Our Citizenship Is In Heaven
June 9th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
FOR OUR CITIZENSHIP IS IN HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-9-57 10:50 a.m.
You’re sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message in the third chapter of the Book of Philippians. The text is in the twentieth verse, and the text is the title of the message: For Our Citizenship is in Heaven. And the reading of the passage in the third chapter of Philippians, the twentieth verse:
For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall change our body of humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.
Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.
Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
[Philippians 3:20-4:1, 5]
There are two things in the passage, and it was impossible for me to encompass both of them in the sermon this morning, so I divided it in two. The two things that are in this text is our commonwealth – our citizenship, our heavenly kingdom, our home – and the other is the looking for the Lord Jesus Christ "who shall change our body of humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto His own glorious body . . . the Lord is at hand" [Philippians 3:21, 4:5]. So I’ve divided the two things.
First, this morning, we are to speak of our heavenly citizenship; and then the sermon tonight is on the great expectation: "From whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ . . . Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand" [Philippians 3:20, 4:5]. So this morning, it’s of our heavenly kingdom, and tonight of the great expectation from whence we are looking for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, before we begin, we have to know what Paul said. The King James Version, which is the Bible that I always use – the Bible that I ask our people to bring to the house of the Lord – – the Authorized Version translates this: "For our conversation is in heaven . . . " [Philippians 3:20]. That was an old-time 1611 word meaning "our manner of life." But the actual reference there is to something a little different.
The Greek word for "to be a citizen" is politeuo; and the Greek word for "a citizen" was politeia. The Greek word that is used here is politeuma, and the word politeuma – "For our politeuma is in heaven" [Philippians 3:20] – the word can be translated "citizenship." That’s the word by which it is translated in the American Revised Version. Over in the margin it says "commonwealth."
Actually, the word means "commonwealth." Our commonwealth is in heaven; our state is in heaven. You’ll get a good idea of the meaning of the word from this passage from Plato’s Republic. Plato’s [Plato, c. 424-347 BCE] ideal republic was, of course, a heavenly republic. And Plato says, and I quote from him:
That city of which we are the founders, and which exists in idea only; for I do not believe that there is such an one anywhere on earth?
In heaven . . . there is laid up the pattern of it, methinks, which he who desires may behold, and beholding, may settle himself there.
[from Republic, Book IX, by Plato, c. 380 BCE]
Now that’s exactly the word and the idea that Paul uses here. "For our politeuma – our commonwealth, our state, our citizenship – is in heaven."
He uses an unusual word there for "is." The Greek word for "is" is esten – just common word "is." But he uses an unusual word, huparchei, "from" – actually means "from old, from of old, from long ago." Our commonwealth is not a thing just newly created or an afterthought of God, but it is the great eternal abiding place that God hath prepared for those who love Him. From everlasting to everlasting, our commonwealth is an eternal kingdom. It’s not something that lives today and dies for tomorrow: the glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome, the glory and fame of a Nineveh, or a Tyre, or a Sidon. But this kingdom is one in God’s destiny and God’s plan from everlasting to everlasting – "from of old." Our commonwealth is in heaven. Our citizenship is up there.
Now, there was an unusually pertinent reason for Paul writing that to the Christians at Philippi. There were many Roman colonies that are referred to in the New Testament. For example, Corinth was a Roman colony. Ptolemais was; Pisidian Antioch was; Lystra was; Syracuse was. There are many Roman colonies referred to in the New Testament, but there’s only one that is called such – one designated as such. In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, in the second missionary journey: "And loosing from Troas" – ancient Troy – "we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis; and from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony" [Acts 16:11-12] – and a Roman colony. It’s the only one that is designated as such.
And when Luke says it is the chief city of that district of Macedonia, he means it was a colony – the great chief city of Macedonia. And the largest was Thessalonica which is a great city today called Salonika or Salonika. Even Antipolis was larger than Philippi, but this city was an unusual city. It was a Roman colony.
A Roman colony was made by at least about three hundred Roman citizens, and usually they were veterans of the Roman legion. They went out from Rome, usually with a stipend, with a pension, after they’d fought their Gaelic Wars, or Punic Wars, or Asian Wars. There would be at least about three hundred of them go out into a place in the Roman Empire that was given to them by the Caesar. And there they would build a little model Rome, a little Imperial Rome, modeled exactly after the great capital city. And they were proud of their citizenship.
Those colonies were placed all around in the Roman Empire, and the people around them were just hoi polloi. They were just heathen – just barbarians, provincials. But they were Roman citizens, and especially was Philippi – Philippians, the Philippians – proud of their citizenship. Right on the plain, just hard-pressed next it, was fought the great Battle of Philippi [42 BCE] between Anthony [Mark Antony, 83-30 BCE] and Octavius Augustus Caesar [63 BCE – 14 CE] on one side, and the forces of the Republic under Brutus [Marcus Junius Brutus, 85-42 BCE] and Cassius [Gaius Cassius Longinus, 85-42 BCE] on the other side.
And as you know, Augustus Caesar won it and gave to this colony unusual privileges and great distinction. So, when he [Paul] wrote to Philippi, he wrote to a people who were unusually proud of their citizenship. They were Roman citizens. And it has a double meaning when he uses that word to say: "For our commonwealth, our citizenship, is in heaven" [Philippians 3:20]. If I could use the language of the eleventh of Hebrews:
We are strangers and sojourners; we are pilgrims here.
Here we have no continuing city. We seek one which is to come.
[from Hebrews 11:13,13:14]
Our faces are turned toward a heavenly land, a commonwealth, a state that is in heaven. By that we do not mean that we are not also identified with this world – that we are not subject to all the vicissitudes and fortunes by which all of our fellow creatures live in this life. If we have the ravages of war again, we are in danger. If there stalks pestilence in our midst, we are liable. If there is famine that stalks through the land, we go hungry. We are subject to the same clime: the cold of the winter, the heat of the summer, the laws of our republic, the society and organization in which our lives are inextricably cast. It is not that we deny that we are in this world – that we share in it and we pray to be a blessing to it. It is just that God says that our home and our state and our commonwealth and our future and our destiny are not here. It is in heaven.
There is as great – or ought to be – as great a difference between the denizens of this world and the citizens of heaven as there is between a soaring seraph and a carrion vulture. The sheep of God’s pasture ought to be different, and is, from the wolf of the world. There is a difference between heaven and hell, between eternal life and eternal destruction.
God said in the twelfth chapter – in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Exodus to Moses: "You will know this night how that God puts a difference between the children of Egypt and the children of Israel" [from Exodus 11:7]. There is a difference between the citizens of God’s commonwealth and the denizens of this world.
For one thing, the citizens of heaven and the subjects of the Lord God are not to pant after and to seek for the cheap plaudits and approval and praise of this world. Our Lord said: "Woe unto you, when all men speak well of you" [Luke 6:26]. When you hear the world praising a child of God and a servant of Jesus, then there’s something wrong with the servant of the Lord Christ. When Socrates [d. 399 BCE] heard a man praising him who was a rascal and a villain, Socrates stood still and said, "What have I done wrong that yonder villain should praise me?"
Moses . . . refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God . . .
Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt . . .
[from Hebrews 11:24-26]
We are not, I say, to seek the approval, and the praise, and the cheap plaudits of this world [Matthew 6:1-6]. Our citizenship is in heaven [Philippians 3:20].
Again, we are not to treasure up and to hoard for ourselves the treasures of this world. Our Master said: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures in earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . " [Matthew 6:19-20]
In my reading this week, I came across an unusual thing. A poor English pastor went to see a rich English merchant man to ask him for a gift for a little chapel that he was building. And the man was generous. He wrote out a check for fifty pounds and gave it to the pastor for his chapel. And as the pastor, with gladness, went outside toward the door with the check in his hand, a message was relayed to the rich merchant man that he had just lost a ship and six thousand pounds. The merchant man lifted up his voice and called to the English pastor, "Wait a minute, sir! I’ve just received terrible news. I have lost six thousand pounds."
The pastor returned, and, taking the check, offered it to the rich merchant man thinking that meant he’d receive nothing. The rich merchant man took the check back and tore it up and then wrote out another one for five hundred pounds and said to the astonished pastor, "Sir, when my money can disappear so rapidly and so fast, I must immediately put some of it in the bank of heaven."
When I was at Baylor [Baylor University], there had been in Beaumont [Beaumont, Texas] a rich man by the name of George Carroll. And the courses in science that I studied were in a hall named George Carroll Science Hall. He was a rich man in Beaumont – in the providences of life, lost everything that he had. And he came down there and stood on the Baylor campus, and, with a gesture, pointed toward that building and said, "All that I have is what I have given away."
We are citizens of God’s Kingdom. Our commonwealth is in heaven. And what God gives us – some of us little, some of us more – but what God gives us, we are to devote to that heavenly enterprise. We’re to give it to God. We’re to use it for the Lord. Our commonwealth is in heaven, and we’re not to treasure up here as though this were our abiding home which leads me to the next avowal: our life is not to be lived as though this were our home. Our Lord said to Pontius Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world" [John 18:36]. And our Lord had just said to His own disciples: "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" [John 14:2-3].
We have a home here of a kind, but our real home is in heaven. We have a family circle here of a kind, but our real family circle is in heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. We have a fellowship here of a kind, broken and dissolving, but our real fellowship is in heaven. We have a body here, a house made out of dust and of clay that ages, subject to all the ills this world is heir to, but our real house is made without hands, eternal in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1].
In no wise and in no thing and in no way in your house, or in your home, or in your family, or in your life, or even in this body, are you to think that this is our commonwealth, this is our state, this is our fellowship, this is our home, this is our family [Hebrews 11:14-16]. These are in heaven, and our circles of family and friend are gathering home in glory. They are dissolving here. If the circle of your family is not broken yet, tomorrow it will be. If you have not bowed your head and wept by an open grave, tomorrow you shall. All of these treasures, and loves, and hopes are a dissolving thing in this life. Our abiding place is in glory. We are citizens of a kingdom that is yet to come [Philippians 3:20].
And now, may I say some things of what it is, having spoken of what it is not? We are not to live in this world as though we belonged here. We’re pilgrims here; we’re sojourners here [Hebrews 11:13]. We’re not to grasp as though all things were forever ours here [Philippians 3:7-8]. We’re not to live as though this life were our life here. But there are some great and wonderful things that belong to us, and that characterize us, we who are children of the King, citizens of heaven, whose commonwealth is in glory.
Here’s one thing. We belong to a heavenly government, and we live under Christ the King – they there, we here. There may be some things that are permissible to people who are of the world, but they are not permissible to us [1 Peter 2:11] – things that they can go to, things that they can share, things that they can do, and the world thinks nothing, thinks nothing of it. But we are citizens of another Kingdom, and we are governed by laws of another realm [Matthew 5:17-48].
There are things that we do they don’t think of doing [1 Corinthians 16:2], not interested in sharing. There are things that we love, places that we go [Hebrews 10:25]. I marvel at people who live in the city of Dallas by the thousands and the thousands and never go to church – never darken the door of God’s house – and today, dressed in old clothes, lying under a tree somewhere, riding in an automobile, sitting on the bank of a creek or there at home wasting God’s precious hour away, and never feel it, never miss it, never think of it.
Somebody this week had missed the services last Sunday because of an illness in the home and that blessed member said, "Oh, seems like the whole week has been wrong. I missed going to church last Sunday." We belong to another world, to another Kingdom, to another commonwealth; and we’re governed by different laws, and we live under a different Ruler: Christ our King.
We are citizens of a commonwealth in which our names are all entered into a common register [Revelation 20:15]; they there and we here. In that book: John’s name, and Paul’s name, and Simon Peter’s name. And in that book: Isaiah’s name, David’s name, Jonathan’s name. And in that book: Jacob’s name, and Isaac’s name, and Abraham’s name. And in that book: Abel’s name, and Adam’s name, and your name. We belong to that heavenly kingdom. Our names are in that roll and register, the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 21:27].
And we share the divine honors of glory: we are of the blood and seed royal [1 Peter 1:18-19, 2:9]; angels are our ministers [Hebrews 1:13-14]. The saints are our companions [Philippians 1:3-5; 1 John 1:7]. Jesus is our elder brother [Hebrews 2:11-15], and God is our Father [Romans 8:15], and our reward is an amaranthine crown of immortality that never fades away [1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Peter 5:4]. And we share in the eternal posessions of glory – they there and we here.
That old song that sometimes they say is a Southern Baptist national anthem is still one of the best songs in the book. And if you have ever heard an old congregation, an old Baptist, an old Primitive Baptist congregation sing it, and they do it in a minor key, and hear those old people as they softly, fervently, movingly, and many times with tears, sing that song:
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wistful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land, –
and what does it say? –
Where my possessions lie. –
not here, but over there –
All o’er those vast extended plains
Shines one eternal day;
There God the Son forever reigns,
And scatters night away –
over there, over there –
["On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand," by Samuel Stennett, c. 1787]
And ours is the New Jerusalem, the city of God, ours and theirs [Revelation 21:1-2]. And ours are the gates of pearl, theirs and ours [Revelation 21:21]. And ours is the azure light that needs no candle or light of the sun or of the stars [Revelation 21:23, 22:8]. And ours is the tree of life that grows by the beautiful river and that leaves are for the healing of the nations, and the twelve manner of fruits are for the sustenance of us who shall eat and live forever [Revelation 22:2]. Oh, the glories God hath in that beautiful kingdom, and all of them are ours. Everything is ours, and we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s, and God hath promised it unto us [1 Corinthians 3:21-23]. And we share the divine grace and happiness and glory just as they do.
We’re not going to be in that kingdom. We’re in it now [Colossians 1:12-13]. It’s not a commonwealth we shall finally inherit. It is ours now. Do they rejoice in Christ their Savior? So do we. Do they love to hear the words of grace and of salvation? So do we. Do they sing, "Worthy is the Lamb"? [Revelation 5:12] So do we. Do they cast down their golden crowns at His blessed feet? [Revelation 4:10] What honors we have, little as they are, we would feign lay them at our Lord’s blessed feet. Do they rejoice in heaven when sinners are saved? [Luke 15:7] So do we. Are they glad when people come down that aisle? So are we. Do they have sweet communion, blessed? So do we; a commonwealth, a commonwealth – one commonwealth, they in heaven and we here in the earth [Hebrews 12:1].
And one last thing: our hearts and our loves and our prayers and our desires are toward that beautiful home and that heavenly land. Maybe if you’re young and so engrossed with all of the wild, wonderful, joyous things of this living, you don’t think much of it. But by and by, by and by, the day will come when more, and more, and more, you’ll begin thinking of that beautiful land.
I mentioned to you a few months ago, after I came back from seeing my mother, I mentioned to you she, altogether unconscious of it, not knowing what she was saying and how oft she repeated, but again and again and again and again at the breakfast table, in our devotion at night, going downtown together, seated there in the living room – every day, several times a day, unconsciously to her, she would bring up something about over yonder: how it’s going to be, what will we be like, and in what house shall we live.
That is the way it ought to be. If I were going to take a long journey, wouldn’t I be interested? What shall it be like? What shall I see? Who are the people there? What is the city like and the land and the country? Why we’re that way just taking a journey across to Europe or across to Asia. How much more so when we reach that place in our life when we think of that last journey?
You know, when I was a boy and was pastoring my people, when the older people of my congregation would bring up subjects like that, I’d immediately try to turn it. I’d immediately try to change it. I thought that was morose. I thought they ought not to think on things like that. How foolish! That’s inexperience; that’s youth.
Now that I’ve been a pastor for thirty years, I can see. These people who come to the end of life’s way and they have lived full through the years, why, they love to hear about that other land, and what it’s going to be like, and what if mother is gone and father is gone and son is gone and daughter is gone and loved one is gone, husband’s gone, wife’s gone, friends are gone? Why, it’s so normal. It’s so natural.
Tell me about that beautiful land,
The faraway home of the soul,
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand,
While the years of eternity roll . . .
Oh, how sweet it will be in that beautiful land,
So free from all sorrow and pain,
With songs on our lips and with harps in our hands,
To greet one another again . . .
[from "Home of the Soul," by Ellen H. Gates, 1865]
I say, if it is not true now, some day it’ll be true. Our hopes are all built in the promises of God, and our prayers, and our loves, and our desires will all be over there, looking to that heavenly home, our commonwealth in heaven.
May I speak just a moment of that, then I’ll quit? I said a while ago that I thought it was natural, normal, to be that way – that I’d changed my mind from the day when I was a youth. I’ve changed my mind. I say it is natural and normal, and reasonable, and rational for a child of God to have his heart in heaven, to love that country [Philippians 1:23].
When Daniel prayed, he opened his window three times a day and knelt and prayed toward Jerusalem [Daniel 6:10]. His heart was there. His prayers were there – praying toward Jerusalem. In the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm, the cry of the children in captivity: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I remember not thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy" [Psalm 137:5, 6] – away from home and thinking of home.
Two of the most beautiful poems in our language are written by two of our sweetest poets, English poets, away from home. One is by Robert Browning [1812-1889]. In his volume "Home Thoughts, From Abroad," here’s a first stanza:
Oh, to be in England now that April’s there
And whoever wakes in England sees, some morning unaware
That the lowest bows and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree trunk or in tiny leaf.
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bow
In England – now!
["Home-Thoughts, from Abroad," by Robert Browning, 1845]
And the other, Rupert Brooke [1887-1915], who was killed in the Second World War:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there is some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the sons of home.
["The Soldier," by Rupert Brooke, 1914]
I say that’s explicable and natural, thinking of home. And that’s what I say about our people when, in the providences of life, by and by begin to think of how it’ll be over there, and how will our children be there, and how will father be there, and how will it be mother there, and how will it be all of these whom we’ve loved here, how will it be there. And you think about it. And when life becomes a burden, and this body bends, then, O Lord, that God might give to me, even me, that inheritance.
You’re like some shipwrecked mariner. And on this island he’s saved a few things from the wreckage, but every morning, go down to the seashore and look over the vast expanse of the sea. "Maybe today," he says, "there’ll be a ship in sight." Maybe today, our Lord will come – maybe today. That’s God’s children. Our commonwealth is in heaven [Philippians 3:20]. Our citizenship is in glory. Our inheritance is over there [1 Peter 1:4], and we’re sojourners and pilgrims in the earth [Hebrews 11:13].
Now, I want us to sing – – I think we have a song about that beautiful land, don’t we? "In the Sweet By and By." And while we sing the song, somebody you give his heart to the Lord, put his life, put his days, put his hope, put his destiny, put his soul in the hands of Jesus. Would you come? A family of you put your life here in the church. As God should say the word and open the door, you come and stand by me while all of us stand and sing together.