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Dual Citizenship

How can believers reflect Christ in uncertain times?
Recently, we celebrated the 244th anniversary of the founding of the U.S.A. Though not without its challenges, we should be grateful for the freedoms we enjoy as citizens, paid for by countless brave men and women who gave their all. In his letter to the Philippian church, the apostle Paul reminded believers of their dual citizenship. While those followers took great pride in their Roman citizenship, Paul explained their greater responsibility to live as citizens of God’s kingdom.

The Philippian church faced increasing pressure from its society to declare complete allegiance to the Roman emperor and culture. But, as followers of Christ, they bowed only to King Jesus. This brought increased persecution and trials. Paul urges them to conduct their everyday lives in a manner worthy of the gospel. He advised them to live in way that honored their King, who lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death on the Cross, and rose on the third day for their salvation.

A recent adage is the greatest hinderance to the advancement of the gospel has been the inconsistency of Christians. A sobering thought. Could the message, “Jesus saves,” be hindered by what I say, post to social media, or other behaviors?

As our culture continues to face the ongoing challenges of pandemic, social tensions, and other uncertainties, it is vital that Christians follow Paul’s admonition to stand firm in the faith with courage, unity, and humility (Philippians 1,2).

Paul encouraged Philippian Christians to stand firm for the faith without fear. With increasing persecution and suffering, they had reason to be afraid. Though the gospel already had landed Paul in prison, he urged them to remain strong and take courage in the Lord.

Like the church in Philippi, we live in a society that is increasingly hostile to anyone who proclaims Jesus alone is God, the only way of salvation. This belief is declared archaic, intolerant, mean-spirited. We also face the additional challenges of a lingering pandemic, and its impact on jobs and the economy. We may have apprehension for ourselves or family members. Maybe we fear the future with its many unknowns.

But, we must stand firm, trusting in our Lord, and not leaning on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Thankfully, we do not walk alone. The Holy Spirit gives us boldness and comfort. God’s Word provides all we need to sustain us as we stand on its promises.

Let us rest in our Savior and not fear as we walk together in faith and mission.

Paul encourages the Philippians to stand firm in one spirit, striving together for the faith (Philippians 1:27). This carries the picture of an army fighting side by side for a common purpose.

Along with persecution from outside forces, the church experienced conflicts among its members. Paul even names the involved parties later in the letter, exhorting them to reconcile. He understood the danger posed by division.

In 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers came from behind to defeat the heavily favored Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Many envisioned the team winning additional championships, but one year later, one of its stars decided he didn’t want to play second fiddle to LeBron James and requested a trade. Then, LeBron himself moved on. Cleveland hasn’t made the playoffs since.

The scenario has been repeated too often in various sports, companies, or military units. Success is achieved only to fall apart when individuals cannot overcome their egos. This is one of Satan’s greatest tools. If he cannot bring the destruction of a church by outside attacks, he’ll sew discord amongst its members so that it crumbles from within.

We cannot allow disagreements over church strategies, building programs, political opinions, or any subject divide us as followers of Christ. We must stand together, unified in our faith in Jesus —one faith, one Lord, standing together through love and a shared purpose (Ephesians 4:3-5; Philippians 2:1-2).

Unity will come at a price. It will require sacrifice and forgiveness.

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).

The gospels remind us Jesus has forgiven us of all our sins against Him. How can I then withhold forgiveness toward others? Though we’re incapable of offering forgiveness on our own, the Holy Spirit will help us. And, Jesus is praying that we will be one, just and He and the Father are one (John 17:20).

It is vital that the Church be unified, but this will only be possible as Christians walk in humility.

Paul urged his readers to avoid selfish ambition and vain conceit. We must resist the desire to advance our own agendas or think more highly of ourselves than we should. Instead, we are to put others first.

“In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3,4).

Considering others more significant requires me to speak less and listen more to the experiences, hurts, and fears of those around me. Placing others first compels me to consider the possibility that I may not have all the answers, or that the answers I thought I had may be insufficient, or incorrect.

Paul’s stirring words should challenge us to ask how different our homes, churches, and communities might look if we truly put others first. Jesus often interrupted his schedule for others. He responded kindly to those in need of grace. Our Lord once took a towel and kneeled down to wash the feet of his disciples. Most of all, Jesus gave his life, dying a shameful death on the Cross for our sins. And, His humiliation became the grounds for his exaltation (Philippians 2:9). As we follow His way of humility, we too will find favor from our Father (Luke 14:11; James 4:10).

In our ever-changing world where each day brings new conflicts and challenges, Christians must remember that we belong to a heavenly kingdom. Our time here is brief, so we must conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. We continue to stand firm with courage, in unity, and with humility. Our message offers the only hope for a fearful, divided nation. May our own conduct always be consistent with our message.

Keith Surface

Keith Surface is manager for AG News and public relations for the Assemblies of God. He is a graduate of Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. Keith is an adjunct instructor of church history for SAGU. A licensed minister with the Assemblies of God, he regularly teaches and preaches in local churches. Keith and his wife, Melanie, have four children and live in Ozark, Missouri.