In 2008, Pixar Studios released a cautionary tale called “WALL-E.” It was a love story about two robots who were left behind to work on what remained of earth after humanity fled on starships. As we journey through their relationship issues, we see a startling portrayal of what has become of humankind. With robots available to do every kind of work, people have become debilitatingly obese and are confined to lounge chairs, living their lives through screens and artificial intelligence.
In Biblical terms, they have “allowed their god to be their stomach” and are now suffering from the pursuit of earthly pleasures and indulgences. This dystopian look at humanity’s future was also predicted by Paul, who warned against such things in our reading today. Even as he addressed the church at Philippi, he was very forward thinking, wasn’t he?
Philippians 3:17-21 (Common English Bible)
17 Brothers and sisters, become imitators of me and watch those who live this way—you can use us as models. 18 As I have told you many times and now say with deep sadness, many people live as enemies of the cross.19 Their lives end with destruction. Their god is their stomach, and they take pride in their disgrace because their thoughts focus on earthly things. 20 Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body, by the power that also makes him able to subject all things to himself.
Paul was deeply distressed over these “enemies of the cross” who lived lives that were complacent and content in the wrong-headed assumption that once salvation of the soul had occurred, the body could pursue earthly delights with abandon. This type of thinking was called Gnosticism and it became the bane of Paul’s ministry throughout his life. He encouraged them to follow his example and the example of others who were imitating the life of Christ.
And we know that the life of Christ was a life of self-denial. The Gnostics practiced a life of self-indulgence, and it grieved Paul to his core.
We, too, are to imitate Christ as Paul did. One of the best things about the season of Lent when it comes around is the deliberate resetting of our priorities as we reevaluate the quality of our spiritual health. Practicing self-denial for 40 days goes a long way toward recalibrating our hearts and minds toward Christ. Perhaps we should practice Lent as a daily lifestyle all year long.
Paul reminds us that we are citizens of heaven and should focus our thinking as those who are merely foreigners here. Earthly delights will fade away in the light of heaven’s rewards, and if heaven is our true home, we will be strengthened against any temptation this “colony” has to offer.
God has promised to transform us into the likeness of Christ when we join him there. Our challenge today is to transform our thoughts, actions, words, and deeds into his image in such a way that others will see and know that we don’t belong here but are just passing through. How is God calling you to respond to this text today? Do you need to give something up in order to claim your heavenly citizenship? Save your own soul and follow Paul’s example.
Just Passing Through by Michelle Robertson