COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Phil 3:20-21, NKJV)
Having warned us of those who “mind earthly things,” the Spirit now shows us how unreasonable and foolish it is to center our thoughts on this world. He continues to clarify who we are, and what our destiny is. From this perspective, it is clear that all of Satan’s efforts involve turning us from the due consideration of these things. Our adversary knows the effectiveness of a heavenly focus, and therefore labors to neutralize such a stance. In keeping with the heavenly agenda, the Apostle now encourages us to sharpen our spiritual concentration. There are false prophets, to be sure–enemies of the cross of Christ. But we must not allow our attention to remain upon them. Nor, indeed, should we allow our hearts to be pulled down by the thought of them. Rather, pondering who WE are, will bring relief in the battle. As we look to our appointed future, our hearts will be refreshed.
OUR REAL CITIZENSHIP
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (NKJV). The KJV reads, “our conversation [manner of life] is in heaven,” emphasizing the Spirit is not speaking of a mere formality. It is possible to be a citizen without having any real interest in the domain in which we are citizens. However, this is not the case with “our citizenship.” The lives of believers are actually lived “in heavenly places.” That is where we were placed when we were “quickened together with Christ” (Eph 2:5-6). The new birth and remission of sin includes a change in environment as well as a change of nature.
A heavenly citizenship involves being more at home in the presence of the Lord than in the presence of men. It includes a stronger appetite for “the things of the Spirit of God” than for the things that are “in the world.” Every person “delivered from the power of darkness” is “translated into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son”–and He is in heaven (Col 1:13). The new birth places us in that realm, making us compatible and harmonious with it.
Citizenship in heaven is exhibited in the posture of the believer. That confirmation is primarily to the individual himself. It is also displayed to those with eyes to see. This confirmation is found in walking by faith (as distinguished from walking by sight--2 Cor 5:7), walking in the Spirit (as distinguished from walking in the flesh--Gal 5:16,25), and walking in the light (as distinguished from walking in darkness–1 John 1:7).
By making us citizens of heaven, the Lord confirms to our hearts the worthlessness of this world. While we remain in this world, awaiting the possession of our inheritance, we receive life from heaven. Rather than minding “earthly things,” heavenly citizens place their affection on things above (Col 3:1-3). Like the patriarchs of old, they are desiring the place of their citizenship. That very desire moves God Himself to be unashamed of them. “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb 11:16). There is no place in the Kingdom of God for earthly mindedness, carnality, or living as though this world is central.
To remove all doubt about the nature of our citizenship, the Spirit adds,“from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Heaven, after all, is where Jesus is. When He ascended up from this world, it is written,“He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God”(Mk 16:19). He was “taken up into heaven” (Acts 1:11), and is now appearing “in the presence of God for us” (Heb 9:24). There, in heaven,“angels and authorities and powers” have been “made subject to Him” (1 Pet 3:22). Heavenly citizenship, therefore, does not make people impractical and useless. Believers have been united with Jesus, and are presently workers together with Him. They live in anticipation of His return, at which time they will be rise to meet Him and ever be with Him (1 Thess 4:17).
This “looking” is not a casual or periodic glance. It is a fervent longing–a passionate anticipation. Because faith makes us misfits in this world, we long for the realm, and the Lord of the realm, to which we have been joined. Where this looking and longing is not found, there is no vivifying hope.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF OUR BODIES
“Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (KJV). As we live by faith, we become acutely aware of the inadequacy of our present bodies. They are the weakest part of our person, and the greatest handicap to our walk. Continually we must “buffet” them, as they tend to be recalcitrant and wayward (1 Cor 9:27). They are appropriately called “earthen vessels,” or frail clay pots (2 Cor 4:7). They are in a state of deterioration, gradually making their way toward the grave. They are the“outward man,” and are to be seen in sharp contrast with the “inward man,”which has been born again. As it is written, “but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16).
Indeed, our bodies are, because of this circumstance, “vile bodies.” Other versions use more palatable language: “lowly body” (NKJV, NIV, RSV),“body of our humiliation” (NRSV), “body of our humble state” (NASB). The word used here means “the experience of being abased, a low status, or lowly condition” (Thayer). The idea is that our bodies are a source of shame because of their weakness, inclination to sin, and mortality. Although we presently live in them, they are in stark contrast to the eternal life we have received. We are not at all content with them, and look forward to being delivered from them.
When our Lord comes, He will change, or transform, these bodies. This is speaking of the resurrection, at which time we will be made complete. Our new bodies are already in place, waiting to be inhabited. As it is written, “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens . . . our habitation which is from heaven” (2 Cor 5:1-3). In regeneration, God has wrought, or prepared, us to move into our new body–“our house from heaven” (2 Cor 5:5). The transformation will be instantaneous–in the “twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15:52). The Spirit does not go into the change from a procedural viewpoint, describing precisely how all of this will take place. Neither should we be distracted by such thoughts.
Our new bodies will be like Christ’s “glorious body.” They will be thoroughly adapted to the eternal state, and serve us in every way. Christ’s“glorious body” has not yet been seen. When He appeared to His disciples following His resurrection, it is my understanding that He accommodated Himself to their frailty. This was necessary because feeble flesh cannot stand in the presence of Divine glory (Ex 33:20). It is said of the glorified Christ,“Whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Tim 6:16). This, however, will not always be the case! We are looking for a better day!
When Jesus appears, we will “see Him as He is.” It is that vision itself that will “change our vile bodies.” As it is written, “but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). How we look forward to that time! It is something about which frequent conversation should be heard. This theme must find its way into preaching and teaching. It must be done with diligence and fervency. Spiritual life cannot be sustained without this knowledge and confidence. This is because believers are really citizens of heaven. They are that by nature, and have received the Holy Spirit to confirm their citizenship (2 Cor 5:1).
THE TRANSFORMING POWER
“ . . . by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (NASB). The changing of our mortal bodies appears so great a matter that some are tempted to remove it from their thinking. I have frequently heard unbelief surface in discussions about this subject. Many do not speak of it at all, perceiving it to be an unessential subject. All of these tendencies are addressed by the Spirit in this phrase: “according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (KJV).
No believer doubts the fact of Christ’s power. As it is written, “He hath made the earth by his power” (Jer 10:12). Presently, our Savior is “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb 1:3). In redemption, this very power has been channeled, as it was, toward us. Paul once prayed the eyes of our understanding would be opened to see the greatness of this power toward us (Eph 1:20). Now, the Spirit projects us to the end of time, telling us that very power will be exerted in the changing of our bodies.
One might imagine that transforming our bodies would not require a lot of Divine power–but that is only an imagination. It will require the EXERTION of our Lord’s power! In a potent affirmation of this truth, the Spirit says, “And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power” (1 Cor 6:14). Among other things, this reveals the nature of sin and its effects. If men imagine they can overcome sin in their own strength, they will also have to raise their own bodies from the grave by their own power. Is there anyone foolish enough to believe this is possible?
Notice, it is Jesus Himself Who will “change our vile bodies.” That change will be an expression of the mighty power He NOW possesses. The same power that changed our nature will change our bodies! The same power that sustains us in grace will change our bodies! Believers are to reason, If Christ’s power can effect the future work, it can surely do the present one!
At this point, the Spirit associates the mighty power of Jesus with the subduing of things to Himself: “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control” (NIV). Believers must not doubt the truth of this statement. Whatever we may think about free will or free moral agency, Christ is able to “bring everything under His control”–even our “vile bodies.” His control extends from the realm of glory to the cursed realm. It includes angels, men, the devil, and circumstances. Jesus has been given “to the church” in the capacity of “Head over all things” (Eph 1:22). Eventually, every foe will bow before Him and confess that He is Lord. Every child of God will be brought safely to the portals of glory, triumphant over a fierce and unrelenting foe! All things will be worked together for our good.
Now the Spirit tells us that our bodies will be changed to be like Christ’s body, by that very power. Our Lord is fully able to do this, and we have been informed that He will do it. It will all occur when He comes again. Until then, grace has made us citizens of heaven--the very heaven now occupied by the risen and exalted Christ. All of this is telling us salvation is fitting us for the new body–a glorious body. Think of it–we will be fully harmonious with glory! No part of our persons will not fit it. Divine glory will neither blind nor frighten us, for we ourselves will be “glorified,” as appointed (Rom 8:30).