Calvary Road Baptist Church


Philippians 3.20

If someone were to ask me, “Pastor, what single personality characteristic is most conducive to one’s spirituality, to one’s Christian growth, to effectiveness in one’s service to God, and in demonstrating one’s Christ likeness?” The answer I would give would be a slam dunk. No contest. It’s humility. Listen carefully. There are a number of things that we are to do toward others, such as be kind and show love. However, humility is something you do to yourself as a state of mind. It is a posture you assume relative to others. It is an attitude you take that makes you receptive to the blessings of God. It’s the opposite of self-sufficiency and pride. It is the evidence of your personal conviction that you are not self-sufficient and that your desperate need is God’s gracious provision for your life. The Lord Jesus Christ humbled Himself and became obedient to the death of the cross.[1] During His earthly ministry He taught that whosoever humbled himself would be exalted.[2] James and Peter both instructed believers to humble themselves before the Lord.[3] Paul urged his readers to put on a humility of mind, and described himself as a man who served the Lord with all humility of mind.[4]

Do you think much about the grace of God that is needed for conversion? You are saved by grace, you know. However, what of those verses that declare God resists the proud and gives grace only to the humble? Is it any surprise to you that proud sinners are not saved? And what about those who are genuinely saved? They who are saved, as well, stand in need of God’s constantly supply of grace, obtained at the throne of grace during prayer and by other means, but not given to those who are too proud to ask of God or too proud to receive from God. It should be no surprise to us, then, that when the Apostle Paul became aware of the breakdown of unity in the Philippian church he immediately discerned its likely cause. The people were not as humble as they previously had been, for there is a direct correlation between spiritual unity among people and their sweet humility of spirit.

Paul recognized, as you and I need to also understand, that no one is without his faults and rough spots. Thus, it is a tragic reality of this fallen world that we live in that people who come together in a church assembly to worship and serve God will sometimes bump and jostle each other, will sometimes sin against each other, and will do all sorts of things. My friend, the only way a congregation can survive the bringing together of such disparate people as we have here and thrive, with our different backgrounds and experiences, is if we are humble. And when we are humble, it is of course only by God’s grace. So you see, humility is a wonderful barometer of spirituality in a congregation. Recognizing that they were suffering some deprivation in the humility department, Paul sought to provide good examples of humility for the Philippians to look to because he knew that they would have plenty of bad examples of pride and arrogance masking as spiritual superiority. It is in our text for today, Philippians 3.20, that Paul provided for his readers some reasons for humility that are surprisingly different from some of the reasons given elsewhere in God’s Word.

With your Bible turned to Philippians chapter three, stand with me to read verses 17-21:

17     Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

18     (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:

19     Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

20     For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

21     Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

You who are church members here at Calvary Road Baptist Church, take Philippians 3.20 to heart. Let us together agree to respond to the prompting of the Spirit-inspired Apostle Paul. Recognize that whatever the situation, humility is appropriate.


Notice how Paul begins the verse:

“For our conversation is in heaven.”

This is quite a contrast to those people he has just referred to in verse 19 “who mind earthly things.” Do you see the difference, here, between those who are saved and those who are not saved? You can tell where a person is headed by where that person’s head and heart are. Special attention needs to be paid to this word “conversation.” The Greek word translated here, which refers to a commonwealth or to citizenship, appears only here in the Greek New Testament, and it’s an interesting word that has connotations from several different perspectives.[5] Let me describe for you three different contexts to better understand what Paul was alluding to when using the word:

First, the Roman context. In the Roman Empire everything was related, not to the nation of Rome (there was no nation of Rome, in the strict sense of the concept as we understand it in a modern context), but to the city of Rome. Citizens of the city of Rome had rank and privileges above those enjoyed by anyone else. One of the ways Rome spread her influence throughout the empire was to establish colony cities, which were actually little Romes, here and there. The citizens of those colony cities were Roman citizens and their allegiance was to Rome in a way that none of the surrounding city’s inhabitants were, because of the special privileges they enjoyed. Philippi was just such a colony city. And since colony city inhabitants were expected to promote the capital city’s cause and interests above their own, for Paul to point out that the Philippian church member’s “conversation” or “citizenship” was in heaven was a reminder to them that their duty was to promote the interests of heaven above their own.[6]

Next, the Jewish context. It wasn’t just Roman colony cities who had a special relationship with the city of Rome. Astonishingly, so did Jewish people wherever they happened to live in the empire.[7] Though they were a conquered people living under foreign domination, the Roman Empire quickly ascertained that the Jewish population was different than any other ethnic group they had ever dealt with. For them to try and force the Jewish people to adopt their system of religion and conform to their style of life, like they forced everyone else they conquered, would mean the Romans would have to kill every last Jew. They were unwilling to do that because of the financial benefits the Jewish people brought to the empire, not to mention the unseen hand of God’s providential protection of His covenant people. So, after a pattern somewhat similar to the colony cities like Philippi, the Roman Empire allowed the Jewish people to be somewhat autonomous and self-governing wherever they happened to live, even in the city of Rome itself. That meant Jewish people could live in groups among themselves, could obey their Sabbath day observances, and didn’t have to serve in the Imperial Roman Army. It was this relationship with Rome that gave rise to what we now know as Jewish ghettos. Although there were unlikely to be very many Jewish Christians in the Philippian church, since there were too few Jewish men in the city to establish a synagogue when Paul planted the church, the unique relationship enjoyed by the Jewish people wherever they lived throughout the Roman Empire would be known by one and all. Therefore, even from this perspective, Paul’s reference to commonwealth or citizenship in heaven would mean something to his readers. It would be a reminder that they, somewhat like the Jewish people they were all at least somewhat familiar with, were to be separate and distinct from the general population, subject to different principles and obligations. You folks who are members of Calvary Road Baptist Church. You are supposed to be different, peculiar, with different loyalties and moving in different circles than those you live around and work with. You see, ultimately, your citizenship is not the United States, or any other country, or even any ethnic group when all is said and done, but heaven. Therefore, you are to advance heaven’s cause.

Third, there is the church context. There is no way the Philippians could escape the thrust of Paul’s comment here. They were like a boat in the water which was allowing too much water into the boat. Their failure to see themselves as a distinct people from the unsaved world around them, with different allegiances and a higher calling, had caused them to subtly adopt the world’s thinking. The world, you see, with every unsaved person you know being a citizen of this wicked world, lives for the here and now. The world is proud of their accomplishments and arrogant in their independence from God. And if you spend so much time with the worldlings, not trying to bring them to Christ but socializing with them, you begin to think like them, you want to fit in with them, and you adopt their value system. The result, of course, is pride, because they are all about pride in all its forms. Pride which ignores heavenly citizenship. Pride which ignores heavenly responsibilities. Pride which thinks little of God’s people and Christ’s churches because those relationships are acquired in humility and are maintained by humility. Therefore, see the importance of humility for yourself, my Christian friend, because your conversation is in heaven.


As there was a stark contrast between the heavenly conversation of the Philippian Christians (and those whose example Paul urged them to follow) and the earthly minded pretenders he sought to warn them away from, so, too, was there a contrast in expectations. Look back at Philippians 3.19:

“Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)”

Not only should you be humble in following the example of those whose citizenship, like yours, is in heaven, but you should also humble yourselves because of where you and Paul and Timothy are going to someday be, as opposed to where those religious frauds are actually going to someday be. You see, their end is destruction. Don’t be like them.

Look at the anticipation, declared in the final portion of our text:

“From whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A Christian’s anticipation is correctly understood to be both what and Who. However, notice, please, that in the Apostle Paul’s scheme of things the anticipation was always Who before what. Why is this? Because it’s all tied up in the Savior, is it not? Everything is related to the Lord Jesus Christ. Because that is so, the real anticipation for Paul, that word “look,” is not what’s going to happen when the Lord Jesus comes, though he does get around to dealing with it in verse 21, but is instead focused on the Lord Jesus’ coming. My friend, humble yourself. Why? Jesus Christ is coming again! This is not an ordinary reference to a future event, mind you. The Greek word Paul uses, here translated look, apekdecomai, refers to expecting anxiously and awaiting eagerly.[8] The proud and the arrogant have no part with Him either now or when He comes. No wonder they do not anxiously await His return, but get all excited about Justin Bieber or Beyonce or Blake Shelton. Therefore, if you want to have anything to do with Him both now and when He comes again, humble yourself.

Look at the realization. Perhaps because the Romans always referred to Caesar as their “savior,” Paul did not use the Word “savior” in his letters to describe the Lord Jesus Christ until his Roman imprisonment.[9] However, beginning with Ephesians, and then here in Philippians, and then in his pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus, he uses the word “savior” to describe the Lord Jesus Christ, but in a way different than the Romans could ever have imagined when they applied the term to Caesar. In a number of passages in the Old Testament, God refers to Himself as “savior.”[10] Just remember, references to God in the Old Testament are usually undifferentiated references to all three members of the Godhead, not just God the Father. That is, when God is referred to in the Old Testament, even when He refers to Himself in places, He is usually referring to the entire Trinity. It is not until we get to the New Testament that further revelation shows us that it is the Second Person of the Godhead, specifically the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, Who is the Savior sent to die for our sins by God. That truth is an important portion of the gospel message. People need to understand that in order to be saved from their sins, because no man comes unto the Father but by Jesus Christ, John 14.6. But it’s not until our anticipation is actually realized, it’s not until the Lord Jesus Christ actually comes from heaven for His Own, that the fullness of salvation is actually experienced by those who are saved. When you come to Jesus Christ you are saved from the penalty of sin. Throughout the course of your Christian life, as you walk in the Spirit, you are being saved from the power of sin in your life. But it is not until Jesus Christ comes for you from heaven that you will experience the fullness of your salvation. In other words, until then you have not arrived. What a good reason to be humble. You have not yet arrived.

Humility. How different from the world could we possibly be than to be a humble people? And how much more like our Savior could we possibly be than when we are a humble people? Understand, I do not refer here to the feigned humility of the merely polite. Humility is a matter of the heart. Therefore, because of your professed conversation in heaven, and because of your professed expectation to see your Savior, my friend, the importance of you humbling yourself should be immediately seen.

Only by means of humility can God give to us the unity we need to be effective in our service to Christ in bringing the lost of this world to know Him whom to know is life eternal. Do you remember the two parables we recently studied in Matthew 25.1-30, the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins, and the parable of the talents given to three servants? What was missing from the five foolish virgins and the wicked and slothful servant in those parables, but the humility of heart that leads to faithfulness?

Let me conclude this message from God’s Word by briefly discussing this thing called humility in very practical terms. How would you expect that real humility, genuine humility, humility of the heart, should be displayed toward members of our church? Remember that humility is a necessary prerequisite for God-given unity.

[1] Philippians 2.5-8

[2] Matthew 23.12

[3] James 4.6; 1 Peter 5.5

[4] Acts 20.19

[5] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 845-846.

[6] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter To The Philippians - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), page 379.

[7] G. Walter Hansen, The Letter To The Philippians - PNTC, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), page 269.

[8] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 559.

[9] Fee, page 381.

[10] Psalm 106.21; Isaiah 43.3, 11; 45.15, 21; 49.26; 60.16; 63.8; Jeremiah 14.8; Hosea 13.4

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