Alfred Place Baptist Church

3:20-4:1 Citizenship and the Sovereign Saviour from heaven

Philippians 3:20 – 4:1 “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!”

I’m sure we would all agree that if we profess to be Christians then there ought to be something different about how we live our lives. Our behaviour, and our morality ought to display a certain consistency. There are grand people we know who never attend church from one year to the next, and our conduct should be at least match theirs. There are many reasons why it has to be like this, and so in the Bible there are continued exhortations reminding us of our high calling in Jesus Christ. There is very little interest in the New Testament in morality as such. The apostles never launched a campaign to build a better Roman empire; the thought never entered their minds. There is a totally different setting altogether to the New Testament concern for living and behaviour and conduct. Christians have to live in a certain way because they are partakers of a new life force whose origin is in the living God, and also because of the whole unavoidable destination and goal of their lives. They have a confident hope, and that motivates them to present behaviour. You will see in our text how both the status and the hope are the foundation for Paul’s exhortation to Christians to stand firm. Let us look at status, hope and the command.

1. THE CHRISTIAN HAS THE STATUS OF BEING A CITIZEN OF HEAVEN.

“But our citizenship is in heaven” (v.20). Now Paul is not saying that our citizenship will be in heaven. It is in heaven. The Christian congregation is a colony of heaven here and now. Our home is in glory, and here on earth we are an outpost of heaven’s citizens. The Englishman no longer talks about the ‘colonies’. England didn’t handle her American colony very well, and to be a colonialist is thought to one who looks down on people of a distant land as some inferior species. Some in Philippi thought like that about their relationship with Rome, but most people in this Greek city felt their status as a privileged colony of Rome to be enviable. That had come about in this strange way. About a hundred years before Paul arrived in Greece there had been a civil war in Rome following the death of Julius Caesar. Two generals had found themselves with thousands of soldiers stranded in northern Greece with nowhere to go and nothing to do. They weren’t going to march them back to Italy to add to the overcrowding and the unemployment, stirring up the nation again. So what they did was to give them land in and around Philippi where they married local girls and settled down: Rome made Philippi a colony, a politeuma, (that is the Greek word we have here) of Rome. Then other veterans from other armies joined them there, and by the time Paul had arrived in Philippi the city was well and truly Latinised. The colonists were generally proud of being Romans and they ordered the life of their city so that it matched the way things were done in Rome They brought Roman culture and rule to Greece. The town was treated as if the territory had been transplanted from Italy. Roman clothing, and fashions, and customs, and Romanesque architecture were all incorporated into the Philippian lifestyle. The inhabitants were living in Philippi in Greece, but they were citizens of Rome. There they lived the Roman life while miles of blue water separated them from their capital in Italy.

So Paul is seizing on that political relationship between this city and Rome which would be so familiar to the Philippians, and he’s using it as an illustration of the status of the Christian. He says similar things elsewhere about the status of the church: “Christ has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Cols. 1:13). This is our real position. As citizens of Great Britain and Northern Ireland we are also citizens of Christ’s kingdom. We live in two kingdoms. Paul says elsewhere something similar about our high status, that we are seated in the heavenlies in Christ. We sit in these pews aware that our faith is sometimes as fragile as a bruised reed, and that we are a bunch of sinners. But we remind ourselves that in Christ we are also sitting in the heavenlies now, surrounded by an innumerable company of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect, with the Lord Christ in our midst.

So Paul is not exhorting these Christians “Live a good life, better than those of the average person.” He is saying, “Live up to this status of yours.” That is his charge. Christians are citizens of heaven, people who are strangers and aliens in this world. They have become heaven’s citizens for this reason, because they have been born again and thus they’ve entered that kingdom. They are citizens by a divine birth. Regeneration has given them this entitlement.

I have a close friend who has lived in the USA for fifteen years. All his family, his wife and five children, are there and they have become totally assimilated into the American social scene, those children who are married have married Americans. “I have decided to apply for citizenship,” he has told me. “I won’t be coming back to live in Wales again. My children and grandchildren are all there, and that is where I’ll spend the rest of my life.” He is part of the draining away of Welsh preachers – which I have fought against more than most men. My friend is going through the legal process of applying for citizenship, filling in forms and questionnaires, enduring some medical examinations, being interrogated, and then taking the oath of allegiance and becoming a US citizen. You see the difference with our citizenship as Christians? We are citizens of heaven by means of the oath and covenant of Christ’s blood. He has earned for us this privilege. He has ended our alienation and conferred this membership upon us; he has given us this status; he has made us sons of God. The Christian is essentially different from the non-Christian who belongs to just one kingdom, that of this world.

“As Christian people, if we are worthy of the name, we are at this moment essentially different from those who are not Christians, not just a little bit better, not merely different on the surface, but different in our being as the result of the new birth. We have a new citizenship, we are in Christ, and because we are in Christ, we are seated in the heavenly places with him. Certain things will happen to us before we finally arrive in heaven, but our citizenship is as definite now as it will be then. There will be a physical translation when we die, but spiritually we are there already, we belong there” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Peace”, Studies in Philippians 3&4″, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1990, p.120). What are the implications of this?

i] We have a different head, a Sovereign Protector, unseen yet for ever at hand. In Philippi Caesar had established the imperial cult; Caesar the emperor was to be worshipped as saviour and lord. If things got difficult for these Roman colonists, if there was a local uprising, or if the barbarian tribes came south and besieged the city, or if a navy flotilla attacked the port then how would they handle it? Their hope would be in their emperor coming with his army to deliver his colony.

Jesus Christ is our Guardian and Shepherd King. He claims to have all authority in heaven and earth. He is the one in total control of our lives. When days of infamy come like that of September 11, when preachers are burnt at the stake, when the consultant breaks the bad news then on those days too Christ is head over all things to the church. In Medieval times men said that Edward the Black Prince never fought a battle which he didn’t win. They said of the Duke of Marlborough in the 19th century that here was a general who never besieged a city he didn’t take. Is Christ less successful? Can the grace of God fail to keep his blood-bought people? Are there powers that actually can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ? Will the Lord wring his hands in helplessness at what is going on here below? Impossible! The King guards his colony. And if you ask to what degree, then he tells us to the very hairs of our heads. Once Paul was in prison and a group of Jews made a vow to assassinate him. But Paul’s great King knew all about the plot. Christ arranged it that a nephew of Paul overheard the assassins and the Lord sent him scampering with the news to the Roman commander who immediately despatched Paul under escort to another place.

What a King we have. I read this week of the experience of a Christian interpreter in Viet Nam named Hien Pham who in the 1970s had worked with many preachers visiting the country. Shortly after the South was taken over by the communists Hien was imprisoned and spent a long time away from any Christian influence. He was given the task of cleaning the prison latrines and there he came across some toilet paper. It consisted of some pages torn from a New Testament. The power of those truths were used by God to keep him trusting in Christ through the prison years, and then, after he was released the Lord kept him safe on a leaky old ship sailing through storms to Thailand. Hien Pham is a Christian businessman in the USA today because of his powerful King in heaven.

Christians live in a different way because of their allegiance to the Lord Jesus. They may begin each day saying, “King of my life I crown Thee now.” They are conscious that their lives are dominated by God, and their first concern is to please him who in all things is working for their good and protection. So we have a different head.

ii] Because our citizenship is in heaven we run our loves by heaven’s laws. When we pray we say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We want this little Christian colony to reflect our membership of the kingdom of heaven. We are an alternative society to the world around us. We are a community that has come down from glory and we are functioning by heaven’s rules. They all love one another in heaven. They don’t bear any grudges against another. The angels don’t talk behind their backs about how silly some of the other angels are. There is no resentment, no bitterness, no unkindness, no loveless words in heaven, and here on earth we Christians are a colony of that place. That is the lifestyle we admire; that is the wisdom we want to tell people about. Our homes and lives reflect how they behave in Immanuel’s land.

Remember the faith of the Shunammite woman who had prepared a room for Elisha? One day her child grew ill and died, but when Elisha sent Gehazi on ahead to inquire, “Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?” the woman replied, “Everything is all right” (2 Kings 4:26). Her life was a reflection of how the saints in heaven behave. We would not exchange the will of God in how he deals with us or with those we love for ten million pounds. There was once a very simple Christian called Tom Potter. Philip Doddridge writes about him in the life of Colonel Gardiner. Tom Potter had a wonderful grasp of Scripture and he walked in the Spirit. One day a young couple came to him and told him that they were getting married soon and they asked him if he had a verse for them. “Yes,” he said, “the very verse: Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” They were quite puzzled at this choice of verse, but before the wedding day one of them was taken ill and died, and then the other had to know the power of those words, “Be still and know that I am God.”

In heaven everyone knows that Christ is the Sovereign God, and that he works all things after the counsel of his own will. If we asked one of them how things were being done in heaven every single one of them would say, “Everything is all right.” Those who are in heaven are not complaining about God’s will; they are not bitter or plaintive or self-pitying. Every single one of them is still and accepts God’s will, and that is how we must live on earth. All that Jesus says about the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 5, 6 and 7, and all that Paul writes about it in Romans 12 we actually seek to do. We run our lives by heaven’s laws. We live our lives below submitting to God’s good and acceptable and perfect will as they do in heaven. Remember how Nelson sent the message up in flags for all his fleet to read before the battle of Trafalger: “England expects every man this day will do his duty.” So heaven expects us to do our duty here on earth. We live by heaven’s standards.

iii] As citizens we have access to our rulers. The citizens of Philippi had certain privileges. They had some part to play in the government of their city. They had two consuls in Rome and a body of men called ‘lictors’ who represented Philippi in the imperial city. They spoke up for Philippi before the Emperor. They could have an audience with him and tell him of the situation in this colony of his what were their needs and so on. They had such rights as citizens of Rome.

Our citizenship is in heaven and so we have rights before the throne of heaven. We have boldness to go to our glorious King and have an audience with him. We can come right into his presence. The consuls in Rome had to be very careful when they approached their Emperor, but our Emperor is also our father and we can run into his presence and take our petitions to him, and they are huge petitions! But we know we can never ask too much from him. If you can think it he can do it. “Lord change the world. Do things beyond all I ask or think.” The Emperor in Rome was hard pressed by the constant procession of ambassadors, consuls, generals, chancellors and politicians continually coming to him. But the youngest Christian and the most back-slidden citizen of heaven, can have boldness to come right up to the King of love who is our Shepherd and can pour out his heart to him, and God listens as though there were no one else in all the world he had to pay any attention to but ourselves. So we have access to our great Ruler.

iv] As citizens we will experience admonition and chastening if we fail to submit to our rulers. The Jews of Thessalonica stirred up a mob and started a riot in the city at the preaching of Paul. They said of the early missionaries, “They are defying Caesar’s decrees, saying there is another king, one called Jesus’ (Acts 17:7). It cause turmoil and fear especially among the city officials. They were afraid the Romans would send in a regiment or levy a heavy fine. Being in the Empire brought responsibilities. If Caesar heard that there were riots in Egypt or Assyria or the Barbarian tribes then he was delighted. They were not his colonies or in his empire. Let them fall out with one another, he lost no sleep over that, but if revolution happened in his dominion then swords flashed.

So it is with all the citizens of heaven; the Lord loves them and if they continue to defy God by persistent unheavenly behaviour then the Lord will chasten them because they are his citizens and he will hold them responsible. He has not only given them his laws he has given them power to obey his laws, so that they are without excuse for their defiance. The Lord chastens as reluctantly as any earthly parent. He waits so patiently for them to come to their senses. He gives them opportunities to repent. He brings them messages and warnings and entreaties. He takes every fact into consideration before he will chasten them, but in the end this is what he will do. Remember how it was with the church at Laodicea, they had become lukewarm and they were saying they were rich and needed nothing, and the Lord addresses them and says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (Rev. 3:19). That is how God deals with all the citizens of heaven. What grace! That he takes time and trouble with us. He does so for our good, to make us stronger, more useful and happier people!

Our citizenship is in heaven, and the test of a true Christian is that he lives by faith in that truth. He sets his affection on those things above. That is what he boasts about and longs for

“Jerusalem, my happy home,
Name ever dear to me!
When shall my labours have an end,
In joy and peace and Thee?” (Joseph Bromehead, 1748-1826).

Times can come into the life of the Christian when our citizenship in heaven becomes overwhelmingly certain and clear to us. We may be given great assurance that we are citizens of that blessed place. John Bunyan writes of such times as ‘dwelling in Beulah land’, and he describes the pilgrims passing through such a time. It was there that they heard continually “the singing of birds” (Song 2:12) and every day they were seeing flowers blooming on the earth, and they could hear the voice of the turtle dove in the land. Bunyan is describing Christians who have strong faith, living hope and high assurance, to whom heaven is becoming overwhelmingly real. Bunyan says how far Beulah land was from the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and out of the reach of Giant Despair. They couldn’t even see the high towers of Doubting Castle from there, but they had these wonderful foretastes of heaven. Bunyan says, “The reflection of the sun upon the city (for the city was pure gold), was so extremely glorious that they could not as yet with open face behold it.”

During the last days of Edmund Payson, he once said: “When I formerly read Bunyan’s description of the land of Beulah, where the sun shines and the birds sing day and night, I used to doubt whether there was such a place; but now my own experience has convinced me of it, and it transcends all my previous conceptions.” Payson dictated a letter to his sister a few weeks before his death. He wrote, “Were I to adopt the figurative language of Bunyan, I might date this letter ‘from the Land of Beulah’, of which I have been for some weeks a happy inhabitant. The Celestial City is full in my view. Its glories have been upon me, its breezes fan me, its odours are wafted to me, its sounds strike upon my ears, and its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the river of death, which now appears but as an insignificant rill that may be crossed at a single step, whenever God shall give permission. The Sun of Righteousness has been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as he approached, and now he fills the whole hemisphere; pouring forth a flood of glory, in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun, exulting, yet almost trembling, while I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wondering with unutterable wonder why God should deign thus to shine upon a sinful worm.” Payson was a citizen of heaven enjoying full assurance of faith.

It is that kind of living, created and sustained by our status as citizens of heaven that makes us live different lives in this world. We are citizens of the world to come, only temporarily passing through this world. Only the gospel received into our lives can make people live like that. Morality, and exhortations to love one another, can’t create such godliness. When Rolfe Barnard was preaching in Chattanooga a bank manager came to hear him preach. Though he had gone to church all his life he had no living relationship with Jesus Christ, but when his heart was opened under Rolfe’s preaching he went through agonies of conviction until the Lord gave him peace. So then he asked Rolfe Barnard whether he should tell the people in the bank the next day that he had become a Christian. “No,” said Rolfe, “don’t tell anyone.” A few days later, after the evening service was over, he came up to Rolfe and he gave him a hug. “Let me tell you what happened today,” he said. “My private secretary has been with me for over thirty years. As I was dictating to her, her eyes brimmed with tears. She got to where she couldn’t see what she was writing. She said, ‘I just can’t do the work today,’ I said, ‘Is there anything troubling you?’ She said, ‘Yes. Could I ask you a question? What’s happened to you?'” His life was new, and godly. Salvation had made him a citizen of heaven, and it showed in his life.

2. THE CHRISTIAN HAS THE HOPE OF HIS LORD RETURNING FROM HEAVEN.

These citizens of heaven are a hopeful crowd. They are looking ahead to the future with eager anticipation. Heaven is not a remote place. Paul tells the Philippians, “we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (v.21). The certainty of heaven was very real for Paul. He had an eager expectation that one day its gates would open and his Saviour would come forth. Let us ask three questions:

i] Who is he? A Saviour. Who is coming to us from heaven? Not simply God in his nature as just and righteous and holy. Not the one who is the consuming fire. He is all of that, but who will look forward to so awesome and august a one appearing? Who can dwell in the eternal burnings? He who is coming to us is coming as a Saviour. Paul spells out his name and titles; first, he is the Lord, Paul says. Caesar claimed to be lord, but here is a greater one that Caesar. He is Jehovah Jesus. Being Lord means ownership, having absolute dominion. Being Lord means the authority of the eternal teacher from heaven. Being Lord mean kingship, the imperium is his, but it was not limited as Caesar’s was to Europe and a little part of Asia. Our Lord rules from the east to the west with illimitable sway; he has cosmic authority over the entire universe.

Then he is the Lord Jesus. His name ‘Jesus’ means ‘Jehovah saves’. So it is not only the man, Jesus of Nazareth, who is coming from heaven, it is certainly that, but it is the Jesus the God man who became the great Saviour of his people whom we await. To save is an exclusively divine action. God alone can save. And then, he is the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, the one anointed and set apart by God to be his mouthpiece and give the final word, as God’s appointed mediator, and our great protector. This Saviour is coming from heaven. It is not that at the end his memory is going to be revived in the greatest of all revivals. No. It is not that his Spirit is going to be poured out on the earth. No. He is personally returning to this world which he once visited personally two thousand years ago. But this time his return will be in glory. The first advent was a real presence, but it was in lowliness and humiliation. He came in obscurity, incognito. He came in hiddenness, in anonymity. He came into poverty, homelessness, oppression, lowliness and weakness. He came into pain, shame, dishonour, rejection, death on the cross. He came as the great Nobody, the one who looked just like any man, utterly human, a servant. “But when he returns he will return in the glory of the blessed God. He will look like he is. He will look like the world’s Saviour. He will look like God. He will come with the doxa, the form, the splendour, the majesty, of God himself. He will come in all the paraphernalia of deity. He will come in the form that he had for a moment on the Mount of Transfiguration. He will come in the kind of glory with which Jehovah came to Mount Sinai in the days of Moses. He will come in the splendour with which Isaiah saw him in Isaiah 6. He will come with all the accoutrements of deity. He will come ‘in the clouds of heaven’; he will come with the holy angels. He will come with his glorified church. He will come with the voice of the trumpet that awakens the dead. He will come to the accompaniment of events such as were never seen since the first dawn of creation: the resurrection of the dead, the great judgment and the re-formation of heaven and earth” (Donald MacLeod, “A Faith to Live By”, Christian Focus, Fearn, 1998, p.262). This is the one whom the citizens of heaven on earth eagerly await.

ii] What will he do? He “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (v.21). Job’s hope will one day be realised, that his Redeemer will stand in the latter day on the earth and though worms destroy his body yet in his flesh Job was going to see God. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the assurance to us that this will be so. Our bodies are indeed lowly. You see a man with a disease which attacks his muscles so that he cannot move and finds it difficult to swallow, and finally even to breathe – “lowly bodies”! You see an old person who is barely capable of holding a feeding cup with both her hands – “lowly bodies”! You see a body preserved for a thousand years in a glacier or in a peat bog, and it is leathery and puppet-like – “lowly bodies”! You imagine a martyred body chained to a stake and burned to ashes – “lowly bodies”! But those bodies are going to be gloriously transformed, “so that they will be like Christ’s glorious body” (v.21). Think of the ascension body of Jesus, the kind of body Saul saw on the road to Damascus; the glory that John saw on Patmos; what Peter, James and John saw on the Mount of Transfiguration. Brilliant brilliant light. God is light. Light is the original basic form of energy and the resurrection body is described so often in terms of light; bodies so luminous, so splendid, so light-bearing, so majestic that in them the glory of God himself is seen.

Those ashes of the martyr will bear the same relationship to that glorious body as seed that is sown bears to the standing corn. The ultimate project is so unlike the seminal entity, and yet there is the closest possible organic identity – that is Paul’s comment in I Corinthians 15:35. It is the same organism in a different form. It is the developed, germinated seed. The resurrection body may be as different from the body we bury or cremate as the standing corn is from the seed corn.

Think of the parallels from other parts of our Christian life. Think of Saul of Tarsus before and after conversion, so different and yet the same man. Think of the converted drunk, the addict, the derelict who is the same person with the same name, the same DNA identity – there is continuity – and yet what a transformation! He is so very different. Paul can say, “I live, yet no longer I.” Then the change in our bodies will be as extraordinary as the change in our whole natures and psyches.

They will be transformed, Paul says. They will not longer be liable to disease, to weariness, to the whole geriatric collapse. They will not know corruption. They are going to have more energy, more physical capability, more stamina, more athleticism, more speed, more coordination, more durability than they have ever had, because in the world to come we are going to need our bodies more and use them more than ever. Heaven is going to be a physical universe; the saints are going to have physical bodies. They will be transformed by the Spirit of God, and so they are called spiritual bodies, in other words, bodies utterly dominated in every cell by the Spirit. The body will be imperishable, powerful and material; a fit organ for the purposes of the Holy Spirit. When the Lord said to his disciples, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” he was saying that their spirituality was hampered by their bodies. This will never happen in glory. Here we get heavy spirited, and downcast, weary in the Lord’s work, buckling under various pressures, cast down beyond measure, despairing even of life. That will never happen in glory. Our bodies will never have a detrimental effect on our devotional lives or in any way in which we will serve the Lord.

These new bodies will be like Christ’s glorious body. You remember the great argument Paul uses in his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter four, where he says that our current bodies are unable to bear the weight of glory but one day we will have bodies able to sustain that glory. The body of the Lord Jesus himself was transfigured and glorified, and our lowly bodies will be like his glorious body. Our bodies will reflect the glory of the God whose image we bear, bodies appropriate for service in the eternal presence of the living Jehovah.

iii] How is all this possible? The answer is very simple: “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control” (v.21). All the power for this lies totally outside of ourselves. There is no potential in us to work this transformation. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. We have no potential whatsoever of emerging from the grave. “It has no more capability, no more inherent energy, no more strength or capacity for action than a stone. It will by itself never rise. In this respect the seed corn analogy is just slightly dangerous. The seed contains the germ, but the dead body doesn’t contain a germ of life. How then is it going to rise? It will rise by the power of God. He has said to us, ‘I will do it, as surely as I made this world, as I made this body in the first place, I will one day raise the dead.'” (Donald MacLeod op cit p.278).

There are places in the Bible where the Father is spoken of as raising the dead, and the apostle Paul speaks of us being given life through God’s Spirit, but here we are told that it is the mighty Christ who is totally capable of doing this, “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control” (v.21). All his wisdom, and all his creativity, and all his love will be focused upon our mortal bodies and their resurrection. He has everything under his control, the sea, the earth, the sky, the elements, the atoms. There is nothing he does not know. The only limitation to his power and ability is his own will.

He is the means of our resurrection and he is the forensic cause of our resurrection. The kind of resurrection that is before us, a resurrection in glory, has been secured and will be determined by his great accomplishment on the cross. Our resurrection bodies will be as glorious as the obedience of God’s own Son deserves. Christ is the principle of the resurrection. To his body our souls and spirits and bodies are linked. Our dust is precious in his sight; not a particle will be overlooked by him. Death simply could not keep its grip on the Prince of Life. He is God the Son and he must live, and so too all who are joined to him must rise too. It would be inconceivable that those whom the God of the living has loved from eternity will stay dead while he raises their head and his Son. Death held Christ for a moment and then he rose. We too will be held for a moment and then our lowly bodies will be transformed. We die and we live again in union with our living head, the Saviour who is going to return from heaven. Then every need will be met. Every longing fulfilled. Every goal is achieved. Every sense is satisfied. We see him. We are with him. He holds us and hugs us and whispers, ‘This is for ever.’ That is the great hope and confidence which every citizen of heaven now on earth enjoys. We eagerly await a Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ, who will accomplish all of this by his mighty power.

3. THE CHRISTIAN MUST THEN DISPLAY DETERMINED RESOLUTION.

“Therefore, my brothers, you whom I long and love for, my joy and crown, this is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (Phils. 4:1). Just this exhortation – “Stand firm!” Consider your status as citizens of heaven and stand firm! Consider your inevitable destination and stand firm. No wavering. No backsliding. No compromise. The dead fish gets taken downstream with the current. The live fish can fight against the current and press on higher and higher. We labour in the face of killing apathy. We shed blood and sweat and toil just to stand on the same spot, just to see the congregation not shrinking. We are often frustrated with the church that will not do what we know has to be done and what we want done. Stand firm citizens of heaven! God is going to transform our lowly bodies and make them like his glorious body. Stand firm in the Lord. It is not by will power and grim determination you hang on. No, it is standing firm in the Lord, that is joined to him, receiving strength and grace from him day by day. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

How can such exhortations make a difference? There is surely power in the word, and we get wisdom as to how then we should live. But especially so if they come winged with love. Listen to Paul address them, “my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown . . . dear friends” (4:1). This is not the voice of a sergeant-major on the parade ground bawling out, “Stand firm!!” This is the voice of the mother who gave herself selflessly for you, giving her final charge to you. Don’t give up, and don’t despair. Stand firm! There is a great work to do. You citizens of heaven are the light of the world. Go and gather God’s elect. Be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. “That is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!”

2nd March 2003 GEOFF THOMAS