Live as Citizens of Heaven

Philippians 3:12-4:1 Live as Citizens of Heaven

by Buddy Overman at Servants of Grace

In this section Paul is concerned that his previous words will be misunderstood, and so now he writes to head off any possible misunderstandings and potential errors that could arise.

Straining to the goal (vv. 12-16)

Paul says in verse 12 that he is not “perfect,” indicating that although he has lost all for Christ, he has yet to attain perfection. Paul seems to be warning the Philippians against becoming complacent in their new found position in Christ.

He illustrates his point in verses 13-14, where he describes himself like a runner who will lose ground if he looks back during a race. Thus, he never looks back— instead he lives out the Christian life as a runner who lunges toward the finish line in a race.

Or, to put it another way, Paul wants to finish the Christian life well.

Perhaps Paul has in mind here Jesus’ teachings from Matthew 24:36-25:28 where Jesus taught his believers to be watchful, faithful and good stewards until He returns. Jesus said believers who conduct their lives this way will hear God say to them, “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21;23).

Likewise, Paul wanted to run the rest of his life as a good steward of God’s grace. Thus, he strained every muscle in an effort to be faithful to God’s gracious call on his life.

Paul’s point, then, is that Christians should not fall into the temptation to look back to the day they believed on Christ as the end of their spiritual journey. A good steward and follower of Christ will not become complacent, but instead he will exude energy and passion for the gospel as is fitting for someone who has already “attained” the righteousness of Christ (v. 16)

Live as Citizens of Heaven (Phil. 3:17-4:1)
Another error Paul wanted the Philippians to avoid was the false belief that the end of the Jewish Law meant that one could live however they pleased. Such people, Paul says, live as enemies of the “cross of Christ” (v. 18). They became enemies of the cross because they took for granted the shed blood of Christ by indulging in shameful acts that lead to destruction (v. 19).

Paul tells the Philippians to avoid such activities by following his “example” (v. 17) and to recall that they are “citizens of heaven” (v. 20). In other words, Christians should exude behavior fitting for citizens of heaven by recognizing that the earthly realm is not the sum of their existence.

Rather, the sum of our existence will be obtained when Jesus Christ returns (v. 20b). On that day, believers will finally attain perfection (v. 21).

Do you spend much time dwelling on what it means to be a citizen of heaven? Now that I have studied this passage I recognize that Paul is in fact calling believers to do just that. He wants us to live our lives now in such a way that we are focused on what it means to be citizens of heaven.

Specifically from this text, I think Paul wants believers to live the rest of their earthly lives straining to live “worthy of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). Secondly, he wants believers to focus on the fact that heaven will be a place of sinless perfection, and thus strive to live as sin free as humanly possible and avoid excessive earthly pursuits that have no heavenly reward.

When we do that we just might gain a different perspective on how to live in the here and now.

Buddy Overman is married to his wife Aleena, and has three children, Hayley, Hadassah, and Calvin. He holds a BS in Religion from Liberty University and is currently pursuing his Master of Divinity in Christian Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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