We live in a world of beliefs. We are told that if we just invest ourselves fully in certain human endeavors, we can save ourselves and we can solve the problems of the world. Politics, health and fitness, education, science and technology, art, money and economics, family, and romance. Each of these are important in their own way, but none of them are the saviors they are touted to be.
I do not believe in politics. It’s important not to ignore politics and to engage in it. But it is not the answer to the world’s problems. There is no political solution that doesn’t create its own set of problems; no perfect politician. Politics is not the source of our hope.
I do not believe in health and fitness. It’s important not to ignore our health and physical and emotional fitness and the wisdom of doctors. But it’s not the answer to my problems. Even the fit fall apart, body and soul. Health and fitness are not the source of my hope.
I do not believe in education. It’s important not to ignore the life of the mind and the knowledge of this world. But it’s not the answer to our problems. Even the educated do the very things they’ve been taught not to do — 90% of smokers who are told to change or die within a few short years don’t change. Education is not the source of our hope.
I do not believe in science and technology. It’s important not to choose ignorance over scientific truth or to reject technology as evil. But every scientific breakthrough and every technological innovation opens its own can of worms of ethical dilemmas; the more we innovate, the more problems we face. Science and technology are not the source of our hope.
I do not believe in art. It’s important to foster human imagination, creativity, and expression. But art lies as much as it tells the truth and is easily bent to mere entertainment and numbing nonsense. Just check Netflix. Art is not the source of our hope.
I do not believe in money and economics. It’s important to engage in commerce, which requires money. But the love of money is the source of all kinds of evil, as Jesus said. We never have enough. Money is not the source of our hope.
I do not believe in family. It’s important not to ignore our families but to engage fully in them, to love them and be loved by them. But all families are psychotic, as Douglas Coupland’s book title aptly suggests. Our dysfunctions run deep no matter how well we hide them. Family is not the source of our hope.
I do not believe in sex and romance. It’s important not to reject intimacy, for loneliness and isolation are the worst of all human experiences and marriage is a holy thing. But the quest for a soul mate is ultimately a snipe hunt and many who think they’ve found theirs end up broken apart. Just ask Taylor Swift. Romantic love is not the source of our hope.
All the promises of these false messiahs leave us empty in the end. Let down and deflated. Feeling tricked and used and jaded. There is only one Savior and this Savior is not of human contrivance or control like all the rest. We do not make or manipulate him. He is the one in charge. He is the source of our hope.
The reason we fall for all of these manufactured messiahs is that they’re ours. We initiate each of them. We set the terms. We’re in control.
Personally, I like being in control. I like doing things my way. And I really don’t like not being in control. Years ago, I had my wife do all the driving for a week. I hated it. I want the steering wheel under my two hands, not hers, not anyone else’s — not even God’s hands.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he does something outrageous. He slays their sacred cow in a few words that seem innocuous to us. He writes:
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. [Philippians 3:20-21]
Of anyone in the Roman empire, it was the Philippians who were most proud of their Roman citizenship. Only about 10% of the empire were Roman citizens, but Philippi was a Roman colony, giving each person born there automatic Roman citizenship. To be in a Roman colony wasn’t the same as being in a British colony like India in the early 20th century. A Roman colony was considered to be an extension of Rome itself. It was Rome, the actual city itself, just located somewhere else. But here’s Paul saying that the citizenship of the Philippian Christians wasn’t in Rome at all, it’s somewhere else. They don’t live in an extension of Rome, they live in an extension of heaven.
And not only that, Paul appropriates two terms that were applied to Caesar — Savior and Lord — and applies them to Jesus, reminding them that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed king.
Having a different citizenship and a different king leads to having a different hope.
They “eagerly await” the coming of Jesus, who will “bring everything under his control.” Their hope is strong, because the promise is both powerful and certain.
Earlier in the chapter, Paul wrote of true believers as “we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” [Phil. 3:3].
All of the false messiahs we look to save us, from politics to education to romantic love, put confidence in the flesh. They ask us to trust in human effort and human know-how and human skill. But every single one of them sells us a bill of goods. None of them follows through on their promises. They bluff and we buy. And we’re always, always disappointed.
Paul reminds us in Philippians that we have already begun to receive what Jesus offers through our salvation and the pouring out of the Spirit on us. But he also reminds us throughout the letter that there is more to the promise yet to come. We haven’t received it all. We haven’t been let down like we have with all these other promisers. There’s more. It’s coming. It’s just beyond the bend and it’s incredible. What we’ve received already is a downpayment assuring what is still headed our way; it’s the guarantee of our hope.
When a friend writes on Facebook, “I believe sports can unite the world,” I tilt my head and say to myself, “Really?” Sports are fun and all and can get a lot of people cheering at the same time, but that’s just about the weakest form of unity there is. Sports has no power to create a real and lasting unity and it’s foolish of us to expect it to.
We have a different citizenship. A different identity. A different future. A different hope. So, let’s engage in art and science and economics and politics, for each of these is important in its own way for the thriving of human community, but let’s not expect more from them than they have to offer. None of them is a savior worth hoping in, so let’s stop treating them as if they are.