For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20 NASB
Citizenship - When you read this verse, doesn’t anything seem odd to you? It doesn’t matter if you read it in the NIV (“but our citizenship is in heaven.”) Both English translations say pretty much the same thing. What they say implies something that might not fit the orientation of a Hebrew thinker like Paul. The Greek word (politeuma) doesn’t quite mean what the English translations suggest, (we mentioned it here). We have to dig a bit to see why.
Politeuma is only used one time in the New Testament. It’s part of the polis family of words (our idea of politics). But rather than being about a citizen, politeuma is really about the state itself, the commonwealth or community administration that governs its members. The word politeuo means “citizen,” as we see in Acts 22:28, but the emphasis of politeuma is not on the individual who is a citizen but rather on the governing commonwealth.
Read this verse again. When we read it with the English translation “citizenship,” where does the emphasis lie? Doesn’t this translation imply that each of us is a citizen? Doesn’t the translation focus on our individual rights and calling as God’s children? Doesn’t it suggest that we should be carrying passports issued from heaven? But what would this verse suggest if the word politeuma were translated “commonwealth” or “community”? Suddenly the Greek individualism disappears. Now the verse suggests that we are all one within the commonwealth, that the most important thing is not you and me but rather the relationship we have to the governing administration of heaven. Now Paul sounds like a Hebrew rather than a Greek.
When you read this verse the first time, did this Greek emphasis on the individual citizenship bother you? Did it raise a tiny question in the back of your mind? Did you hear a little voice saying, “Wait a minute! That’s doesn’t sound very Hebraic to me. I wonder what the Greek word really means?” Probably you didn’t think like this. That’s OK. That’s why you read expositions like this one – so someone else will raise questions that often go right by us. But now your awareness has been tweaked. Now you will have to read with a sharper eye, sorting out the Greek philosophical perspective from the deeper layers of Hebrew thought.
If you step back a few verses, you will find that Paul is exhorting readers to walk according to the governing principles of the commonwealth of heaven. In other words, live as God expects. It’s fascinating to notice that there is only one commonwealth of heaven, only one heavenly administration. Everyone who belongs comes under the same legislation. One God. One Torah. One Messiah. One community of the saints.
Topical Index: politeuma, citizenship, commonwealth, polis, Philippians 3:20
Thursday, April 21st, 2011 | Author: Skip Moen
for our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20 NASB
Citizenship – Almost 100 years ago, Oswald Chambers said, “The Church ceases to be a spiritual society when it is on the look-out for the development of its own organization.” It doesn’t appear as though the Church as a whole has learned much from Chambers’ remark in the last century. Apparently Sha’ul had the same concern in the first century of this era. That’s why it is important to realize that the word he chose here is not “citizenship.” It is politeuma, used in the New Testament to describe the commonwealth of all followers of the Way, the community of the saints. This reminds us that Yeshua made no distinctions whatsoever between the ones who followed His instructions. They are known by their love for each other regardless of prior experience, ethnic background, social status or any other demarcation. The only thing that matters is that they are one Body in Him. To be a member in good standing in the Body of the Messiah is to actively care for the other members of the Body. Period! No doctrinal distinction, no attendance badges, no statements of faith or denominational affiliation has any bearing on the actions taken by those who follow Yeshua. If you love Him, you will love His own. You will act with benevolence at cost to yourself toward those who are also attempting to follow. Period.
We could almost say that division is of the devil. Paul nearly says that. Certainly strife, quarrels and the need to be right no matter what are not part of loving each other. The truth matters, of course, but the truth is that those for whom the “truth” matters more than compassion are probably not grasping the truth at all. Perhaps the real test of truth is quite a bit simpler than theological correctness. Perhaps the real test is, “Do you care enough to do something about it?” whatever that “something” happens to be.
Chambers touched a sensitive nerve with his observation. The natural appetite of Man is to take the fruit from the Tree. It appears so beautiful, just like all those marvelous examples of architecture in cathedrals. It looks good for nourishment, just like all the technologically-savvy enhancements to Sunday teaching. It appeals to the senses, just like great praise and worship bands, orchestrated sermons and comfortable pews. But I doubt anyone thinks about the Tree when they desire more building, more programs, more staff and more evangelism. What do you think would happen to the Church (with a capital C) if the only activity was taking care of each other? Would we still need that low-hanging fruit from the Tree? Would we still need a place for the Tree to grow? Or would we find that caring for each other is an activity that best occurs where people are in need, not where we come to talk about their needs?
Topical Index: Church, community, citizenship, membership, politeuma, Philippians 3:20
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
, July 12.