Right around the turn of the twentieth century my great-grandfather traveled to America from Italy. As the ship they were sailing on approached Ellis Island in New York City, the Statue of Liberty came into view. Those on deck seeing Lady Liberty off in the distance, as new immigrants excited to finally arrive in their new land, they started shouting in Italian with one loud voice, "Libertà, libertà!"
Citizenship is very important and it involves responsibility. It requires one to be loyal, to be committed. In Philippians, Paul reminds the church of their primary responsibility as citizens of God's kingdom which qualifies all claims of earthly citizenship. Only God's kingdom can rightfully claim our total and complete allegiance.
It is important to recognize that being a citizen of heaven does not mean something only for the heavenly realms. It is not a citizenship, as I heard one preacher say, that is so heavenly minded it does no earthly good. In the church, God's kingdom has establish a foothold in this world. When we pray the Lord's Prayer asking "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" we are asking God to bring something of heaven to earth. God has chosen to bring that slice of heaven through his people.
Paul contrasts the kind of earthly life that is not heavenly, not kingdom-oriented.
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.19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things (3:18-19).In chapter two, St. Paul exhorts the Philippians to follow the example of Jesus Christ who
though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross (2:6-8).These "enemies" whomever they may be, reflect a way of life completely opposed to the Christ they claim to follow-- the Christ who emptied himself for them, while they stuff themselves in self-centered living.
Paul reminds the Philippians that as citizens of heaven they are are to live as loyal citizens of that heavenly kingdom in the present. As they are encouraged to follow Paul's example who imitates Christ's life, so the Philippians are to imitate such examples and reflect the transformed character of God's heavenly kingdom. After all, they enjoy such heavenly citizenship in the here and now.
Christians are resident aliens in this world. Their God is on the move and they must be on the move as well.