April 14 – Church and State – Heavenly Citizenship

Read Philippians 3:17-21

American missionary friends of ours have given birth to children in other countries. Some of these children were afforded the option of dual citizenship. A few of them, then, became citizens of the United States and of the country where they were born. As a result, they had twin loyalties.

As Paul wrote to the Philippians in the first century, he reminded them of a citizenship reality we too must keep in mind. Although these believers were residents on earth, they were not to forget that they were also citizens of heaven. As believers, we function day to day as dual citizens in what Augustine described as the “City of God” and the “City of Man.”

What biblical principles guide our citizenship in our home country? Paul wrote elsewhere to first-century followers of Jesus who were citizens and subjects in the Roman Empire. His words describe how we are to live as well. We are to submit to government (Rom. 13:1). Our Father expects us to honor government leaders (1 Pet. 3:17) and pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-8).

Still, today’s reading reminds us that our ultimate citizenship and loyalty lies in heaven. What should that look like? These words remind us to not become too settled in this world. We must remember that our loyalty is first and foremost to King Jesus. We are to anticipate His kingdom and even pray for its advent (Matt. 6:10).

But today’s reading also helps us to establish appropriate expectations of our earthly citizenship. Paul describes the propensity of other earthly citizens in graphic terms. “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame” (Phil. 3:19).

Although we demonstrate and champion righteous living in this world, we must, at the same time, have a realistic perspective. We will not bring Christ’s kingdom to the earth. Only He will do that at His return. Only Jesus can “put an end to sin…” and “bring in everlasting righteousness…” (Dan. 9:24). When we live as citizens of heaven, we rein in any expectations of experiencing heaven on earth. That will only happen when the Lord of heaven comes.

Steve Kern

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