Citizenship in Heaven


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 67; 150, Habakkuk 1:1-4 (5-11) 12-2:1, Philippians 3:13-4:1, Matthew 23:13-24

Have you ever heard someone described as a “citizen of the world?” Such people are usually considered well-traveled, sophisticated, and fluent in diverse cultures. We perceive them as feeling at home in almost any setting. Though we may sense in them a bit of restlessness, we generally admire their ease and poise.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he claims their citizenship is in heaven. What does it mean to be a citizen of a place you can’t physically visit? First, we must recognize that in Paul’s Roman Empire, where slaves outnumbered citizens, the term “citizen” carried significant meaning. When Paul told people – regardless of legal class – they were citizens of heaven, he was telling them they had full rights and protections bestowed by God. Today’s strife over illegal immigration gives us only a small taste of the feelings that must have arisen – in citizens and non-citizens alike – when Paul announced all people were on equal footing under God.

What are the implications of our heavenly citizenship? Certainly it should add an element of critique to any form of nationalism; the borders of heaven are limitless, after all. How will we conduct ourselves in non-native lands, among people of different or no belief? How can we avoid becoming the Christian equivalent of the “ugly American” who treats other cultures with (one hopes) unintentional disrespect? In many physical countries, we might rely on an ambassador or embassy to coach us in diplomacy and respect. Fortunately, we have Christ as our ambassador. His example of moving among all peoples with a strength born of peace and love is our example.

One last component of citizenship is responsibility. While citizens of the world have a responsibility to comply with local laws and customs, citizens of heaven are responsible to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly (Micah 6:8), even when doing so conflicts with expectations. Simultaneously loving and confounding is quite the balancing act. We can expect that not everyone will admire or even like us. We may even be outright rejected. But our true home and Lord will never abandon us.

Comfort: No one can revoke the citizenship God grants us.

Challenge: Try composing a Christian “Bill of Rights.”

Prayer: God of the journey, thank you for my rights and responsibilities.. Amen.

Discussion: What conflicts exist between your national and divine citizenships?

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