July 4, 2020 • 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.
As citizens of the United States celebrate Independence Day, we recognize that we have another, supreme citizenship. According to Philippians 3:20, “our citizenship is in heaven.” Thus, while offering thanks for the goodness of our nation, we are not caught in idolatrous nationalism. Rather, we affirm what is good and critique what is not, 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.
Today is the Fourth of July, which means it 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).
Though we have a number of Life for Leaders readers who are not citizens of the U.S., most of us will be participating in some way in Fourth of July activities. This will be an unusual year, of course, given the limitations imposed by COVID-19 as well as the national reckoning with regard to racial justice. Still, the Fourth of July 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 a peculiar allegiance to whatever nation we call home. While we value our earthly citizenship, we acknowledge an unusual 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 unusual citizenship; they were citizens of the city of Philippi and, because of their special situation, citizens of Rome 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 profoundly, citizens of heaven. Their primary citizenship was a heavenly one. And their primary Lord was not the Roman Caesar, 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, Japan, or you name it, if we are Christians then we are citizens of heaven first and foremost. This means, 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 in the way we love 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, when our nation reflects the goodness of God, we rejoice and give thanks. When our country falls short of God’s standards by allowing or even promoting injustice, we are able to utter a prophetic “no” and to work for the promotion of divine justice and goodness.
As citizens of heaven, we don’t minimize our earthly citizenship. In fact, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s devotion, we live out our heavenly citizenship precisely in the location of our earthly citizenship. But we do this knowing 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.
Do you think of yourself as a citizen of heaven? If so, why? If not, why not?
In what ways do you feel a tension between your citizenship on earth and your citizenship in heaven?
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, especially when it comes to those who have been denied justice in the past.
Gracious God, today we do thank you what 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 grieve, we confess and we hope, we look to you to heal our nation, so that we might be more thoroughly an instrument of your goodness on earth. 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 Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: 3 Examples of Following Christ as Ordinary Christians (Philippians 2:19–3:21)