For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).
The believer’s home is in heaven. It is easy to get caught up in the crosscurrents of gentile politics, for truly “the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing (Psalm 2:1; Acts 4:25).
Paul, the apostle, told us our true place in the current course of this world when he wrote, “For our conversation is in heaven.” Interestingly, the word Paul used for “conversation” in Philippians 3:20 was the Greek word politeuma. This is the only time Paul uses this word, which Strong’s Greek Lexicon #4175 defines as “a community, i.e., citizenship.” An example of politeuma being translated according to James Strong’s definition can be seen in the following English versions:
… Our citizenship in the heavens … (Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible – 1868)
… Our citizenship is in the heavens … (Young’s Literal Translation – 1898)
… Our citizenship is in heaven … (KJV – 2000)
J.C. O’Hair (1876-1958) wrote the following in his work Ambassadors of Reconciliation:
The word “conversation” here [in Philippians 3:20] could be translated “citizenship” or even “politics” … The citizenship and politics of every representative of Christ is in heaven … The believer is in the world, but not of the world. Unto him has been committed the Word of reconciliation. To him is given the ministry of reconciliation.
Bill (William) Petri also adds his voice to this discussion in his work Government, War and the Christian (2008, p. 11):
The word “conversation” in Philippians 3:20 is an interesting word. It is the Greek word politeuma and means “the commonwealth of citizens.” It is interesting that in the English language we take our word politic from this Greek word.
Others have also shared the meaning of the word politeuma and its application to Paul’s use to the Body of Christ. As David Pack commented,
The Greek word for citizenship is politeuma. “Politics” comes from this word! Christians do have a “political agenda,” but it is not of this world. Politeuma technically can also be translated another way. It can mean a townsman. It is correct to say that citizens of men’s governments are townsmen – of particular towns on earth.
Do God’s people practice politics? The answer is, “Yes” – in a sense! I have an absolutely deep political conviction. Let me say this more clearly, so you can understand. In one sense, Christians are very political in their thinking. Is God a political being? The answer is absolutely, “Yes!” But His politics are not of this society. He has His Own view of government, His Own view of correct and right politeuma, or politics. His kingdom – His government – “is not of this world,” but He does have a government.
The word police comes from politeuma. So do policy and poll. It is not hard to understand how police, policies and polls are connected, in one way or another, to politics. The large American cities of Indianapolis and Minneapolis derive their names from politeuma. These are large towns with lots of citizens. Minnea(polis) means the major city of Minnesota and Indiana(polis) means the major city of Indiana. Mystery is often stripped away when words are broken down into their most basic meaning.
Dan Haden also observes,
A Greek city-state was known as a “polis.” The original meaning was close to the idea of “town,” but eventually was used to describe the ruling political center of a district or territory. In fact polis became a rather complex word to encompass the whole idea of government, and was therefore a more extensive word than merely “town” or “city.” We get the word politics from this word – the art or science of governing a group of people.
A politician is a person engaged in running the affairs of the polis; a policy is a reflection of wisdom in governing the polis; and police are those who control and regulate the activities of the polis. As you can see, this Greek word is foundational to many of our English words related to governmental matters.
In like fashion the Greek word polis was used by the Greeks as a basis for many other Greek words related to governmental functions. A politarches was a civil-magistrate (Acts 17:6, 8); a polite was a citizen of the state (Acts 21:39); politeia was the word used for citizenship (Acts 22:28); and politeuomai was a word to describe how people were to conduct themselves as citizens of the state. Then there was the word we are considering here, politeuma – a word used to describe the state itself or a commonwealth.
Thus John Nelson Darby translated Philippians 3:20:
… Our commonwealth has its existence in the heavens … (Darby Translation – 1890).
Paul teaches us that as members of Christ’s Body we already have a citizenship, and it is in heaven. Our government is there; our King is there; our politics are there.
We have been called into His Kingdom:
That you would walk worthy of God, Who has called you unto His kingdom and glory (I Thessalonians 2:12).
We have been delivered from the earthly kingdoms and translated into His:
Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son (Colossians 1:13).
He is the only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords:
… Our Lord Jesus Christ: Who in His times He shall show, Who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords (I Timothy 6:14-15).
Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr.
Bible Student’s Notebook
© 2008, 2009
David C. Pack, Do Christians Vote.
Dan Hayden, Truth in Grace.
“only Ruler” (Darby Translation, 1890).