Please Adjust the Volume

From Pastor Chris

American followers of Jesus Christ have dual citizenship as citizens of the United States and citizens of heaven. Both of these identities are important and give us much reason for gratitude. Yet one is temporal and one is eternal, which means that we must ensure that our engagement with American issues does not compromise our heavenly priorities.

Writing to a very patriotic Roman colony, Philippi, Paul charged believers with “Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ…standing firm in one spirit, in one accord, contending together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27, CSB). One of the markers that Christ’s redeemed were conducting themselves as worthy citizens of heaven is their unity on earth—in particular, their unity in believing and proclaiming the news of their crucified and risen Lord.

This priority carried more challenge for the Philippians than we might immediately see on the surface. About 100 years before Paul wrote these words, Brutus and Cassius—two of Julius Caesar’s assassins—battled Mark Antony and Octavian on the plain west of the city in the Battle of Philippi. Octavian prevailed and, in the years following this battle, established Philippi as a miniature Rome, populating it with military veterans and granting the high privilege of Roman citizenship to all its inhabitants. After defeating Mark Antony and Cleopatra in battle, Octavian became the first Roman emperor—Caesar Augustus—and was revered as divine.

Imagine how much pride the residents of Philippi must have felt, living as Roman citizens in a city personally founded by Rome’s first emperor. Yet Paul calls them to a transcendent identity and unity, since “our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). For Paul, Roman citizenship was not unimportant—in Philippi he used his own Roman citizenship as leverage with the magistrates (Acts 16:37)—it was simply relativized by the eternal. If each citizenship had a volume knob, Paul seems to turn all the Roman hype down to a 4 while he turns citizenship in heaven up to 10.

We could use this volume adjustment as we navigate our dual citizenship as American Christians. Take, for example, the news this week surrounding James Comey, President Trump, and what exactly was divulged to the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador. To treat these as unimportant since America is temporal and heaven is eternal would be foolish. Yet to allow our opinions on these issues to divide heavenly citizens would be devastating. Our very witness demands that our unity in the gospel resound at a 10 while our legitimate discussions and even disagreements about American politics should remain around a 4. If someone overhears a conversation of Groveton Baptist Church members, they should notice that our singular voice about our eternal Lord is twice as loud as any conversation about our current President.

So please adjust the volume. Let us loudly proclaim our unity that we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and let us conquer by the word of our testimony—our full-voiced, unified witness to Christ as Lord. Let us not get sucked into the culture of outrage, fueled by incessant news cycles and social media echo chambers that immediately turn everything up to 10. Let eternal significance determine our volume. Whether Donald Trump turns out to be America’s greatest president or is impeached has little to do with our central calling to make disciples of all nations. So let us live worthy lives, calling citizens of all earthly nations to join us as citizens of heaven.

 

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