In recent months it’s been easy to get caught up in the mire of political controversy, corruption, and hostility. It seems lately that every conversation inevitably turns to grousing about our government and pontificating about the way things should have been handled. I get swept up in these debates too with my own strong views. But I find it all very distracting and discouraging.
My wife reminded me also that engaging in such controversial debates polarizes our society and destroys relationships. Perhaps not since the Civil War has our country been so divided in its views and stand on issues. To bring this down to a personal level, when we argue and draw a line in the sand with friends and family who disagree with us, we damage those relationships and cause divisions.
Yesterday, the Lord reminded me of something that challenged me in this regard. I spent seven years of my adult life living in foreign countries (both Germany and Austria). While we were living overseas, I was keenly aware of the fact that I was living there as a guest rather than a citizen. And this awareness changed the way I viewed what was going on around me and how I reacted to it.
Much like here, citizens of my host countries were caught up in their political controversies too. They argued and debated, and lines of separation were drawn. However, since I had no vote in those countries, and since I knew that my citizenship resided elsewhere, I simply didn’t allow myself to get involved in those controversies and arguments. It was very freeing!
Staying clear of these debates saved me from having to take sides, which would have alienated me from many. It also lifted a heavy burden of stress off my shoulders. In this way, I was free to give my full attention to the purpose for which we were there—namely, to win people for Christ and help them deepen their relationship with Him. And by God’s grace, we were able to see people come to Christ and helped establish two churches in Austria that the Lord is still blessing today.
It’s very interesting to me that while Paul was in prison in Rome (and even though he was a Roman citizen), he wrote Philippians, one of the most joy-filled and positive letters in the New Testament. In chapter three he encourages his readers:
“Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. There mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior 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.” (Philippians 3:17-21)
Under the circumstances, if anyone had the right to grouse about injustice and the way he was being treated by the government, it was Paul. Yet, we see that he considered himself an alien. He was content in the fact that his citizenship was in heaven.
As a result, Paul was keenly focused on advancing the Gospel (1:12-14); exalting Christ in his body (1:20); helping others progress in their walk with Christ (1:25); being like-minded and loving others (2:2); knowing Christ more deeply (3:10); eagerly awaiting the coming of Christ (3:20); rejoicing in the Lord always and in all circumstances (4:4); not being anxious about anything (4:6); and being content in any and every circumstance (4:11).
And I think that one thing that helped him keep his attention so sharply focused on those noble goals was the fact that he recognized his citizenship was in heaven, not here on earth.
Paul wasn’t the only one who recognized this truth. Peter wrote, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11-12) (Check out Hebrews 11:13-16 too!)
How about it? What if we lived here like aliens and strangers, foreigners and exiles, knowing that our true citizenship is in heaven? What if we lived every day in anticipation of our coming King Jesus Christ? How would this alien-mindset change the way we live and speak? Let’s join too in following Paul’s example!