Living As Worthy Citizens of Our Heavenly Homeland
by Jack Wald | June 11th, 2017

Philippians 1:27-30

According to Open Doors, each month, 322 Christians are killed because of their faith in Jesus. 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed. 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians (such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests and forced marriages).

What is Christian Persecution? Again, let me read from the Open Doors website.

Christian persecution is any hostility experienced from the world as a result of one’s identification as a Christian. From verbal harassment to hostile feelings, attitudes and actions, Christians in areas with severe religious restrictions pay a heavy price for their faith. Beatings, physical torture, confinement, isolation, rape, severe punishment, imprisonment, slavery, discrimination in education and employment, and even death are just a few examples of the persecution they experience on a daily basis.

According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

Persecution of the followers of Jesus is a present, past, and future experience. Persecution was part of the life of the early church. From the very beginning, the followers of Jesus faced opposition. The church has been persecuted throughout the centuries and although we have a difficult time predicting the future, one thing we know is that persecution of the church will be a part of our future experience.

This morning we come to the end of the first chapter of Philippians and Paul writes about the persecution both he and the followers of Jesus in Philippi were experiencing.

In the past two sermons we have talked about Paul’s view of life and death. Paul received a call from Jesus on the road to Damascus which turned his life around. He turned from persecuting the followers of Jesus to preaching the good news of Jesus to the Gentile world, for which he was severely persecuted. Despite his suffering, he never wavered from this call. He experienced the grace and mercy of Jesus on the road to Damascus. He deserved to be executed but was not, that is God’s mercy. And then he was given a call to serve Jesus, work with Jesus, to build the kingdom of God. That is God’s grace. He did not receive what he deserved (mercy) but received what he had not earned (grace).

For this reason Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “For to me, to live is Christ.” As long as Paul lived on earth he was determined to continue honoring the call he had been given, to preach the good news of Jesus to the Gentile world.

But Paul went on, “For me, to live is Christ, but to die is gain.” Paul longed for his heavenly home with Jesus. Paul had received mysterious visions of heaven and never took his eyes off his heavenly destination. Later on in his letter Paul writes, (Philippians 3:12–14)
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul lived for Christ and longed to be with Christ in his heavenly home.

In this morning’s text, Paul writes in verse 27 “Whatever happens.” Whether Paul is taken to the Roman tribunal and sentenced to death, or taken to the Roman tribunal and released from prison – whatever happens – Paul writes to the followers of Jesus in Philippi,
conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ

Here Paul is playing on their pride in being citizens of Rome. Philippi boasted of its privileged status as a Roman colony which was given to them when Octavian (later the emperor Augustus) had a decisive victory on the plains of Philippi just a hundred years earlier. When Paul writes “conduct themselves,” the Greek word he uses means literally to “live as citizens.”

So Paul tells the church in Philippi to live as citizens of heaven. He is telling them, “Live in the Roman colony of Philippi as worthy citizens of your heavenly homeland.”

Your interactions with people in Morocco reflect on your country of origin. What people in Morocco think about your country is influenced by how you live. What we do reflects on our homeland. This is also true about our future heavenly home. So Paul tells the church in Philippi to live lives worthy of their heavenly homeland.

How do we live lives worthy of our heavenly homeland? In Galatians 5:19–21 Paul lists the acts of the flesh:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The conflict in the church in Philippi reflected some of these acts of the flesh. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth he listed some of these acts of the flesh that were weakening and tearing that church apart. These acts of the flesh were clearly not in keeping with their heavenly citizenship.

In contrast, again from Galatians 5, Paul listed behaviors that reflect positively on our citizenship in heaven.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

Followers of Jesus who are filled with the Holy Spirit exhibit these fruit and their lives are a witness to the world of the heavenly home that awaits us.

Paul encourages the followers of Jesus in Philippi to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether he is able to visit them or can only receive word about them, he will know three things:
I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.

Stand firm in the one Spirit.
Strive together as one for the faith of the gospel.
Not be frightened in any way by those who oppose them.

Let’s take a closer look at these three.

I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit.

The unity of the body of Christ is one of God’s primary concerns. Because Paul turned his life around on the road to Damascus, Paul took on the heart and mind of God and the unity of the body of Christ became a primary concern for him. In letter after letter after letter you can see the pain in Paul’s heart because of the conflict and disunity in the church.

In Philippi it was the conflict between two of the leaders of the church, Euodia and Syntyche.

In Corinth is was the divisions that had arisen. (1 Corinthians 1:10–13)
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.

At the end of his letter to the church in Rome Paul wrote: (Romans 16:17)
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

In his letter to the churches in the region of Ephesus he wrote (Ephesians 4:3–6)
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

This is one of the things I love about our church and other international churches. The churches in our home countries tend to have congregations of people from the same race, same nationality, same denominational background, same, same, same. We are a diverse church. We are not all the same.

God created a world with tremendous diversity in flowers, insects, birds, fish, and mushrooms. Diversity is a trademark of God’s creation. Wherever you look you see diversity. Because God loves diversity, I believe that when God looks down at our church he is delighted with us at RIC. There are some tensions and misunderstandings that arise because of our differences, but when we worship, sing, and pray we are lifted up into one glorious body of Christ in Rabat.

We have many different cultures but one Spirit. We have many different heart languages, but one Spirit. We see different nuances in what we read in the Bible, but one Spirit.

The unity we experience is valuable and we need to work hard to preserve it. We need to work hard to increase the unity of our body of Christ in Rabat. When we do this, God is blessed. When we separate into factions, we grieve the heart of God. RIC is not a black church. RIC is not a white church. RIC is not a Western church. RIC is not a denominational church. RIC is our church. Because you are loved and valued by God, this is your church. We are not perfect in the way we operate, but we work to include all the cultures of those who come to RIC. We want to be a church that blesses God because we have a heart that includes all those who are loved by God.

When we live as worthy citizens of our heavenly kingdom, we will:
Stand firm in the one Spirit.
Strive together as one for the faith of the gospel.

We are fortunate at RIC because there is only one English-speaking Protestant church in Rabat. If there was a second church, chances are that one church would become more Pentecostal and the other more Evangelical. If there were a third church, it might be more liturgical. If there were a fourth church, it might be more denominational. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, where my daughter and her family live, there are at least six English-speaking Protestant churches. A Southern Baptist church – a non-denominational, conservative evangelical church – a mainline church that has existed since the late 1800s – a Pentecostal Australian church – a Vineyard church – and an Anglican/Episcopalian church.

Churches and church ministries compete in unhealthy ways with each other. They compete for the same people and over time people move from one church to another. They compete to see who has the most number of people, who has the larger budget, who has the best programs.

Paul had no patience for this. I preached a few weeks ago about Paul’s situation. He was sitting in prison and others were taking advantage of his imprisonment to build up their own ministries. Remember what Paul said? “But what does it matter?”

As long as Christ was being preached, Paul was content. Here in Rabat there is RIC, Assemblee Chretienne, the EEAM church, the Moroccan house churches, and the Catholic Church. These churches and other house groups are all, hopefully, preaching the good news of Jesus. We have different approaches. We have different theologies. But as long as Christ is being preached, that is what matters.

Jesus is at work rescuing people and we need to be open and available to him, helping, not hindering his work. We need to strive together for the one faith that is in the gospel.

When we live as worthy citizens of our heavenly kingdom, we will:
Stand firm in the one Spirit.
Strive together as one for the faith of the gospel.
And we will not be frightened in any way by those who oppose us.

Paul wrote in verse 21 “to live is Christ.” It is difficult for us to not get irritated by others. It is not easy for us to forgive those who offend us. It is not easy to work together in unity for the gospel when there are so many things that separate us. Paul did not say, “But what does it matter?” because it was easy. He said it because for him, “to live is Christ.”

We serve someone greater than us. We serve someone whose kingdom is larger and greater than any sphere of influence we have on earth. We serve someone who not only created us but who pre-existed all of creation. For this reason we serve Jesus even when our own little kingdom seems threatened.

Now we come to the other half of Paul’s declaration in verse 21. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Opposition had arisen in Philippi. Although Paul does not say why the persecution had arisen, it seems likely that the followers of Jesus were being attacked by those who honored the Roman emperor at every public gathering. As a Roman colony, populated with soldiers who had fought with Octavian, there was strong loyalty to the Roman emperor. But these Philippian followers now had another lord and savior and that challenged the culture of Philippi.

Paul writes that when we live as worthy citizens of our heavenly kingdom, we will not be frightened in any way by those who oppose us.

This is an amazing statement to me because opposition is frightening. When my job is threatened and I face unemployment because of the opposition, that produces anxiety. When authorities threaten to take away my home and possessions because of my faith in Jesus, that produces strong emotions. When the life of my family and friends are in danger because of my faith in Jesus, that produces great fear. So how can Paul say we will not be frightened in any way by those who oppose us?

The historical reality is that when the church has been persecuted over the centuries of church history, most of those who say they are followers of Jesus turn away from Jesus. It is always a small fraction of those who say they are followers of Jesus who remain faithful to him despite the cost of doing so.

Just as unity in the church is elusive, so is loyalty to Jesus under persecution, which brings me back to verses I quoted a couple weeks ago.
Matthew 7:14
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 22:14
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Why is unity so elusive? Why do so few followers of Jesus stand with him during persecution? Go back to verse 27 – we are not living as worthy citizens of our heavenly homeland. We are far too familiar with the acts of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit is lacking the nourishment of a consistent and intimate walk with Jesus. We seek comfort and ease more than we seek Jesus. Given a choice, we look for the easy Jesus. We look for the Jesus who will make us feel good. We look for the Jesus who will not threaten our place in this world.

But this easy and comfortable Jesus is not the Jesus of the New Testament. Let’s read to the end of the text for today.

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 the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 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. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Paul writes “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.”

The verb granted comes from the Greek word for grace. So Paul writes that we have been graciously given salvation and graciously given the opportunity to suffer for him. Both are acts of grace.

When I was a young Christian, a British preacher, Stuart Briscoe, spoke at our church in Boston and told this story to tell the difference between mercy and grace. A mother bought a brand new white carpet for the living room and told her young son he was not allowed to eat in that room. Later she gave him a chocolate ice cream cone. He took it into the living room and accidentally dropped it on the brand new white carpet. Mercy is not punishing him for what he did. Grace is giving him another chocolate ice cream cone.

We love singing about grace.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

“Lord, let your grace, grace from your hand, fall on us,”

“Grace that blows all fear away.
Jesus, what a beautiful name.”

“Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!”

Here Paul writes “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.”

As much as it is grace that brings us salvation, so is it grace that allows us to suffer for Christ. Our salvation is graciously given to us through Christ. Suffering on his behalf is also graciously given to us through Christ.

Paul is not talking here about suffering in general. He is not talking about suffering from a disease or an accidental injury. He is not talking about the loss of a child or spouse. He is not talking about suffering from the effects of a natural disaster. He is talking specifically about suffering because of our faith in Jesus. He is talking about living for Christ in a world that is thoroughly hostile to God and resistant to his love lavished on them in Christ.

When we live for Christ in the midst of a warped and crooked generation, as Paul says a few verses later, we will (Philippians 2:15) “shine among them like stars in the sky.”

These verses at the end of Philippians 1 are very difficult for us to read and we tend to read them quickly and move on to better texts.

Gordon Fee, who wrote the Philippians commentary I have been using, writes:
The net result is that the content of Paul’s explanation is something contemporary Christians hear reluctantly, either out of guilt that so many of us look so little like this, or out of fear that it might someday really be true for us. The key is to return to Paul’s emphasis, “for the sake of Christ.” Our tendency is to focus on the suffering; what is needed is a radical paradigm shift toward Christ – and his apostle – as God’s ultimate paradigm for us. Through “death on a cross” he not only “saved us,” but modeled for us God’s way of dealing with opposition – loving them to death.

Because of guilt and/or fear, we move past these verses. But in order to understand the depth of meaning in this letter from Paul, we need to deal with the reality of the opposition they were facing. If not, we will end up with a more superficial understanding that will not help us at all when it comes time for us to suffer for Christ.

I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 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.

This is our witness. When we stand firm in the one Spirit, when we strive together as one for the faith of the gospel, the world pays attention. This is what Jesus prayed in his prayer in John 17. (John 17:20–23)
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

We know this. We are not very good at it, but we know it. The unity of the church works for the building of God’s kingdom and the disunity and conflict between parts of the body of Christ work against the building of God’s kingdom.

Not being frightened in any way by those who oppose us is also our witness to the world. The fearlessness of followers of Jesus who are persecuted is a sign that only those who reach out for the gift of life Jesus offers will be saved.

When the 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded on the shore of the Mediterranean coast in February 2015, there was a surge of repentance, renewal, and evangelism in Egypt. In the video the militants released, many of the men are seen uttering their final words on this earth – Lord Jesus Christ.

Tami Yeager, a volunteer coordinator with the Voice of the Martyrs, reports the “vivid video footage” “did not spark division amongst Egypt’s 10 million Christians and 73 million Muslims.”

Quite the contrary, she said, “the declarations of faith uttered by the men only moments before their death have created fertile soil for conversation between Muslims and Christians.”

There is another remarkable story: It wasn’t discovered until later that one of the men wasn’t a Christian when he was led to his execution. He was identified as Matthew Ayairga of Chad.

“He is believed to not have been a Christian before kneeling in the sand beside the ‘people of the cross,’” Yeager reported. “Witnessing the courage and faith of the Egyptian Christians, he also chose to follow Jesus. Mere moments before Matthew was executed, his executors are seen asking, “Do you reject Christ?’ His reply was, “Their God is my God.’”

Attacks against Coptics in Egypt have continued. After attacks in a church on this past Palm Sunday, this happened on Egyptian television.

Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response.

“The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.

Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city.

On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church.

“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’

“‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”

Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal.

“How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”

Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

Live as worthy citizens of our heavenly homeland. Work for the unity of the body of Christ.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Work for the unity of RIC. Don’t get distracted by peripheral theological issues. Focus on Jesus who gave up his heavenly privileges to be born as a man, who lived his life among us, who taught us, who died for us, who rose from the dead, and who promises to return to bring us into his heavenly kingdom.

Don’t push people away because of their cultural differences. Celebrate with God the diversity of his creation. Learn about the cultures within our church. Eat the foods of the nations in our church. Learn about the culture of others in the church.

Living this life apart from the help and encouragement of the Holy Spirit is impossible so it is by God’s grace that we are able to progress as we work for the unity of the church and the growth of the kingdom of God.

It is also by God’s grace that we are able to not be fearful in the face of opposition. Peter thought he could stand with Jesus and then failed. He feared what would happen to him if he admitted that he was a disciple of Jesus. But after Pentecost when Peter and the other followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit, they had a boldness that took Peter to the same crucifixion Jesus endured.

We put our faith, hope, and trust in Jesus. We rely on the Holy Spirit to help us stand in the midst of whatever opposition will come.

In a few minutes we will sing Martin Luther’s hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. The lyric in the last verse reads:
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.

Can we sing that? If we project to a time of opposition where we have to make these choices, will we be able to stand with Jesus at the expense of everything else? We are weak. We need help. We cling to Jesus and trust in the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for what will come.

We cling to Jesus who said, (Luke 18:27)
“What is impossible with man is possible with God.”