“Of Citizens, Spies, and Ambassadors” Phil. 3:17-4:1; 2 Cor. 5:19,20
17 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. 18 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. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! (Phil. 3:17- 4:1)
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2 Cor. 5:19-20
Tonight is Oscar night, and I will not be watching it. One fourth of the best-selling movies last year were spy movies. Some of them based on fact- like Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, and some based on fiction like the James Bond spoof Skyfall. There have been a lot of things in the news about citizenship, spies, and ambassadors lately. The Bible says we are citizens in heaven- placed in a different country both as spies and ambassadors. This is an important concept in Pauline writing, that is I believe, neglected in Christian teaching today.
I. OUR CITIZENSHIP- vs. 20- Our citizenship is in heaven. We are migrant workers here. We are aliens and strangers here. This world is not our home. This is a regular theme in Paul’s writings. Paul said, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.” (Eph. 2:19,20). Philippians 3:20 says “our citizenship is in heaven.” Now Paul was a Roman citizen, and also a Jewish citizen. He had dual citizenship and recognition. But he knew that he would never find complete happiness in the political structure here. If your citizenship is really in another place- and this is really your temporary home, then some things need to be recognized.
1) Our currency is different- our values are different. We do not have the same currency as this world. The world values tangible things. We value things like faith, hope, and love- and the world’s tangible things are secondary. So we hold onto things lightly. So we give to the Lord- not simply an admission ticket to hear a sermon or the choir but for a greater cause. I can remember going to Australia. I was used to going to nearby places like Mexico or Canada and the American dollar was easily exchanged. But in the outback American dollars are not worth toilet paper when you want to buy food. At the same time, I couldn’t send Australian dollars back home easily. You can’t buy anything in Chapin with an Australian dollar. You cannot serve two Lords- you cannot have a dual citizenship with one Lord of things and the other Lord of eternity. Jesus said you can’t serve God and money. Paul talked of our need to pay taxes here, and to be law-abiding but our real citizenship is in heaven. This makes a difference.
2) Our allegiance is different- while we pray for our country, work for our country, even die for our country here- we also recognize that we have another King. One of the reasons for the American revolution was when the king wanted to overstep his bounds and became a tyrant. History is full of fallen governments who demanded ultimate allegiance- Nebuchadnezzar in Old Testament times set aside a period where everyone had to bow down to his image. When Daniel’s three friends refused- they were thrown into the fiery furnace. Rome required every citizen until Constantine to worship the emperor. Hitler wanted to tell people how to worship. Our local school district and board- despite its plethora of problems, should be supported in its stance to not eliminate God and faith from all education. Freedom of religion is not the same as freedom from religion. The school board lawyers are not optimistic that we will be able to say the word “god” at a school board meeting, or pray in public at all- lest it offend someone. In Acts the Pharisees called Peter and John in, beat them and told them not to say anything about Jesus. Their reply was, “We must serve God rather than men.” They knew where their allegiance
3) Our expectations of government is different- we expect government to be limited in its ability and desire to please God. But our desire is to please God above all else. Government is not our God. Ideally they compliment each other. When they are at odds- and government is seen as enemies of the cross of Christ, then things are not right. On the cover of the bulletin is a great piece on human expectations. We should not expect human progress to bring down heaven to earth- but neither should we despair saying that life doesn’t matter. God places us here for a reason, I believe in part it is to do some heavenly espionage and to be heavenly ambassadors.
II. THE SPIES- Scripture indicates many times there is a spiritual battle going on, and we play a part in that battle. – In our particular passage it says “many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.’ Jesus asked us to beware of those who are wolves stealing in among the flock- coming in sheep’s clothing (Mt. 7:15). But the opposite is also true. We are workers for the heavenly kingdom put down behind enemy lines- not to physically fight, but to infiltrate the God of this world’s army, and change it with our message of love and grace.
Last week we heard that 141 American companies had their computers hacked by a Chinese military division holed up in a twelve story building complex in Shanghai. They would get customer lists, trade secrets, or sometimes just mess up computers with viruses. Even some Defense Department computers have been infiltrated. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, “we are facing the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transportation system, financial networks and government.” On the other hand US and Israeli hackers were blamed for delaying Iran’s progress on a nuclear bomb by infecting Iranian computers with a virus or cyber-worm. There is a kind of war going on around us that we cannot see- it is a cyber war. But there is another more important war going on around us- it is a spiritual war, and we each play a part in it.
When I went to Cuba and visited the Presbyterian churches there upon their 100th year anniversary, I found that the government would send spies into the church to keep tabs on the church. These spies would write down the names of those in attendance- and just attending church meant that you could not send your kids to college, get a new job, buy a new house. The spies would make weekly reports to the government. How did we know? We knew for two things- 1) The ministers would be arrested if they said anything at all controversial. 2) Some of the spies would be converted! It is a dangerous thing to sit in worship and hear the gospel! Regular Presbyterians-like you and me- in this same hemisphere about 90 miles from our shores were being spied upon.
But in a sense- we are spies. We infiltrate the kingdom of darkness and are little lights shining in the darkness. We seek to stop evil and to promote good. We are not a thousand points of light- we are a billion. The more we share the light, the brighter the world becomes. If we shrink back, if we try to keep the light to ourselves, then we fail in our mission. A spy who is scared or ashamed of his citizenship is not much of a spy.
III. OUR AMBASSADORSHIP- Paul says we are not only citizens of heaven, and working for heaven, we also are ambassadors of heaven. Being an ambassador is dangerous work- as noted by what happened to the Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens and three other Americans last September 10 and 11. We are ambassadors- dangerous business. We are put at a post.
Minister to children- ambassadors to them – that they would grow up to know and love Him.
1) Represent our Lord- An ambassador is not supposed to defame his country, but live as an exemplary life. It is public record that Cynthia Stroum the appointed ambassador to Luxembourg primarily because she was a major campaign donor to the presidential campaign. She resigned when the inspector general called her ambassadorship directionless and bullying. She spent $3,400 on alcohol in order to simply use up her budget
2) Stand between our Lord and the people- An ambassador in some ways, is like a priest. Ambassadors listen to those to whom they are sent and bring up their viewpoint to the one over them; as well as brings his country’s viewpoint to the people to whom they are sent. So, we like a priest pray for the people around us- lifting them up to God. But we also lift God up to the people around us.
3) We are missionaries of our Lord. In Ephesians 6:20 Paul describes himself as “an ambassador in chains.” Then he says, “Pray that I may declare the gospel fully as I should.” An ambassador reads statements from his country to the next, but more than that is someone who “represents” in the most modern sense to the other country. We hold out our country to others with joy and love for our heavenly citizenship.
David Wilkins grew up in South Carolina, and was elected to the state house of representatives. He was chosen by President Bush to be the ambassador to Canada in 2005 and served until 2009. He had only been to Canada one time before. But when he was asked to serve- he left his position in power in South Carolina politics to serve. When God calls you to be His citizen, He also calls you to be His missionary, His representative.