For The Kingdom: Joy-Filled Living In Difficult Days | Day 56

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.” Philippians 3:17-21

Our nation is divided.  Our church is divided.  In many ways, even our very souls are divided.  Polarizing politics and activist agendas have sent many believers reeling; deconstructing themselves into rabble and rubble.  Both sides of the aisle feel vile and vain and the illusion that as believers we can fit ourselves into one convenient little box on ballots, has left us in a quadrennial quandary.

I have no party. I have no country. I am uneasy with all my affiliations and conflicted in my confederations.  Where we once felt the soaring pride of patriots, we now feel the searing separation of pilgrims.  We are not unlike the early church in the Roman colony of Philippi.    

In the first century, to be a citizen of Rome brought great honor and tremendous benefits.  Roman Patriotism was palpable, and you can even feel it in the way that Paul repeatedly brings up his own rights as a Roman citizen throughout his letters and within his testimonies in Acts.  As a Roman citizen, Paul could vote, own property, run for office, avoid paying certain taxes, and, of note, a Roman citizen could not be tortured, whipped or executed for any crime but treason.  What was true for Paul, was also true for each of the members of the Philippian church, who also found great pride and solace in their political affiliations with Rome.

Interestingly, the word “Patriotism” only dates back a few hundred years, to the 17th century, when the suffix of -ism to the existing French word, “Patriote.” Patriot is drawn from the Greek word, “patrios” which means, “of one’s father.” In a very literal and spiritual sense, Jesus was very Patriotic, because of His allegiance to His Father, and His Father’s Kingdom.  As a boy, when His parents left Him behind, only to find Him in the temple engaging with the priests, Jesus asked His visibly shaken parents, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Luke 2:49. Jesus’ purpose was very clear, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 6:38.  We too, are called to be this kind of “patriot” who is about our Father’s business and obedient to our Father’s will.  We are now a part of a Kingdom of Heaven, which means that our primary allegiance is to a greater cause.  The Apostle Peter also doubled down on this understanding, writing,

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:9-17

As citizens of heaven, a holy nation and a people of our Father’s possession, our patriotic allegiance is to our heavenly Father.  This invariably sets us apart from the aspects of each political party that are out of sync with the teaching of God’s Word.  When we feel as though the convictions of our faith no longer align with positions of our party, we must remember that we are sojourners and pilgrims, no longer of this world and its machinations.

Our heavenly patriotism (that is to be of our Father in heaven), does not grant us freedom to live in open rebellion against our government, but instead orders our affections and allegiances properly.  As Peter lays out, Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:17.

Fellow pilgrims, let us strive to live as citizens of heaven together.  May we use our freedom in Christ to serve God.  May we demonstrate the Kingdom characteristic of honor to everyone, even those who oppose our positions and attack our beliefs.  Let us love one another, the body of Christ, the family of God, the local church, just as Jesus prayed (see John 17).  When it comes to our King and our President, may we fear God and honor our president.  This is the new way of patriots and pilgrims.

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