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Citizens of Heaven on the Fourth of July

July 3, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Philippians 3:20-21 (NRSV)

But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He 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.

Focus

On this day, citizens of the United States celebrate our national independence. While thanking God for our earthly citizenship, we also remember that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Thus, while offering thanks for what is good in our nation, we are not swept up in idolatrous nationalism. Rather, we affirm the good and confess what is not good, working as citizens of heaven and earth for God’s justice here and now, even as we long for the ultimate justice of God’s future.

Devotion

Today is Independence Day in the United States. On this day Americans celebrate our freedom as a nation, remembering the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 (or thereabouts).

Although I know some of you who read Life for Leaders are not citizens of the U.S., most of us will be participating in some way in Fourth of July activities. This is a time for Americans to give thanks for what’s good about our country and to commit ourselves to the furtherance of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all Americans, especially those for whom access to such blessings has been limited or denied in the past.

Christians always experience an intricate allegiance to whatever nation we call home. While we value our earthly citizenship, we acknowledge a different kind of citizenship as well. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in ancient Philippi, “our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). Paul used the language of citizenship quite intentionally here for a couple of reasons. First, he knew that the people in Philippi had their own brand of dual citizenship; they were citizens of the city of Philippi and, because of their special historical relationship with Rome, they were Roman citizens as well. The Philippians were proud of their dual citizenship. They were honored to be Roman citizens even though they lived far away from the imperial capital. They felt patriotic pride as privileged citizens of Rome.

Second, though Paul did not deny the Philippians’ earthly civic relationships, he did reframe the nature of their citizenship. The Philippian Christians were not just citizens of Philippi and citizens of Rome. They were, most importantly, citizens of heaven. Their primary citizenship was a heavenly one. And their primary Lord was not the Roman Caesar, who claimed the title of “Lord,” but the “Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:20). During Paul’s day, allegiance to Christ as Lord made one a social outcast. A few decades later it would make one a martyr. Confessing Christ as Lord meant denying that Caesar was Lord, and this was worthy of execution from the Roman point of view.

Today, whether we are citizens of the United States, Canada, Brazil, Ukraine, or you name it, if we are Christians then we are citizens of heaven first and foremost. This means, that though we recognize the legal authority of our nation, we acknowledge one true sovereign over our lives, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our primary commitment is to this Lord. Though we respect the government of our nation (Romans 13:1-7), we submit fully to the definitive government of our Lord. And though we celebrate the good things about the land in which we live, we do not love our country unconditionally. Such love is reserved for our Lord.

Because we are citizens of heaven, we have a perspective from which to value our nation without falling into naïve or even idolatrous nationalism. When our own country does what is consistent with God’s justice, we rejoice and give thanks. When our country falls short of God’s standards by allowing injustice, we are able to utter a prophetic “no” and to work for the promotion of God’s righteousness.

As citizens of heaven, we don’t disparage our earthly citizenship. But we remember that our true and ultimate allegiance is to God and his kingdom. We confess Jesus Christ as Lord . . . our Lord and the Lord over all.

Reflect

What about our country do you thank God for today?

What about our country do you seek God’s help?

How does your heavenly citizenship affect the way you think, feel, and act as citizen of an earthly country?

Act

Be sure to take time to pray for your country today. If you are a citizen of the United States, thank God for what is good about this country, lament what is evil, and ask for God’s help to make this nation more just in every way.

Pray

Gracious God, today we do thank you for what is good about our country, for all ways we as a nation reflect your values and priorities. You have blessed us through this country, and for this we thank you.

At the same time, we confess that we have fallen short in many ways. Recently, many of us have become more aware of inequalities related to health care, jobs, gender, and race. We see more clearly how far we have yet to go if we are to embody your justice and mercy. We confess our sin to you, our individual and corporate sin. We ask for your forgiveness and for the grace to turn in genuine repentance.

On this day, Lord, we celebrate and we lament, we confess and we hope, we look to you to heal our nation, so that we might more thoroughly reflect your kingdom on earth. Your kingdom come! Your will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: A Reflection for the Fourth of July


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