Philippians 3:17-21
Our Real Home Is Heaven

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  Today is All Saints' Day.  On this day in particular we worship as we commemorate those who have already departed this world.  Our sanctuary is lined with pictures of some of those people.  We love them and miss them.  We will worship together today as we recall those of bygone days.  But, this isn't the only day we miss them.  Our offering up our worship today with their pictures before us is, in a certain sense, not easy for us to do because the solemn truth that they have already finished their lives on this earth definitely has a bearing on our lives.  We present our worship as human beings who will meet with death before too long as they did.  I don't think we can properly present today's worship to the Lord if we miss recognizing that truth.

2.  The message we are given for such a service as this is from The Epistle To The Philippian Disciples, chapter three and verses seventeen and following, which I have read [shortly] before.  In particular, the words "Our real home is in heaven, our true country is in heaven" press upon us heavily.  When we confront the truth that we are human beings who cannot escape death, we realize it is no small thing whether or not we can live while declaring, "Our real home is in heaven."

3.  Even though death is not the final boundary in the life of a human being, our lives are bound in different ways.  Paul was in prison when he wrote this epistle.  He didn't know if he would see tomorrow.  Worse, a situation outside the prison developed where the work he did so far might come to naught.  There was nothing he could do about that.  I don't think Paul's situation he was in is so far removed from our own.  It's the same for us that we don't know if we have a tomorrow.  It's the same for us that we might see what we have achieved come to naught.  We, too, are surrounded by many things too powerless to handle.  Humanity is a truly weak and fragile being.  This weak being lives in a prison enclosed by the walls of life's limits. That's the way we all are.  And in this prison all kinds of dead spirits by the names of "Worry," "Impatience," or "Fear" frequently appear.  The prison we are bound in becomes full of ghosts like these.  There are probably many who have lived with these ghosts for a long while already in the prison of their lives.

4.  Yet, full of joy and filled with pride Paul says here, "Our real home is heaven."  For Paul, the prison in which he was physically bound was no longer something which bound him.  It was not a block filled with ghosts.  His life was not bound up.  Because he had a bind or tie to heaven.  Said another way, heaven was opened to him.  These words are given to us today.  We, too, can live declaring with Paul, "Our real home is in heaven."  And that's how we should want to live.  For that reason, during this service, today, then I would like for us to carefully consider what these words given to us mean.

Citizenship Given Us As A Gift Of Grace

5.  Paul wrote this letter addressed to the church at Philippi from prison.  The city of Philippi was a colony in the Roman empire.  As a result, although Philippi was one of the cities in the [Greek] region of Macedonia, it did not have a Greek style of daily life, but a Roman one.  In other words, although the Philippians lived in Macedonia their real homeland was Rome.  Therefore, I'm sure when they heard the words, "Our real home is in heaven" the disciples of Philippi were immediately able to grasp the imagery of this phrase.  The majority of the inhabitants there held citizenship in Rome.  Because they held this citizenship, they enjoyed various special privileges.  That was also something they were proud of, too.  I'd say Paul is making no mistake writing these words with this image of Roman citizenship in Philippi.

6.  But still on the other hand, we must not overlook the fact that there are decisively different elements between saying "Our homeland is Rome" and saying "Our real home is in heaven."  An awareness of the problem of whether or not it was appropriate for a person to be a citizen of Rome never occurred to those who held Roman citizenship in Philippi.  Since they are Roman citizens their relationship with the Roman emperor was axiomatic and there was no need to dare re-question that relationship.  However, when they say "Our real home is in heaven," they weren't able to think of it in the same way.  Because by that their relationship with God is called into question and not their relationship with the Roman emperor.

7.  Consider [this].  What is heaven in the first place?  People today don't think that heaven is located way beyond the blue.  That which pertains to heaven goes beyond our understanding.  We can't easily speak of it.  But one answer is possible and practical.  Heaven could be defined as where God is.  Heaven is the world where God is and God rules.  Since that is so, when we say "Our real home is in heaven," then a relationship with God is called into question.  However, when a relationship with God is called into question, are we really able to say pointing to ourselves that "I am a citizen who considers heaven my real home?"  Can we say we are worthy as citizens of heaven?  I don't think we can say we are.  Because there is sin in us.  Because we are unable to stand before a holy God.  In human relationships our shams, however many, might work.  But, with God our lies are ineffective.  We will have to stand naked under God's holy light.  Then our sin will be the issue.

8.  Therefore, the words "Our real home is in heaven," originally ought to be words no one can put in their mouth.  We could never qualify [on our own] to obtain the right to be a citizen in heaven.  There will never be a reward for any of our deeds or achievements.  Because in the sight of God our sin becomes the issue.  If we were to regard the unutterable words as still possible for us, it would only come from God's special gift of grace.  Since sin is the problem in a relationship with God, we have but to receive forgiveness.  That is, it only comes from the gift of redemption manifested on the cross of Christ.  It only comes from a righteousness (3:9) which is given from God based on a faith that believes in Christ.  When we are under the cross of Christ we can first say that "Our real home is in heaven."

Those In Opposition To The Cross

9.  Because Paul knew this, while before Him, he wrote as follows:  "I said it so many times, but even now I say it while weeping, there are many who walk in opposition to the cross of Christ," (verse eighteen).  The phrase "Our real home is in heaven" is evidently compared to this phrase [from verse eighteen].  The phrase "Our real home is in heaven" is incompatible with a walk that is hostile against the cross.  He says, "The place they will end up is hell."  The reason for that should be clear from what I have already stated [e.g. we are all sinners unable to acquire salvation on our own merits and therefore are worthy of destruction].

10.  The cross of Christ is an event based entirely on the love of God.  Both forgiveness of sin which comes from redemption in Christ and righteousness which is given through the cross of Christ are founded entirely on God's love. On the cross of Christ God perfectly showed his love in which he still loves sinners.  But love gets its real meaning in freedom.  Love cannot force [anyone].  It cannot make anyone respond by compulsion.  We can see that truth, though imperfectly, from our own daily experiences.  We can't force our love no matter how much we have loved our parents or children.  It's possible for them to turn their backs on us.  At that time, regardless of how much we have loved them, a perfect relationship and association with one another won't be realized.

11.  The relationship with God and man is similar.  To be in opposition against the cross of Christ means one no longer regards a need for God's forgiveness.  If a person doesn't regard the need for God's forgiveness and then turns his or her back on God's grace, there will never be a good relationship established with God.  In such a position it is not possible for an interaction with love and a life of fellowship with God.  God will cut off a person from his love.  The person who turns his or her back on the cross cuts himself or herself off from God's love.  If you reject the light, there is only darkness.  If you keep rejecting God's love and life, there is only hell.  People drive themselves away into hell.

12.  While weeping Paul says about such people, (verse nineteen), "They make their stomachs god, take pride in what they should be ashamed of and only think of this passing world."  Unless we turn our attention onto the love of God as revealed in the cross and turn ourselves over to God's love, we will always make something else as god and turn ourselves over to that god.  At that time, Paul says, it is their own "stomachs" that first become god.  There may be some who hear this and get perturbed* by this very thing.  But, we should like to examine ourselves under this message dispassionately and objectively.

13.  "Stomach" means appetite or desire.  The Bible does not say that desire in and of itself is wrong.  "The stomach [of desire]" is necessary to live.  But, while desire is something that should serve a person, a person is not to exist to serve his appetites.  "The stomach [of desire] itself is not the problem, rather making "the stomach" god is the problem.  And such a thing as that can happen all too much.  When fulfilling desires becomes the orientation of one's daily life, that person makes his or her "stomach" god.  When satisfying one's wants becomes the purpose of one's life that person makes his or her "stomach" god and that "belly" god changes into a tyrant and before you know it starts to drag the person around.  While they get worn out and exhausted they are serving that "belly" god.  Because the stomach is not the God of heaven but a god of this passing world, as long as one serves that god, a person can only think of what pertains to this world.  While being proud of what they should be ashamed of, they earnestly think only of this time period, serve the "belly" god of this world, and wind up wasting the days of their precious lives all the while wearing their bodies out.

Be An Imitator Of Me

14.  It is clear that the phrase "Our real home is in heaven" is incompatible with such a way of living.  That's why Paul says in verse seventeen, "Be an imitator of me."  This sentence seems to smack of haughtiness at first glance.  But, as we have already seen, Paul is not saying "be an imitator of me" because he was a fine person or because he was a perfect believer.  That's not why, rather, he speaks as a person who could never be saved [on his own power] and who couldn't live unless he trusted completely in the cross.  He is saying [that sentence] pointing out what kind of person he really is.  He says to live in reliance on the cross as he is doing.  He means don't go against the cross.

15.  Last Sunday, one of our brothers who was hospitalized with leukemia was baptized there in a germ free room in the hospital.  When I met with him previously, he told me of his wish to receive baptism as follows, "Although I thought about entering the faith for a long time, until today I felt I had no qualification to undergo baptism.  But, after I realized that believing is all I had to do, I resolved to be baptized."  He got baptized not [because of] any qualifications that he was humanly able to fulfill, nor out of his achievements he had accumulated, but he relied on the cross alone and turned himself over to the love of God as manifested in the cross.  And in relying on the cross alone, he began living in community with God.  He began living with heaven as his real home.  I think I got to see in this brother the meaning of the phrase from Paul "be an imitator of me."

16.  I would like for us to respond right now again to this scriptural message.  Let's live as imitators of Paul.  In addition, I'd like us to turn our attention on those who have walked as examples of Paul and others like him and for us to live heading in the same direction as they went.  Let's live heading in the same direction as those who have walked that way and so completed their lives and as those persons whom we have thus been commemorating [here today].  Always look up to the cross of Christ with thanksgiving!  While we do, we too, with Paul and generations of others, can say in unison, "Our real home is in heaven!"  When we do, we are no longer bound in prison encircled by the walls of human limitations.

End Note:

*Get perturbed:  Actually, the Japanese literally says "stick out one's stomach, or raise one's chest," which physically describes one of the postures that anger may take.  The sermon is going to expand on this word "hara."

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