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(010) Philippians VI: Heavenly Citizens

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Philippians VI: Heavenly Citizens

Philippians 1:27-30

December 2, 2007

Let me say how much I have enjoyed the interaction on the church’s blog. I pastor a very intelligent church!

·         If I had been here longer I would try to take credit!

If you haven’t visited our blog or posted any comments, I invite you to see what you have been missing. It’s It’s been a spirited discussion, but respectful as well.

·         I guess it’s is little easier to be polite when you know you are going to be sitting by the person on Sunday! 

I think you are doing a good job of being honest and thoughtful in your opinions and respectful in disagreements.

A hostile world

As you know if you read the blog, I basically asked how should we, as Christians respond to the up-coming movie, “The Golden Compass,” based on book was written by an outspoken atheist, who is on record as saying that his books are about killing God.

Q: How should we respond to such blatant attacks on our faith, especially in light of what Paul says to us in Philippians?

Let’s turn to our passage now, Philippians 1:27-30, page 831 in the pew Bibles.

Today’s sermon is about how to live as citizens of heaven and represent the Gospel in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to us and our beliefs.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved – and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:27-30 NIV 

A history lesson

We’ll get back to that question about “The Golden Compass”, but first we have to have a history lesson.


·         Let me hear you all groan.

Philippi was located in modern Greece, across the sea from Turkey. In 35g BC, it was fortified by King Philip II. Philip then named it after himself, which is a perk of being king.

·         Philip is best known for his son, Alexander the Great.

Now fast forward 300 years to 42 BC. Julius Caesar is the emperor of Rome, which has conquered most the known world. He is assassinated by Brutus, among others, “Et tu, Brute?”

Brutus and his team take off and were pursued by Octavian and Mark Anthony. The big showdown occurs in the fields outside of Philippi.

Brutus is defeated, and Octavian becomes the new emperor, and changes his name to Augustus, the guy who ordered the census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

Kind of like today, when a war ended, there was always the challenge of taking care of the veterans. Unlike today, there was a real danger of the army refusing to disband and turning on its leaders if they weren’t happy with the arrangements.

For this reason, Augustus gave the soldiers land in Philippi. This was a great retirement plan for them and kept them a safe distance from Rome.



A Latin coin in greece

After this, Philippi minted a bronze coins to honor of these soldiers. These coins would have still been in circulation in Paul’s day. It technically possible that Paul used this coin.

I want to show one to you today because it’s got something very interesting about it.

·         I am going to pass this around. But to make sure it’s returned to me, I won’t stop preaching until I get it back.

·         You can make this easy or hard.

On the front of coin is the Roman goddess Vicotria (victory) with the abbreviations VIC (victory) and AVG (Augustus), commemorating Augustus’ victory there.

On the back is the army’s standards, and the abbreviations COHOR (cohort – a military unit), PREA (the Praetorians, the emperor’s elite force), and PHIL (Philippi).

What makes this coin so interesting is that, even though it was minted in Greece, it’s not in Greek. The other coins from that area were, but this is in Latin, the language of Rome.

Rome away from Rome

The Philippians weren’t Greeks, they were Romans, living in the middle of Greece.

Augustus gave the city the highest honor that could be given to a city outside of Rome: He declared it a Roman colony, which meant that it was literally considered to be Roman soil.

The people of Philippi did everything they could to be Roman, from architecture, to legal code. They spoke in Latin, they dressed like Romans, acted like Romans. They were Romans.

·         Even though they lived in the middle of Greece, they considered themselves Romans first, Greeks a distant second.

Good citizens

This explains Paul’s highly unusual choice of words in v. 27:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Philippians 1:27a NIV

Most of Paul’s letters make a statement like this. His letters can be divided into two sections, theology and application – this is who you are, so this is how you should live.

·         Almost all of Paul commands boil down to one idea: “You are a child of God, now act like it.”

This command itself is not unusual. What makes it unusual is how he says it. Usually he says “Walk worthily.” But “conduct yourself” is a rare verb, this is the only time Paul uses it.

·         It means specifically “discharge your duties as a citizen.”

Paul was talking to Roman citizens who were very proud of their citizenship. They would do nothing to dishonor Rome.

To them Paul says: You know how you are a citizen of Rome in the middle of Greece, and you act like Romans? In the same way, you are citizens of heaven in the middle of the world.

·         Act like it! Behave like citizens of the heaven!

Strangers in a strange land

I believe this is a common mistake we as Christians, in America, make: We forget the foundational truth that this isn’t our home.

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2:11-12 NIV

We are aliens; we are strangers in a strange land. This is not our home. Whenever we forget or minimize this fact, we minimize just how radical the Gospel is:

·         The world says that we are basically good; the gospel says we are we are sinful and self-centered to the core.

·         The world says that all paths lead to God; the Gospel says Jesus is the only way.

·         The world says try to be good and get along, the Gospel demands nothing less that total obedience to Christ.

It values getting, we value giving.

It values living for the moment, we value eternity.

It values being served, we value serving.

It values pride, we value humility. (A new term to Greeks)

It values being right, we value forgiveness.

It values freedom to sin, we value freedom to obey.

·         Even when the world does good things, it does it for it’s own benefit, not to glorify God.

At every point we are at odds with this world. It places man at the center of the universe, and we place God at the center

A Christian nation?

When ever we forget that we are aliens here, we will make one of two mistakes:

1.  We will compromise and act like the world around us.

2.  We will expect the world to act like Christians.

Throughout the NT, we’re commanded not to mimic the world around us. But the NT never really had to address us expecting the world to act like us, because that wasn’t a conceivable thought.

But in the 4th century AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion, which in turn created the illusion that the Western world was Christian.

·         I say illusion because many people choose, and still choose, Christianity more because of their culture than conviction.

I remember one childhood friend telling me he was a Christian because he was American. That’s what his mom told him.

·         In Europe, this has completely changed, and it is now considered “post-Christian.”

Q: But is American a Christian nation?

It was founded on Christian principles. But it was also founded on rationalism and other philosophies of the world.

·         One guy’s opinion: I’m not sure this ever was a Christian nation, but either way it’s getting harder to say that it is.

A survey conducted in 2000 showed that 76% of Americans identified themselves as Christians, which seems like a lot, until you know that’s down from 86% in 1990.

Q: Do you know which group picked up the majority of our loss?

·         Secular/non-religious: from 7.5% to 13% of the population. 

Q: Did that many people convert away from true Christianity, or did they simply stop calling themselves Christians?

·         The illusion that we live in a Christian nation is fading.

No ugly Christians

Why is this important? Because thinking that we live in a Christian nation, when we in fact do not, impedes our ability to effectively communicate the Gospel.

·         When we forgot that we are citizens of heaven, living in this world, we cannot communicate clearly to the world.

Q: Have you ever traveled outside of America? Perhaps taken a vacation in Mexico?

If so, then you have probably had this experience: You’re sitting in a restaurant, trying to be gracious, using a little Spanish, and enjoying that you are on vacation and not at home.

But a couple tables over are a bunch of loud American, complaining about everything – how slow the service, how dirty the bathrooms are, and how much better everything is in America.

·         So why did you leave?

When Marilyn and I were in on our Honeymoon, we had to listen to two couples loudly fight and yell at each other. The waiter gave them their check without being asked, which is a huge insult.

There is actually a name for folks like these. I mean a polite one that I can use in church: The Ugly American Syndrome.

These folks are the worst possible representation of America and they give Americans a bad reputation around the world. I found a website written by an American on Ugly Americans. He makes these observations: When we are abroad:

1.  Americans are loud.

2.  Americans complain because things are different than home.

This sounds a lot how we as Christians act – we can be loud and obnoxious because the people of the world don’t live like citizens of heaven.

·         My mom used to say: “Never expect a pagan to act like a Christian,” they have no reason to.

NO Fear!

The term “Ugly American” actually comes from the title a novel. One of the characters makes this insightful observation that is a strangely accurate description of some Christians:

“A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious. Perhaps they're frightened and defensive, or maybe they're not properly trained and make mistakes out of ignorance.”

This is how Christians can act when we are confronted by a world that discounts, ignores, and belittles our faith. We become socially isolated, pretentious, defensive, and frightened.

...stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. Philippians 1:27-28 NIV

Q: As humans, how do we typically respond when we’re frightened?

1.  We give in.

2.  We run away.

3.  We fight.

As Christians, facing a world that is hostile to us, and opposes our beliefs, we sometimes are frightened, so we:

1.  Give in and compromise our faith, wanting to blend in.

2.  Run away, and isolate ourselves socially.

3.  We become defensive and offensive.

What’s a Christian to do with a golden compass?

Now let’s turn to the upcoming movie, “The Golden Compass.” Not because is such as dangerous attack that it requires its own sermon, but because it is great “case study” of how we should act as worthy citizen in face of opposition.

To begin, this book and its sequels really are an attack on our faith.

·         This is not a false alarm, unlike the “Harry Potter” uproar (and I believe there have been many false alarms).

As I said in the blog, the author, Philip Pullman is very clear that his books are about killing God.

·         In the Washington Post, he is quoted as saying: I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief..."

It’s especially disturbing that he is targeting children with propaganda in the form of well written stories. Mr. Pullman is certainly “one who opposes us,” as Paul says.

But we must not react in fear:

·         We must not ignore it and pretend it’s okay.

·         We must not run away, afraid to address the threat.

·         We must not react in defensiveness

Q: How then should we to respond

Picture PTA meeting concerning a 5th grade teacher who has been reading “The Golden Compass” to her children: Who would you want to represent us? Who would you want to represent our God and our heavenly city?

·         The person who has never read the book, lacks grace, but can yell really loud?

·         Or the person who knows and understands the books and can respond redemptively with grace and reason.

As Brianna pointed out on the blog, the best stories always seem to embody the Gospel in someway, intentionally or not, and astute believers and able to draw it out.

distressed, not surprised

This isn’t just what Paul preached, it is what he lived:

While Paul was waiting for [Silas and Timothy] in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. Acts 17:16-17 NIV

Paul was distressed, but not surprised or intimidated by the sinfulness of Athens. And more importantly, he used in as an opportunity. He goes on to use the idols as a point of contact.

We should be distressed by the sin in this world. It should bother us that “The Golden Compass” tries to “kill God.”

·         We should be distressed, but not surprised or frightened.

·         We should use it as opportunity.

That doesn’t mean that all of us need to read and study “The Golden Compass.” But if you’re going to be the one representing us, please do. If you are worried about supporting it financially, use the library.

The sign

In verse 28, Paul says that when we stand firm and are unafraid of opposition, it will be a sign to the ones who oppose us.

This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved – and that by God. Philippians 1:28 NIV 

When we respond to opposition with love and joy, with peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it will show that we are not afraid, that we must know something they don’t.

·         As one translation says: “This is proof to them that they will lose and we will win.” (UBS Handbook on Philippians)

Minority status

I want to close with this thought: In the coming years, I believe we’ll watch the percentage people calling themselves Christians continue to drop.

·         This just might be a good thing.

The most difficult people to reach with the Gospel are those who think they already know God. But things will also get harder:

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:29-30 NIV 

We will continue to face the sort of opposition that Paul knew, things like “The Golden Compass” will increase, not decrease.

·         God has granted to us that we will be a light for him in an increasingly dark world.

My challenge to each of us is to seriously consider our place in this world, as we look at so many things, like The Golden Compass, that stand against our faith.

Our duty, as citizen of heaven living on earth, is to be distressed by the unrighteousness in the world, but looking for every opportunity to be worthy examples of our homeland, engaging our culture in order to bring them to Christ.


At every point and turn, please help us live as worthy citizens and representatives of heaven. I pray that every one of us be equipped and ready to be an ambassador.

·         Help us not lose our sensitivity, but to be distressed by sin, yet respond with compassion to those caught in it.

Advent Wreath:

Christmas is coming, and this is the first Sunday of advent, with is simply a chance for us to reflect on Christ’s coming (which is what “advent” means) and prepare us for Christmas.

·         Read Isaiah 9:1-7 and Micah 5:2-4

Announcements and prayer

·         Pick up kids immediately.

·         If you see a visitor, invite them to sit with you at the potluck.

Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.

The following sources were used in preparing this sermon:

Dear Philippians III: The Secret to Enjoying Life, a sermon preached by Bruce Wersen of His Place Community Church ( on 2/9/03.

The New American Commentary (Vol. 32): Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by R. R. Melick.

Word Biblical Commentary (Vol. 43): Philippians by R. P. Martin.

Fear Not the Golden Compass by Jeffery Overstreet:

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