Am I the only one who constantly finds himself distracted?
And no, it’s not ADD — it’s just life. There are bills to pay, people doing crazy things in the world, and let’s not even get started on politics.
Worse yet, it seems like we are supposed to be distracted. The 24-hour news cycle, constant shows to binge on Netflix, social media, and whatever else just sucks time away from us and leaves us exhausted — and with nothing to show for it.
The technology may be new, but the problem is old. The cares of life do tend to squeeze the life out of us, but there is a solution: as followers of Jesus, we know that there is more to life than paying bills and entertainment.
In Philippians, Paul is writing to a group of believers in an extremely hostile city full of ex-soldiers devoted to worshiping the Emperor of Rome. They had bled for him and fought all over the world for him to receive their reward — a retirement with land, which was a huge prize for them. Yet along comes Paul, bringing with him word of a different Lord who leads by dying for sins. Those that converted to follow Jesus faced intense hostile treatment: intimidation, being banned from shops, and even the risk of being reported as following an illegal religion, which carried the death sentence in the Roman Empire. It sure would be easy to be distracted!
In the midst of this situation, Paul reminds the believers in Philippi of their mission, who they are, and where they are going. For the mission, he says, “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” (Phil. 3:18-19).
That may sound harsh, but remember, Paul says it with tears. He is not impassive, or angry — he is SAD — sad for the people who live this way, to the point where it literally makes him cry. These are not his enemies. These are the lost. They are on their way to a bad end, only focusing on their appetites, trying to live a comfortable life. Paul warns that the very things they take pride in, their success, their land, their military record: all of it is nothing, and it is a shame. They are focused on things that don’t matter, that don’t last — they are focused on earthly things. These are the people trapped in bondage, and in desperate need of the good news of Jesus.
I wonder, do we really understand that our neighbors, our co-workers, anyone we know who doesn’t know Jesus, is in this exact situation? They may be successful. They may be doing really well living the proverbial American dream. And we should be moved to tears for them, because the life they are living is a waste. They need Jesus. Without Him, they are trapped as enemies of God, living on a cycle of getting more stuff that never ends until the day they die.
But we can’t live that way. We can’t afford to live that way — it’s a dead end! What is the alternative to the rat race?
Knowing what really matters, and Paul clues us in and tells us, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is who we really are. Sure, we live in the same world, we have to pay bills, face problems, and take time off; but, we know that this world isn’t all there is.
We are citizens of a different country. Now, for many, the idea of citizenship tends to be a relatively minor one — but not so for the Romans! To be a citizen of Rome meant you got special legal privileges, rights, and respect. It meant they belonged and had special access. And getting this citizenship wasn’t cheap — you either had to be born in Rome or purchase it at great expense.
So Paul says we are citizens already — and of a much more important kingdom. Knowing that we already belong should take so much pressure off of us: there is nothing to earn! In fact, we’ve been sent, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20, as God’s ambassadors, to invite everyone to become citizens and to be free.
Finally, Paul reminds believers in Philippi, we already know how the story ends. It doesn’t end when we die. Instead, Jesus, “who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (3:21).
So, in a world that seems constantly out of control, as we feel ourselves aging, and as the pressures of life crowd out our hope that anything will ever get better, Paul’s word reminds us how it ends! It doesn’t end here — it ends with Jesus coming back and transforming us.
We need this today. We need Paul’s reminder that our mission is the lost and that we should be emotionally moved about the meaninglessness of their lives because they don’t know God. We need to remember who we are, and that it’s not just about the never-ending cycle of paying bills and trying to make it to the next day.
Finally, we need to remember this is not it — transformation is coming, and we can start to experience it in our lives now, and invite everyone around us to join in. That way, everyone can enjoy that wonderful, freeing knowledge that we are citizens of a heavenly world and that Jesus is coming back to transform us, and this world, into what we and the world were meant to be.