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The expectation of pursuing Christ–Philippians 3:20-21
UCLA developed a test used to determine the late bloomers educationally. For elementary, Jr High and High School Students, they could determine which of the current C level students would bloom into A students. They selected key schools and administered the test at the end of the school year. Then in the fall, they gave each teacher the names of those in their class who would explode academically–it worked.
At the end of that school year, some of the students they had predicted went from C to B average, but the vast majority rose from C to A average. The test worked, but not in the way you think. The test was actually bogus and the choosing of the late bloomers was in reality random choices from all the C level students in each classroom.
So then what caused those students to rise academically? Simple–it was one of the most powerful forces that exists. Expectations. The teachers were told, “This test will reveal specific late bloomers,” which caused the teachers to look for it, encourage them, and expect them to do better, which powerfully motivated the students to massively improve.
The only difference was the teachers’ expectation. The teachers expected their students to do better and as a result they did. Christian, you are to have expectations. You are to be excited about the world to come. You’re to be thrilled about what awaits you in Heaven. You’re to long for Christ to return.
On bad days, you’re to long for Christ to come and for the joys of Heaven. On good days, you’re to want Christ and the bliss of Heaven. And on your best day, you are to remember Christ is better and Heaven is more incredible. But if you’re not longing for Christ or anticipating Heaven, it will hamper your walk with God. If you think Heaven is all about wearing diapers and playing a harp, you’ll be hopelessly stuck in the quicksand of this world, trying to gobble up all you can.
Paul wraps up chapter 3 to his beloved family at Philippi with expectations–the expectations absolutely necessary to keep you running after Christ, intimate with Christ. The Philippians were being persecuted by Romans, pressured by unsaved Judaizers, pressed by unsaved Gentile grace-abusers, partitioned by division in the Church, and it was much easier to settle into a life of comfortable, convenient compromise.
Roll with the punches, don’t make waves, fly under the radar, don’t stir the pot, stop trying. “I refuse to believe I am cold, but I don’t want to live hot–so, I guess I’ll remain lukewarm.” Paul says, “Press on.” Paul tells the Philippians in 3:20-21, “do not lose your heavenly expectations.” Their passion for their first love, Christ, in heavenly glory, is in danger of turning into a stale fact. The certainty of eternity might lose its drive.
So listen carefully to what Paul says in these two verses. He reminds these believers their citizenship is not Rome, not Wildomar, never Hemet–but your true home where you belong is Heaven, which you eagerly wait for every day. You’re waiting for a person, a Savior, the Lord of all lords. And this Lord will radically transform your aging, fallen, sinful, corrupt body into a new, glorified, perfect, eternal body, just like the resurrected Christ.
Read verses 20 to 21, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
If you’ve been with us as we are working our way through Philippians 3 verse by verse, seeking to determine not what you think it means, not what I think it means, but seeking to expose the one true meaning of the text, the author’s intended message, seeking to draw out what Paul meant to say to the Philippians just under 2,000 years ago, then apply it to today.
Paul has been pleading with the Philippians to pursue Christ–don’t just get by as a Christian. Don’t fall into mindless routine, don’t allow your heart for Christ to grow bored and lifeless. Chapter 3 tells you how to do it, how to continue to pursue Christ—to press on. In verses 1 to 3, Paul tells you to pursue living dependently on the Spirit and God’s Word.
Verses 4 to 6, don’t try to earn your salvation, but verses 7 to 8, consider everything in your life, even your Christian life, to be excrement compared to enjoying a personal, intimate relationship with Christ. Verses 9 to 11 remind you about the amazing blessings you now enjoy and the promises God will give you later.
In verses 12 to 14, forget what was in the past and press forward to what God has for the future. Verses 15 to 16 warn you to not allow yourself to develop un-teachable, un-humble, or indifferent attitudes. And Paul presses you in verses 17 to 19 to pick your examples carefully, making certain your friends/mentors motivate you to pursue Christ and not this world.
Today Paul fires up his beloved Philippians with the next world. He commands them to develop heavenly expectations. In fact, verse 19 gives a strong contrast–do you see it at the end of verse 19? Speaking of bad examples, Paul says they’re the ones who set their minds on earthly things. Paul says this is deadly if you ever hope to develop a vibrant, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ–you can’t set your mind on earthly things. No, you must set your mind on . . .
#1 Our HOME is Heaven
Verse 20a, “For our citizenship is in heaven.” There are three main verbs and a final clause which drive Paul’s thoughts here and make up our outline. Look at the first word in verse 20—“for” connects verses 19 and 20 together, asking you this critical question. Why should you avoid verse 19 people in your life—“who focus on earthly things.”
Because these bad examples focus on the wrong home–Earth is not your home, Heaven is. You live on Earth now, but Heaven is where you belong. All true children of God are foreigners on Earth. Each of you today are not living in your birth country. Real believers are born from above, born from Heaven. Christians must not be focused on earthly things in verse 19, because our family is in Heaven, our Savior is in Heaven, our God is in Heaven, and our home is in Heaven.
Paul is painting a picture in verse 20a, “For our citizenship is in heaven.” Paul says, “I belong there too”—“our citizenship is in heaven.” You in Philippi and even myself–the apostle Paul under house arrest in Rome is a citizen of Heaven. Do you get this? This picture, this image meant a lot to Paul and meant even more to the Philippian church.
Paul used his Roman citizenship in Philippi to his advantage. As Paul reminds the Philippians their citizenship is in Heaven, they would immediately recall when Paul was preaching the Gospel in Philippi. He cast out a demon from a prophesying slave girl making her useless to her sadistic masters.
Paul and Silas were then beaten and jailed over this. After an earthquake and the salvation of the jailer and his family who are also reading this letter, Acts 16:35 to 39 says, “Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, ‘Release those men.’ 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, ‘The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.’ 37 But Paul said to them, ‘They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.’ 38 The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39 and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city.”
Roman citizenship was a big deal. It was illegal for a Roman citizen to be beaten and jailed without a trial. So Paul has them over a barrel because Paul had a Roman citizenship. The Philippians themselves were proud of their Roman citizenship. Philippi was 800 miles away from Rome, but the Philippians were citizens of Rome.
Many of the Philippian citizens were retired Roman soldiers, remaining in this region after historic Roman battles which took place in the Philippi region. Philippi was also laid out to look like a mini-version of the great city of Rome. Rome was Mecca, NY, LA, DC for the Philippians. Rome was their Jerusalem. And the highest prize of a resident of Philippi was to be a citizen of Rome.
So Paul reminds the Christians of Philippi they don’t belong to Rome, but Heaven. Their highest prize is now Heaven. Their dream trip is Heaven. Their goal above all goals is to honor Heaven. They belong to Heaven, not Rome. Why is this so radical? Because Heaven is so awesome. Some church attenders are bored with Heaven.
Cali-Christians imagine endless tedium sitting around on clouds, wearing a diaper, playing a harp. People who think that are poorly taught believers caught up in secondary issues, or make-believers trying to find anything to fill their empty hearts. But Heaven is incredible. Heaven is first and foremost the presence of God.
Heaven is where Christ is, allowing you to enjoy the eternal bliss of communion with the God-man forever. You move from faith to sight, actually experiencing the face of God. Heaven is beyond your highest hopes. Heaven is not a state of mind–Heaven is a place, a place of greatest beauty, greatest abundance and greatest joy in the presence of God.
Heaven is a new place. It’s where your new, heavenly, glorified body will function best. Heaven is the abode of all good things. It is where you enjoy the richness of God’s rewards and God’s greatest blessings forever. Your life in Heaven will be characterized by full and deep rest forever, joyful and thankful worship, and satisfying service, all functioning in perfection.
Heaven is the removal of all evils. There is no unhappiness in Heaven–no pain, no mourning, no crying, no death, no sin, no effects of sin, only the fullness of joy and an unending succession of happiness beyond our imaginations. Heaven is the place of glory–all of God’s character is fully manifested forever. And Heaven is where you belong. Thankfully, God’s word promises in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
Heaven is our home (verse 20), not this earth (verse 19). I love SCUBA diving–I go at least once every two years and I really enjoy it. Every once in a while, I walk into a restaurant and see an aquarium filled with the fish I normally see in Hawaii–I really enjoy watching them. Now I will not be joining the anti-aquarium league, nor produce a film called Glass-fish.
But every time I see a fish tank I think, “Those fish don’t belong there–they belong in the blue waters of Hawaii. They weren’t made for a little glass box but the waters of the Pacific. They are not home.” I believe to some degree, every one of us personally knows this world is not our home. We belong in Heaven. Heaven is our home. Our citizenship is in Heaven.
The literal translation of this phrase, “For our citizenship is in heaven,” is this—“For our citizenship in Heavens exists.” Exists is in the Greek text and the Greek word exists is a verb. Exists is an ongoing, continual existence. This is a factual existence–you really are a citizen of Heaven. This is a fact–not a hope, but a reality.
You are right now, currently, as you live on Earth, a citizen of Heaven. Everywhere you travel, your true passport is Heaven. It’s made of gold, it glows, and gets you into Heaven without an entry fee. Heaven is your certain home. You belong there. When you arrive, it will be as if you’ve finally come home–the home your heart has been longing for all your life. Not merely a place called home, but a state of being home. Heaven is so incredible.
#2 Our HURRY is a Savior
Look at verse 20b, “from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior.” You’ve heard the scream, “DADDY’S HOME!” That’s the heart of a Christian waiting for Christ to come back. Believers are eagerly waiting. We’re hoping for Christ expectantly. Believers are ready to welcome Jesus back. All Christians want Christ to return, and if not, they want to go home to Him. Paul says, “Eagerly wait”–with a combination of hope and patience you want to be with Christ.
First, that Christ would return, or second, you would go to be with Christ in Heaven. First Corinthians 1:7, “you are…, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Galatians 5:5, “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.” Hebrews 9:28, “so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”
Many of you right now live with this eager anticipation–you can’t wait for Jesus to come. You start each day with “Come, Lord Jesus.” You want Him to come and terminate this sinful, fallen, human rebellion, or you want to go home to be with Him. You want to move from faith to sight. For others, there is little anticipation–you’re convicted as you hear verse 20, “from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior,” asking yourself, “Why am I not eagerly waiting?”
Your struggle comes from filling your lives with lesser priorities–distracted by your job, busy with your school or sports, worried about still being single, being over-occupied with your kids or friends, battling the heartache of a difficult marriage or a wayward child. We get distracted–we’re prone to wander, Lord I feel it.
For a small number, the lack of eagerly waiting means you’re, verse 19, immersed in error–you’ve set your mind on earthly things. And in this context, that phrase is describing a non-Christian. Today is the day for you to ask the Lord to stir up your desire for Christ’s return. Today is the day for you to lower your busyness in order to anticipate Heaven. Today is the day for you to decide to discipline yourself in order to fill your heart with the depth and beauty of the person of Christ and the depth and beauty of Heaven.
“We eagerly wait”–the Greek verb we await is present tense continual waiting. It means you think about Christ coming back on Monday, Wednesday and Friday—and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. You start the day and end the day saying, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
That does not come naturally, so Paul puts the verb, “we wait”, in a voice which requires you to act upon yourself. This waiting won’t just happen. There are too many distractions in this world. So you must choose to do this. You must act upon yourself to make this happen individually–a note, a reminder, a morning and evening routine. And just in case you’re thinking that’s a burden, Paul says, “we wait”, including himself.
The great apostle, in the midst of his awesome ministry, preaching the Gospel, establishing churches, training leaders, writing the New Testament–Paul also acts upon himself to await. “We wait”–I am with you in this–“we all await His return.” I believe this is not a burden, but a joy for Paul and for all genuine believers, because this is what we were made to do. This is where we were made to go. This is what will make the world right and this will complete your salvation.
Why are you eagerly waiting? Who are you waiting for? Paul says, ”We eagerly wait for a Savior.” You’re not waiting for an event, you’re waiting for a person. This life is not about you, it is about Christ. He is the Savior from sin, judgment, eternal wrath, torment in Hell forever–Savior from darkness, fire, torment, punishment, distance, wrath and hatred.
You are waiting for the Savior who did everything for you. The Savior who chose you and called you will keep you and bring you home. You were drowning and could not save yourself. But your Savior could help you and your Savior chose to rescue you. Not because you were nice, religious, rippin’-cool or a hard-workin’, God-fearin’ man. No, you were dead in your sin, a child of the devil and under the wrath of judgment.
Can this Savior pull it off? Can He bear God’s wrath for your sin? Can He take your punishment? Can He satisfy God’s holiness and be your substitute? Yes. Why? Verse 20c says, “He is the Lord Jesus Christ.” From Philippians 2:9 to 11, “the name above all names.” The second person of the Trinity, the only mediator between God and man, the only satisfaction of the human heart, the only one who can meet your truest needs.
We await the only one worthy of your worship, dedication and commitment. We wait for Christ who has all authority and all power. Christ is the Lord of lords, King of all kings, He is the Lord, Jesus Christ. He can do what no one else can–what?
#3 Our HOPE is a new Body
Verse 21a, “who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.” Our hope is a new body. The English use of the word hope is maybe it will happen, maybe it will not. The Greek word for hope is a future certainty. When Christ returns, He will transform us. Junior highers can’t wait for this body, cause they’re not certain about their body. Forty-plus can’t wait for this body, cause we’re certain our body is already deteriorating.
The Greek verb transform is a future fact. This will happen, Christian. You will, for a fact, receive from your Lord Jesus Christ a brand new, perfect body. Christ’s return signals the end of your struggle, your holy battle with sin and the flesh. Your striving to live godly in this life will finally end the moment Christ comes back, because He will give you a new, glorified body.
He will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory. Our salvation will be complete, our body will be redeemed. First John 3:2 says, “We will be like Him.” Until that time, even though you are a new creature and incarcerated in your unredeemed humanness, a body of death, you will long to be freed. Believers who die before Christ’s return experience the temporary separation of their spirit from their body. The body goes into the grave, while the spirit goes immediately into the presence of God.
Hebrews 12:23 says Heaven is currently occupied by the spirits of the righteous made perfect. First Thessalonians 4:15 to 17 says all believers who live from Pentecost to the Rapture will have their spirits joined to their resurrection bodies at the Rapture. Daniel 12:2 and Revelation 20:4 inform you that Old Testament believers and those saved during the Tribulation will receive their resurrection bodies at Christ’s Second Coming.
First Corinthians 15:22 to 23 states Christ will totally transform the bodies of all believers to make them fit for Heaven. The verse 21 verb “transform” gives us the English word schematic–I like that. Believers’ bodies have a whole new schematic–they will be refashioned and redesigned. The change will be necessary because our weak bodies are insufficient to receive and participate in the glorious state.
So verse 21, “Christ will change the present body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.” Our current body is humble, meaning weak, poor, and insignificant. Our future body will be of the same order as Christ’s own resurrected, glorified body. Christ’s resurrected body is the prototype of what awaits you.
Like Christ’s resurrection body, your resurrected body will be recognizable. After His resurrection, Christ appeared and disappeared at will, even entering a room whose doors were locked. Your future body will be able to eat, talk, and walk, but will not have the physical restrictions of your present body. It will be a radical transformation.
One writer describes it this way, “In place of an earthly body that is always characterized by physical decay, indignity, and weakness, the resurrected believer will have a heavenly body that is incapable of deterioration, beautiful in form and appearance, and with limitless energy and perfect health. Once he experiences a resurrection transformation, man will know perennial rejuvenation, since he will have a perfect vehicle for God’s deathless Spirit, a body that is invariably responsive to his transformed personality” (Murray Harris, Raised Immortal).
But how will the Lord Jesus Christ accomplish His return as Lord, giving a new body to each of His redeemed forever?
#4 HIS ABILITY to make it all happen
How will this all be possible? What about those martyrs who were devoured by lions? What about Christians who were burned alive? All those believers lost at sea? Or the millions of Christ followers who rest in their graves, but are nothing but dust now? Even worse, what about the millions of others, and the minute particles of their decaying bodies which are now a part of you and a part of me–how does that work?
Verse 21b, “by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” Paul reminds the Philippians, Christ has ability. Verse 21 says Christ has the power and Christ has the authority to make all this happen. Look at verse 21b, “By the exertion of the power”–He will do it by His power.
Exertion speaks of the process, or manner or operating, the labor. And power speaks of the energy, power, strength and ability–by the exercise of Christ’s omnipotent power. Omnipotence is an attribute of God. So what is omnipotence? Omni means all. Potence means potent or powerful—omnipotence means all powerful. He can do it.
God has unlimited greatness, ability and power. He is able to perform any reality that is consistent with His basic nature. You are really impressed with power. Baseball has its power hitters, football its power runners, basketball its power forwards. Weight lifters are power lifters. Get zapped by electricity as a kid and you will be impressed by power and scream like a girl. Stare at the sun and you will be impressed by power.
Power is significant. You can understand it—until it comes to God. Then your mind suddenly explodes. Why? Because Christ is all powerful and that defies the imagination. Add up all the power in the universe and you have not even come close to the power of God. He will return and He will transform you.
Jeremiah 32:17, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You.” Jesus proclaimed to His disciples concerning the possibility of salvation, Matthew 19:26, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Nothing will be impossible for Christ. He spoke, and the world came into existence. He didn’t even have to shout!
God can do it–not only because of His power, but also His authority. Finish verse 21b, “by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” Christ can subjugate all things–subject means to make subservient, force to submit, and able to subdue. All things means everything–the full extent, total, complete, the whole thing. “Subject all things.”
Christ can subjugate all beings, all power and all the forces of the universe to Himself. First Corinthians 15:27, “For He has put all things in subjection under His feet.” But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. So if Christ can subject the totality of all the powers of the universe unto himself, will He not be able to refashion your lowly body so it’ll be like His own glorious body?
To the Philippians Paul declared, “God is the one who saves and sanctifies.” Now he teaches, God is the One who glorifies. God will finish what He started. So Paul reminds them, Christ has the power and authority to make it all happen. The great consummation is on its way, when soul and body, the entire person, together with all the saints, will glorify God in Christ in the new Heaven and Earth, in a new, glorified, perfect body, forever and forever. Are you ready? Then . . .
A Stop loving this WORLD
Stop pursuing those objects, which don’t matter in eternity. Stop being distracted with lesser items which keep you from intimacy with Christ. Stop allowing activities to slow you down in your pursuit of Christ likeness. Stop being enamored with things which will ultimately burn in the end.
B Start loving HEAVEN
Paul said to the Philippians, “Just as Roman colonists never forget they belonged to Rome, you must never forget, you belong to Heaven.” Just as the Philippians prized being a citizen of Rome and lived their lives in honor to Rome, you must prize being a citizen of Heaven and live your life in honor of Heaven.
Colossians 3:1, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Every day, biblically imagine Heaven–think about what Heaven means when life gets hard or bad. Think about Heaven when life is good, and how much better it will be with Christ.
As you remember what Christ did for you in the past, also remember what Christ is doing for you now in the present and what Christ will do for you in the future. Post a note on your bathroom mirror. Read Alcorn’s book, In Light of Eternity for Kids at the dinner table. Talk about Heaven each night before you sleep. Wake each day hoping Christ will return that day. With every ache, pain and physical flaw, say, “Thank you, Lord, for my new and improved body is coming very soon.”
C Stay loving CHRIST
This begins by hating your sin and depending on Christ to save you from Hell. Loving Him means He must take your sin upon Himself and give you His perfect righteousness so you can stand in God’s presence now and in the future. Loving Him means He transforms you from the inside out by making you a new person with a new heart that desires to follow Him in obedience. (Do you love Christ?)
Then loving Him continues by learning His Word, following His Word, obeying His Word in the power of the Spirit. It means pursuing the means of grace to grow to be more like Christ–like prayer, fellowship, worshipping, giving, serving, discipleship, accountability and loving His bride. Christian, you do not belong to this world.
You are not like the unsaved Philippians living in a mini-Rome, focused on a petty Caesar. You are a citizen of Heaven, awaiting the return of the King above all kings. As a result, next week you will stand firm. Let’s pray.