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Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #20: Citizens of Kingdom Culture

Keep your eyes on those who live as we do…Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ…their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. Philippians 3:17, 18, 20 NIV

I often have wondered out loud if believers who are deep into their planned escalation of conflict with other believers—seeking to hurt or at least render them impotent—think that Jesus is not watching. Do they think that they will not have to stand before his judgment seat and give an account of their thoughts, words, and actions? That somehow seeking to destroy people, for whom he went to the cross, is perfectly justifiable?

Some of you may believe those whose anger has escalated a church conflict are the messed up ones. But my question applies equally to those among us also who have either knowingly or blindly goaded those we identify as opponents into a state of outrage by devaluing their life and opinion. We have not loved them with agape, but have latched onto their mistakes or differences from us as proof they are not worthy to stand shoulder to shoulder with us as Jesus’ followers. We assure ourselves that we are being neither arrogant nor racist nor self-righteous, neither prejudiced nor sexist nor ageist, but holy protectors of the gospel. What is really true is that we are ignoring our personal brokenness while trying to claim the moral high ground.

Those that live this way have a cultural awareness problem. They are not adhering to the culture to which they belong. In this final paragraph of Paul’s pastoral guide to conflict addressed to the Philippi church, he notes that there is a culture that stands against the gospel. Those that live in that culture are enemies of the cross. Their minds are set on earthly things—being right, controlling the narrative, winning, ascendancy.

Paul then uses an analogy that resonates with the Philippians. “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Philippi was a Roman city located in what is northern Greece today. Its population was full of Roman citizens, especially retired military people. It was regarded as an outpost of the Empire, being the presence of Rome’s authority. As such, it had special privileges. Legally, it was regarded as an extension of the city of Rome itself, under Rome’s laws and ordinances rather than the authority of the regional government. Those who lived there understood this. So when Paul says their citizenship is in heaven, they immediately get the point.

As believers, we are not citizens under the guidelines and rules of our earthly culture. We are citizens of a different culture—the Kingdom culture. God’s reign defines how we will live our lives.  Kingdom culture is rooted in His attributes. We should live in a way that allows the glory of God to shine out as a testimony to the gospel because, when all is said and done, being glorified is exactly how God will complete His salvation in us.

Paul’s analogy is as relevant today as it was to this first century congregation. So here is a question with which you need to grapple: From whom are you learning how to handle conflict? Do you have your channel set on the voices found in our earthly culture that fuel conflict into an unwinnable state? Or are you paying attention to the people whom God has changed to learn how to handle conflict.

Conflicts will come as surely as we are all people who have been affected by the Fall. All of us have an innate false belief that we know and can judge what is good and what is evil for ourselves. It is that aspect of ourselves that should make us pause and humble ourselves before God. Ask Him to show us how to handle ourselves in light of the cross.

We need to be careful that we do not live as a CINO (Christian in name only)—people who go to church, even lead in our church, who respond in ways not in keeping with the gospel when conflict arises. You only have to listen to the news and pay attention to the mob mentality on social media to see what happens when people become emotionally bent on making unhealthy responses to start or continue conflict. “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.” (Philippians 3:19 NIV) Do not let this be your story.

The cross frees us to love others. To restore others caught in sin. To bear with each other (and some people are bears!). To bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives and liberation for prisoners, to comfort all who mourn—words Isaiah used to describe Jesus’ mission.

Avoid being a CINO who sees the need to ask those with whom they disagree either to repent, admit that they were wrong and submit to their power, or to move on and find another church (if we consider they are even fit for that!). We whose citizenship is in heaven are made for better things. We have been empowered by the Spirit to do better things. Those that are maturing are already learning this. Keep your eyes on Jesus and those who are becoming like Jesus instead of your ears tuned to the lies of the enemy.