America Bless God!
3 July 2022 Philippians 3:4b-4:1
July 4th 1776 is a remarkable date. It is the day the British colonies on the East coast of North America declared their independence from Great Britain. Two hundred and forty-six years ago a group of men decided to take the bold step in defying King George III and telling the world that they were forming a new nation. These men had no great military power to back their declaration with strength. In signing and publishing the Declaration of Independence they were taking a huge risk. Even though The United States of America is nearly two hundred and fifty years old, it is young by the standards of the world. The Union has withstood a terrible civil war and countless other conflicts. It has stood strong in the face of injustice and oppression. Even when there were those who fought against the rights of all citizens, the country kept pressing forward seeking liberty and justice for all. Today millions of people throughout the world would like to have the opportunity of living in this country.
On this Sunday before the fourth of July, I sought out the Apostle Paul’s letter to the proud Roman citizens of the Roman city-colony of Philippi. The city was founded by former Roman soldiers who managed to live to retirement and who received as a reward Roman citizenship and land. Philippi was an outpost of Rome and was more Roman than Rome itself. They even outdid citizens who lived in Rome in living as Romans. While we may take for granted our United States citizenship, those former legionnaires were immensely proud of their Roman citizenship. Being a citizen of Rome was a long sought prize which also guaranteed their children Roman citizenship.
Paul writes a people who were extremely proud of their Roman culture and citizenship. He writes to them in words they can well understand. He tells them that he too has an outstanding personal history for which he takes pride. He too was a citizen of Rome. He was also a zealous Pharisee, a strong and devoted follower of the Lord God. He calls himself a Hebrew of Hebrews, and was zealous in living out his faith in God. He was righteous and faultless in the way he practiced his faith. As citizens of Philippi worked hard for what they obtained, Paul did the same.
However, Paul then takes a 180-degree turn. He tells them what a great Hebrew he is then says, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…(Philippians 3:7-9a).” In essence, Paul shows the former soldiers his resume and then he tears it up and throws it in the trashcan. He says that his pedigree and achievements are rubbish. For Paul, the only thing that means anything worthwhile is Christ Jesus. The only thing that means anything is the righteousness that comes from God and is given by faith in Christ Jesus. The only thing that means anything is knowing Christ and the power of His Resurrection. All Paul’s remarkable achievements—even his Roman citizenship—are completely worthless in the eternal scheme of things. They have no value.
Near the end of Philippians chapter 3, Paul writes: “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things (Philippians 3:17-19).” These are not just prophetic words for the church in Philippi. They are prophetic words for the church in America today.
Paul’s words are troublesome, and they do not rest easy on our ears. If he writes Christians in a backwater city in Asia Minor about their materialistic focus, what might he write us today? Possessions and money in and of themselves are not the big issue. It is our focus and where we place the material on our list of valued priorities. We lavish upon ourselves all kinds of nice things. However, when it comes to lavishing on God what do our checkbooks reveal? When God asks that we return 10%, a tithe of our income, do we do it with joy? What is 10%? Can we not live on 90% of our income? Or are we so caught up in living according to the worldly pattern that we don’t have enough faith to trust that God will bless us and supply our every need? Tithing helps us keep our focus on the things that are eternal. It helps us not get overwhelmed by the things of the world. Tithing is not so much a financial matter as it is a way of helping us keep our spiritual life on track.
The United States is following Europe and becoming a thoroughly secular culture. Europe has fallen to secularism. They have forgotten their great Christian heritage. The wonderful cathedrals are more like museums than places where people gather to honor and worship the Lord. Secularism is the culture of religious unbelief. The European Union has recognized that the Greek and Roman culture and the philosophical currents of the Enlightenment nourished Europe. However, the EU made no recognition of Christianity’s contribution to European culture. Pope John Paul II saw that as a deliberate denial of Christianity. He wrote, “I would like to mention in a particular way the loss of Europe’s Christian memory and heritage, accompanied by a kind of practical agnosticism and religious indifference. It is no real surprise, then that there are efforts to create a vision of Europe which ignores its religious heritage.” Similar forces are at work in the United States that presses us to an agnostic secular culture. What will the Church do in the face of the press of secularism? Will we hide inside our comfortable sanctuaries and re-enter the world unchanged, or will we live out our faith by helping others find a saving relationship with Christ Jesus?
In the first sentence verse 20, Paul writes the retired Roman soldiers who were proud of their Roman citizenship. He wants to move them away from their unhealthy focus on earthly things. He tells them, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” He tells people who fought hard and long for their Roman citizenship that those who are committed to Christ Jesus have their citizenship in Heaven. Members of my family have been US citizens since 1853. My Great-Great Grandfather renounced the Queen of England as he swore loyalty to the United States. I am quite proud of my citizenship. Like many lf you, I have sworn three times to “defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.” However, as a Christian my primary loyalty is to the Christ Jesus. While I am a US citizen, my eternal citizenship is in Heaven. People who place their trust in Christ Jesus and who have submitted their lives to Him are citizens of Heaven.
Among Americans patriotism has ebbed and flowed. There are times when people are quite patriotic. After the Islamists destroyed the World Trade Towers, patriotism was quite high. At this point, I am not certain where Americans stand. There are a lot of anti-American activities going on. Ever since I attended a Presidential campaign rally in 1964, I have been uneasy with nationalism. Christians can be patriots but zealous nationalism is disturbing. I read all the bumper stickers I see. Once I saw an unusual patriotic bumper sticker. It read, “America bless God!”
Rather than asking God to bless our materialism and bent to violence, the best slogan calls this country to bless God. As citizens of heaven, one of our major activities is honoring and blessing the Lord God. We praise Him for who He is and thank Him for what he has done for us. When we bless God, we live out our faith with confidence. A 20th century European Army had a symbol and a slogan on their soldier’s belt buckles. The slogan in English is, “God is with us.” One of the worst things we can do is ask God to bless our self-centered goals and activities. On the other hand, one of the best things we can do is bless God and acknowledge that He is Lord of all.
Paul wrote a people who took great pride in their Roman citizenship. He told them that those who trust Christ Jesus are citizens of Heaven. He told them that citizens of Heaven are not mired down in the things of this world. Christians are people who are generous and seek to lead a dying world to Christ Jesus. While we are concerned about the things of this world, our minds are on things eternal. While we are concerned with human need and bring compassion and love into the streets, buildings and institutions of this city, we keep our eyes focused on the Cross of Christ. What this country needs are people who bless God. When you get up in the morning, bless the Lord. When you eat your meals, bless the Lord. When you go to bed at night, bless the Lord. When you bless the Lord, you recognize where your real citizenship lies. America, bless God!
On this Independence Day, it is good to recall the words of President John Adams: “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” We will not thrive as a secular nation. The United States will only continue as we live out our faith in Christ Jesus and recognize we are citizens of Heaven.
Sermon at Veterans Memorial Chapel
CH (COL) Michael W. Malone, AUS RET