For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: (Philippians 3:20)
In the morning preaching service, I am starting a four part sermon series on Christian citizenship. The basis for our study is Matthew 17:22-27 in which Jesus taught the disciples their responsibility to the Roman and Jewish authorities. The issue is raised in the matter of taxation, in this case a temple tax, and Jesus used this incident to show the disciples how we are to be good citizens of our country in order that we might not hinder the preaching of the gospel.
When we become Christians, we are born into the family of God and become heirs of the riches of Christ. We are in the world but no longer of this world. We are citizens of the new heavenly country and we are to reflect the worthiness and character of people that are privileged to be granted citizenship. In Philippians 3:20, our King James Version uses the word conversation which had much more depth of meaning in past centuries than it does today. The word means “the conduct of our lives” or “the manner in which we live our lives.” This usage is reflected in our modern word “citizenship.”
Christians are to be good citizens even when we do not agree with everything our government does. As we shall see in the next few weeks, human government was ordained for our good and where it does not conflict with our obedience to Christ we are to defer to it. In today’s text, Jesus made the point that He was not subject to the Jews’ taxation, but rather than create a needless controversy over something they did not yet understand, it was better to accede to their demands. If Jesus had been insistent that He should not pay the tax, He would have been considered an anarchist and troublemaker which would have given the Romans and Jews a viable cause to crucify Him.
We must keep the same things in mind as we live in this world while being citizens of another world. We must always reflect well on the Saviour. If we are persecuted, it should be for our well-doing not because we have offended others needlessly. Matthew Henry wrote: “Christian prudence and humility teach us, in many cases, to recede from our right, rather than give offence by insisting upon it. We must never decline our duty for fear of giving offence…; but we must sometimes deny ourselves in that which is our secular interest, rather than give offence.”
We often encounter laws enacted by Congress and our local governments that we do not agree with (especially taxes!). Sometimes our lawmakers pass nonsensical laws and many we think are surely more harmful to our country than helpful. While our government allows peaceful protest of these laws, we must be very cautious in our exercise of the right to protest. When Christians picket and make a ruckus over issues that do not affect the heavenly kingdom, they can inadvertently bring the heavenly kingdom into the controversy. It is better that we bear the inequities of bad legislation rather than reproach the Kingdom of God.
These are some of the things we will discuss over the next few weeks. At times you may think you are back in middle school civics class. This is fine because we need to look at secular citizenship through the lens of heavenly citizenship. Someone said Bible stands for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” The Bible instructs Christians on living in this perverse world. You cannot be a good citizen of heaven if you are not a good citizen here.
Pastor V. Mark Smith