Here’s another good challenge from Skye Jethani on the idol of nationalism:

The temptation to root our identity in our country is certainly nothing new. It was equally prevalent during the early church when Christians were divided by their loyalty to Christ and his church, and their loyalty to their nation of origin—whether Rome, Greece, or Israel. The Apostle Paul sought to overcome the idolatry of nation by reminding the diverse community of first Christians that they were foremost “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

We sometimes hear contemporary Christians cite their celestial citizenship today, usually as a way of excusing themselves from the messier problems facing society. For example, a Christian might dismiss tough debates about criminal justice reform or abortion by saying, “I’m just passing through on my way to heaven,” and “this world is not my home” as if they are merely a tourist on planet Earth. Tourists have no deep concern for the places they visit, nor do they invest themselves in their long-term flourishing. Tourists just enjoy the amenities, take in the scenery, snag a souvenir, and then head home. Is that the attitude Paul is saying Christians are to have toward the communities we live in?

Absolutely not!

Citizenship in the ancient world was understood very differently. To be a citizen of Rome, for example, meant you carried the responsibilities of a colonist, not a tourist. It was the Roman citizen’s duty to transplant the values, customs, and structures of Rome wherever they lived. The goal was not to someday escape from Philippi, Tarsus, or Alexandria and return to Rome, but instead to seek the transformation of your city into an outpost of the Roman Empire; to make Philippi, Tarsus, or Alexandria into little Romes.

So, when Paul referred to Christians as “citizens of heaven,” he didn’t mean to say we had no responsibilities for this world. In fact, he meant precisely the opposite. It is our responsibility to cultivate the kingdom of heaven right where we are just as our Lord taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”


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