Among the glorious privileges of the members of the body of Christ is that of
being ‘fellow citizens with the saints’ (Eph. 2:19) which is placed in contrast
with a previous position, ‘No more strangers and foreigners’, which position is
set out very clearly in earlier verses of this same chapter.
A Gentiles in the flesh.
B Without Christ.
C Aliens from the commonwealth of
C Strangers from the covenants of
B Having no hope.
A Godless in the world.
The word ‘commonwealth’ here is politeia,
the word ‘fellow citizen’ is sumpolites.
In the flesh, the Gentile was an alien, but in the spirit, he could be a citizen
on equal terms.
The apostle who thus writes of this great privilege of citizenship could
bring to bear upon the subject his own conscious sense of privilege in being a
citizen of Israel’s commonwealth, by reason of his Hebrew birth, and the fact
that he was at the same time ‘a citizen of no mean city’ (Acts 21:39) namely of
Tarsus, and above this, a Roman ‘born free’ (Acts 22:28), where it must be
remembered that the word ‘freedom’ used by the Roman captain is
politeia, the same word that is
translated ‘commonwealth’ in Ephesians 2:12. It is evident that before we can
use the word ‘citizenship’ without ambiguity we must know what ‘city’ is in
view. Before discussing this feature, we will provide a concordance to all the
derivatives of polis ‘city’ that are
found in the New Testament.
‘I have lived
in all good conscience’ (Acts 23:1).
‘Let your conversation be as it
becometh’ (Phil. 1:27).
‘For our conversation is in
heaven’ (Phil. 3:20).
‘With a great sum obtained I this
freedom’ (Acts 22:28).
‘Aliens from the commonwealth of
Israel’ (Eph. 2:12).
‘Joined himself to a citizen’
‘But his citizens hated him’ (Luke
‘A citizen of no mean city’ (Acts
‘Fellow citizens with the saints’
The cities mentioned in the New Testament are many, Jerusalem, Capernaum,
Lystra, Derbe, Damascus, the heavenly Jerusalem, and Rome, come at once to the
mind. Jerusalem is called ‘the holy city’ (Matt. 4:5) and the city of the great
king (Matt. 5:35). Christ was born in Bethlehem, ‘the city of David’ (Luke
2:11), but it is evident that the citizenship which is spoken of in the epistles
is something higher than anything these could offer. In the epistle to the
Hebrews and in the book of the Revelation, the heavenly Jerusalem is dominant,
and it is in Hebrews, that we read ‘here we have no continuing city but we seek
one to come’ (Heb. 13:14). The heavenly city is associated with Abraham, and is
called Mount Sion. The description given of this city in Revelation 21, links it
with the heavenly calling of the people of Israel. The twelve gates bear the
names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve foundations bear the names of
the twelve apostles, as distinct from the order of apostles given by the
ascended Christ spoken of in Ephesians 4 (see article on
APOSTLE). This city is called ‘The Bride’ and ‘the Lamb’s Wife’, and cannot
be confused with the church of the one Body which is the ‘perfect man’ (see
article THE BRIDE AND THE BODY).
Weymouth’s translation of Philippians 3:20 reads:
‘We, however, are free citizens of heaven’.
The R.V. reads ‘For our citizenship is in heaven’, with a marginal note
A Gentile ‘in the flesh’ could not belong to the commonwealth of Israel, and
in the spirit he has a citizenship in heaven, to which Israel would be a
stranger. The citizenship open to believers today is not associated with
Abraham, for he is never once mentioned in the Prison Epistles. Here there is no
city bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, for Israel and its hope
is never mentioned in the Prison Epistles. Here is no city, resting upon the
foundation of the twelve apostles, for Peter, James, John and the rest have no
place in these Prison Epistles. It is a citizenship in complete harmony with the
calling of the Mystery, which associates the believer with heavenly places where
Christ sits at the right hand of God, and unlike the holy city, the New
Jerusalem, will never be seen descending out of heaven to the earth, neither
will it ever change its status of the perfect man, for that of the Bride.
The introduction of politeuma in
Philippians 3 is not so much to teach positive truth as to exhort those who
belonged to the high calling of God to comport themselves accordingly. The
Philippians were in a peculiar position to enable them to appreciate this
exhortation. Philippi was a ‘colony’ (Acts 16:12), free citizens of Rome, but
living away from Rome itself, and Moffatt’s version reads suggestively here,
‘But we are a colony of heaven’, which has the advantage of including both the
idea of citizenship and the idea of the Roman colony, and at the same time
taking our eyes off the Heavenly Jerusalem which is never at any time associated
with the idea of a colony. So the Philippians were free citizens of heavenly
places, but living here on earth for the time being. Let us who realize our high
and holy calling remember that we are indeed ‘citizens of no mean city’ and seek
grace to act accordingly.