For our conversation is in heaven; from where also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ:…
1. Whatever incompatibility there may be between having residence in one world and a conversation in another, Christianity boldly meets it and puts it out of the way. In old English a man's "conversation" meant not the mere act of his tongue, but his conduct, and so revealed to what kingdom his heart belonged. An American agent or ambassador has a temporary dwelling in Athens. Living on that foreign soil, occupied daily with its affairs, its landscape winning his admiration, and its faces and manners his goodwill, he remembers that his stay is short; he expects to be called back where his treasure is and his heart abides.
2. When our faith commands us to have our conversation in heaven it does not require us to be bad citizens of the world where we now are. We are not bidden to be absent minded. The man may make hearty attachments where he tarries, pay tribute and live cheerfully and helpfully. And yet none the less he desires a better country, a city first in his love and always in his hopes. So Christ teaches that we can be faithful to every present relationship, and yet never forget our celestial patriotism. We can be in the world without minding earthly things.
3. This glory is the original glory of our Christian estate. Till Christ came, the majestic fact that our little human tent is overarched by an infinite heaven of light scarcely anywhere broke through the pagan shadows. Men as a rule looked downward at matter, and their conversation was this world's wars and lusts. In Asiatic pomp there was not one house of charity; in Alexandrian science not one school of virtue; in Greek beauty no beauty of holiness; in the discipline of Roman armies no heavenly law of righteousness.
4. In the midst of such a society we see Paul saying, "Our conversation," etc. The earthly and the heavenly mind, then. The choice between these is what the gospel is pressing on our conscience.
I. WHAT HINDERS. It is said "We must take the world as it is. It is no use flying in the face of an immense majority. Your ideal is lovely and well enough as a seventh-day picture of impossible sanctity. But while we live in an earthly commonwealth, if we expect to get on with it we must keep on pleasant terms with it, and not be over critical as to its principles."
1. If this answer were valid it would settle the whole question on the anti-Christian side. The Church would be an organized failure. Instead of fearless witnessing for Christ and fighting against wrong, we should have a cowardly system of mutual compromises and flatteries.
2. But then even the careless mind has a deeper-toned conviction than this. Most people know that the principal glories of the past have gathered round a few brave and suffering men who have stood out against their times. Inward voices respond in almost every breast to the righteousness of this order of souls.
3. Before they give away their manhood for the sake of getting on with the world, some citizens will inquire to what end the world is getting on.
4. And then, whatever we say or do, the Word of God refuses to be altered, and tells us not only that we can but we must, unless we mean to die eternally, live above the world while we live in it.
5. Besides, falsehood and sensuality were never prevalent enough to incapacitate a man for a clean and godly life, if that soul willed it.
6. Nothing in society or custom takes off the wrong doer's sin or its retribution. There lives a God with whom multitudes, usages, etc., are not of the least account. We cannot say at the Divine tribunal, "Blame society; I only went with the rest, and was no worse than they." You may presume that offences will come, but "woe to that man by whom they come."
II. CHRISTIANITY MEANS TO REACH SOCIETY ON A BROAD SCALE, BUT IT MUST REACH IT THROUGH PERSONS GATHERED ONE BY ONE INTO ITS OWN HEAVENLY CITIZENSHIP. It has to do with conviction, affection, faith; and these are properties of individuals before they can be of communities. Christ did not publish a plan of political reform, or a schedule of social science. Meeting his countrymen in little groups, or one by one, He showed them the beauty of the heavenly conversation while they were fishermen or publicans. So began the everlasting empire which soon lifted itself over the palaces of Constantinople and Rome. We all desire ours to be a Christian country; then we must be Christian men.
III. THERE ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT CONSCIOUSLY MADE UP THEIR MINDS TO KEEP GOD'S COMMANDMENTS OUT AND OUT, WHO YET WOULD BE SHOCKED AT THE IDEA OF OUR SOCIAL LIFE RETURNING TO BARBARISM; and others nominally Christian who make no pretence to conform their practice to Christ's law. But this notion that we are any safer and better for living in a land of professed Christianity whose principles we daily ignore is a delusion whose absurdity is seen as soon as stated. What we need to realize is that every scheme attempting to cure the morals of the people must fall unless it puts the soul into a direct conversation with Him.
IV. IN THESE TIMES THE FAITH IS PUT BACK NOT SO MUCH BY PERSECUTION AS CORRUPTION. We live in days of indulgence and education. Ever since Eve's parley it has been the strategy of evil to gain admission without having its character suspected. If the moral sense is obstinate leach it to call evil good. If conscience defies a sword drug it with narcotics. Once radically unsettle a man's mind as to the obligations of duty, and you work a far more comprehensive depravity in him than by only enticing him now and then into single bad actions against which his conscience continues to cry out.
V. SO THE TRUE CONFESSORS OF THIS AGE ARE THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO EXERCISE THEIR CONSCIENCES DAY BY DAY TO DISCERN BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL; souls that keep so far back within the entrenchments of a heavenly citizenship as to be out of all risk of slipping over into dishonour; men of business who will not take a second look at the tempter for an additional thousand a year; women who choose that good part with Mary's friend, rather than wade through ambiguities neck deep to conquests of social ambition; children that would rather be laughed at than disobey.
VI. THERE ARE TWO WORLDS WITHIN US, AS WELL AS EARTH AND HEAVEN WITHOUT US; and one of them is apt to get the mastery. Take as the Divine image of the one, the Saviour's sacramental prayer in John 17, or St. Paul's description, at the close of Romans 8 of the love of God. For the other take any unbelieving sensualist's frank testimony: Lord Chesterfield's, e.g. "I have run the rounds of business and pleasure, and have clone with them all. Shall I tell you that I bear this melancholy situation with resignation? No; I bear it because I must. I think of nothing but killing time, now it has become my enemy, and my resolution is to sleep in the carriage to the end of the journey." Now to say nothing of what happens when the journey ends, and of the waking out of sleep, and of the new question that will rise before a man who has so poorly succeeded in killing time, that time killed him — viz., how to kill eternity — leaving all that, we see the contradiction between the two worlds complete. The warfare between the principles that lie at the roots of them is a deadly warfare, and still it goes on. Take sides then at once with God and heaven.
Parallel VersesKJV: For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: