The Politics of Gay Marriage (Citizens of heaven)

pogoNext, we need to consider some teachings of the Bible that we tend to ignore. You won’t find many sermon outlines based on these passages in Church of Christ sermon books — or in evangelical literature generally.

We begin with —

(Phil. 3:20-21 ESV)  20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,  21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. 

To grasp Paul’s meaning, we need to know a little history. Rome planted Roman colonies across the Empire. This was usually part of the pension given to a retired Roman soldier. A soldier might not be from Rome at all, but if he survived to retire, he’d be granted Roman citizenship and a plot of land in a Roman colony. Philippi was just such a colony.

If the colony was well placed, with good farmland and on a trade route or two, the town would prosper and people from all over the Empire might move there. But the oldest families would be retired Roman soldiers who receive their pensions and their land from Rome. And if there ever was an insurrection, the soldiers still had their swords and could be called into active duty, much like our Army Reserve. And the Romans knew how to train soldiers to kill. This was an Empire based on the ruthless assertion of governmental violence against all dissent.

Therefore, for Paul to declare Christians “citizens of heaven” is to declare their loyalty, their king, and their duties. N. T. Wright explains,

‘We are citizens of heaven,’ Paul declares in verse 20. At once many modern Christians misunderstand what he means. We naturally suppose he means ‘and so we’re waiting until we can go and live in heaven where we belong’. But that’s not what he says, and it’s certainly not what he means. If someone in Philippi said, ‘We are citizens of Rome,’ they certainly wouldn’t mean ‘so we’re looking forward to going to live there’. Being a colony works the other way round. The last thing the emperors wanted was a whole lot of colonists coming back to Rome. The capital was already overcrowded and underemployed. No: the task of the Roman citizen in a place like Philippi was to bring Roman culture and rule to northern Greece, to expand Roman influence there.

But supposing things got difficult for the Roman colonists in Philippi. Supposing there was a local rebellion, or an attack by the ‘barbarian’ tribes to the north. How would they cope? Their best hope would be that the emperor himself, who after all was called ‘saviour’, ‘rescuer’, would come from Rome to Philippi to change their present somewhat defenceless situation, defeat their enemies, and establish them as firmly and gloriously as Rome itself. The emperor, of course, was the ruler of the whole world, so he had the power to make all this happen under his authority.

That is the picture Paul has in mind in verses 20 and 21. The church is at present a colony of heaven, with the responsibility (as we say in the Lord’s Prayer) for bringing the life and rule of heaven to bear on earth. We are not, of course, very good at doing this; we often find ourselves weak and helpless, and our physical bodies themselves are growing old and tired, decaying and ready to die. But our hope is that the true saviour, the true Lord, King Jesus himself will come from heaven and change all that. He is going to transform the entire world so that it is full of his glory, full of the life and power of heaven. And, as part of that, he is going to transform our bodies so that they are like his glorious body, the body which was itself transformed after his cruel death so that it became wonderfully alive again with a life that death and decay could never touch again.

Knowing this will enable Christians to ‘stand firm in the Lord’ (4:1); and now we can see more clearly what that means. It doesn’t just mean remaining constant in faith. It means giving allegiance to Jesus, rather than to Caesar, as the true Lord. Paul has described the church, and its Lord, in such a way that the Philippians could hardly miss the allusion to Rome and Caesar. This is the greatest challenge of the letter: that the Christians in Philippi, whether or not they were themselves Roman citizens (some probably were, many probably weren’t), would think out what it means to give their primary allegiance not to Rome but to heaven, not to Caesar but to Jesus—and to trust that Jesus would in due time bring the life and rule of heaven to bear on the whole world, themselves included.

Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 126–127.

American Christians are under the delusion that our savior is the government. Why would I say such a thing? Because we things go badly, we want to fix it via the government. We want to elect the right representatives and president. We want the right court decisions issued. And if we could just get a filibuster-proof Senate and our preferred presidential candidate, our problems would be solved. And this is pagan, godless thinking.

Citizens of heaven recognize the Messiah as King, and they look to their King for salvation. And when things go wrong, it’s not a government problem but a failure of God’s citizens to be loyal soldiers.

But the benefit of thinking like pagans is that we get to blame others for the decadence of our society. If we admit that we were charged by God himself to help God heal the brokenness of the world by bringing the lost the Jesus and by serving those in need, well, we’d have some very guilty feelings to deal with. Far better to blame the Democrats. Or Republicans. Or people who didn’t vote. Or the Supreme Court. Anybody but us.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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12 Responses to The Politics of Gay Marriage (Citizens of heaven)

  1. Mark says:

    There once was a young boy in the hospital having attempted suicide. The Christian chaplain was called first who told the boy that God still loved him and was summarily dismissed. The chaplain then called the Catholic priest and he too told the boy that God loved him and was summarily dismissed. Seeing that nothing worked the priest called a rabbi and they passed in the hallway. The rabbi asked the priest what he had told the boy. The reply was that God loved him. Ok, said the rabbi, that seems reasonable but since you were dismissed I have to try something else. The rabbi walked in and the boy asked if (s)he too were going to tell him that God loved him to which the reply was “no”. The rabbi went on to say that maybe God doesn’t love you (the boy, knowing that God did love the boy but willing to try the reverse argument) but that God wanted him to accomplish something for him on Earth. The boy opened up and at least listened.
    Perhaps we all need to show the love of and represent God instead of trying to figure out how to blame someone else.

  2. JohnF says:

    The Priene inscription may be appropriate as background information (also makes a great introduction to a “Christmas” sermon, but a better one in the context above:

    It seemed good to the Greeks of Asia, in the opinion of the high priest Apollonius of Menophilus Azanitus: ‘Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior [sôtêr], both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance [phanein] (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him [êrxen de tôi kosmôi tôn di auton euangeliôn hê genethlios tou theou],’ which Asia resolved in Smyrna…
    The letter mentioned above from Fabius Maximus to the Provincial Assembly, recommending the lunar year being changed to the Julian calendar, commencing on the 23rd September, is as follows:
    “Decree of the Greek Assembly in the province of Asia, on motion of the High Priest Apolionios, son of Menophilos, of Aizanoi: whereas Providence that orders all our lives has in her display of concern and generosity in our behalf adorned our lives with the highest good: Augustus, whom she has filled with arête [virtue] for the benefit of humanity, and has in her beneficence granted us and those who will come after us [a Saviour (σωτῆρα)] who has made war to cease and who shall put everything [in peaceful] order; and whereas Caesar, [when he was manifest], transcended the expectations of [all who had anticipated the good news], not only by surpassing the benefits conferred by his predecessors but by leaving no expectation of surpassing him to those who would come after him, with the result that the birthday of our God (τοῦ θεοῦ) signalled (ἦρξεν δὲ τῶι κὀσμωι τῶι δι᾽ αὐτὸν εὐαγγελίων ἡ γενέυλιος ἡμέρα τοῦ θεοῦ) the beginning of Good News for the world because of him; ….. (proconsul Paul Fabius Maximus) has discovered a way to honor Augustus that was hitherto unknown among the Greeks, namely to reckon time from the date of his nativity; therefore, with the blessings of Good Fortune and for their own welfare, the Greeks in Asia Decreed that the New Year begin for all the cities on September 23, which is the birthday of Augustus; and, to ensure that the dates coincide in every city, all documents are to carry both the Roman and the Greek date, and the first month shall, in accordance with the decree, be observed as the Month of Caesar, beginning with 23 September, the birthday of Caesar.”

    So reliance on government as “savior” has a long history, and in the final analysis a not very happy one. And “pandering” by the city states (colonies) to the government often resulted in favors from the central to the regional governments.

    More to the point — it is not the provenance of government to declare what is “moral” — only what is “legal” ; when government’s legality supports that which is moral, society benefits.

  3. Ellen Williams says:

    “More to the point — it is not the provenance of government to declare what is “moral” — only what is “legal” ; when government’s legality supports that which is moral, society benefits.”

    In many ways, this is true; however, when a society cannot easily see why something is immoral, using a system of law and punishment to make them conform to our standards of morality won’t work. As Christians, we live by faith. We live by grace and not under the curse of law, yet many Christians still want to impose the curse of law on the general population, as if not understanding that the law/punishment method has never worked for freeing mankind from sin.

  4. Dwight says:

    Ellen, The Law, which had punishment involved, was never meant to fee mankind from sin, but to make man accountable in their sins to God and others, society. And while Jesus did free from the law and sin, it didn’t free from man’s ability to sin according to God’s laws. The only way to become free from sin was to not sin or become a slave to self in sin.
    The law against homosexuality was constant from the OT to the NT and was a sin, then as now and used to be against the laws of society. Stealing was a sin as well and was backed up by law of society. There are many moral laws that are laws in society, not by coincidence. It is a sin to murder, wrong morally and wrong in society as well. At one point all alcoholic drinks were outlawed, then not. In the scriptures when it is sin, it is sin and doesn’t change, unless God states so..

  5. Christopher says:

    Jay wrote:

    But the benefit of thinking like pagans is that we get to blame others for the decadence of our society. If we admit that we were charged by God himself to help God heal the brokenness of the world by bringing the lost the Jesus and by serving those in need, well, we’d have some very guilty feelings to deal with. Far better to blame the Democrats. Or Republicans. Or people who didn’t vote. Or the Supreme Court. Anybody but us.

    I await your historical evidence for the proposition that the righteous behavior of a minority will create a cultural nirvana. Jesus Himself did not greatly alter Israel. There’s a reason He said that many are called but few are chosen – and it has nothing to do with God’s desire to gather up the lost like a hen gathers her chicks. Who in Americs has NOT heard of Jesus, many times over? It took a famine for the prodigal son to repent and an earthquake for the Philippian jailer to turn to God. You almost make it sound like unless Christians MAKE it happen, the world will not be won. I was in the ICOC for fifteen years. I can assure that approach does not work. You can get fifty people to come to church with you or to study the Bible in a year, but only a few of those get baptized. Yet we learn from John that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than the Baptist. How many of those were present at Pentecost though? People have to first believe in the existence of the Biblical God and then desire enough to know Him that they are able to overcome all of the obstacles to doing so.

    If you think the widespread teaching of Darwinism (an unproven hypothesis sold as a scientific fact), the SCOTUS rulings that pornography is “speech” and a woman has a generalized right of privacy such that she may, after choosing to engage in sex (not being raped or molested), kill her unborn child, the proliferation of immoral television shows, the rise of the Internet and so on has had little effect on the spirituality of Americans, then I hardly know what to say.

  6. Ellen Williams says:

    Dwight, I’m not saying that sin doesn’t matter. I’m not even saying that homosexuality isn’t sin. I am amazed and frustrated by the inability of some people to see that forcing Christian ideas about morality on the country through the legislation of an evil government is not helping to broaden the boundaries of the kingdom of God. When has it ever been a good idea to make Christianity a state religion? It has led to corruption in the Church and “holy wars”. We are to be a peaceful people, people saved by grace who love others so much we want to share with them what we have found. Not a group of manipulative controllers out to force our views on the populace.

  7. Ellen Williams says:

    I read the link Jay posted to Patrick Mead’s article and I thought it was very good. Patrick meets people in their pain, He hugs and cries and gives of himself, not just preaching to people, expecting that others will, or should change as easily as an emotionless android. People aren’t changed by mere academia. Jesus got down in the dirt and in the tombs where the bodies lay stinking so he could reveal God to mankind. Jay is absolutely correct! We don’t want to do that, so we close our ears and hearts and try to strong-arm our way through, or blame someone else for our failures.

  8. Christopher says:

    Why was Jesus crucified?

    “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil.”

    I suspect if we are doing things correctly, we will be persecuted. Jesus said as much. People bent on doing evil will hathere you for telling them they are doing wrong. That is precisely the reason John the Baptist was beheaded. Political correctness is the tool of Satan.

  9. Dwight says:

    Ellen, I’m not saying that Government legislation will broaden the kingdom of God, but then again government legislation can damage the kingdom of God by making the environment comfortable to those who wish to follow legislation as morality, when it suites them, instead of morality itself.
    The fact is that the Laws of the government were largely moral based on the morals of the society which used to be largely Christian. Now many of the laws that used to be against certain immoral things are now facing the other direction and are not just neutral.
    This is an indicator that society is becoming hostile to Christianity.
    Now we might argue that during the time of Christ they were hostile as well, the Jews and the Romans, but they were hostile for different reasons and they had nothing to do with morals or the laws in place. It was more about power and the possibility of losing power. After all the Christians weren’t crying that the Roman government change its position on homosexual acts, which was rampant. But the government saw a movement and saw it as a threat and wished to kill it, just as they did with any Jewish movements that started. The Jews saw Christianity as a threat to their religious structure.
    Now we are facing laws that seek to make certain immoral things morally good.
    So what is the government doing, legislating morality.

  10. Ellen Williams says:

    I’m not arguing about what the government is doing. They do legislate morality, or at least they try to. So what? What does that have to do with us? Governments have tried very hard to damage the kingdom of God, but the kingdom just gets stronger when they do. This fear we have is not that the kingdom will be damaged. It’s about our own comfort being threatened.

  11. Johnathon says:

    Ellen said
    “Governments have tried very hard to damage the kingdom of God, but the kingdom just gets stronger when they do.”
    Did the Kingdom become stronger in the Soviet Union when that country’s government tried to damage it?

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Christopher wrote,

    I await your historical evidence for the proposition that the righteous behavior of a minority will create a cultural nirvana.

    Not sure that I suggested anything about a cultural Nirvana. But I do think the failings of the church are the major cause of societal decadence over the long haul.

    Historical evidence 1: The early church started with 120 and wound up converting a majority of the entire Roman Empire by the time of Constantine — without passing laws of any kind. Without controlling the courts. Despite periodically brutal persecution.

    Historical evidence 2: The USA was 80% unchurched in the early 18th Century. By the 1980s, it was 80% churched — growing 60% or better during a time of rapid population growth.

    But now the church, despite growing in numbers and size (so far as we can measure), has lost influence. Well, how does that happen if parents raise their children to be devout Christians and the church fulfills its mission as the church?

    It’s easy to argue that the church lost control of the culture — but how did that happen? Why did that happen? What did we do wrong? Or are we victims? (And please don’t waste your breath arguing those who were in power lost power because they were so easily victimized. That narrative doesn’t begin to make sense. It’s self-contradictory. We victimized ourselves. Only those in power can have victims.)

    If you think the widespread teaching of Darwinism (an unproven hypothesis sold as a scientific fact), the SCOTUS rulings that pornography is “speech” and a woman has a generalized right of privacy such that she may, after choosing to engage in sex (not being raped or molested), kill her unborn child, the proliferation of immoral television shows, the rise of the Internet and so on has had little effect on the spirituality of Americans, then I hardly know what to say.

    You’re confusing cause with effect.

    First, we are the ones who told our children that if Darwin is right, they must surrender their faith. And they did. That was really foolish. There is no reason to set the Bible is opposition to Darwinism. The Bible opposes metaphysical naturalism — the idea that nothing exists but that which can be scientifically observed and tested. Amen. But science is a subset of theology — a form of God’s self-revelation. And the evolution of species does not contradict the Bible.

    Series starts with “The Bible and Science, Part 1” http://oneinjesus.info/page/5/?s=apologetics

    Second, how did a philosophy (pro-choice) that devalues human life ascend in a largely Christian US? Well, we as Christians failed to value life. We supported every war in the 20th Century without once pausing to ask whether the war would be just under traditional Christian just war theory. The Churches of Christ went from pacifism to rightwing hawkishness — for the sake of what? We became the a cappella wing of the Republican Party. And when we don’t even ask whether this war is righteous in the eyes of God, then why do we expect our children to ask whether an abortion is right in the eyes of God? We can’t exempt state action and the killing of millions from moral discernment and then complain when our children apply our lack of moral insight to the unborn.

    Notice that I am not a pacifist. But I don’t believe that the US is right to kill people just because “it’s a Christian nation.” It’s not — and war is just as subject to God’s laws as abortion. But we exempted the killing of millions from God’s moral imperatives — and then we reaped the whirlwind (Hos 8:7).

    Pornography is indeed speech, and the Supreme Court has held that it may be regulated by the state. The problem is that the Internet makes this impossible — and so even very conservative communities that could legally ban the sale of pornography in stores have no control over the web. But the even deeper problem is that lots of people in even very conservative communities WANT to view pornography on the Internet — and see no harm in it. Which is a failure of the church and parents — not the courts.

    Again, immoral TV shows are repugnant, but no one makes us watch them. They are on because they have lots and lots of viewers. Whose fault is that?

    In ancient Rome, it was legal, even encouraged, to engage in sex acts with temple prostitutes, male and female. It was a considered a religious duty. That’s even worse than TV — and yet the church defeated it. Those temples are all gone now.

    I cannot abide a defeatist mentality that blames everything and everyone else but ourselves. We just so want to paint ourselves as victims. And yet we are in fact a majority in this country, very powerful, very influential — and horribly ineffective — because we’ve forgotten why we were saved in the first place.

    The Second Great Awakening transformed this country — one baptism at a time. But we think it’s impossible to happen yet again because — what? God has retired? He’s stopped changing things? He no longer answers prayers? He’s on vacation?

    We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, stop claiming victim status, and study the history of the first three great awakenings and ask what made them so successful. How did they truly change the world? And what would a Fourth Great Awakening look like?

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