I read a while back that in trying to build up the Roman Empire, the emperors needed soldiers. To motivate volunteers, recruits were told that if they served the required length of time, they would be granted full Roman citizenship. The catch, however, was that they were required to inhabit special cities called colonies.
The thought was these former citizens were to create a “little Rome.” Paul wrote a letter to one such colony—Philippi. Perhaps it raised the antennas of the Christians there when Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven.”
Paul was calling the Philippian Christians to create a little heaven on earth.
In Deuteronomy, you have the vision of what a nation would look like if God were King. Israel, on the verge of entering the Promise Land, is reminded by God through Moses that their citizens were to serve as representatives of Jehovah. As one commentator put it, “They could, by their spiritual behavior and devotion, appeal to the hearts of their neighbors. On the other hand, with spiritual disobedience, they could become caught up in useless and destructive pursuits.”
Within this context, words were spoken, which you know well:
5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. 6 These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. 7 Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. 9 Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.
We typically teach that this passage is talking about teaching our kids spiritual lessons about loving and serving God faithfully. Certainly, it is.
But we forget this teaching had a very practical component. For the Israelites, what did loving God look like? Among other things, it meant being a good steward of God’s gracious blessings. And before they entered the land, the Lord warned them to beware of forgetfulness after their homes were full of good things.
Are our homes full of good things today? You bet.
Some estimates I’ve seen state that the U.S. occupies 6% of the world’s land, contains 7% of the world population, and 67% of the world's wealth. Certainly, most of us sit at tables loaded with good food, drive wherever we want to go, send our kids to college, and, when we are sick, have access to the best health care in the world.
Do we appreciate our good things?
Do we by our spiritual behavior and devotion appeal to the hearts of our neighbors, or, by our spiritual disobedience, have we become caught up in useless and destructive pursuits?
Do we harden the hearts of our neighbors?
Do we carve out a little bit of heaven here on Earth?
Call me idealistic, but if we will carve out a colony of heaven here on earth, our nation will be a good place to live.