I received the following question:

Phil. 3:20 “For our citizenship (conversation) is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

How do you interpret this verse?

Thanks for the good question.

First, let me offer you The Resultant Version translation, both in a straight translation and in paraphrase.

Philippians 3:20. For the acquired and developed character which is ours is already existing among celestials, and it is out of this character that we assiduously and patiently wait it out for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:20 paraphrase. For the acquired and developed character, and by that I mean your disposition or prevailing spirit, which is ours, the one we have asked you to imitate, it is existing–that is, it has existed all along–among celestials, and it is out of this character–that is, an expression of this character–that we assiduously and patiently wait it out for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mr. Sellers has this to say about “conversation,” as it has it in the King James Version, “acquired and developed character.”
(A) The Greek is politeuma. The root is polis, which means “city” (policeman, politics.) Eu, when used as a prefix, means “good,” but when added as an element, signifies the regular performance or practice of that which is set forth in the root. The ending ma denotes the result or the effect which is produced by practicing the idea which is set forth in the root. If we translate the roots, it would read “city-practice-effect.” In the time of Paul, politeuma had come to mean an acquired, developed, or derived character – that is, a disposition or temperament. It could be used of the character that had come to a man from the forces that arose out of his family, his country, his training, or his religion.

Regarding “is already existing.”
(B) Or “has its rise.”

Regarding “celestials.”
(C) There is concrete evidence in the Bible that “heavens” refers to celestial beings. In Ephesians 4:10, for example, there can be no doubt that the reference is to celestial beings, or else Christ would have gone out of the heavens altogether.

Regarding “and it is out of this character.”
(D) Ex hou, singular, means “out of which.” It could not refer to ouranios, “heavens,” which is plural in the Greek. It must refer to politeuma, which is singular.

Regarding “wait it out.”
(E) In Greek, apekdechomai. Out of 21 versions other than the KJV, none of them translated it “look.” Apekdechomai plainly expresses the idea of patiently waiting it out; doing so without murmuring or complaining; and doing so with courage, confidence, and serenity.

I would agree with the interpretation of Mr. Sellers. This passage is not talking about our citizenship being in heaven, or our homeland being heaven, or us being a colony of heaven, or anything like what many of the translators change the passage to make it say. None of these translations would make us to be going to heaven anyway. One whose “citizenship” is in a place need not ever go back there. One who is in a colony of another place has LEFT that place, and usually does not intend to go back. One might have a homeland he has moved away from, but seldom a homeland he has never been in but is going back to. None of these translations support the idea that we are ever going to heaven.

The Greek is clear enough. Mr. Sellers gives an excellent explanation as to why “politeuma” means acquired and developed character. Moreover, the singular ex hou must refer to the politeuma. Our attitude and character should be something that reflects the way God’s heavenly servants also behave towards Him. Our patient waiting for the Savior in spite of 2,000 years’ delay comes out of the character He is developing in us, and so from this character we wait patiently, serving Him diligently all the while.

So I believe that Philippians 3:20 is talking about the Godly character that should be developed in us, and which causes us to patiently wait the long wait through this dispensation of grace until our Savior finally comes to bring in His kingdom.

If you want to learn more, please listen to Mr. Sellers’ audio message on Philippians 3:20, here:

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