(my Lenten discipline this year is to write a short devotion, without extra editing or excessive thought, on the coming Sunday's lectionary texts for each of the 40 days. Later I might go through and edit/rewrite, but for now these are first thoughts.)
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be confirmed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Citizenship in heaven. Sounds pretty great, right? It must be better than earthly citizenship. My American citizenship comes with a lot of rights and privileges—voting, driving, purchasing power…and extensive travel privileges as well. Imagine what heavenly citizenship must entail!
Glory, transformation, power…but it seems that Paul has in mind here not privileges but responsibilities. Apparently, citizenship in heaven means living according to the example set by Paul and his other communities. It means living differently, setting our minds not on earthly things, not allowing our bellies to be our gods.
It doesn’t sound like the problems of the church have changed much in the past dozen centuries or so…the culture still proclaims the belly as god (or money, or power…), still encourages us to look away from heaven at all the earthly goodies and the prestige we can find right here. And Paul still sits here and encourages us to look somewhere else—to the cross. Yes, we live on earth but our citizenship, along with our rights, privileges, and responsibilities, are elsewhere. So we live differently, following the Way of the Lord, standing firm.
Paul doesn’t say here what that Way is, but from his other writing we can infer that we shouldn’t be indulging our appetites unhealthily, we shouldn’t be placing stumbling blocks to the faith of others, we should help out other people, contribute to the needs of the saints, and we should be praying continually. Right after this Paul exhorts his listeners to rejoice in the Lord always. That sounds pretty different from the way the world works. Heavenly citizenship can be hard work!
Gracious God, we sometimes get so caught up in our everyday earthly lives that we forget where our real citizenship lies. Make us mindful of the rights and privileges we enjoy with our earthly citizenship, and make us mindful also of the responsibilities that come with the citizenship in your kingdom. Strengthen and encourage us to follow you, to stand firm, and to serve your people. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.