Gospel Citizens (Sermon)
During the 2016 Summer Olympics, Ryan Lochte, a US swimmer, along with a couple of his teammates claimed to be the victims of a robbery outside a gas station. I remember hearing this news when it broke one evening during the TV coverage. Prior to the Olympics, many athletes were fearful about potential violence in Brazil. This incident seemed to validate their fears. Over the next couple of days as coverage continued, details emerged that painted a completely different picture. Lochte, and his fellow swimmers, were not the victims of armed robbery. They were on their way back from a party, were intoxicated, and they vandalized the gas station. This incident was not the result of Brazilian violence, but American arrogance.
Both Brazilians and Americans were outraged by what happened. Brazilians because the initial lies had damaged their reputation, and Americans because the behavior had reflected poorly on our country. Numerous Olympic athletes went on TV saying things like, “This is not how we should behave as Americans,” “We don’t condone his behavior,” and “His behavior reflects poorly on all of us.” Their outrage was not because a fellow athlete had fabricated the story, but because a fellow American had done so. They knew the actions of one citizen can reflect poorly on an entire country.
The reverse is also true. The actions of one citizen can reflect well on a country, a city, or a community. The apostle Paul is writing this letters to a fairly young church in the city of Philippi. Philippi was a Roman colony, and they took their Roman citizenship seriously. When Paul was first there, he was thrown into prison. Listen to the charge presented against him.
(Acts 16:20–21 ESV) And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.”
Do you hear their pride at being Roman citizens? Their citizenship defines their identity and it determines their conduct. As citizens of the Roman empire, they conducted themselves a certain way, and they took it seriously. They bowed before one emperor, one lord, one king, and it wasn’t Jesus. It was Caesar.
After finishing his personal report in verse 26, the apostle Paul turns his attention back to the Philippian Christians, and he focuses on their citizenship—not their citizenship in Rome, but their citizenship in heaven. He encourages them to make sure their conduct matches their citizenship. This is true for all followers of Jesus, our citizenship is not on earth, but in heaven. Our conduct should match our citizenship. As citizens of heaven, we should live in a certain way, a way defined by the Gospel.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the constitution with governs the kingdom of heaven. The gospel is the declaration of independence and the bill of rights. It explains how we became citizens, what we do as citizens, and why we do it. We are gospel citizens—everything we do is regulated by the gospel. The gospel shapes our actions, attitudes, and affections. Our speech has a gospel accent. We even adorn ourselves with the gospel, putting it on as a uniform.
In this passage, we learn more about what it looks like to behave like a gospel citizen. Jesus is our Lord, Heaven is our home, and the Gospel is our Law. Because of this, we think and act differently. The difference between Roman citizens and gospel citizens is clear in these verses, and they apply just as easily to American citizens as well.
The Concern Gospel Citizens Share
The word citizen is not found in English Standard Version, like it is in some other versions. That’s because the word it comes from in Greek is hard to translate. I prefer how the Christian Standard Bible translates the first part of verse 27. It says:
"Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27 CSB).
Citizens of heaven are focused on one thing. Not ten things, not twenty things, certainly not a hundred different things. Just one. We are focused on living in such a way that the value of the gospel is evident. People see our lives and think, “That gospel really is something. It’s worth living for; it’s worth giving up home and country, gold and glory. It’s even worth giving up your life.”
The way we live reveals what we value. Matt showed us last week from the previous verses what Paul lived for, what he valued. He lived for, he valued Jesus Christ. This is what he meant when he said: “For to me, to live is Christ” (v.21). His life had a singular purpose: to experience the wonder of Jesus so deeply and fully that he would gladly give everything for Christ. His one goal was to reveal the worth of Jesus, to show Jesus is the greatest treasure in the universe.
As gospel citizens, our life’s trajectory is to reveal the value of the gospel. We want everyone to see and know that nothing in this world compares to what Jesus has done.
No love in this world rivals His love.
No acceptance in this world compares to being accepted by Him.
No gift in this world surpasses the gift of His life.
No victory in this world exceeds His victory over the grave.
No glory in this world outshines the brilliance of His glory.
We live for the gospel because the gospel of Jesus Christ is infinitely valuable.
What concerns do citizens normally share? Concerns about safety from enemies, economic prosperity, health and sickness, politics and government. These concerns are not foremost in gospel citizens. Our foremost concern, so central is seems singular, is whether our life demonstrates the value of the gospel. Do our actions and decisions make it unmistakably clear that the gospel is worth it?
We reveal this not just with our words, but with everything we do. Our “manner of life” (v.27) or entire way of living should line up with the gospel. As Christians, it’s easy to say the right things, but it’s much harder to live the right way. It’s easy to make professions of love for what Jesus has done, especially in songs on Sunday and discussions over coffee. It’s much harder when a child throws a temper tantrum or a classmate bullies you. It’s much harder when you’re laid off without any warning or passed over for a promotion. But these are the moments that reveal what we truly value. Is the gospel really valuable? Is it worth giving up our plans? Our prerogatives? Our ambition? Our rights?
We understand a little more what it means to live worthy of the gospel at the end of verse 27: “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” The faith of the gospel isn’t restricted to our own faith. It’s larger than that. Those who see the gospel as valuable strive to see the gospel believed by others. The value of what Jesus has done for us motivates us to spread the message to as many people as possible.
Gospel citizens aren’t worried about heaven getting overpopulated. We know the gate is wide open, and we invite everyone we see to enter. Because the gospel is not fake news, but the objective message that alone can transform lives, we want as many people as possible to believe it. This is what it means to live worthy of the gospel. As gospel citizens we are gospel ambassadors. We see each day, each interaction, each interruption as a moment of gospel opportunity.
Are you striving for the faith of the gospel? In other words, how are you intent on seeing the gospel believed and cherished by other people? This is the overriding concern of gospel citizens. That’s why Paul begins with the word “Only.” Have you ever heard the statement, “You had one job”? It’s often at the end of a story or video where a person makes a major mistake. The construction worker who flipped the stop sign the wrong way and caused a crash, or the zookeeper who forgot to lock the cage. They may have more than one job, but there’s only one job which is most important. For the citizen of heaven, you have one job. Demonstrate the worth of the gospel by working to share it with others.
The Character Gospel Citizens Display
Our concern is the spread of the gospel, but we see in the Paul’s instruction to this church that the way we spread it says something about the worth of the gospel. There are three noteworthy traits with mark gospel citizens: unity, tenacity, and bravery.
The first character trait—unity—is a recurring them throughout this letter. We know (from chapter 4) that at least two members of this church were having trouble getting along, but we’re not told if it’s a larger problem. Either way unity is a consistent theme of this letter, and we see the source of unity and the outcome of the unity in verse 27. They are to stand firm “in one spirit with one mind.” Whenever Paul mentions “one spirit,” he’s referring to the Holy Spirit, like when he tells the church in Ephesus:
"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4–6 ESV).
Gospel citizens display unity not by manufacturing it themselves, but receiving what is already theirs as a gift from the Holy Spirit.
The unity provided by the one Spirit produces a shared way of thinking in gospel citizens. We’re to have one mind. This will be explored in the next verses, when the apostle Paul tells us we have the mind of Christ (2:5). The Holy Spirit changes how we think, particularly how we think about ourselves. We don’t think we’re special. We don’t think we’re better than other people. We don’t think the world revolves around us or our needs are most important. Like Jesus, we think about others and how we can bless and serve them.
The reason unity is important is because we need each other. We can’t do it alone; thankfully we’re not alone. We’re surrounded by fellow-citizens of the heavenly kingdom, and we work together for the faith of the gospel. Paul uses an interesting phrase to describe how we work together; he says we strive “side by side” or “shoulder to shoulder.” He probably has in mind a roman legion, marching into battle shoulder to shoulder with shields raised, no space for an arrow or spear to penetrate. The enemy is always looking for openings, slivers of frustration that he can penetrate, small cracks that can become massive chasms.
A few years ago, I read a book about a crew team that won the national championship in rowing before heading to the Olympics where they won gold. As I read the story I couldn’t help but think of the church. This team sat side by side in a boat, and the only way to win the race was for them to be perfectly in sync. They had to have the same mind, the very same thought at the very same moment. The best teams functioned as one. The key to their unity was listening to one voice—the voice of the only one in the boat who could see where they were going. Brothers and sisters, our unity comes from listening to God’s voice and doing exactly what He says when He says it. When we do that, we move in perfect harmony, side by side, shoulder to shoulder.
The second character trait is tenacity. Gospel citizens live smack-dab in the middle of other kingdoms. Because of that, because of the difficulty of our mission we’re told to “stand firm” and “strive” (v.27). These are tough words, words that require spiritual stamina and fortitude.
The word translated “striving” comes from the word for athlete, and it pictures someone who’s trained for competition at the highest level. Just this week Kobe Bryant, the legendary basketball player, died tragically. He and I were born the same year, so we played high school basketball at the same time. When I started playing for a small college, he was playing for the Lakers. There are many reasons he was a much better basketball than I was, but one of them was his tenacity. He worked much harder at his game than I did. In fact, he was legendary for his work ethic. As fellow competitors have praised him this week, they keep mentioning how hard he worked, how he didn’t quit, he never gave up, he was tenacious.
Gospel citizens need tenacity to take the gospel where it’s never been heard. The source of this tenacity is obvious—we know we’re going to win. We know Jesus has already won the victory. We know He has chosen people for His team from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Are you tenacious for the gospel? I wish I were. But I fear I’m fairly wimpy. I’m soft and weak. I’m easily offended and ready to quit. This is one reason I need you to stand shoulder to shoulder with me. Will you pray for me to be more tenacious? I’ll be happy to pray for you.
Gospel citizens display unity, tenacity, and bravery. Paul encourages them not to be “frightened in anything” (v.28). The word he uses is not the common word for fear, but a word that’s more intense, more panicked. It would be how you would describe a horse that was startled or spooked. From standing calm one moment to running wild the next. Gospel citizens don’t need to live like that. We don’t need to be anxious and easily spooked.
This is one way we make the gospel clear in our culture, where everyone is anxious and fearful. We make brave and unpopular choices because we don’t fear the consequences.
We don’t fear government oppression because we’re citizens of a much greater kingdom.
We don’t fear economic reprisals because our treasure is not on earth.
We don’t fear political backlash because our hope is not in earthly leaders.
We don’t fear being ostracized because we’ve been accepted by God Himself.
The gospel—the truth that God knows every ugly part of us and loves us still. The gospel—the reality that God has made a way for us to become part of His family. The gospel—the fact that God has saved us at the very cost of His Son’s life. The gospel is what makes us brave. We cannot lose what matters most. Nothing in this world can separate us from the love of Christ.
The gospel makes us brave. Are you brave? Do you want to be brave? Start every day with the gospel. Identify what you fear and start each morning reminding yourself how the gospel makes that fear unnecessary.
Do you fear death? The gospel reminds us that Jesus conquered death.
Do you fear failure? The gospel reminds us that your acceptance before God is not determined by your performance.
Do you fear sickness? The gospel reminds us that Jesus will one day heal us completely.
Do you fear betrayal? The gospel reminds us that Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do you fear irrelevance? The gospel reminds us that Jesus has given us a mission to accomplish.
Whatever you fear, the gospel speaks to. It reveals why that fear is unnecessary. The gospel frees us to live with a boldness that surprises people. The gospel is why Hugh Latimer, when tied to a burning stake on October 16, 1555, could encourage his friend and fellow victim Nicholas Ridley with these words: “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
Gospel citizens are concerned solely with the spread of the gospel, and the gospel fortifies them so they spread it with unity, tenacity, and bravery.
The Challenge Gospel Citizens Face
The reason we need bravery is because the gospel always has opposition, and this opposition often brings with it suffering. The gospel is good news, but listen to the good news of the gospel.
(Isaiah 52:7 ESV) How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The good news is that God reigns. He reigns where? Everywhere. He reigns over whom? Everyone. Implicit in the gospel is a call to repentance and submission. The gospel begins with acknowledging that God is on the throne of the universe, and we are accountable to Him.
This is not a popular message. No one likes to be told they’re wrong, that they’re accountable to someone else. People like to think they’re in charge of their own life, and God, if He’s out there, is accountable to them. I’ve been reading this week about different approaches to the Bible, approaches which suggest the Bible is not accurate or authoritative. Most of these approaches begin with this kind of statement: “The God I believe in doesn’t match the God of the Bible, so the Bible cannot be trusted.” Do you see what’s going on? We want God to be accountable to us, not us to God.
But the gospel begins with a sovereign, independent, all-powerful, just God, sitting on the throne of the universe. This God only has to speak to create or destroy. This God has designed His world a certain way and told us we’re responsible to do what He says. This God offends our sense of self-importance and self-determination. And because He does, we either repent or we resist Him. Friend, have you repented of your rebellion to the Creator? Have you acknowledged your sinful attempts at self-rule? Jesus died for your sin, so that through repentance and faith you could be restored to a right relationship with God. Have you been restored?
The gospel has a razor-thin edge—you can’t straddle it. You choose one side or the other. Many, most, choose to resist it. So, this brings opposition when we live as gospel citizens. This opposition forces us to make a choice. Will we be quiet or will we risk suffering in order to make the gospel known?
It’s human nature to get frustrated when someone is different than us, especially if that difference makes us look bad. Let me give you an example: have you ever been trying to watch what you eat and ended up going out with some friends? Since you’re out to eat, you decide to order what sounds good instead of what’s healthy. You expect your friend to do the same, but he orders a salad. Be honest: you’re annoyed with your friend, aren’t you? His good decision made your bad decision look even worse.
When we live as gospel citizens and demonstrate the values of our King, it can shine an ugly light on others’ selfish, sinful decisions. Not because we’re self-righteous and judgmental (those are the king’s values), but because we’re pursing righteousness and holiness. When we conduct ourselves as citizens of heaven, our decision-making can frustrate and annoy other people, and it may bring opposition, even suffering.
But as difficult as suffering is, it doesn’t hinder the gospel. We’ve seen that already in this passage. Paul’s imprisonment provided new opportunities to proclaim the gospel. No opposition can hinder what God has promised to do.
The Confidence Gospel Citizens Demonstrate
Have you ever received a letter with bad news in it? I remember getting a letter from our homeowner’s association in it one time with a warning. The tone of the letter was not joyful or triumphant (neither was my response). This letter from Paul informs the church that they will face opposition and the opposition will bring suffering, but the tone of the letter is positive and upbeat. Why? Either Paul was living in a fantasy world, or he knew something we often forget. In the face of suffering, how was he so confident? Where did his confidence come from?
(Philippians 1:28b–30 ESV) This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
God is in control, and He is gracious. God, who reigns, still reigns even when we’re suffering for His sake. Though He may not intervene in the way we would like, He is still with us. Our suffering for His sake is a clear sign of our salvation. He assures us in our suffering that it’s not in vain, and it will be part of what He uses to bring us safely home to Him.
Just as God graciously gives us faith to believe, He also graciously gives us suffering on His behalf. It’s hard to think of suffering as one of God’s gracious gifts, but that’s what we’re told here. The key to seeing suffering as one of God’s gifts is seeing our life as primarily about one thing: the spread of the gospel. When we see life that way, we understand suffering always comes with new opportunities to spread the gospel. Suffering cannot hinder the forward progress of the gospel. Suffering can hinder the forward progress of our plans, but never God’s plan for us.
When are we usually most confident? Generally our confidence level is tied to our level of preparation. The more prepared we are, the more confident we are. When I coach basketball, I’m more confident entering a game if we had a good practice before the game. If we were able to watch film and discuss the other team’s strategy, then I’m confident. As children of the king, we can be confident in every circumstance because we know there’s never a time God is unprepared. We never enter a situation where God is surprised. No twists or turns in our story catch Him off guard. We can live, serve, and speak with confidence because we know God is in control no matter what.
When someone becomes an American citizen, they attend a special ceremony. At the ceremony, they swear an oath of allegiance. The oath begins this way;
"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”
It continues with a few more promises, but the first part really grabbed my attention. To become a US citizen you have to renounce allegiance to any other country, and you have to commit to obeying the laws of your new country. Brothers and sisters, our primary citizenship is not here in this country, but in heaven. And our allegiance should be to heaven and to the gospel alone. Our citizenship defines our identity and it determines our conduct. Evaluate your life. Is it clear you’re a citizen of heaven? Does your conduct match your citizenship?