Text: Ephesians 6:1-9
Last week I quoted the opening line from a song written by Albert E. Brumley that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” There is a lot of truth to that line, truth that we need to latch onto and live by. We are just passing through, so there is no need to focus on gathering and accumulating the stuff and trappings of the world. It makes no more sense to do so than it would make sense to buy and renovate a home, search for doctors and schools, transfer driver licenses, forward mail, and so on all for one two-week vacation in a distant place that will not be revisited again.
Because we are just passing through, we can also be much freer than someone else might be. We can live with a certain abandon, going and doing more dangerous things than someone who doesn’t see their home as being elsewhere. They might not be willing to do certain things, but we who see our home as being in heaven are free to do them.
David Platt is the pastor of a large church in Birmingham, Alabama. In his book, Radical Together, he tells of a young couple in his church who were being prepared to be sent by the church as missionaries to, as Platt described it, “one of the most dangerous areas in the world.” He goes on to recount the conversation:
One of the pastors asked this precious wife, “Are you sure that you are ready for what lies ahead?” The room fell silent as she softly responded, “I believe God’s Word is true. His Word says that the gospel will advance through persecution and suffering. And I am good with that.” (Radical Together , 113)
This couple understands that this world is not our home; we are just passing through it on to the glory of God’s new creation that He is already preparing for us. They were willing to live with abandon and even risk their lives as a result of this understanding. Suffering and persecution are nothing to be concerned with if we are just passing through. That was their attitude. It’s an appropriate response and understanding of this song’s line. If we take a similar approach as this couple took, then this line has a lot to teach us about faith and life. It has a lot to remind us about the freedom we have to serve Christ more freely than we often allow ourselves.
The problem is that far too often we take the truth of this line, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through,” and we apply its wisdom incorrectly. We quote it, and we go on to assume that the passing through-ness of this life means that we have no responsibilities or obligations to this world and anything in it.
We act like a foreign visitor might act if they were visiting in an American city on election day. Such a visitor would have no reason to stand in line at a polling station. They would have never registered to vote. They would not be concerned with election returns. There would be no more than a passing interest in the affairs of what is consuming many of the locals around them. They are only temporary guests that will soon go on to their real home in another realm.
Far too often, this vacationer attitude is the same attitude we take regarding the world that is around us. Our citizenship is in heaven, and so we act as if we are absolved from any duties here. We presume that we have nothing we have to do, no law that we are fully obligated to obey. We are simply people who are biding our time, enjoying the scenery and the local attractions until our plane finally arrives at the airport and we can head on to our true home.
Paul has no disagreement with the truth that our hope is not in this world. He carefully reminds the Thessalonians that the resurrection and all that lies beyond it is the Christian’s hope, without which we are to be the most pitied among men. This life holds no special regard for Paul. It is something to be laid down, full of the same persecutions and sufferings that the couple in Platt’s church fully expected to taste of themselves. Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6:20-21 not to lay up treasures for ourselves here, where moth and rust lay ready to destroy them and thieves stand ready to steal them, but instead to store our treasures in heaven. And he reminds us, “Where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.” It is fully right of us to keep a good view of heaven in our minds, to lend much of our attention there, and to long for the day of Christ’s coming when we will get to join him there for all of eternity.
However, the passing through-ness of our life here does not allow us freedom and wild abandon from any kind of responsibilities here. Return with me to Ephesians 6. For all of this leads us to the point of which I believe Paul is reminding the Ephesians as he begins to close his letter to them. The first two paragraphs of Ephesians 6 continue the theme that Paul began in chapter 5, verse 21, where the last activity of being filled with the Spirit is to be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” He goes on to talk about the mutual submission of husbands and wives and the reflection in that relationship of the relationship of Christ and the Church. That’s the end of chapter 5.
Chapter 6 continues on the theme of submission, and Paul writes about two further relationships. There is the relationship of a child and the child’s parents, and there is the relationship of an employee and an employer (or, in Paul’s day’s terminology, slave and master). Paul says quite a bit in these verses that is very specific to the relationship of parent and child or master and servant. There is a lot we can learn about our relationships in the world in those contexts from what Paul writes here.
But I think the bigger story is one step back from the details of how these relationships are to function. That step back reminds us this: the simple fact that we have these relationships. We exist here. We may not have the title of slave or master, we may no longer be the child of someone who is living, we may have never become a parent. But we are all in the world. And how we live in this world, in the here and now, in this time when we are “just passing through” – it matters. What we do, how we interact, how we live, how we relate, it all makes a difference.
Truly, this world is not our home. Our home is being prepared for us. It is not in or of this world. That is both our hope and our longing. This world is not our home. But we are doing far more than simply passing through. The image of vacationers is entirely inappropriate to our roles and responsibilities. We are not foreign tourists checking out the scenery before taking our plane ride home. We are far more.
We are much more like diplomats, ambassadors, representatives sent on behalf of another realm. Diplomats do not change their citizenship. They remain citizens of their home country. But neither are they just tourists visiting for only a short time. Diplomats spend months and years living in the place where they have been sent and commissioned by the one that they serve. Diplomats learn all about the local culture. They eat the local food. They learn the local language. They shop at the local markets. They know the inner workings of the local politics. They employ the capabilities of local workers to service their property. But all that they do is for one purpose: to represent the best interests of their home country.
We who are believers are diplomats, representatives of God’s kingdom here in the sin-trodden earth where we were born and live. And we take on all the trappings of this world, just like diplomats may take on all of the trappings of a member of their designated country. We are citizens of heaven, but we are residents of earth, particularly Hurt, Virginia, in the USA. And while we are residents here, we must do all that we can to represent our true home and our true King well.
So when we engage our children, we do so in the name of the God who is our King. When we obey our parents, we do so in the name of Jesus, who is our Lord and Savior. When we go to work for our employer, we do our very best work as is only becoming someone who belongs to God. When we manage the work of others, we strive always to encourage them in the best way we can so as to bring out the best of them for the work they are doing, for God brings out the best in us.
God is holy, righteous, just, merciful, loving, and compassionate. He is willing to forgive and forget. He has done so for us. This is who we model and represent as we honor parents, train our children, do our work, or manage our manage our employees, not to mention the many other things that we do. We are residents here representing God.
As citizens of heaven, this earth is not our home. In a sense, we are just passing through. There are some obligations that we can bypass, there are risks that we can take because we know the best is yet to come and in fact cannot be achieved here. But we are residents here. And in the here and now, God has called us to serve Him as His representatives. So let all that we do in the here and now, all of the relationships we nourish in our sojourn, let them be sprinkled with the grace of God. As Jesus worked ever to bring out the best in people, let us strive for the same. Children, make your parents proud and their job easy. Parents, do everything you can do to help your children grow up as kingdom citizens. Employers, make your workplaces a joy to come to. Employees, leave your employers no doubt that you seek after their best interests and not just your own, knowing that your interests are tied together.
Remember in everything that we represent God. Through the things that we do, the people who are around us will see and taste God himself as we breathe and move and do our tasks. Let them have a taste of what Kingdom Citizenship has to offer through our lives as Sin-stained-Earth residents.
We are residents of the here and now. Let’s make the most of it, to the glory of God, the renown of His Name, and the expansion of His Kingdom.