It is obvious that Paul is wrapping this up. Whenever you begin a sentence with “finally”, the implication is that we are at the end of whatever was started some chapters earlier. I’ll never forget when we were pastors in Italy and whenever we attended a regional meeting of the churches there was always one person who whenever he stood and began a sentence with: “I just want to say one thing briefly” you knew you were in for a good 30 minute monologue. It was classic, it was predictable. The finally was not really the finally in that case. In this case, well we have one more chapter to cover after this. But it is fitting that in this letter with joy as its primary theme he begins in verse 1 by telling us to (re)joy(ce).
When he talks about those who mutilate the flesh again he is on the kick of distinguishing between those who emphasize circumcision as the direct way to heaven and those who emphasize (that would be Paul and his cohorts) Jesus as the direct way to heaven. Or in this day in age we would ask the question: When did loving Jesus stop being enough? Why do we pile rule and regulation and guilt on such a simple concept as a relationship with Jesus?
From there Paul goes on to lay out his pedigree once again. He was circumcised like a good Jew. He went to the best schools, he was as zealous in his faith as anyone in his day and age, he followed every aspect of the law. So those of you who believe that a relationship with God has to start and end with the following of the religious law, those of you who believe that legalism is the only way to a solid relationship, well, I know better. That would be Paul’s point of view. And his knowing better revolved around his realization that all of that could be discarded for a single, sincere and loyal relationship to Jesus.
Skip to verse 20 and you will find one of my favorite verses. I know, I have a lot of them, but this one deserves to be underlined. Paul states that our citizenship belongs in heaven. The Olympics are over and we won a ton of medals. God does not in any way bless one nation over another. I would challenge any Christian who believes that God blesses one nation over another to look at the history of Israel. Forever we have understood the people of Israel to be those blessed by God. Look at the persecution and the pain and the suffering that the people of Israel have undergone. If we were to believe that God blessed America then we should be seeing the same kind of pain and suffering as a sign that God is honing us and sharpening us to be his people. We see quite the opposite. Throughout Scripture the most powerful nations tend to be those nations that are opposed to God. Think about it, Egypt, Rome, Babylon, and the list could continue.
This verse where Paul almost innocently says that our citizenship belongs in heaven ought to temper our understanding of where we feel like our earthly citizenship might find itself. A prosperous nation does not translate into a nation blessed by God. Actually, if you look at Scriptural history, the argument could be made that the people of God are actually those who find themselves in the minority, oppressed, trodden under foot, and persecuted by those who are in power in the world. It should be a sobering testimony for those of us who understand our citizenship here on earth to be more important that the citizenship we have in heaven.