Slaves, Saints, and Sojourners (3)March 22, 2013
Slaves, Saints, and Sojourners (3)
Now why do I say that we are “sojourners”? Where is it in this opening salutation of Paul to the Philippians (1:1-2)? It is found in Paul’s description of them as being simultaneously “in” Christ Jesus and “at Philippi.” Paul is declaring that Christians are simultaneously citizens of two kingdoms. They live at one and the same time “in Christ” and “in the world of this ancient Roman city.”
Note well the emphasis on both earthly and spiritual geography: they live in two places at once: in Philippi and in Christ! In one sense the culture and political climate and geographical terrain of ancient Philippi shaped these people. But in another and more profound sense the sphere of influence in which they live and walk and talk and breathe is Jesus Christ. He is the determinative power in their lives. They are “in” him all the while they are “at” Philippi.
Thus there are two levels of experience for the believer, two kingdoms of which he/she is a citizen, two perspectives from which we may view life. For me today, I am in/at Oklahoma City. In a real sense, that is where I am. But it cannot and must not ever exhaust who or what I am. We are more than citizens of an earthly city or state or country. Bishop Handley Moule put it this way:
“They moved about Philippi ‘in Christ.’ They worked, served, kept the house, followed the business, met the neighbors, entered into their sorrows and joys, . . . suffered their abuse and insults when such things came – all ‘in Christ.’ They carried about with them a private atmosphere, which was not of [Macedonia] . . . but of heaven. To them Christ was the inner home, the dear invisible but real resting place. . . . And what a rich gain for poor Philippi, that they, being in Him, were in it” (28).
No matter where you are geographically and physically, what you are spiritually will never change. You may be at work, at play, overseas, under the weather, out of money, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ!
You may be down in the dumps, over the hill, or beside yourself, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ! You may be at paradise or in prison, at the movies or in Chicago, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ! Your geographical, earthly, physical location has no effect on your spiritual identity.
But the reverse is different. It is precisely because you are in Christ that wherever you live and work and play, you make an impact, you carry an influence, you make a difference. Your spiritual identity as one in Christ must control and characterize how you live, wherever you live.
And remember: it is in Oklahoma City or Chicago or London or whatever geographical location you call home that you are in Christ. They are true simultaneously. You do not live in Christ only while you are at church, on your knees, or in a home group, then to return to being simply in your city when you leave that more “holy” atmosphere. Your “in-Christness” is not simply a heavenly reality that obtains only somewhere up there. You are “in Christ” even when you are “in sin”, although the reality of the former ought to progressively diminish ones experience of the latter!
But there’s more. Although we are sojourners on this earth we are not without a home: the local church is our home. Notice carefully that “all the saints” who are at Philippi are “with the overseers and deacons” of the local church.
Paul makes this even more clear in 1 Corinthians 1:2 where “the church of God that is in Corinth” stands as further defining “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” Thus to be a “saint” is not an experience or status you enjoy alone, by yourself, but is a distinctly corporate and communal designation. If you have been called and trust in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ you are by definition assumed to be a part of the “church” that is gathered in whatever geographical location where you find yourself. Paul would have been befuddled and incredulous had someone referred to a person as a “saint” in Christ Jesus who was not part of the local “church of God” in their particular region.
Slaves! Saints! Sojourners! What a glorious identity we have in Christ Jesus!