those whose “destiny is destruction” is marked by grief. Paul shares that he writes these words “with tears.” This is only recorded instance where Paul is said to have cried. He takes no joy or satisfaction in calling out those who are erroneously not living up to their relationship with Jesus.
Likewise, we should not delight or bask in some posture of superiority over those whom we perceive as lacking faith or being mistaken in their walk with Christ. All of our efforts towards the reproof and correction of others should be marked by humility and compassion that derives from a prayerful reliance upon the Holy Spirit. Let us not forget it is the Lord who changes the heart and opens the mind – and not us – no matter how compelling or passionate our entreaty.
As Paul expresses his sorrow for these wayward Christians, he proceeds to outline several aspects of both their mindset and their behavior that are problematic. First, “their god is their stomach” (v. 19). It could be such people are satisfying a sense of pride, lust, or greed or perhaps a pandering to a personal desire for attention or adoration. The point is these are individuals who are indulging their appetites for pleasure over and above seeking to please Jesus. They are religiously observing the rituals of faith but they are not living out of their faith in Christ. More concerned for themselves than they are in serving others, “their glory is their shame.” Paul identifies, their underlying and fatal flaw: “Their mind is set on earthly things.”
In contrast to this observation, Paul quickly adds an important correction in perspective: “But our citizenship is in heaven” (v. 20). As followers of Jesus we are to live our lives with eternity in view. This world as we know it is not the world that is to come. We are ambassadors of the Kingdom of God – of Christ’s reclamation and renewal project of all creation. As followers of Jesus, we live in an already-but-not-yet kind of reality. There is so much that God has already done, and there’s so much the Lord is still doing and has promised yet to do.
As Christians, we don’t just live by looking back on Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. We live in each present moment by also continuing to look forward to the day of Christ’s return. Or as Paul puts it, “we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (vv. 20-21).
There is a tension to be managed here. As Christians, we are citizens of heaven even as we are pilgrims in this world. We are inhabitants of a new life that will be, one day, fully realized, even as we remain wayfarers of a broken and incomplete life that is dying so that our everlasting life can begin.
We, as God’s children, who have been called to follow Jesus, must consciously and purposefully live in this space and time in-between, what Jesus has secured for all and how, in the end, Christ will make all things new. This means we are not to look for or to pursue ultimate meaning, satisfaction, or joy in the treasures, achievements, or accolades of this world. What consumes and drives us cannot be what we can get out of this life, but rather how we are investing in the life to come through where we engage and commit ourselves every day.
This means as followers of Jesus, we are called to occupy the here and now. We cannot become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. The freedom we have received from Jesus – the freedom of forgiveness and grace, the freedom from fear and death, is not the freedom to check out from the cares and concerns of this world. God gives us freedom in Christ to use that freedom in unreserved and generous service to others.
Do all roads lead to heaven? Paul makes it clear in this passage that the road to heaven is through Jesus Christ, not through anything or anyone else. Therefore, we cannot withdraw from this world. For we have been called to share the Way, the Truth, and the Life that is Jesus, and to make disciples, new citizens in His name. However, in being a part of this world, it should be clear to those around us where our true residency remains. We must reflect the language and the culture of our home country, the Kingdom of God – speaking not just with words but through acts of love, mercy, and justice. And in so doing, in following Jesus in this way, we glorify the Lord even as we anticipate our eventual homecoming together.
Consider & Discuss | Jesus said, “Where you treasure is, your heart will be also.” Take a moment to consider where you actually invest yourself. As you reflect on how you spend the resources God has given you – time, talents, and treasures – where are you investing yourself – in the things of this life – earthly, temporal things or the life Jesus has invited you into – a full, abundant and everlasting life? Where can others see the evidence in and through your life that you are both committed to doing good in this world and yet living clearly as a citizen of God’s Kingdom? How does being a citizen of God’s kingdom impact your daily life?
Prayer Focus | Almighty God, thank You for the freedom You have given us – the assurance of our forgiveness, the grace to continue to learn and grow even as we fail, and the certain hope and assurance of our salvation from death. Out of this precious freedom, we ask You to shield us from the compulsions of our old appetites and desires. As citizens of Your Kingdom, instill within us new longings – a hunger and thirst for extending the bounty of Your love, compassion, and truth to others. As we wait for Your return, renew us day by day in our pursuit of You, through Your Son, Jesus Christ. When we forget where we live, carry us back home to You. When we start to build our kingdoms that will erode like sand, tear down their walls so that we would remember Yours and Yours alone is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.