Philippians 3. 20, 21

The purpose of these two articles is to provide an exposition of the closing verses of Philippians 3. It should be noted at the outset that there is no justification for placing verses 18 and 19 in parenthesis as in the Authorised Version. The teaching of verse 20 follows on naturally from verse 19.

"For”. Paul had just spoken of some whose minds were set on “earthly things”, v.19. The Christian stands in marked contrast to such men; his proper concerns and interests are directed not towards earth but towards heaven, v.20.

"Our conversation". The word rendered “conversation” is related to the Greek words for “city” and “citizen’. This particular noun does not occur again in the New Testament, although its kindred verb is found in 1.27 ("conversation"). See too an associated word in Acts 22.28; “I obtained this citizenship with a great sum”, lit. The expression should probably be translated “Our citizenship” as in the Revised Version.

To understand Paul’s meaning it is necessary to understand a tittle about Philippi itself. It was founded by, and named after, Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, in the 4th century B.C. It fell under Roman domination about 168 B.C. and was raised to the status of a military colony in 42 B.C. following the victory of Antony and Octavian over Brutus and Cassius outside its walls. Luke specifically noted Philippi’s status as a “colony”, Acts 16.12. As such it was a replica in miniature of Rome itself.

Luke drew attention also to the pride and privilege of the occupants of the city as Roman citizens. Note the words of the owners of the spirit-possessed girl, “…us… being Romans”, Acts 16.21. See also the reaction of the magistrates to Paul’s words, “… us… being Romans”, vv. 37-39. Roman citizenship counted for a lot at Philippi!

Against this background, the apostle points “the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi”, 1.1, to a more important and exalted citizenship. Their (the word “our” is emphatic by position) citizenship lay in heaven!

The citizens of Philippi had heir names enrolled on the register of Rome. The believers at Philippi had their names in the book of life, 4.3; cf. Luke 10.20. The citizens of Philippi owed their allegiance to Caesar as Lord in the far off city of Rome. The Christians at Philippi owed allegiance only to Jesus as Lord in heaven itself.

'"Is”. This is not taken from the common Greek verb “to be”. The Greek word used (huparcko) lays stress on the actual existence of the Christian’s heavenly citizenship. It occurs also in 2.6 and could well be translated “subsists”. The heavenly “civic status” of the Philippian saints was no delusion or dream.

"In heaven’. One of the best commentaries on this section is chapter 5 of The Epistle to Diognetus, an anonymous Christian work of about 150 A.D. The following is an extract.

"For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life … But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvellous, and confessedly contradicts expectation.

They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships … They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the flesh. Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.”

We too are called to be “strangers (those who live in a community but whose citizenship is somewhere else) and pilgrims (those who have no settled or permanent residence and are just passing through)”, 1 Pet. 2.11. “Seek the things above, where Christ is, silting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not the things on the earth”, Col. 3.1, 2 lit.

"From whence also”. That is, “out of which (ie. heaven) also”.

"We look for”. The Greek word (apekdechomai) is not found in the LXX and occurs only rarely in secular Greek. It occurs six times, however, in the writings of Paul, It indicates “eagerly expecting and waiting for”. Is this our attitude to the prospect of our Lord’s return?


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