Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is a future-oriented letter, written to people who are from the future. I don’t mean that Paul wrote Philippians to us today; he wrote it to the Philippians in the first century. I mean that the Philippians were future people. Though they lived in Philippi in the second half of the first century, they were from the future. Consider Paul’s own words to them.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.Philippians 1:3–6 ESV
Early in Paul’s ministry the church at Philippi had partnered with him. They contributed to his ministry both financially and in prayer, providing him the assistance he needed. Paul expressed an unwavering certainty that the Lord would complete the work he had begun in them. This work would be complete “at the day of Jesus Christ”—a day in the future when the Lord returns and finishes all that he started. He refers to that day again in chapter 3.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.Philippians 3:20–21 ESV
As we saw last Sunday, many of the Philippians were citizens of Rome even as most who lived in the Roman empire were not. Yet here Paul claims their true citizenship is in heaven. It is, right now, in heaven. At this point it’s easy to think that Paul is saying that one day they will go to heaven and experience the fullness of that citizenship, but that’s not what he says. He says their citizenship is presently in heaven, and from heaven they await a Savior, the Lord Jesus. Again we need to see what he does not say and therefore see what he does say. He does not say they wait to go to heaven. Rather, they await the arrival of Jesus from heaven.
Their citizenship—and ours—is in heaven, and one day heaven will come to earth. That future reality is to be lived out in the present. As followers of Jesus we are future people. Our citizenship is right now in heaven, and one day heaven will come to us and we will be transformed, but until then we are to live as citizens of heaven. We are not yet what we will be, but what we will be is to impact how we live today.
This is why Paul then tells them to stand firm in the Lord (4:1), to help a couple quarreling ladies to get along (4:2–3), to rejoice in the Lord always (4:4), to not be anxious about anything (4:6), to think on things worthy of praise (4:8). They are to let the future reality of who they will be when Jesus returns and transforms them begin to transform them now. They are, and must be, future people—people from the future living life in the present.