In today’s passage Paul encourages the Philippians to continue model their lives after him (v 17). In other places Paul calls believes to “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). There is great value in having a physical example to follow as we seek to shape our lives around Christ. Paul calls the Philippian church to “live up to” what has already been attained. The repetition of the word “live”, and the context of the passage encourages us to focus not just on the beliefs of the Philippian church but on the way their live those beliefs out.
This passage contrasts those who live focused on things of this earth and those who live as citizens of heaven. Those who live focused on this earth have their minds set on “earthly things” instead of being set on Christ. There are guided by their own desires (“their god is their stomach” v 19) rather than being guided by sacrificial service to others, as we heard Paul encourage in chapter 2. They are people who may not have denied Christ by their words, but by their selfish actions and their desire to put themselves first (“their glory is their shame” v 19) have denied Christ in the way they live.
Paul encourages the church that citizens of heaven must live differently. They are to be reminded that their citizenship is in heaven. Interestingly he doesn’t suggest that it ‘will be' in heaven, he says that it ‘is’ currently in heaven. He calls them to live their citizenship now in the place God has placed them. That doesn’t mean that they withdraw from this world and become disconnected with it as they wait for God’s Kingdom to come in glory, it means they are to stand firm in the Lord (4:1) and continue to live other-focused lives of humility and service, in service of Christ now.
I think one of the challenges for us is that we often read this passage like it’s talking about ‘enemies of Christ’ as those outside the church walls. The context of the letter to the Philippian church suggests that the issue of living as citizens of heaven, or those who have their “mind set on earthly things” is an issue within the church. The way we live out our faith is important. Our world today will be quick to point out where we, as citizens of heaven, live focused on earthly things. As we surrender control to Jesus today, let us ask him where we need to take our eyes off earthly things, and live as citizens of heaven.